When I was a kid growing up, I learned a lot about America’s wars. From the Revolutionary War through the Vietnam War, many of my history classes were dominated by discussions of past wars.
Further enhancing my learning, my family would often visit Civil War battlefields; we even checked out a few from the Revolutionary War. However, there was one war I that I learned almost nothing about: the French and Indian War.
Known in Europe as the Seven Years’ War, the French and Indian War started in what is now Fayette County, Pennsylvania, before spreading throughout the world, engulfing five continents and over a dozen different countries and their colonies.
The first shots of the war were fired under the command of a young lieutenant for the British army from Virginia named George Washington. Fighting for the British, he led a group of men in a skirmish (or ambush depending on who you ask) at what is now known as Jumonville Glen. A few months later, he was defeated in battle at Fort Necessity in July 1754 and returned east.
Four years later, with the French and Indian War raging, the British cut a new path out to western Pennsylvania and built a fort in Loyalhanna. While building what would become Fort Ligonier, the fort was attacked twice but didn’t fall to the enemy.
Ultimately, as the British pressed beyond Fort Ligonier to Fort Duquesne in Pittsburgh, the fort became an important outpost for troops and supplies, as well as communications. The size of the fort swelled to over 5,000 troops, Native Americans, merchants, women, and children by November 1758, making it the second largest town in Pennsylvania behind Philadelphia.
Returning to the front lines, George Washington spent a bit of time at the fort. Ultimately, with the defeat of the French and Native Americans in 1763, the fort became unnecessary and was decommissioned in 1766.
Today, the rebuilt Fort Ligonier stands on the same ground and sits just blocks outside of downtown Ligonier.
Visits to the fort start inside the excellent museum. While the museums at Fort Necessity in Fayette County and the Heinz History Museum in Pittsburgh do a great job covering the French and Indian War, Fort Ligonier’s museum takes a broader approach, focusing more on the entirety of the 7 Years’ War throughout the world. I really found this quite interesting because it helped me learn a lot of about a time in history that I wasn’t overly familiar with.
The museum contains many artifacts, paintings, and maps that help tell the story of the 7 Years’ War. However, the two most interesting items on display at one time belonged to George Washington.
You’ll likely first notice a collection of papers that are from Washington’s personal notes. Despite his wishes that they be destroyed, the pages were saved and are now in the museum’s collection. Unfortunately, replicas are often on display, but the originals are put out several times a year to be seen by the public.
Even more interesting, though, are the two saddle pistols that you’ll see just before exiting the museum. Given to George Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette during the Revolutionary War, the pistols were carried by Washington at Valley Forge, Yorktown, and when he rode out to put down the Whiskey Rebellion.
Eventually, the guns were presented to President Andrew Jackson by Washington’s family. The original guns are on display in their own dimly lit room and are worth the price of admission by themselves.
Once you’ve finished viewing the museum, venture outside to visit the reconstructed Fort Ligonier. The fort occupies the same ground as the original did over 250 years ago and gives you a great chance to see what a frontier fort would have looked like during the French and Indian War.
Several buildings have been built including the officer’s mess, hospital, barracks, and General Forbes’ headquarters. Inside each building are furniture and mannequins that allow you to imagine what life was like along the Pennsylvania frontier.
On most days, a handful of costumed interpreters are available to help visitors better understand what they are seeing and the fort’s significance.
Overall, I really enjoyed my visit to Fort Ligonier because I was able to learn about a period of world history that I know little of. If you are a history buff or just want to learn more about the history of the United States, I would definitely recommend a visit to Fort Ligonier.
Note: I was given complimentary admission to Fort Ligonier in order to facilitate this review. However, the opinions expressed in the article are my own and were not subject to review.
Hours: Daily: 10am-5pm
Cost: Adults: $15, Children: $8
Address: 200 South Market Street