Chapter XIII
Fort Laurens


In the notice of General McIntosh, in the "Dictionary of American Biography," is to be found this statement: "In a short time he restored peace to the frontier of PennsyIvania and Virginia." Unfortunately for the frontier, he did not do anything of the sort. He was as much a failure on the border as his predecessor, Hand, not because of his own lack of ability, but because of the want of men and supplies for the accomplishment of his plans. Immediately after the conclusion of the treaty with the Delawares, in the middle of September, 1778, McIntosh prepared to execute his design against Detroit. He had already summoned the militia from the frontier counties of Pennsylvania and Virginia. Westmoreland county failed to contribute, as her own borders were almost daily harried by savage bands. The Virginia counties, Yohogania, Monongalia and Ohio, furnished nearly 800 men, but they gathered at Fort Pitt slowly and provisions for the long campaign were collected with difficulty.

About October i the army, consisting of 1,300 men, of whom 500 were regulars of the Eighth Pennsylvania and the Thirteenth Virginia, moved from Fort Pitt down the Ohio, constructing a road along the southern bank of the river to the mouth of the Beaver.

Four weeks were occupied in the building of a fort on the high bluff overlooking the Ohio, on the western side of the Beaver river. The site of this fort was within the present town of Beaver, just above the station of the Cleveland and Pittsburg railroad. It was built under the direction of Colonel Cambray, a French engineer and chief of the artillery in McIntosh's army. The walls were of heavy logs, filled in with earth, and on them six-pound cannon were mounted. The fort contained barracks for a regiment of soldiers. The commander designed Fort McIntosh as an advanced depot for munitions and provisions. It was the most western point to which supplies could be conveyed with ease by water, but from the mouth of the Beaver onward the expedition must go entirely by land.(1)

While Fort McIntosh was building, the general was trying to get forward his stores, in preparation for the march into the wilderness. But things moved slowly over the bad roads of the frontier. Every delay was annoying to the Scotch commander. The fine days of autumn were slip- ping by and Detroit was still far away. The Delaware Indians, of whom a band of 60 warriors accompanied the army, could not understand why so much time was spent in building a fort which would not be needed when Detroit was captured, and some of the American officers considered the month passed at the mouth of the Beaver as that much time wasted.

On November 3 a herd of lean cattle, driven over the mountains, arrived at Fort McIntosh, and two days later the army began its march westward through the Indian country. The pack horses and cattle were so poor and weak that they could not make more than five or six miles a day, and it was November 19 when the force reached the Tuscarawas river, at the site of the present town of Bolivar, near the line between Stark and Tuscarawas counties.

According to the pledge contained in the treaty with the Delawares, to erect a fort in their country for the protection of their women and children, it was the intention of General McIntosh to build a stockade at the Delaware capital of Coshocton, at the junction of the Tuscarawas and the

Walhonding, but several things conspired to thwart this. plan.(2) During the march to the Tuscarawas the Delaware chief, White Eyes, was "treacherously put to death." The exact manner of his killing is unknown, but it is believed that he was shot by a Virginia militiaman.(3) His death caused dismay among his warriors and most of them deserted the American force and returned to Coshocton. It. became thereafter uncertain whether the Americans would be received kindly at the Delaware capital. A march south to Coshocton would take the army far out of its way. Beyond all, the season had now become so late that Detroit was out of the question. A winter campaign through the land of the savages was not to be considered.

With great reluctance McIntosh was driven to the conclusion that he could not continue his campaign during that. season. He was not willing, however, to retire without accomplishing something. He decided to build a stockade fort at Tuscarawas, where the army was then encamped, to hold that place during the winter and from it to set forth in the spring on another attempt against Detroit. Such a fort would fulfill the pledge of the treaty to build a place of refuge in the Delaware country, and McIntosh hoped to send out war parties from it to strike the towns on the Sandusky river. Even this hope was ruined by the general's failure to bring forward sufficient provisions.

The fort at the Tuscarawas was built on the west bank of the river, about half a mile below the present village of Bolivar. It was a small thing, enclosing only about an acre of ground. High embankments of earth were raised and topped with pickets, consisting of logs set upright and pointed at the top. Colonel Cambray superintended the building of this fort, which was named Laurens, after the president of the Continental Congress.(4)

While this work was going on, McIntosh found that he could not get forward sufficient provisions to maintain his large force in the Indian country long enough even for an expedition against the Sandusky towns. The commissary department seems to have been managed miserably, although it contended with great difficulties.(5)

The time of the Virginia militia ran only until the end of the year. The weather began to grow cold, and to prevent starvation and disaster in the snows, McIntosh was forced to return with his army to the Ohio. He left at Fort Laurens 15o men of the Thirteenth Virginia, under Colonel John Gibson, the stout-hearted and active frontiersman. Colonel Brodhead, with a detachment of the Eighth Pennsylvania, formed the winter garrison of Fort McIntosh, while General McIntosh took up his quarters in Fort Pitt, and there brooded over his disappointments.

A terrible winter was spent by the little garrison of Fort Laurens. Colonel Gibson did not have sufficient food to last him until swing, and hunting in the woods was soon stopped by the appearance of hostile Indians. The savages began to prowl about the post early in January, 1779. The erection of this fort, almost in the heart of the Indian country, greatly provoked the savages of the Wyandot, Miami and Mingo tribes, and they plotted its destruction.(6)

McIntosh had promised to send back provisions, and about the middle of January Captain John Clark, of the Eighth Pennsylvania, was sent from Fort McIntosh with r5 men to convoy pack horses, with flour and meat, to the little post on the Tuscarawas.

Captain Clark reached the fort in safety on January 21 and two days later set out on his return to the Ohio. Three miles from the fort he was ambushed by Simon Girty and 17 Mingo Indians, who killed two of the soldiers, wounded four and captured one.(7) Captain Clark was driven back to the fort, but a few days afterward he again started and went hrough without molestation. Girty carried his prisoner to Detroit, where he raised a much larger force and returned to the vicinity of Fort Laurens.

About the middle of February the wilderness post was surrounded by a band of 200 Indians, mostly Miamis and Mingoes, led by Captain Henry Bird and Girty.(8) Gibson succeeded in sending a messenger through the savage lines, who carried the news of the situation to General McIntosh, with this word from Gibson:

"You may depend upon my defending the fort to the last extremity."

On February 23 the garrison suffered a severe loss. Early in the winter the men had cut a lot of firewood and piled it in the forest not far from the fort. On the day mentioned a wagon was sent out, under an escort of 18 soldiers, to haul some of the wood into the stockade. At about half a mile from the fort the little party passed by an ancient Indian mound, and behind that mound a band of savages lay hidden. As the white men went along one side of the mound the Indians burst upon them, both in front and rear, took them completely by surprise and quickly killed and scalped every member of the party except two, who were taken prisoners.

The Indians now laid regular siege to the fort and endeavored to starve it into surrender. The camp fires of the savages were seen at night in the bleak woods, and in the daytime the warriors showed themselves on the adjacent hills, shaking their guns at the fort and waving aloft the scalps of the slain soldiers. The food of the garrison grew so scanty that Colonel Gibson cut down the daily ration to a quarter of a pound of flour and the same weight of meat. Gibson sent another messenger for help, a courageous fellow, who eluded the watchful Indians and reached Fort McIntosh on March 3. At once the general set about to gather a relieving force, but it was two weeks before he collected enough men to do any good.

In the meantime the straits of the garrison grew desperate. A sortie in force was contemplated, but this was given up when a count was made of the besieging savages. The Indians paraded over the crest of a hill within plain sight of the garrison, and about 850 warriors were counted. This kept the garrison closely within the walls. It was learned years afterward that there were not more than 200 Indians, but they had exaggerated their real strength by marching around the farther base of the hill and showing themselves in long single file, four or five times over, within sight of the white men.

Captain Bird, after this stratagem, sent in a demand for surrender, promising safe passage for the soldiers to Fort McIntosh, but Gibson sternly refused. The Indians then promised to withdraw if Gibson would furnish them with a barrel of flour and a barrel of meat. Bird believed that the garrison was reduced to its last provisions and would refuse the request. In such an event, he felt certain that starvation would bring the white men to terms in a few days. Gibson had but a few barrels of food, and that in bad condition, but he quickly complied with the demand, sent out the two barrels and said that he had plenty left. The savages were discouraged, for they were almost without food themselves. The snow was so deep that they were not able to replenish their larder. They had a feast on the flour and pork, and on the following day left the vicinity and returned to their towns in Northwestern Ohio.

On March 23 General McIntosh appeared with his relieving force of 300 regulars and 200 militiamen, escorting a train of pack horses with provisions. The joy of the garrison was excessive. For more than a week the men had been living on roots and soup made by boiling rawhides.

The famished men sallied forth with their rifles and fired a volley to express their gladness. The shooting frightened the pack horses and they stampeded through the woods, scattering their provisions in every direction. Some of the horses were never recovered and not more than half of the food was gathered up.

General McIntosh remained only two or three days at Fort Laurens. Colonel Gibson and his hungry Virginians were relieved and returned with the general to Fort Pitt, while Major Vernon and ioo men of the Eighth Pennsylvania were substituted as the garrison of the wilderness post.

In February, before going to the relief of Fort Laurens, General McIntosh had concluded that he was a failure as a frontier officer, and had written to General Washington asking to be recalled. The Commander-in-Chief acceded to the request, with evident chagrin, and named Colonel Daniel Brodhead, of the Eighth Pennsylvania, as commander of the Western Department. The nomination of Brodhead was communicated to Congress on March 5 and was approved by that body. On his return to Fort Pitt, April 3, McIntosh received the notification of his release from command, and soon afterward departed for Philadelphia, while Colonel Brodhead went from Fort McIntosh to Fort Pitt and took charge of affairs.(9)

In writing of McIntosh, under date of February 20, 1779, General Washington said: "I wish matters had been more prosperously conducted under the command of General McIntosh. This gentleman was in a manner a stranger to me, but during the time of his residence at Valley Forge I had imbibed a good opinion of his good sense, attention to duty and disposition to correct public abuses, qualifications much to be valued in a separate and distinct command. To these considerations were added (and not the least) his disinterested concern with respect to the disputes which had divided and distracted the inhabitants of that western world, and which would have rendered an officer from either Pennsylvania or Virginia improper, while no one could be spared from another state with so much convenience as McIntosh. He is now coming away, and the second in command, Brodhead (as there will be no military operations of consequence to be conducted), will succeed him. But once for all, it may not be amiss for me -to conclude with this observation, that, with such means as are provided, I must labor."(10)

Brodhead was one of the officers who believed that the building of Fort McIntosh was useless and the erection of Fort Laurens foolish. During April and May the soldiers in Fort Laurens, though free from serious Indian attacks, suffered great privations through the shortage of food. A. few deer were killed by Delaware Indian hunters and sold to the garrison, but in the middle of May Brodhead ordered the greater part of the force to return to Fort McIntosh to escape actual starvation. Major Vernon remained with only 25 men until August i, part of the time being reduced for food to herbs, salt and boiled hides. It was impossible to keep the place provisioned so far in the wilderness. The fort was finally dismantled, by Brodhead's orders, and the last little handful of men returned to Fort Pitt. The stockade remained for many years, falling into decay slowly. Fifty years ago some of the pickets were standing, and even now the outlines of the embankments can be made out on the western bank of the Tuscarawas river.(11)

1 Fort McIntosh and Its Times, monograph by Daniel Agnew; Washington-Irvine Correspondence, p. 23, etc.

2 Ft. Pitt, p. 234.

3 Cramrine's History of Washington County, Pa., note on p. 220.

4 Albach's Western Annals, p. 300; Pennsylvania Archives, First Series, vol. vii., p. 131.

5 Frontier Forts, vol. 11., p. 489; Pennsylvania Archives, First Series, vol. viii., pp. 169, 405.

6 Zelsberger to Morgan, January 20, 1779, MS. in Pittsburg Carnegie Library.

7 Pennsylvania Archives, First Series, vol. vii., p. 173.

8 The Westward Movement, Justin Winsor, p. 138; The Glrtys, p. 94.

9 Washington-Irvine Correspondence, p. 86.

10 Magazine of American History, vol. ill., p. 182

11 Historical Collections of Ohio, vol. U., p. 693.

SOURCE:  Page(s) 80-87: Old Westmoreland, A History of Western Pennsylvania During the Revolution by Edgar W. Hassler, J.R. Weldon & Co, Pittsburgh, 1900

Contributed by Nathan Zipfel for use by the Westmoreland County Genealogy Project (

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