Common Questions Asked at Fort Necessity

Now that Tom and I are almost done with our stint at Fort Necessity, I decided it was time for my common questions post.  At the end of every place we work, I talk about the most common questions asked by visitors.  They are different every place we go, and Fort Necessity is no exception.  You can read previous common question posts by following these links:   Death ValleyChickamauga and ChattanoogaKings MountainFort FredericaGrand PortageSan Juan and Pipe Spring.

British Colonel George Washington, portrait by Charles Willson Peale

The first of the common questions is “What is this place?”  We get a lot of people driving by on US 40 who decided to stop when they see the National Park sign.  Some people think we are a Revolutionary War battlefield.  Others, coming from Gettysburg or Harper’s Ferry, think we are a Civil War site.  Here is my one-sentence summary:  “Fort Necessity is the place where 22 year old British Colonel George Washington started the French and Indian War in 1754.”  Most people know very little about the French and Indian War and are eager to learn more.  We get lots of comments about how much people learned while they were visiting.

Another common question I get at Mount Washington Tavern is “Is the Tavern haunted?”  Ghost tours are very popular these days, but I am surprised at the number of people that ask me if the Tavern is haunted.  The television show “Ghost Hunters” actually came to the Tavern once to check it out.  They didn’t find any evidence of it being haunted (hence it didn’t appear on the show).  I always tell people that I haven’t seen any ghosts.  People have asked me if I am a ghost when I open the door to welcome them into the tavern.  I answer “I don’t think so.”

Third of the common questions is “Can we drive to the fort?”  The answer to that is no, and you can’t see it from the road either.  A lot of people are used to doing driving tours of battlefields.  But our battlefield is small – less than two acres – and you can only get to it via a paved, flat path.  Visitors have to walk 300 yards to reach the fort at the center of the battlefield which is a long way for some folks.  We do have wheelchairs that people can borrow but no golf carts.  There are also benches along the path.

I’m often asked “Where did the French come from?”  When people think about the colonies in the 1750’s, they think about the 13 British colonies.  They forget about the Spanish in Florida and Mexico.  And they forget about the French in New Orleans and Canada.  The French claimed the Mississippi River and all its tributaries in North America.  So you could find them from the St. Lawrence seaway to New Orleans.  The ones who attacked Fort Necessity mostly came from the French cities in Canada.  I love how all this history fits together, because what we learned at Grand Portage with the voyageurs has come in handy here.  And the British regiment here was the same one stationed at Fort Frederica.

Finally, one of the common questions Tom hears out at the fort is “Why is the fort so small?”  When Washington told his men to build the circular fort, he was using it primarily as a supply depot.  There was a locked cabin where he stored the rum and ammunition.  Then he built a wooden wall around the locked cabin – like the metal fence around Home Depot.  It wasn’t for defensive purposes.  When Washington realized the French were going to attack, he had the men erect earthwork fortifications around the wooden fence.  This was the real fort and the earthworks were their protection in the battle.  So Washington didn’t intend for the circular “fort” to be a shelter from an attack.

Hearing the common questions people ask tells us how to shape our interpretation of the battlefield and tavern.  People ask what is on their minds and those questions change from place to place.