Fort Laurens in northeast Ohio along the Tuscarawas River and north of Dover, was the first and only fort of the Revolutionary War. It was built in 1778 by General Lachlan McIntosh, as a defense against British and native peoples. The fort was originally built by some 1200 military, and then maintained by 174 men. The fort was abandoned in 1779. The name Laurens after Henry Laurens, president of the new Continental Congress. The small garrison stationed there suffered from hunger and indian attacks throughout the time they spent there.
The fort was designed by the French military engineer, Colonel Lois Cambray-Digny. The first sections to built were the 4 bastions at each corner. These bastions served as strong points against attack. Inside the bastions, elevated platforms were built that would accommodate 6 - 8 riflemen better vantage over the cleared fields surrounding the fort.
In January 1779, hostile Native Americans along with Simon Girty attacked 16 militiamen that were on a hunting party 3 miles east of Fort Laurens. Girty was American born, but with British sympathies and strong ties to many of the Native Americans in the Ohio Territory. He acted as a go-between for the British and many of the native peoples.
Two of the men from the hunting party were captured by Girty and his allies. They were tortured and later beheaded. These captured militiamen told of the dire conditions inside Fort Laurens. Upon learning of the conditions at the fort, the British planned an attack together with an alliance of 180 indians. The alliance of native peoples tried to coerce a group of Delaware Indians living near present day Coshocton to join them, but they refused and instead passed along word to the Americans of the planned assault on the fort.
In reaction to this news, 123 additional militia were sent with supplies to reinforce Fort Laurens. However, when they reached the vicinity of the fort, they learned the fort had already been surrounded by the British and Indians. Realizing that any attempt at relieving the fort would have been disastrous and they returned home.
Being surrounded, conditions inside the fort worsened. Colonel Gibson, who was in charge of the post, had sent out a wood cutting detail of 18 men who were ambushed. These 18 men were lead to the clearing around the fort, and just out of rifle range, they scalped and killed all 18 men.
Weather conditions worsened and by mid March the British and their Indian allies were out of food and supplies. Men inside the fort were reduced to scavenging for roots and berries gathered from around the outside of the stockades. Two of the men died from eating poisonous plants and others became seriously ill. Once, two men secretly left the fort and killed a deer which they brought back. Their actions more than likely saved many of the men inside the fort from starvation.
On March 20, the British abandoned their siege and left. On March 23, an American relief party of 500 regulars and 200 militia arrived at the fort with food and supplies. The remaining militia left the fort and headed back to Fort Pitt in Pennsylvania. Left in their place were 106 Continental solider's of the 8th Pennsylvania.
Although the fort would be used as a decoy to fool the British for a few more months, the fort was abandoned and burned in August 1779.
The construction of the Ohio and Erie Canal that came through the area in 1828 they destroyed the few remaining remnants of the fort. The land was farmed extensively until the site became a state memorial in 1917.
At the time Fort Laurens was built, the Tuscarawas River was on the eastern edge of the fort, but when Interstate 77 was built in the 1960s, the river was moved further east to accommodate the new freeway. With the new freeway, Fort Laurens became more accessible to the public and in 1968 Ohio appropriated funds to build a museum to commemorate the role Fort Laurens played in the American Revolution.
In 1972, archaeologist Michael Gramly began an extensive excavation of the site. Because of this excavation it was determined that the fort was actually 200 feet south of where it had been previously thought and right on the edge of the already constructed museum. The archeological dig lasted 2 years and uncovered many artifacts dating back to when the fort was occupied. Many of those artifacts are now on display inside the museum.
The museum is open Memorial Day to Labor Day, Wednesday - Saturday 9:30 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Sundays/Holidays 12:00 - 5:00 p.m. In September and October the museum is only open Saturday and Sundays.
Plans are currently under development to rebuild the fort and the Friends of Fort Laurens are accepting donations to that end. If you'd like to help in this endeavor, please visit their web site at: FriendsofFortLaurens.org
Military reenactments are frequently held on the fields to the south of the fort.
Fort Laurens and the Treaty of Greeneville
When the native peoples of Ohio signed the Treaty of Greeneville in 1795 after losing the Battle of Fallen Timbers the year before, they gave up all rights to certain lands that they had previously claimed as their own. The land they surrendered claim to was south and east of a line that ran from Fort Loramie (just south of St. Marys) in western Ohio to Fort Laurens on the extreme eastern edge, and then north on a line from Fort Laurens to where Cleveland is today.