The Battle of Fort Duquesne

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Fort Duquesne was a major French base in the French and Indian War. In this lesson, we're going to discuss the battle for control of this fort, and see what it meant to American history.

Fort Duquesne

Have you ever wondered when the British colonists of the American colonies stopped seeing themselves as purely British and started thinking of themselves as more…American? Well, it didn't just happen overnight. American identity formed from a series of events, each one creating more and more distance between the colonists and the empire. One of the first of these moments started with a relatively small French trading fort called Fort Duquesne.

Background

In the mid-18th century, Britain was seriously focusing on colonizing the Americas. At the same time, France was expanding its fur trading empire based in what is now Canada. It wasn't long until these two empires started both laying claims to the same territory. That territory was the Ohio River Valley, today spread mostly across the states of Ohio and Pennsylvania. The British wanted to expand their colonies into the Ohio River Valley to increase the resources produced and extracted within the Americas. The French wanted access to new fur supply routes. In 1754, French troops captured a section of the territory and began the construction of several new trading forts, Fort Duquesne amongst them. It didn't take long until the English claimed that the territory was rightfully theirs, and assembled a fighting force to prove it. The result was the French and Indian War, a global conflict fought between the French and British Empires from 1754 to 1763, that would change everything.

The contested area of the Ohio River Valley
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The Battle of Fort Duquesne

As the French and Indian War escalated, the British began to see Fort Duquesne as crucial to regaining control of the Ohio River Valley. In 1758, the British Prime Minister William Pitt sent General John Forbes with 6,000 troops to capture the fort, with the goal of driving the French back into Canada. This was a major fighting force, but they weren't sure just how many adversaries were waiting for them. So, General Forbes sent Major James Grant to check it out. Along with 850 soldiers, Grant scouted the fort, and decided it was poorly defended enough for his men to take it. They attempted to set a trap for the French and their many Amerindian allies at the fort, but ended up falling into a trap themselves. Over 300 of Grant's forces were killed, the rest fled, and Grant himself was captured.

Despite this initial French victory, General Forbes still had most of his army stationed nearby. The French attacked, and the British were able to repel them. Later, the British led a surprise attack under the cover of darkness and set the fort on fire. Fort Duquesne burned to the ground, and the much larger British forces were able to quickly defeat the remaining French, along with their Amerindian allies. The British troops rebuilt the fort, and named it Fort Pitt after the prime minister. It would later be renamed Pittsburgh.

The capture of Fort Duquesne
Fort Duquesne

Impact

The battle for Fort Duquesne was just one of many during the French and Indian War, but it did give the British a very strategic location from which to focus on the invasion of Canada. When the French and Indian War ended in a British victory, all of Canada was transferred over to the British Empire.

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