On June 4, 1754, twenty-two-year-old Colonel George Washington and his small military force were busy constructing Fort Necessity, east of what is known today as Uniontown, Pennsylvania. Washington’s men built the fort to protect themselves from French troops intent on ousting the British from the territory northwest of the Ohio River. Washington’s troops were surrounded at Fort Necessity, and forced to surrender to the French on July 3, 1754.
Washington’s military activity in the area marked the beginning of the French and Indian War, the American phase of a worldwide war between Great Britain and France. Fighting began over issues of local settlement and trade rights in the upper Ohio River Valley. At the core of the conflict was the larger issue of which nation would dominate the heartland of North America.
The first years of the war were disastrous for the British and colonial Americans. However, the tide changed under England’s Prime Minister William Pitt, who spearheaded Britain’s war effort. After British troops and their colonial counterparts established control of French Canada, the French were forced to the peace table. The Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763, ended the French and Indian War and granted Britain all of France’s territory in North America east of the Mississippi River.
The French and Indian War helped unify the American colonies. Newspaper coverage External of the war, including articles by Washington External, fostered a communications infrastructure. Wilderness fighting trained the American colonists militarily. Ironically, however, England’s administration of its expanded empire soon became grounds for a colonial Declaration of Independence. Young Colonel Washington would go on to lead the Continental Army as General Washington during the Revolutionary War. Just twenty years after Britain had secured the territory from France, the 1783 Treaty of Paris granted the vast tract of unsettled territory, the Northwest Territory, to the new United States.
- To see letters written by George Washington, commander of the Virginia Regiments during much of the French and Indian War, search on the dates 1754 through 1759 in the George Washington Papers, 1741-1799. Of particular interest here is Washington’s letter to the House of Burgesses after his “unsuccessful Engagement with the French at the Great Meadows” — Fort Necessity.
- The British military surgeon, Dr. Richard Schackburg is said to have written the lyrics to “Yankee Doodle” during the French and Indian War. Also, search Today in History on northwest territory to find additional information.
- View the online exhibition John Bull and Uncle Sam, a joint project of the Library of Congress and The British Library.
- To access a variety of materials concerning the Northwest Territories and the two treaties of Paris search on the terms western territory and Treaty of Paris in A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation.