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History of Ashby's Fort

The French and Indian war was a conflict between Britain and France, fought in North America over disputed territory. Indian nations aligned themselves with whichever side they felt would be more advantageous to their interests. Shawnee, Lenape (Delaware), Algonquin, Ojibwa, Ottawa, and Wyandot Indians sided with the French. Iroquois, Catawba, and Cherokee (before 1758) Indians sided with the English. Twenty two year old George Washington was sent on a mission to support William Trent, who was building a Fort at the site of modern day Pittsburgh for Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia. Governor Dinwiddie was an investor in the Ohio Company, formed to develop land grants by the British. Washington's brother was also an investor. While Washington was on his way, the French had driven Trent away from the Fort and continued building it for themselves, naming it Fort Duquesne. As Washington neared the Fort, he joined up with a friendly Indian party, then attacked a French scouting party commanded by Joseph Coulon de Jumonville on May 28, 1754. Jumonville was killed during the battle, known as the battle of Jumonville Glen, thus starting the war.

Washington retreated, knowing he would be followed by the French, and built Fort Necessity near present-day Uniontown, Pennsylvania. The Fort was built hastily as a circular Fort. When the French finally arrived on July 3rd, commanded by none other than Jumonville's brother, they attacked and quickly forced Washington to surrender the indefensible Fort. This is the only time in Washington's life that he surrendered. Jumonville allowed Washington and his men to leave under arms after getting him to sign a document written in French that essentially was a confession to starting the war.

The following year, General Edward Braddock left England with a force of 1500 British regulars bound for America. George Washington was made an assistant to Braddock and they made Fort Cumberland the starting point for Braddock's expedition to retake Fort Duquesne. Braddock built a road over the rugged terrain to accommodate the wagons and cannons, which slowed them to a crawl. Eventually, Braddock split his forces and left the heavy equipment behind. Nearing Fort Duquesne in June of 1755, the British army was ambushed by French and Indian forces who decimated them, killing or wounding a thousand, including Braddock who died 4 days later. Washington led the survivors back to Virginia.

With no British troops left to protect Virginia, Indian raids became fierce, terrorizing frontier homesteads, burning homes, crops, and buildings, and scalping men and kidnapping women and children. Governor Dinwiddie made Washington a Colonel, and gave him command of the Virginia Regiment with additional men authorized by the colony. Two Companies of Rangers were authorized to protect Hampshire County, which included present day Mineral County. Captain William Cocke had 1st Company, and Captain John Ashby was given 2nd Company. Both Captains set about recruiting men for their commands, and by early September, Ashby had thirty two Rangers.

Washington ordered the construction of the Fort located in present day Fort Ashby, West Virginia, in late October, 1755. Capt. Ashby's company finished the construction quickly, as the danger of attack from the Indians was great. Most, if not all civilians around Fort Ashby had already been killed or driven off by the time the fort was constructed.

Once the fort was constructed, Ashby and his 32 Rangers patrolled the area between Fort Cumberland to the North, and Fort Cocke, ten miles to the south on Pattersons Creek. They also escorted military parties and supply wagons along the road.

Several skirmishes took place, including one where Captain Ashby and several of his men were caught outside the fort in an ambush by Indians. Not much documentation exists regarding these skirmishes, and there was no known direct assault on the fort itself, although a flattened musket or rifle ball has been recovered from the site.

The original Ranger enlistments were for one year, and they were dismissed in September of 1756. Fort Ashby continued to be manned by Virginia Regiment soldiers until May of 1757, when the Governor repositioned them to the South branch of the Potomac near the Trough.

The tide of the war changed completely when a British force of 6000 soldiers, led by British General John Forbes, including those from Virginia's frontier Forts, as well as other colonies, formed in 1758 to take Fort Duquesne. The French won the first battle against an advance party of the British soldiers, but abandoned the fort when they realized they had no chance against an army 10 times larger than their own numbers. The Indians perceived the French withdrawal as a major weakness, and their attacks on the English colonists were dramatically reduced.

With the French out of the picture, and the Indian attacks nearly stopped, Ashby's fort was never manned again. Forts were rebuilt on the site in later years, possibly during Pontiac's War, and the Revolution.

In 1794, General Daniel Morgan, a Revolutionary War hero, and a member of Captain Ashby's Rangers at Fort Ashby during the French and Indian war, returned with thousands of troops to camp on his way to put down the Whiskey Rebellion in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

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