The Historic National Road Corridor is located in an area of southwestern Pennsylvania where arguably some of the most important revolutionary events in U.S. history occurred – events that define this Nation today. One such defining moment was the fight between the British, French and Indians that became the opening battle of the French & Indian War– the final Colonial war and the American chapter of a global conflict called the Seven Years War. This war began as a simple land conflict. Around 1750, rival claims to the vast territory between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi approached a climax between the British and the French:
A land speculation company known as the Ohio Company had obtained a large grant of 200,000 acres in the upper Ohio River Valley from Britain. From its headquarters in present-day Cumberland, Maryland, the Virginian-led company planned to add westward settlements and began to open an 80-mile wagon road to the Monongahela River, which became the Nemacolin Trail, a precursor to the Historic National Road.
During this time, the French started to advance southward and westward from “New France” (Canada), to drive out English traders. The French considered the Ohio territory a vital link between their land in present-day Canada and Louisiana. In 1753, Virginia Governor Robert Dinwiddie learned that that French had built Fort Presque Isle near Lake Erie and Fort Le Boeuf in that part of the Ohio country claimed by Virginia. In response, he sent an eight-man expedition to warn the French to withdraw, led by none other than George Washington.
In winter of 1753, 21-year-old George Washington started his journey as a British emissary. When he reached the French, they told him that they were not obliged to obey and would stay in their newly-claimed territory. Washington then returned to Virginia to inform Governor Dinwiddie that the French refused to leave.
Meanwhile in January of 1754, before Governor Dinwiddie learned of the French’s refusal to abandon their claim on the Ohio Valley, he sent soldiers to build a fort at the forks of the Ohio River, where Pittsburgh now stands. Before they could finish, the French drove them off and build an even larger fort on the site, calling it Fort Duquesne to honor Marquis de Duquesne, the new governor of New France.
In April, newly commissioned Lieutenant Colonel Washington began moving westward with a regiment of Virginia frontiersmen to build a road to Redstone Creek, in present day Brownsville, Pennsylvania, on the Monongahela River. Instead, he was asked to help defend the English fort on the Ohio River…