A two-volume book set about the French and Indian War fortification named "Fort Cumberland" that was located at the mouth of Wills Creek in western Maryland.
The 982-page, two-volume book "Fort Cumberland" approaches the history of the French and Indian War and related topics differently. Rather than being just another interpretive narrative, "Fort Cumberland" is primarily a chronologically organized compilation of excerpts from and synopses of core documentary evidence, with minimal interpretation. The author, Lannie Dietle, adopted this approach after becoming more aware of the interpretive mistakes, embellishments, and distortions that creep into historical narratives. He felt that there was seldom a need to interpret the meaning of the evidence if his readers can simply see the evidence for themselves. This heavy reliance on documentary evidence distinguishes "Fort Cumberland" from the typical narrative-type of French and Indian War history book.
History of Fort Cumberland at Wills Creek
Wills Creek became a western Maryland landmark because it was at the head of what was then considered to be the navigable portion of the Potomac River, and because the Ohio Company storehouse was erected nearby. After Washington's capitulation at Fort Necessity, Fort Cumberland was erected at the mouth of Wills Creek to serve as the assembly point and supply center for General Braddock's campaign against Fort Duquesne. As such, the history of Fort Cumberland is important to understanding the French and Indian War.
Later, the fort was used as a supply center for the Forbes expedition, and as a place of refuge for settler families from the area during Pontiac's Rebellion. In addition to being a well-known landmark, Fort Cumberland evolved into a populated place that eventually became the town of Cumberland, Maryland after serving as a supply center for the Western Department during the Revolutionary War. Today, the beautiful Emmanuel Episcopal Church building is located on the eastern end of the site of Fort Cumberland.
The objectives of the "Fort Cumberland" book
Mr. Dietle initially began writing "Fort Cumberland" to address Cumberland-area history during the periods before and after the French and Indian War that William Lowdermilk's 1878 book "History of Cumberland (Maryland)" generally avoids.
Eventually the writing project expanded to encompass two ambitious objectives. The first objective was to present the history of the environs of Fort Cumberland prior to the formal establishment of the town — including settlement activity prior to and during the French and Indian War. The second objective was to expand beyond Lowdermilk's Cumberland-centric view of the French and Indian War and describe the events that brought war to Wills Creek from a broader point of view.
The "Fort Cumberland" book shows that the general region near Wills Creek was settled prior to the French and Indian War, and identifies many of the early settlers by name. During the war, the population declined precipitously due to Indian depredation related murders, abductions, and families fleeing the area. The farms of both the living (such as Thomas Cresap) and the dead pioneers helped to provision Fort Cumberland.
Content relating to the beginning of the French and Indian War
After an introductory chapter and a chapter that briefly discusses the time periods Lowdermilk's "History of Cumberland (Maryland)" book largely avoids, the next chapter describes the early local network of roads and paths to show that the Wills Creek region was a transportation hub long before the town of Cumberland was founded. Chapter 4 covers pioneer settlement activity in the Wills Creek region prior to the French and Indian War. Chapter 5 explores various factors in the Ohio Valley that eventually brought war to the Wills Creek area, beginning with the tension that existed between the French, the British, and their Native American allies at the end of King George's War in North America.
Documents from the period before Braddock's expedition reveal a much more complex story than Lowdermilk relates. The French were on the move to oppose British trade well before the Ohio Company built their Wills Creek storehouse, received their trade goods, and cut their westerly road.
One of the root causes of the French and Indian War was a substantial amount of British trade at the Native American village of Pickawillany, near present-day Piqua, Ohio. The French attacked Pickawillany in 1752 to disrupt British trading operations. In response to this attack, the Indians at Logstown declared war on the French — with the Half King delivering the declaration — and repeatedly requested a British fort at the mouth of the Monongahela River.
With the help of the Half King and other British-allied Indians, the British attempted to build the requested fort but were evicted by French armed forces at gunpoint. Around the same time the French attacked Logstown, where the Half King resided. After these events Washington and the Half King joined forces and attacked Jumonville's party of soldiers.
According to conventional wisdom, the Jumonville affair sparked the French and Indian War. Documentary evidence presented in the "Fort Cumberland" book connects the dots between the attack on Pickawillany in 1752 and the joint attack on Jumonville in 1754.
The French and Indian War and beyond
Beginning with the year 1754, individual chapters present Wills Creek area historical evidence for each year up until the official founding of the town of Cumberland in the mid-1780s. These year-by-year chapters cover both civilian and military activity. Examples of topics covered include the construction, evolution, and eventual abandonment of the Fort Cumberland structure, its use in support of various military campaigns including the 1755 Braddock expedition, the 1758 Forbes Expedition, and the 1779 Brodhead expedition, its use as a place of refuge for pioneer families living near the fort, and the earliest known births at the fort. The next-to-last chapter provides selected information about the period after the founding of the town, including new information about George Washington's headquarters at Cumberland in 1794, when the militia was encamped there during the Whiskey Rebellion. The final chapter presents evidence that the town was still called Fort Cumberland long after its founding.
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All proceeds from sales of the "Fort Cumberland" book benefit the Allegany County Historical Society, which is located in Cumberland, Maryland.
If you have a Kindle account, you can read the Kindle edition using the Kindle Cloud Reader website, the Kindle app on a phone, tablet, or computer, or a Kindle e-reader device.
Historian Lannie Dietle with a cannonball of the size used at Fort Cumberland. This size was also used by Braddock's expedition during the French and Indian War. Mr. Dietle first became interested in the armament, history, and construction of Fort Cumberland while researching the history of a Revolutionary War military supply road that began in Allegany County, Maryland and merged with Braddock's road in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. The military origin of the road is detailed in Mr. Dietle's book "Fort Cumberland".
For another fascinating book about the French and Indian War in Maryland, see "Reconsidering Braddock's Road to Martin's".