Albany Congress & Fort Necessity
James Hamilton, 1749-1754
A Realm of Peace — During the early period of the history of Pennsylvania, with which we have so far dealt, Penn's province remained free from the horror of war. Elsewhere in the colonies there had been strife and bloodshed, but here the dove of peace had spread its wings, even the Indian natives being friendly and docile, and not fighting savagely for their homes and rights as in other parts of the country. The love of peace and hatred of war by the Friends had here grown in fertile soil, but the time was at hand when this reign of peace would end and war fall on Penn’s happy province with all its terrors.
A Reign of Prosperity — During the years of quiet progress the population of Pennsylvania had steadily grown and wealth and prosperity increased. Philadelphia had become the leading city in the country; its business was in a flourishing condition, and the multitude of ships at its wharves gave evidence of a rich foreign trade. Within thirty years, from 1720 to 1750, the number of vessels sailing from this busy city increased from less than a hundred to more than four hundred, while its imports became ten times as great and its exports over three times as great.
In the rural regions the farming population were happy and thriving, owning their own lands and finding a good market for all they could raise. There was a growing trade with the western Indians, who wanted the goods that the [Europeans] had to sell, and the demand for labor was so great that wages had not fallen, though within twenty years the population had nearly doubled and thirty thousand working men had come into the province.
New Land Purchases — In the earlier history of Pennsylvania the settlements had been in the eastern part of the province, only the hardy hunters and Pioneers pushing farther west. These were chiefly made up of the Scotch-Irish, a bold and daring people who cared nothing for the Quaker doctrine of peace with all men and were ever ready to fight their way, whether their quarrel was right or wrong. But even these had not crossed the western mountains, and this part of Penn's province was still free from [European] settlements.
But the tide of pioneer travel was moving in that direction and to provide for it a purchase of land was made in 1754, this time from the Iroquois Indians, then lords of the soil. This included all the country south and west of a line from Shamokin to Lake Erie, for which the small sum of four hundred pounds was paid. This was another wrong done to the Indians of Pennsylvania, whose native realm was thus sold by the tribes of New York without their consent. It added to their hatred of the whites find their thirst for revenge.
Governor Hamilton — In 1749, as already stated, a new governor was appointed by the Penn family, this being James Hamilton, the son of Andrew Hamilton, at that day the most eminent lawyer in the colonies.
He had a serious task before him, a more difficult one than any of the former governors had met. Tribes of savage Indians were waiting, tomahawk in hand, for the time when they could fall on those who had robbed them of their homes. And the French, who claimed the Ohio Valley, were getting ready for a contest for its possession which was soon to come.
Death of Logan — James Logan, who had come to Philadelphia with William Penn in 1699 and had been a leader in all political and other movements in the province, died in 1751, at the age of eighty-seven years. He was so important in the province that during much of the time he was the real governor and his Quaker principles were so strong as to make him disliked by the popular party. He cared little for this, living for his work and his books. He was a learned man, able to converse in several languages, was a scientist and philosopher, and during his long life had collected a library of the best editions of the best books of his time on art, science, and many other subjects. Of these he left three thousand volumes to the city and they still form a valuable section of the Philadelphia Library.
Franklin in the Assembly — Benjamin Franklin, who had been the clerk of the Assembly for fifteen years, was elected a member of that body in 1751. With his keen insight into affairs, his good judgment, and his activity in practical matters he quickly became a leading member, and for years he drafted nearly all the State papers for the Assembly, besides taking a prominent part in all measures for the public good.
The Albany Congress — Franklin was a prominent member of a congress of the colonies held at Albany in 1754. Its purpose was to consider the question of the Indian relations to the colonies, but it went much farther than this. Some plan of mutual defense of the colonies was needed, and several of the members brought plans with them. Of these, the one brought by Franklin was accepted as the best. He gave it a pictorial interest by drawing a sketch of a snake cut into thirteen sections. Under it was the motto, "Unite or die." This was to show how weak each section of the thirteen colonies would be if working by itself; how strong they would be if all united into one.
He proposed a union of the colonies, with a grand council chosen by their legislatures and a president appointed by the king, these to have charge of all general affairs, but not of the local affairs of the colonies. It failed to pass, being opposed by the king as giving too much power to the colonies. Twenty-two years later, in 1776, Franklin unopposed a similar measure in the Continental Congress and the Union of the States became the law of the land.
By 1750 the Ohio Valley became a prize sought by the French and English alike. In that year the Ohio company, formed in Virginia and Pennsylvania, sent out surveyors to explore the Ohio, and a party of French troops were also sent who seized some English traders, took their property, and sent them to France. In 1753 the French began to build forts in western Pennsylvania, one at Presque Isle, on Lake Erie, one at Le Boeuf (now Waterford), and one at Venango (now Franklin), on the Alleghany River.
Washington's Journey — These movements first brought into notice George Washington, then a young man of twenty-one. He was an officer in the Virginia militia, and the governor of Virginia, who knew him for a man of ability, sent him out
through the wilderness to warn the officers in those forts that they were on land belonging to the English.
It was a long and dangerous journey which Washington had to make, much of it through the mountain wilderness of western Pennsylvania.
Here he met and talked with chiefs of the Indians, trying to win them over to the English cause. As for the French, they refused to retire. While at the forts he saw that they had ready a large number of canoes, in which they intended to go down the Alleghany River when the coming spring cleared it of ice.
Fort Duquesne — In Washington’s journey he had noted the spot where the Alleghany and Monongahela rivers join to form the Ohio. This point, where Pittsburgh now stands, was a splendid place for a fort, since it commanded the navigation of these rivers. He reported what lie had seen and a party of workmen were sent there to build a fort early in 1754. They had not long been at work when the French soldiers came down the Alleghany in their canoes. They also knew the value of this place, the "Gateway of the West" as it has been called, so they drove away the British workmen, seized their partly built fort, and finished it for themselves, naming it Fort Duquesne.
A Virginia Expedition — A party of troops was now marching from Virginia towards this place, under Colonel Frye and Major Washington. Colonel Frve died on the route, so the command of the expedition was left to young Washington. Governor Hamilton had tried hard to get the Pennsylvania Assembly to send troops to take part in this expedition, but its members refused to do so, saying that there was no proof that Pennsylvania had been invaded.
The First Shot of the War — Washington had only four hundred men and the French had reached the spot sought before him. Also they were in stronger force, and had sent out a reconnoitering party to learn what the English were doing. Washington met these, and as they were hiding in the woods, and seemed to have hostile intentions, he ordered his men to fire. The leader of the French, Jumonville, was slain. This was the first shot fired and the first man killed in one of the most important wars of that period.
Fort Necessity — Washington soon learned that the French were too strong for him and he found it necessary to retreat, as they were advancing towards him in much larger numbers. For twelve miles the Virginians made their way back over the Alleghanies, dragging their supplies by hand, and their ammunition by the aid of a few horses. On July 1 the place known as Great Meadows, in southwest Pennsylvania, was reached, and here a log stockade was thrown up. This he called Fort Necessity. Two days later the woodland fort was surrounded by a party of French and Indians, fifteen hundred strong.
The End of the Campaign — An attack began which lasted from ten in the morning until nightfall. By this time Washington’s ammunition was nearly gone. The French now asked for a parley and offered terms, while the young commander was obliged to accept. He and his men were to retain their arms and return to their homes. On the next morning the troops marched out, with beating drums and waving flags, and set out on their long homeward march. It is of interest that this took place on the, 4th of July 1754, just twenty-two years before the Declaration of Independence.
In which colony all this took place was then in doubt. The Pennsylvania Assembly declared that their province had not been invaded, and in fact Virginia at that time and for twenty years afterwards claimed the Pittsburgh locality, though later it was decided to lie in Pennsylvania.
Hamilton Resigns — Governor Hamilton by this time was growing thoroughly tired of his position, that of a go-between of the Penns and the Assembly, neither of whom he was able to please. He, therefore, decided to resign and leave the difficult post for some one fonder of fighting than he was. When he heard of what had happened at Fort Necessitv he had called the Assemblv into session, but found it impossible to have a money bill passed.
Neither side was willing to accept the terms of the other. Accordingly he gladly laid down his office, handing it over to his successor, Robert Hunter Morris, who reached Pennsylvania in early October, 1754. All through the war the same trouble continued, the heirs of William Penn refusing to let their lands be taxed and thus tying the hands of the governors.
— History Of Pennsylvania by Charles Morris (1913)