July 4, 1754 - the day that began America
Many Americans view July 4th, 1776 as the beginning of our nation’s history. However, 22 years earlier on July 4th, 1754 a battle occurred that, while minor at the time, would set the United States on a path towards independence.
The history of Fort Necessity
North America in the early 1750s was full of conflict between the British and the French. As the American colonies expanded west and the French colonies expanded south from Canada, the Ohio Valley became a contested area between the two countries. This conflict over trading routes, land, and resources would eventually lead to the outbreak of the French and Indian War; the war was fought for nine years between 1754 and 1763 and was part of the period known in Europe as the Seven Years’ War.
In late May 1754, a small group of British forces - led by then-Lieutenant Colonel George Washington - found themselves defending an area known as the Great Meadows in Pennsylvania. In order to better defend their position, Washington and his men quickly built a small fort in only five days; they called the small, hastily constructed camp Fort Necessity.
The Battle - and surrender - of Fort Necessity
On the morning of July 3rd, 1754 a group of about 600 French soldiers and 100 Native Americans attacked the less than 300 troops at Fort Necessity. During the battle both sides suffered losses, and just after midnight on July 4th Lieutenant Colonel Washington agreed to the terms of surrender of the French commander. The British troops then began their long march back to Virginia while the remaining French burned the fort to the ground.
George Washington’s role in the war
In November 1752, a 20 year old George Washington was appointed as part of the Virginia Colonial Militia. Two years later, the young lieutenant colonel was given his first command at a small makeshift fort aptly named Fort Necessity.
While the battle at Fort Necessity was George Washington’s first - and only - military surrender, the loss helped shape the future president. Much of his later actions and decisions would be shaped by his experiences during the French and Indian War.
The French and Indian War and the road to revolution
While the British won, the war left them in significant debt. Because of this, the British began to increasingly tax the American colonists in an effort to recoup some of the losses they suffered during the war. The increasing taxes led to increased tensions between the colonists and the British, which would eventually culminate in the Revolutionary War 22 years later.
Thanks to our independence day, July 4th is widely recognized as one of the most important dates in American history. However, the events at Fort Necessity on July 4th, 1754 are just as important as they helped spark the desire for independence from Great Britain in United States.