The “father of our country” will turn 287 on Friday , and the staff at Fort Ligonier will celebrate the occasion with a Winter History Happy Hour.
Guests can take part in a happy birthday toast to George Washington from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Friday at the fort’s Center for History Education, 200 S. Market St., Ligonier. The event includes birthday cake, spirits, “light bites,” music and a living history demonstration.
The cost is $15 for members of the Fort Association, $20 for all others. Those planning to attend should RSVP by Wednesday at 724-238-9701.
Fort Ligonier is one of many spots in Western Pennsylvania where Washington made history, before and after he became the nation’s first commander in chief.
George’s writing, weapons
On display in the fort’s Washington Gallery are handwritten “remarks” in which Washington recalled for his biographer details of his service as a young officer in the French and Indian War. On Nov. 12, 1758, a force of Virginians led by Col. George Washington were involved in a mistaken exchange of “friendly fire” with fellow Virginians as they attempted to combat a party of French marines and Native American allies who had launched a raid against Fort Ligonier.
Also in the fort museum are a pair of saddle pistols Washington received during the Revolutionary War from friend and ally, the Marquis de Lafayette. Fort officials note Washington may have had the highly prized pistols with him when he later commanded U.S. troops in an effort to suppress Western Pennsylvania’s 1794 Whiskey Rebellion.
Washington had his headquarters for this deployment at the Espy House, on East Pitt Street in Bedford. He eventually pardoned two men found guilty of treason in the uprising against the nation’s whiskey excise tax, later repealed by President Thomas Jefferson.
After Washington’s death in 1799, his pistols came into the possession of President Andrew Jackson, who bequeathed them back to the Lafayette family before they ended their journey at Fort Ligonier.
Washington’s W. Pa. timeline
Other Washington encounters in the region, as detailed in the Mt. Vernon-based George Washington Digital Encyclopedia:
• Dec. 12, 1753 — Major George Washington delivers a message from Virginia Gov. Robert Dinwiddie to French forces at Fort Le Boeuf (Waterford, Erie County), demanding the French withdraw from lands in Western Pennsylvania that Virginia claimed. Receiving a refusal two days later, Washington departs.
• Dec. 29, 1753 — On his return trip to Virginia, Washington briefly falls into the ice-filed Allegheny River while attempting to cross on a raft with his guide, Christopher Gist.
• May 28, 1754 — In what is considered the beginning spark of the French and Indian War, Lt. Col. George Washington and Mingo Chief Tanacharison lead a raid against French soldiers at Jumonville Glen (near Farmington, Fayette County), killing 10 — including the leader, Ensign Joseph Coulon de Jumonville — and capturing 21.
• July 4, 1754 — Washington’s troops, overwhelmed by an attacking French force, abandon nearby Fort Necessity. In signing the terms of surrender, Washington unwittingly acknowledges “assassinating” Ensign Jumonville, possibly due to poor language translation.
• July 9, 1755 — Washington is serving as an aide-de-camp when Gen. Edward Braddock’s advance against the French at the Forks of the Ohio is cut short by attacking French and Native Americans in the Battle of the Monongahela (Braddock, Allegheny County). Coordinating the retreat of the decimated troops, Washington is hailed as a hero and promoted to colonel of all Virginia forces.
• Sept. 20, 1784 — Washington, at a meeting in the home of David Reed (near Venice, Washington County), is unable to reach an agreement with Reed and 12 other farmers who have been squatting on his tract of 2,318 acres and who dispute his ownership. Washington wins a lawsuit against the farmers, who abandon their homes when he demands rent. In 1796, he sells the land to a local agent for a modest $12,000, according to explorepahistory.com.