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There rarely was enough food. Expected supplies had not arrived, and with the term of service for many of the Continental Army troops fast expiring, a pervasive sense of unease settled on the men, who longed to return to their homes in the east.
The troops had left Fort McIntosh on the Ohio River in November 1778 under the leadership of General Lachlan McIntosh, who had been appointed to the Western command by General George Washington.
Washington had planned to build a series of frontier blockades from Fort Pitt to Detroit to supply an eventual attack on the British city. McIntosh led 1,200 men of the Eighth Pennsylvania and Thirteenth (later called the Ninth) Virginia regiments away from the river into the Ohio territory. But poor weather and problems with loose pack animals plagued the march; the band covered only five miles a day. When the troops reached the Tuscarawas River, McIntosh decided to abandon the campaign until spring.
Near present-day Bolivar, he ordered the building of a new fort, despite protests from the Delaware Indians. The only regional people not allied with the British, the Delawares - including Moravian Christian Indians at Gnadenhutten and Lichtenau - warned that the fort was too far north to protect their villages and too far away from other American supply lines to receive help.
But construction of the fort - which was christened for McIntosh's friend Henry Laurens, president of the Continental Congress proceeded -anyway. When Fort Laurens was nearly completed, McIntosh and most of the troops departed, leaving 176 men and five women to hold the fort for the winter.
Thus Garrison Commander John Gibson and his troops faced not only the continual threat of attack by the enemy, but also the very real possibility of starvation.
Supplies were scarce everywhere, and the fort's distance from Fort Pitt and Fort McIntosh made it difficult for supply trains to reach the garrison. Within weeks of McIntosh's departure, Fort Laurens' inhabitants were reduced to eating herbs and boiling ox-hides even their moccasins - for soup.
In January 1779, a supply party from McIntosh left Fort Laurens to return to Fort Pitt, carrying letters from Gibson asking for more help. But an ambush left two of the group dead, four wounded, and one missing - captured along with the letters, which tipped off the British to Fort Laurens' problems.
By February, the fort was encircled by 180 Indians led by Simon Girty, a frontiersman who had sided with the British in the Revolution. But Gibson did not yet know he was surrounded; when he sent a group of soldiers to collect wood, they were massacred as their American comrades watched. By that evening, the siege was on.
British Captain Henry Bird was sure he had only to wait and starve the garrison into surrender. According to legend, Gibson decided to convince the enemy that the fort still was well-stocked - and therefore able to withstand a siege - by scraping up every bit of food he could find, and sending the barrels out to the siege army. The ploy worked: the British and Indians withdrew, but it seemed that Fort Laurens still might fall to starvation.
A relief column from Fort McIntosh arrived in March. Gibson's men departed, but the new troops met with similar difficulties of constant hostilities and lack of supplies. In August 1779, Fort Laurens - and Washington's dream of a chain of bases to supply an attack on Detroit - were abandoned.
When the Ohio Historical Society acquired the eighty-one-acre fort site in 1917, almost nothing of Fort Laurens was left aboveground. Construction of the museum began in 1971, and formal dedication ceremonies were held in 1974. Archaeological excavations of the fort site were conducted in 1972, 1973, 1984, and 1986.
Just outside the museum, the Tomb of the Unknown Patriot of the American Revolution pays tribute to the courage and perseverance of those who fought and died in the struggle for American independence. Established in 1976 by the Ohio Historical Society and the Ohio Bicentennial Commission, the tomb holds the remains of one of the unknown defenders of Fort Laurens who was laid to rest with full military honors by the Ohio National Guard. The other soldiers, whose remains were found in a mass grave during an archaeological excavation of the site - lie nearby in a crypt in the museum wall, providing mute testimony to the tragic events that befell the Fort Laurens garrison.
The museum, which opened in 1974, features artifacts found in the archaeological digs. Scenes with lifelike mannequins display uniforms of the soldiers and militiamen who built the fort, as well as weapons and accoutrements of the Revolutionary War period. An audio-visual program describes the history of the War for Independence and the Fort Laurens campaign.
Surrounding the museum is a large park, including a picnic area, which periodically serves as the site of reenactments of Revolutionary Warstyle encampments and weapons demonstrations that bring the eighteenth century to life. A shallow trench traces the site and shape of the original fort.
Check with us at a later date.