The Fall of Fort Granville

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The markers for Fort Granville, Lewistown

The sun was barely over the horizon when I arrived at the PennDOT building at the western edge of Lewistown. The cool morning air, mixed with the warmth of the early morning sun, was deceiving – the forecast for the day held the promise of thunderstorms. I stepped out of the vehicle and walked over to the two historical markers along Business Route 522. One of them was the familiar blue state historical markers while the other was a much earlier version consisting of a plaque set on a concrete base. Both markers recalled an event that happened nearby during the summer of 1756, the destruction of Fort Granville.

In order to understand why the fort had been destroyed, the bloody events on the Pennsylvania frontier during 1755 and 1756 needs to be examined. The period of time leading up to the summer of 1756 is often referred to as the French and Indian War in the American Colonies. Although the conflict had ended in January 1755 with the Treaty of Paris, the tensions between the colonists and Native Americans were still running high. In the July of 1755 General Braddock led a force of British soldiers and colonists into western Pennsylvania in an attempt to force the French out of the region. Braddock’s forces were defeated by a much smaller force consisting of French and Indian warriors.

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 attacked those who settled there. Sadly, their victims were often people who had been on friendly terms with the Delaware.

In an attempt to protect the settlers, the Provincial Council made the decision to erect a line of forts – roughly fifteen to twenty miles apart – on the Pennsylvania frontier. These forts would house a militia and could be used by settlers as protection from raiding parties. Fort Granville was one of these provincial forts erected on the frontier.

Fort Granville was erected by George Croghan in December 1755. The fort was midway between Patterson’s Fort in Mexico, Pennsylvania, and Fort Shirley near present-day Shirleysburg. In January 1756, the fort was officially named by Governor Morris in honor of John Carteret, the Earl of Granville.

The exact location of the fort has been lost to time, but it is known it was erected on the north side of Juniata River, roughly a mile west of the confluence with 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 were barracks that was capable of housing fifty men.

Starting in late 1755 and continuing into 1756, local fortifications and blockhouses were often victims of Indian attacks. However, none of the provincial forts had yet to fall to the raiding parties. However, that summer life on the frontier would change.

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 warriors mocked and taunted them for a while before growing bored and leaving the immediate area.

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

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 consisting of French soldiers and Indian warriors arrived at the fort. The force was led by French Captain Louis Coulon de Villiers and the Indian Chief Captain Jacobs. Early reports claim the force consisted over one hundred Delaware warriors and fifty Frenchmen, but the exact size of the force attacking the fort is not known. The demand to surrender the fort was made, but Lieutenant Armstrong held fast and refused to surrender.

Fort Granville had one weakness and late in the afternoon of July 31, it was discovered and the raiding party quickly took advantage of it. The weakness was a steep ditch that ran from the Juniata River to a spot about fifteen yards from the fort. The ravine allowed warriors to approach the fort unnoticed. From the safety of this ravine, the Delaware could fire burning arrows at the fort.

The logs caught fire and soon a large hole appeared in the stockade. Anyone who tried to put out the fire became 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 attacking force entered the fort and took the twenty-two men, three women, and the handful of children prisoner. Any verbal promises were tossed aside as the captives were grabbed and treated cruelly. The captives would be marched from Fort Granville to the Indian town of Kittanning.

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.

 

Note: John Turner, who surrendered the fort, was the stepfather of one of Pennsylvania’s most notorious outlaws – Simon Girty. While it is not recorded that Simon was involved with the attack on Fort Granville, Simon had motive to be there, or possibly had directed the French and Indian forces towards this particular fort. As a child, the Girty family had built a home along the Susquehanna River, near the mouth of Sherman’s Creek (near present-day Duncannon) before they had permission by the British government to settle there. Involved in the removal of the Girtys and other squatters was George Croghan, who destroyed the unauthorized structures. Croghan had helped plan and erect many forts on the Pennsylvania frontier, including Fort Granville.

Note: Captain Louis Coulon de Villiers was 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 warriors against a small force of French Canadians. 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.

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