With the exception of perhaps West Point, no garrison is more frequently cited in this collection than Fort Pitt, along with its commander, Major Isaac Craig who restored the fort in 1791. But long before this bastion on the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers became a major supply depot for pushing provisions and supplies down the Ohio River to the western forts during the 1790s, the French controlled this region, using their their own system of Indian alliances with the Six Nations of Iroquois and by constructing a series of forts running north-south from French Canada, including Fort Frontenac, (modern day Kingston Ontario, Fort Oswego, Fort Presque Isle (modern day Erie PA), and Fort LeBoeuf (Waterford PA).
Built by French and Canadians in 1754, the construction of Fort Duquesne was a risky undertaking for the undermanned and under-resourced French, in many ways setting the stage for the beginnings of what Winston Churchill called “the first world war.” For it was here that General Braddock, supreme commander of British forces in North America, along with his young aide George Washington, aimed in 1755 to dislodge the French once and for all in a military campaign known as “Braddock’s March.”
But with his columns divided and strung out for miles, French and Indian forces inflicted a stinging defeat on Braddock’s army at the Battle of the Monongahela River. Miraculously, Washington survived unscathed, even though he had two horses shot from underneath him. After Braddock was killed, Washington took command of the general retreat back to Virginia.
Having taken measure of Braddock’s recklessness and refusal to engage in Indian diplomacy, General John Forbes (with Washington as his aide) advanced again toward Fort Duquesne in 1758 with 6000 British and Colonial troops. Along the way Forbes systematically protected his lines of communications by creating a system of forts, supply depots and blockhouses through modern day southern Pennsylvania, known as “Forbes’ Road.” Hopelessly outnumbered, French forces blew up the fort and retreated to Fort Leboeuf. Fort Duquesne became Fort Pitt, after William Pitt the Elder, where modern-day Pittsburgh stands today.
For more, see Fred Anderson (2000). Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754–1766. New York: Alfred Knopf.