A Reconstruction of Fort Necessity
It was late May of 1754, the Great Meadows spread before Washington’s men as they lounged in the warm sunlight. Washington had decided to build a road north from Willis Creek. Here, in the Great Meadows, he had decided to construct his base camp, which he called “Fort Necessity.” The Great Meadows is near modern Uniontown, PA.
His men had come through a pass in the Allegheny Mountains and had found this alpine-like meadow with wild flowers blooming, soft and gentle green grass, and ringed by lush trees. It was a piece of heaven on earth and the men loved it. Another mountain pass to the north led to Confluence, Pennsylvania, and Washington had halted here in the meadows awaiting his reinforcements. “They might pass these meadows coming through either of the passes,’ he thought. The young Lieutenant Colonel was leading his first real command and he, too, was basking in the sunlight, as well as the glory of his first command.
Tanaghrisson, the Mingo Indian Chief, known to the British as the Half King, had urged Washington to rest here awhile. Normally, an Iroquois Chief, who had the power behind him of the Council, was called King. Tanaghrisson had once had the Council behind him, but now, it was not clear what his authority was, so the British called him derisively, the Half King. Washington decided that it was the place to build a fort, which he named “Necessity,” while he figured out what further steps he should take.
The Half King had come to hate the French. He related the story that a Frenchmen, Paul Marin de la Malgue, had insulted him. Apparently, he took the Half King’s land and did not pay for it, and then when the Half King asked why he did not pay, Paul Marin de la Malgue said: ‘Down the river, I will go. If the river is blocked up, I have the forces to burst it open and tread under my feet all that oppose me. I despise all the stupid things you have said to me.’ With that he flung to the ground the wampum which the Half King had given him as a gift and, with his foot, he crushed it into the ground, breaking the wampum apart.
Because of the arrival of the British in the Great Meadows, panic swept through the French sheltered in Fort Duquesne. It had become known as Fort Duquesne, because the commander of the fort, Captain Claude-Pierre Pecaudy de Contrecoeur, had wanted to honor his mentor and champion, the Marquis Duquesne. Captain Contrecoeur wanted to evict the British without bloodshed. He, therefore, dispatched Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villers de Jumonville as an envoy with an escort of 35 men to deliver a summons to the British forces to quit French lands. Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villers de Jumonville and his little party duly left Fort Duquesne and made for the Great Meadows. They camped for the night some six miles away.
Washington, although inexperienced as a commander, had sent out scouting parties in all directions from the Great Meadows. Washington had asked the Half King for his most reliable men. The Half king deemed this request so important that he went along with his best men, who included one named, Silver Heels. That night, May 27, 1754, after de Jumonville’s party had set up camp, the Half King found the French in their camp. He sent Silver Heels to the British camp at the Great Meadows, which encampment had been grandly named Fort Necessity.
Silver Heels ran the entire six miles to Fort Necessity. Finding Washington, Silver Heels informed him of the whereabouts of Ensign de Jumonville’s party.
It was not fifteen minutes before Washington led a party of 40 British and twelve Mingos to join the Half King and his warriors. The weather was unforgiving and bode poorly for the venture. The rain fell in torrents. Still, Washington led onwards. The night was cold. The small party made slow headway.
It was close to dawn when Washington’s party reached Chestnut Hill. Somehow, Washington had gotten it in his head that the French were spies sent to gain intelligence about the British. His mind could not admit any other possibility. The thought that they might be emissaries, never entered his mind.
Washington’s plan was simple to deal with the French: encircle them; have each man pick out a target; and fire on Washington’s signal, fire. Then, rush in with bayonets and swords.