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The Great Trail and Ft. Lorens

posted Apr 20, 2010, 1:58 PM by James Wise   [ updated May 9, 2011, 2:43 PM by Travis Wise ]
Had you wanted to beat George Washington to eastern Ohio, you likely would have traveled the Great Trail: the Native American version of Interstate-76. At that time, the trail stretched from Pittsburgh to Detroit and beyond. You can imagine how tough it was to walk this route in a pair of moccasins. Cutting west from Beaver Creek, south of Dungannon, and along the high ridges of northern Carroll County, most of the route would still have been heavily wooded. Yet worth the trip. For one thing, salt - essential to live - could be found north of here, near Akron. Besides, a traveler might well have trading business at one of the many villages along the trail - with the Ottawas and Huron toward Detroit or with the Mingo to the southeast and northwest. Or, he might turn at Zoar onto the heavily traveled Muskingum Trail, intending to visit with the Delaware.
Across the trail in the fall of 1778, passed a regiment of the Continental army, eager to win Ft. Detroit. From Virginia many had marched. More soldiers came from the Pennsylvania militia—recruited first at Fort Pitt, and later at a hastily assembled Ft. McIntosh. Imagine the column: a thin line of troops strung out along this narrow footpath through the wooded ridges to our north and east. An hour’s drive for us, it took fourteen days to march and move the supplies west. Gen. McIntosh’ March to take Detroit. In the Ohio territory, British commanders saw the natives as natural allies. By harassing American settlers, the British knew, the natives would draw American soldiers westward, distracting them from important battles in the east. At forts Detroit, Sandusky, and Pitt, the Redcoats supplied weapons and incited native warriors to fight. In early 1778, General George Washington prepared a military plan to attack the British. 

The plan was to attack Fort Detroit because the British were encouraging their Indian allies in the area north of the Ohio River to attack American settlements in the frontier region. Due to political pressure from the states of Pennsylvania and Virginia, and the inability to secure the necessary numbers of men and supplies, the expedition’s original purpose was changed by the Continental Congress to simply attacking Indian towns and villages along the southwestern edge of Lake Erie. Following a well-established Indian trail known today as the Great Trail, an American army of 1,200 men and their Delaware Indian guides marched west into the Ohio territory from Fort Pitt in the fall of 1778 under the command of Georgia native General Lachlan McIntosh. 

Twenty miles down river from Fort Pitt near present-day Beaver, Pennsylvania, Fort McIntosh was constructed to store provisions and supplies. On November 4, 1778, McIntosh departed from there to head west toward the Sandusky towns. As they neared the end of the year and the weather worsened, McIntosh arrived in the Tuscarawas Valley. He decided to forego the attacks on the Indian towns and to build a fort near the crossing of the Great Trail and the Tuscarawas River. He would then leave a small garrison of 172 men and women at the fort and return to the area the following spring to continue his march toward Detroit or the Sandusky Towns. Fort Laurens was built in late November, 1778, on the banks of the Tuscarawas River near what is now Bolivar, Ohio. General McIntosh named the fort in honor of the President of the Continental Congress, Henry Laurens. The wooden stockade was approximately one acre in size. It was a quadrangular-shaped fort with four bastions approximately 240 feet from the top of one angle of a bastion to another. Barracks and storehouse buildings were located inside the walls. 

Fort Laurens remained an active American military post from November of 1778 through August of 1779. During that time, the fort was clearly perceived by the British and their Indian allies in the northwest as a very serious threat. This was evident from the numerous attacks on the fort by Indians, Loyalists and British soldiers. These attacks resulted in the death of more than 20 American soldiers, who were later buried a short distance from the fort, near the fort hospital. Fort Laurens is, in reality, a military cemetery of the American Revolution.

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