About Us

Fort Laurens is managed by the Zoar Community Association on behalf of the Ohio History Connection. We are committed to preserving the fort’s history and bringing its role in the American Revolution to life.

Our History

Fort Laurens was built in 1778 under the orders of Lachlan McIntosh, an American commander sent to the Ohio territory to defeat the British-allied Wyandot people and attack the British in Detroit. With winter quickly approaching, McIntosh decided to delay attacks until spring. His men constructed Fort Laurens along what is now called the Tuscarawas River to wait out the harsh weather.

The structure was completed in early December 1778 and was named after Henry Laurens, the president of the Continental Congress. It had three purposes.

  • Use as a base to attack the British in Detroit
  • Deter native Americans allied with the British from conducting raids against settlers in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania
  • Provide protection to the neutral Delaware Indians and convince them to join the American cause

McIntosh’s men disliked living in the fort’s poor conditions. To avoid an uprising, he took 1,000 of his men to Fort Pitt in western Pennsylvania, leaving 150 men at Fort Laurens under Colonel John Gibson’s command.

fort-laurens-soldiersThe under-manned fort drew the attention of the British and their American Indian allies. Simon Girty, an interpreter for the American Indians and a British agent, led a small group of Seneca-Cayuga natives to investigate the fort’s defenses in January 1779. The group encountered 16 militiamen, killing two and capturing one of who was carrying letters that divulged the poor conditions and low morale at the fort. This information prompted British Captain Henry Bird to plan an attack.

When an unsuspecting group of American soldiers left the fort to gather wood on February 24th, 1779, they were ambushed within sight of the Fort by the newly arrived British and American Indian forces. Fifteen American soldiers died in the attack and two more were captured.

Bird officially laid siege to Fort Laurens on February 22, 1779 with a few British soldiers and 180 American Indian allies. McIntosh, still at Fort Pitt, immediately sent 120 militiamen to assist Fort Laurens, but upon their arrival they discovered the British already had the fort surrounded. The Americans believed they would be destroyed if they attempted to help the fort’s garrison so they returned to Fort Pitt.

Conditions in Fort Laurens deteriorated throughout February and March. The starving men became so desperate they boiled their moccasins to make stew. Two men managed to sneak out of the fort to go hunting and returned with a deer carcass. Many men ate their portion of the meat raw because they were so hungry.

Outside the fort, the British and their allies were not faring much better and the siege was lifted on March 20, 1779. Three days later, a relief force of 700 men from Fort Pitt arrived. Once the men who had survived the winter at Fort Laurens were able to travel, most of the Americans returned to Fort Pitt. Only 106 men stayed behind under the command of Major Frederick Vernon.

During this time, McIntosh was replaced as Fort Pitt’s commander with Colonel Daniel Brodhead, who told General George Washington that Fort Laurens was too far from Detroit to realistically serve as a staging ground for an attack – nor was it close enough to the Delaware Indians to offer protection.  Washington ordered the fort abandoned and the last of Fort Laurens’ soldiers left on August 2, 1779. In total thirty men lost their lives in association with Fort Laurens. Five were also wounded. Twenty-one were interred in fort cemetery.

After the fort’s abandonment, the Continental Army had no presence or major role in this area for the remainder of the war. The defense of the settlers in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania fell to the militiamen in the area.