The Battle of Fort Necessity was a conflict that took place on July 3, 1754 in Pennsylvania. The battle featured the combined forces of Great Britain and the colonies against the French and Native Americans. The French assault led by Louis Coulon de Villiers resulted in a British defeat, and the only military surrender of George Washington. The terms of surrender, as translated to Washington, said the French only wanted the soldiers to leave the fort. However, French accounts of the treaty said in included stipulations over the accused assassination of French officer Jumonville Glen. Additionally, the French did nothing to stop the Native Americans from looting the surrounding area and soldiers after their surrender. This battle was one of the military factors that led to the Seven Years’ War. While the most direct coverage of the event occurred in 1754-55, the battle is still referenced up until 1797, and the flow of reprinted information goes north from Annapolis, Maryland up to Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
The news of George Washington’s surrender at Fort Necessity spread from Pennsylvania, where the fort was located, north through New York, Boston, and New Hampshire. While news and letters from Annapolis were republished in a Pennsylvania newspaper, I was not able to find the original newspaper from Maryland. Even if it is possible that the southern colonies eventually learned of the French victory, there was no newspaper or article originating anywhere south from Maryland. The most reprinted piece of information was a letter from Colonel James Innes to the Governor, recounting the assault on the fort. The letter was originally printed in the Pennsylvania Gazette on July 25, 1754 from which it traveled to a New York and then to multiple Bostonian newspapers (1). The letter from Colonel Innes explained to the Governor that Washington and McKay only had 400 men with them, many of whom were sick, compared to the 900 French soldiers and Native Americans who bombarded the fort from 11 in the morning to late at night. The letter berated the French for disregarding the terms of their treaty, which was written in French but translated verbally to Washington, and said the French allowed the Native Americans to loot the surrounding area and soldiers as they fled. According to Innes, the French were supposed to allow the soldiers to leave peacefully in exchange for them leaving the fort the next morning (2).
One thing that the letter from Colonel Innes failed to bring up was the accusation that Washington and a native leader, Tanacharison, assassinated the French officer Jumonville. The only mention of the affair that I could find was in an opinion piece in the Porcupine’s Gazette from March 13, 1797. The article was a response in a letter from Washington the newspaper had previously published denying a forgery charge. The writer used the surrender at Fort Necessity and the assassination accusation to question Washington’s character. The writer, signed as “TTL”, said that the actions were incredibly degrading especially since the treaty that Washington signed as part of his surrender stated that he would admit to the assassination of Jumonville (3).
Another article that originated in Annapolis but was reprinted in a Pennsylvania newspaper, was a series of correspondents from Horatio Sharpe, the Governor of Maryland, to the House of Assembly. Sharpe argued that the French transgression and invasion of His Majesty’s territories should not be taken lightly and countermeasures should be taken immediately. The B. Tasker, President of the House of Assembly, replied that he wholeheartedly agreed with Sharpe and concluded that the French were in “open violation of most solemn treaties” (4). All of the letters were grouped together sequentially, beginning on the cover of the newspaper and ending on the first page.
The surrender at Fort Necessity was also mentioned briefly in the article “The title of the timeline was “A Chronological Series of Events, since the Peace at Aix La Chapelle” which was originally printed in the Boston Post-Boy in 1760 but was reprinted in the New Hampshire Gazette in 1761. The July section of the timeline states “Villiers obliges Washington in Fort Necessity to capitulate” and then the timeline moves on to 1755 (5). This one sentence is the real takeaway the colonies had from the Battle of Fort Necessity, and it’s the one piece of information that was consistently reprinted in the newspapers.
1: New York Mercury, 7/29/1754 Boston Evening-Post, 8/5/1754 Boston Post-Boy, 8/5/1754 Boston Gazette, 8/6/1754
2: Pennsylvania Gazette, 7/25/1754
3: Porcupine’s Gazette, Philadelphia, 3/13/1797
4: Pennsylvania Gazette, 8/01/1754
5: New Hampshire Gazette, Portsmouth, 1/23/1761