Know Before You Go

What to know about this historic site:

Named after Henry Laurens, the president of the Continental Congress, the Americans completed the structure by early December 1778. It was to serve three purposes. First, the Americans hoped to utilize Fort Laurens as a base to attack the British garrison located at Detroit. Second, it would hopefully deter natives loyal to the British from conducting raids against American settlers in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. And finally, by offering protection to the neutral Christian Delawares, the Americans might convince them to forsake their neutrality and join the patriots' cause.

Unfortunately for McIntosh, his men disliked living in such a hostile environment. Rather than have a mutiny on his hands, McIntosh decided to take the bulk of his men— just over one thousand of them—to the safer confines of Fort Pitt in western Pennsylvania. He did leave behind approximately 150 men under Colonel John Gibson's command. Less than two weeks after McIntosh's departure, the men at Fort Laurens rose up against Gibson, but he was able to restore order.

Fort Laurens quickly drew the attention of English soldiers and their native allies in the Ohio Country. In January 1779, Simon Girty, a British agent and interpreter among the Indians, led a small group of Mingo Indians to reconnoiter the fort's defensive features. The men came upon sixteen militiamen from Fort Laurens. They attacked and killed two of the Americans and captured one other. The captive revealed the awful conditions in the fort and the resulting low morale among the Americans. Captain Henry Bird of the English army hoped to take advantage of the situation. With a handful of British soldiers and 180 native allies, consisting of Wyandot, Mingo, Munsee and Delaware Indians, Bird laid siege to Fort Laurens beginning on February 22, 1779.

Gibson learned of the attack before it took place. Half King, a Wyandot chief, had sent messengers to the Moravian communities along the Tuscarawas. He told the Christian Delawares that they either had to assist the Wyandots in their attacks on the Americans or the Wyandots would exterminate the neutral Indians. Delaware chief Killbuck immediately alerted David Zeisberger, the Moravians’ leader, who warned the Americans at Fort Laurens.

McIntosh, still at Fort Pitt, quickly sent 120 militiamen to assist the men at Fort Laurens. They arrived too late to be of help. The British had already surrounded the fort, and the American force, believing it would be destroyed if they tried to help the fort's garrison, returned to Fort Pitt.

Throughout late February and early March, conditions in Fort Laurens deteriorated quickly. To avoid starvation, the men became desperate enough to boil their moccasins to make stew. Two men snuck out of the fort to go hunting. They killed a deer. When they returned to their comrades with the carcass, many of the men, ravenous with hunger, ate their portion of the deer meat raw.

Conditions outside of Fort Laurens were only slightly better. The English and the Indians, also facing starvation, lifted the siege of the fort on March 20, 1779. Three days later, a relief force arrived—consisting of seven hundred men from Fort Pitt. As soon as Gibson's men became able to travel, the bulk of the Americans returned to Fort Pitt. Only 106 men remained behind.

In the meantime, Colonel Daniel Brodhead replaced McIntosh as Fort Pitt's commander. He informed General George Washington of Fort Laurens’ inadequacy. It was too far from Detroit to serve as a staging ground to attack the British garrison located there. It also was not close enough to protect the Christian Delawares in Schoenbrunn, Gnadenhutten, and Lichtenau. Washington ordered the fort's abandonment. The last soldiers left Fort Laurens on August 2, 1779.

Fort Laurens was the only fort that the Americans built in the Ohio Country during the Revolution. Once Fort Laurens was abandoned, the Continental Army had no real presence and played no major role in the area for the rest of the war. Militiamen became responsible for the defense of American settlers in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania.