Fort Duquesne

Fort Duquesne

Fort Duquesne, at the junction of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, on the site of Pittsburgh, SW Pa. Because of its strategic location, it was a major objective in the last of the French and Indian Wars. The fort was begun by a group of Virginians in 1754 at the insistence of Gov. Robert Dinwiddie. The French drove the Virginians away on Apr. 17, 1754, and completed the fort; they named it after the Marquis de Duquesne, governor-general of New France. George Washington's Virginia militia had failed to reach the fort before the arrival of the French (see Fort Necessity). Fort Duquesne was also the goal of an unsuccessful expedition under English Gen. Edward Braddock in 1755. On Nov. 24, 1758, the French abandoned their position without a fight to advancing British troops led by Gen. John Forbes and retreated north after burning Fort Duquesne. The English rebuilt it and renamed it Fort Pitt, around which Pittsburgh grew.
Duquesne, Fort: see Fort Duquesne.

Fort Duquesne (originally called Fort Du Quesne) was a fort established by the French in 1754, at the junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers in what is now downtown Pittsburgh in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

It was destroyed and replaced by Fort Pitt in 1758; over two centuries later, the site formerly occupied by Fort Duquesne is now Point State Park.


The point where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers merged to form the Ohio River was long seen as important for controlling the Ohio Country, both for settlement and for trade. Englishman William Trent had established a highly successful trading post at the forks as early as the 1740s, to do business with a number of nearby American Indian villages. Both the French and the British were keen to gain advantage in the area. As the area was within the drainage basin of the Mississippi River, the French claimed it as theirs. Many of the charters of the British colonies on the east coast of North America granted land indefinitely to the west, setting the scene for conflict.

In the early 1750s, the French commenced construction of a line of forts, starting with Fort Presque Isle on Lake Erie near present-day Erie, Pennsylvania, followed by Fort Le Boeuf, about 15 miles inland near present-day Waterford, and Fort Machault, on the Allegheny River in Venango County in present-day Franklin.

Lieutenant Governor of the Virginia Colony, Robert Dinwiddie, saw this as threatening to the extensive claims to land in the area by Virginians (including himself). In late autumn 1753, Dinwiddie dispatched a young George Washington to the area to deliver a letter to the French commander, asking them to leave, and to assess French strength and intentions. Washington reached Fort Le Boeuf in December and was politely rebuffed by the French.

Fort's construction and replacement

Following Washington's return to Virginia in January 1754, Dinwiddie sent Virginians to build Fort Prince George at the forks. Work began on the fort on February 17. By April 18, a much larger French force arrived at the forks, forcing the small British garrison there to surrender. The French knocked down the tiny British fort and built Fort Duquesne, named in honor of Marquis Duquesne, the governor-general of New France.

Although the location at the Forks of the Ohio looked strong on paper, controlling the confluence of three rivers, reality was rather different. The site was low and swampy, and prone to flooding. In addition, the position was dominated by nearby highlands, which would allow an enemy to bombard the fort with ease. The French commander was preparing to abandon the fort in the face of Braddock's advance in 1755, and was only saved when the advancing British force was annihilated (see below). When the Forbes expedition approached in 1758, the French were not as lucky.

Washington, who had been promoted to Lt. Colonel of the newly created Virginia Regiment, left on April 2 as part of a small force with the dual purpose of constructing a road and defending the fort upon their arrival. Washington was at Wills Creek in south central Pennsylvania when he received news of the surrender of Fort Prince George. On May 25, Washington assumed command of the expedition upon the death of Colonel Joshua Fry. Two days later, Washington encountered a French scouting party near a place now known as Jumonville Glen (several miles east of present-day Uniontown). Washington attacked the French, some of whom escaped, and then ordered construction of Fort Necessity at a large clearing known as the Great Meadows. On July 3, the counterattacking French forced Washington to surrender Fort Necessity but allowed Washington and his men to return home without their armaments.

The French held Fort Duquesne during the French and Indian War, and it became one of the focal points for that war because of its strategic location. The French held the fort successfully early in the war, turning back the expedition led by General Edward Braddock. George Washington served as one of General Braddock's aides. A smaller attack by James Grant in September 1758 was repulsed with heavy losses. Two months later, on November 25, the Forbes Expedition under General John Forbes captured the site after the French destroyed Fort Duquesne the day before. The British built a much larger fort on the site, and named it Fort Pitt.

Present-day site

Fort Duquesne was located where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet to form the Ohio. The location in downtown Pittsburgh is now known as Point State Park or "the Point." The park includes a brick outline of the fort's walls. In May 2007, Thomas Kutys, an archaeologist with A.D. Marble & Company, a Cultural Resource Management firm based in Conshohocken, Pennsylvania, rediscovered a stone and brick drain thought to have drained one of the fort's many buildings. Due to its depth in the ground, this drain may be all of the fort that has survived. The entire northern half of the site the fort is thought to have occupied was destroyed by the heavy industrial usage of the area in the 19th century.


  • Anderson, Fred. Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754–1766. New York: Knopf, 2000. ISBN 0375406425.
  • Hunter, William A. Forts on the Pennsylvania Frontier, 1753–1758. Originally published 1960; Wennawoods reprint, 1999.
  • Stotz, Charles Morse. Outposts Of The War For Empire: The French and English In Western Pennsylvania: Their Armies, Their Forts, Their People 1749–1764. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2005. ISBN 0822942623.

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