Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Fall of Fort Granville

The two Pennsylvania historical markers
Commemorating Fort Granville
Business Route 522, Lewistown
The sun was slowly rising as I pulled into the lot of the PennDOT building at the western edge of Lewistown. The cool morning air was deceiving as the day had a promise of thunderstorms. I stepped out of the vehicle and walked over to the two historical markers along Business Route 522 for Fort Granville. One of them is the familiar blue historical marker that marks important locations across the state while the other is a much older version with a plaque that is set on a concrete base.

As I stood there reading about the attack on Fort Granville I was taken in by the battle that happened and I knew that I had to know more about the destruction of the fort. But I did not realize at the time was these two signs would be the start of an epic journey across the state as I discovered the bloody events on the Pennsylvania frontier during 1755 and 1756.

The period of time known as the French and Indian War in the American Colonies had ended in January 1755 with the Treaty of Paris, but tensions between the colonists and Native Americans were still running high. In July of 1755 General Braddock had led a force of British soldiers and colonists in an attempt to force the French out of western Pennsylvania. Braddock’s forces were defeated by a much smaller force of French and Indian forces.

This would be the start of a violent period of time known as Pontiac’s War (also called Pontiac’s Rebellion). The Pennsylvania frontier ran red with the blood as the Delaware Indians attacked those who settled there.

In an attempt to protect the settlers, the Provincial Council made the decision to erect a number of forts roughly fifteen to twenty miles apart that would house a militia and be used by settlers as protection from the raiding Indians. Fort Granville was one of these provincial forts erected.

Fort Granville was erected by George Croghan in December of 1755. The fort was erected midway between Patterson’s Fort in Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Fort Shirley near present-day Shirleysburg. In January of the following year, it was named by Governor Morris in honor of John Carteret, the Earl of Granville.

The fort was erected on the north side of Juniata River near its confluence with the Kishacoquillas Creek. It was described as being fifty feet square with a blockhouse on two of the corners. Within the walls of the stockade there was a barrack that was capable of housing fifty men.

From late 1755 and into 1756, local fortifications and blockhouses were often victims of Indian attacks. However, none of the provincial forts had yet to fall. But in the summer of 1756 this would change.

Model of Fort Granville, Mifflin County Historical Society
Picture taken with permission
On July 22, 1756, a group of Indians (about sixty in number) arrived at the Fort Granville and challenged the garrison to a fight. Captain Edward Ward, who was in charge of the fort, declined the challenge and kept his troops within the safety of the walls. The Indians mocked and taunted them for a while before leaving to pester other settlers.

With the knowledge of Indians wandering about the area, Captain Ward made a decision that would leave the fort basically unprotected. Rumors reached the fort that an Indian raiding party was spotted in Sherman’s Valley. Captain Ward left the fort early on the morning of July 30, taking with him the majority of the troops that were stationed at the fort.

Fort Granville was left under the command of Lieutenant Edward Armstrong, the brother of then Colonel John Armstrong. Under his command were twenty-four men, some were soldiers but most were civilians, along with a number of women and children.

Almost immediately after the departure of Captain Ward and his troops, a group of French and Indians arrived at the fort. The force was led by French Captain Louis Coulon de Villiers and the Indian Chief Captain Jacobs. The size of the attacking force varies depending on what history is being used. Most early reports claim over one hundred Delaware Indians and fifty Frenchmen, but the force attacking the fort could have been more or less. The attacking force demanded the surrender of the fort, but Lieutenant Armstrong held fast and refused to surrender. See note below about Captain de Villiers

Fort Granville had one weakness and late in the afternoon of July 31, the Indians would take advantage of this weakness. A steep ditch ran from the Juniata River to a spot within about fifteen yards of the fort. The ravine allowed the attacking Indians to approach the fort unnoticed. From the safety of this ravine, the Indians started firing burning arrows at the fort. The logs caught fire and soon a large hole appeared in the stockade and anyone who tried to put out the fire was a target for the attackers. Three men were wounded trying to put out the fire and another two men were killed. One was an unnamed private soldier and the other was Lieutenant Edward Armstrong.

The next morning (August 1) Captain Jacobs once again demanded the surrender of the fort. He promised to spare the lives of those who surrendered. John Turner, of Buffalo Valley, opened the gates and surrendered the fort. The force of Indians entered the fort and took those inside prisoner. Any verbal promises were tossed aside as the captives were grabbed and treated cruelly by the Indians.

Model of Fort Granville
 Mifflin County Historical Society
Picture taken with permission
The prisoners were marched from Fort Granville to the Indian town of Kittanning. Twenty-two men, three women and a couple children were taken captive.

The group had only marched a short distance before Captain Jacobs was told to return and burn the fort to the ground. For the first time, one of the provincial forts had fallen.

The exact location of the fort has been lost to time, but it is believed to have been approximately a mile west of Lewistown. The spot where the fort once stood is believed to have been destroyed with the construction of the Pennsylvania Canal in 1829,

If you choose to stop and visit the historical markers, there is a small parking lot for the Penn DOT building that can be used. The spot where the fort is believed to have stood is private land.

A note about Captain Coulon de Villiers: Born in French Canada to a prominent family, Louis has the claim of fame of being the only military opponent to make George Washington surrender. Louis’ half-brother was Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville who was killed during the Battle of Jumonville Glen. The battle, which happened near Uniontown, Pennsylvania on May 28, 1754, was between a group of Virginia militiamen and Mingo Indians against a small force of French Canadians.

The militia had been sent to protect a group of men working for the Ohio Company who had been in the process of erecting a fort at present-day Pittsburgh. Washington’s men discovered a group of Frenchmen and surrounded them. During the ambush a number of the French were killed, including Joseph. The details of the skirmish are murky, but it is agreed that the entire battle lasted roughly fifteen minutes and the group of Frenchmen were either killed or taken prisoner.

Due to Britain and France not being at war, this was viewed as a serious international incident. Washington retreated to Fort Necessity, where a larger French force lead by Captain Louis Coulon de Villiers surrounded the men and forced them to surrender. In the process of the surrender Washington admitted to the terms of surrender, which included admitting to the assassination of Jumonville. It may be possible that Washington did not realize what he agreed to since the terms of surrender was in French.