Just a week ago I led off my column with a remark that I was tired of writing about America’s War of Independence with Great Britain. Easy for me to say. I did get swept up in some history programming about it, but in general it is overdone, and really not much of it was happening in our neck of the woods. However, I am entranced with the period of the French and Indian War, and the time just after the War of Independence when our new country acquired the Northwest Territory and had to figure out how to make use of it and settle it in the face of sometime Native American resistance. In those periods our little area is featured prominently.
Studying the earlier war, George Washington comes across as a totally different human being, before he was sort of deified. During the war period from 1757 to 1763, the string of forts across Southern Pennsylvania at Carlisle, Littleton, Bedford, Ligonier, Pittsburgh and other points take on added significance. This extended into our area with early forts like Henry, Chapman, and many others which were small, and today are chiefly noted by Highway Department History Markers. Many of these were not much more that fortified homesteads. Some of the larger ones, such as Bedford and Ligonier and Necessity have been accurately reconstructed. Others such as Niagara near Buffalo NY, have never really gone away. The big ones are open to the public as museums. Others, Fort Pitt for example, still has a standing Blockhouse, and a twentieth century Museum, but any other remains are buried beneath Point State Park. Although, one of the Fort’s brick bastions was unearthed and on display from approximately 1958 through 2010, until it was reburied to hinder further deterioration.
When doing my column on the survey of the first seven ranges of the Northwest Territory, I spent some time discussing Fort Steuben, the excellent reconstruction of which sits on Ohio Route Seven still protecting Steubenville from an attack from the Ohio River, (much like the tanks, helicopters cannons and jet aircraft at the Veteran’s Bridge ramps in downtown Weirton will scare off any attackers from Jefferson County- just a little personal humor here). What I do remember was that a small force from the First American Regiment built Fort Steuben to aid in protecting the surveyors, and the force was dispatched from Fort McIntosh. The role of the surveyors was to lay out tracts, starting at the Pennsylvania border so that the lands of the North West Territory might begin to be sold to settlers, and the proceeds used to partly pay down the country’s war debt.
Now I go to Beaver, PA about once a month to shop, find a Starbucks and lounge around. For my money it is one of the nicer Ohio River towns between Sewickley and Parkersburg. While there I have often noticed a sign for Fort McIntosh. On my last trip I decided to follow the signs toward the river and the Fort.
Although there was only a flat grassy park site overlooking the River, there was a wealth of information. In general, the foundation walls of part of the fort had been exposed and or replaced and repaired as necessary. From what was there, my first impression was that this was a BIG Fort. It was constructed in 1778 and in use until 1791 or later. It was the first fort built on the North side of the Ohio River by the United States (earlier ones had been colonial or British Forts, like Fort Pitt.) Its builders were soldiers of the 8th Pennsylvania and 13th Virginia Regiments under General Lachlan McIntosh.
After the end of the war the Army was quickly downsized. Defense was carried out by state militias, (think of the wording of the second Amendment), and the 1st American Regiment, the bulk of which was at McIntosh. Of course some portion was at Fort Pitt, and there was an American Force at West Point above New York, when it was just a Fort on the Hudson and there was no military academy. But Fort McIntosh was built to accommodate up to 1,500 soldiers. When first built during the War of Independence, the Fort was used as the launching point for an unsuccessful expedition to capture the British Fort at Detroit.
The Fort itself was in the shape of a trapezoid measuring 150 feet on each side. It had a raised earthen bastion on each corner. Its walls were logs set upon a stone foundation. Three sides were surrounded by a 15 foot ditch. The river side had a 130 foot slope to climb from the River bank. It was impressive and easily defensible. At that time the site was important, being partway between Forts Pitt and Henry. As well it was at the juncture of the Ohio and Beaver Rivers, and near the site of a friendly Native American village, and an easy journey to where the Pennsylvania border met the new territory.
However, the Fort itself has other historic significance to the region itself, and to the United States as a whole.