What Happened at Fort Necessity and What Was Its Effect?

Washington had very little military experience when he built Fort Necessity.
... Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images

Fort Necessity is aptly named. Built on June 4th, 1754, it was hastily constructed by 22-year-old Lieutenant Colonel George Washington and his troops in an attempt -- one that ultimately failed -- to withstand French soldiers bent on avenging the murder of Ensign Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, who was killed while under Washington's care.

1 A Little Background

Fort Necessity is located Farmington, Pennsylvania. Today, the reconstructed fort and historical site is maintained by the National Parks service, but at the time, it was located in hotly contested territory claimed by French Canadians, American Indians and the British. Washington had originally been sent to the area prior to building the fort in an effort to defend British claim on the territory and discourage French settlers. On his second trip, he built a supply road. During this trip, he and his troops encountered a French scouting party. They captured the party, but Washington's Indian ally killed the scouting party's leader, Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, sometime during the skirmish. This angered the French, and they returned a few weeks later with reinforcements that greatly outnumbered Washington's troops.

2 A Little Fort

It wasn't just that fact that Washington's forces were outnumbered -- French and Indian forces more than doubled his -- that caused him to lose the first battle of the French and Indian War. Fort Necessity was circular, which was unusual at the time, and rather small at 53 feet in diameter. Because of its circular shape, there was no place for the troops to focus their fire. Not only that, but Washington made the rookie mistake of actually locating the fort in a depression -- making it easy for the enemy to shoot down at them from the surrounding hills, especially when it started pouring down rain after the first shot was fired, filling the fort's defensive trenches with water.

3 The Aftermath

This battle was important because it was the first in a seven-year-long war that would eventually remove the French from British territory and also test the strength and resolve of the British colonists. The battle began on July 3rd and ended on July 4th when Washington surrendered. It was the only time Washington would ever surrender to an enemy. As part of the terms, he signed a confession -- written in French -- to Jumonville's murder, although he couldn't read the confession and would later state that he was told it simply stated that Jumonville was killed.

4 The Effect

Several important things happened as a result of Washington's rather inept construction of Fort Necessity, the battle and his defeat at the hands of the French. The first was that Washington gained valuable military experience and learned some hard lessons in war strategy. The second is that the battle and war set the stage for the American Revolution as it removed French and Indian opposition to colonist expansion while at the same time draining the coffers of the British Empire.