Stories from PA History
The French and Indian War in Pennsylvania
The French and Indian War in Pennsylvania
Chapter Three: The Forbes Road and the Campaign of 1758

The fortunes of war finally turned in Britain's favor in 1758. After several years of embarrassing defeats along the Ohio and Great Lakes frontier, British forces won victories that would permanently disable the French war effort in North America. The seizure of the French fortress of Louisbourg at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River blocked Canada's access to French reinforcements and supplies. Likewise, the fall of Fort Frontenac on Lake Ontario severed French supply lines between the St. Lawrence River and the Great Lakes. And perhaps most important of all, General John Forbes led a British army to the Forks of the Ohio and forced the French to abandon Fort Duquesne.
Watercolor of Fort Ligonier
In 1758, General John Forbes led several thousand British and provincial troops...

From the perspective of colonial Pennsylvanians, Forbes's march was a feat worthy of Hercules. Forbes accomplished what General Braddock had failed to do so spectacularly in 1755: cut a road through the American wilderness for several thousand British and provincial troops, all while in the shadow of their French and Indian enemies.

But why did Forbes succeed where Braddock had failed? The two men shared much in common. They were both professional British soldiers who found American Indians and colonists unreliable and undisciplined allies. Both planned their campaigns according to the conventions of European warfare, marching large armies and heavy artillery to lay siege to a well-entrenched enemy post. Forbes was neither smarter nor more innovative than Braddock, nor can we attribute his success to superior charisma or courage. Forbes was gravely ill throughout 1758 and commanded his men from his sickbed. For most of the campaign, Forbes lagged behind his army and did not catch up with it until early November, barely three weeks before the fall of markerFort Duquesne.

What Forbes did have was the benefit of Braddock's experience. First, he realized the importance of fortifying his position as he approached the Ohio Country. His second-in-command, Colonel Henry Bouquet, supervised the construction of a string of posts along the route capable of defending his troops against the enemy. Second, Forbes had learned from Braddock's failure the importance of Indian diplomacy. He actively sought the assistance of the southern Cherokee and Catawba Indians, but these native allies grew discontented with the slowness of the campaign's progress and drifted home by late summer.
General Forbes also benefited from a timely treaty with the Indians, many of whom joined with him to evict the French. This painting by Robert Griffing shows a Cherokee with the Forbes expedition scouting Fort Duquesne.
Scouting for the English, by Robert Griffing.

More significantly, Forbes benefited from peace negotiations between the Indians and British that culminated in the Treaty of Easton in October 1758. The Easton Treaty brought together representatives from Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and the British Crown with over 500 Indians representing the Iroquois nations of New York, the eastern and western Delawares, and several smaller eastern nations tributary to the Iroquois. In the ensuing negotiations, the large Iroquois delegation reasserted its priority and authority over the eastern Delawares, whose leader Teedyuscung was intent on securing his people's possession of the upper Susquehanna Valley independent of both Pennsylvanian and Iroquoian interference. The Iroquois and agents representing the Penn family and British Crown joined forces against Teedyuscung and his Quaker allies in the Pennsylvania government, marginalizing his influence over the proceedings.

Instead, the grievances of the Iroquois and western Delawares against the Penn family's land purchase at the Albany Congress of 1754 took precedence. In exchange for the restoration of some of the disputed lands, the Iroquois agreed to use their influence to secure peace between the western Delawares and the British. In return, the British agreed to restrain western settlement and guarantee the Ohio Indians possession of their homelands. As colonial agent Christian Frederick Post and western Delaware chief Pisquetomen carried news of this bargain west of the Alleghenies, the Ohio Indians' commitment to the French weakened and lessened the danger to Forbes's army.

The construction of the markerForbes Road began in earnest at markerFort Loudon, one of the frontier posts built by Pennsylvania in 1755-56. From there, military engineers and laborers cut a road to Raystown (modern Bedford), where they built markerFort Bedford and Forbes and Bouquet faced an important decision. Should the army march south and join Braddock's Road at Fort Cumberland or continue west along a fur traders' route known as the markerRaystown Path? The Virginians serving in the expedition, including George Washington, argued strenuously for taking Braddock's route, but Forbes rightly suspected that their advice was colored by their land speculating interests. Whichever route he cut to the Ohio Country would become the major highway for migration to that region after the war. Forbes chose to follow a route that would pass entirely through Pennsylvania because he thought it would be shorter, but his decision greatly improved Pennsylvania's position relative to Virginia's in the postwar scramble for the Ohio Country.

Forbes's army proceeded slowly but methodically, building smaller camps and stockades, such as markerFort Juniata and the markerClear Fields, at regular intervals. By September, his army was encamped at Loyalhanna Creek, fifty miles from the Forks of the Ohio. Here Forbes ordered the construction of markerFort Ligonier, while his men markerskirmished with the French and Indians. In late November Forbes made a fateful decision. Rather than sending his army into winter quarters, he marker decided to proceed against Fort Duquesne.

The French commander at Fort Duquesne, Francois-Marie le Marchand de Lignery, was in dire straits. The British successes at Louisbourg and Fort Frontenac had cut off his access to reinforcements and supplies. With their French "father" no longer able to supply the material goods necessary for their subsistence, many of the Ohio Indians no longer felt bound to provide military assistance to Lignery, and the news of the Treaty of Easton did not help matters for the French. Those Indians still in the French interest dispersed to their homes after successfully repelling an advance British party in September, figuring the threat to the fort was over until spring. When Lignery learned of Forbes's decision to advance on Fort Duquesne in November, he decided to destroy the post before the British could occupy it and retreat north. The British claimed dominion over the Forks of the Ohio by building markerFort Pitt in 1759, and the town of markerPittsburgh rapidly developed around it. Today, a single markerblockhouse from Fort Pitt still stands, as a reminder of the long and fateful struggle between two European empires for this strategic piece of real estate.

Pennsylvanians celebrated the victory of Forbes's army and gave its commander a hero's funeral when he died in Philadelphia in March 1759, in stark contrast to the hurried burial Braddock had received under the feet of his battered army four years earlier. Fort Pitt immediately became the center of a rapidly growing colonial settlement, attracting farmers, merchants, and traders who found business and security working in the shadow of the imposing British post. One element of the population, however, grew increasingly discontented in the wake of Forbes's victory. The British had promised the Ohio Indians that they would leave the Forks of the Ohio after the French were gone, but the activity at Fort Pitt indicated otherwise. As the Indians contemplated the growing military and civilian community there, they realized that the British might prove even harder to dislodge than the French.
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