FROM FRONTIER FORTS ALONG THE POTOMAC AND ITS TRIBUTARIES
BY WILLIAM H. ANSEL, JR.
Situate at what is now the Town of Ridgeley directly across the North Branch from Fort Cumberland, this fort originally consisted of the store building belonging to the Ohio Company which had been constructed at the site in 1750, and then transformed into a blockhouse. The building was of log construction, 45 feet long and 25 feet wide, two storied, with a garret and a dry cellar the full size of the building used for the storage of furs, the structure being large enough to contain a large storeroom and living quarters for the proprietor or factor who, in 1750, was a trader by the name of Hugh Parker. A few years later, another log building was constructed near the original store building. It was also two storied, 44 feet long by 20 feet wide with a garret and cellar. A stable capable of housing twelve horses, a meat house and a dairy were also built close to the main building. All these structures were more or less fortified by order of Governor Dinwiddie, but so far as known, they were not surrounded by palisades. Necessary planking used in the construction of the later buildings came from the sawmill owned by Colonel Thomas Cresap at Oldtown.
Fort Ohio, or the New Store as it was more commonly called, was constructed upon a tract of real estate consisting of 315 acres as per survey made by Guy Broadwater in 1749. Thomas Lord Fairfax conveyed this property, which was designated Lot No. 16 of his North Branch River survey, to George Mason, a stockholder of and attorney for the Ohio Company, on October 25, 1754. The Broadwater survey began at a white oak standing on the bank of the North Branch on the west side of Knobley Mountain and thence down the stream 302 poles (4,983 feet) to a red oak standing upon the edge of Potomac River opposite the mouth of Wills Creek. From this point, the survey continued down the river, quartered up the east side of Knobley in a southwesterly direction, then crossed the mountain and turned due north to the beginning. Thus, this conveyance included all the northern end of Knobley as well as bottomland on both sides of the mountain. The present town of Ridgeley is situate upon this tract.
At the same time, October 25, 1754, Lord Fairfax conveyed additional land to George Mason possibly in part as agent for the Ohio Company, including Lots Nos. 1, 4, 14 and 15 of the North Branch survey. Lots 14 and 15 consisted of 220 and 334 acres respectively and were situate along the North Branch on the west side of Knobley upstream from Lot 16. These two lots were not contiguous to Lot 16 upon which Fort Ohio was constructed. However, on May 5, 1768, John Moffett completed a resurvey of Lots 14, 15 and 16, together with 240 acres of additional land, thus making on continuous parcel consisting of 1,083 acres. A deed to this inclusive acreage was issued to George Mason on Feb 13, 1773. On July 14, 1785, George Mason conveyed the 1,083-acre New Store Tract to James Maccubbin Lingan for the sum of 2,166 pounds, Maryland currency. On March 17, 1803, Lingan then sold this property to George Calmes.
In the autumn of 1749, Hugh Parker had contacted one of the agents for Thomas Lord Fairfax, probably his nephew, Thomas Bryan Martin, and came to an understanding relative to the purchase of this land. Hence, the Ohio Company agents went upon the property in 1750, constructed the store building and took its deed after the survey in 1754.
The New Store became an integral part of the military operations again the French and Indians early in the conflict. On September 7, 1754, Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia wrote Governor Sharpe of Maryland that he had ordered Colonel James Innis at Fort Cumberland to take possession of the Ohio Companys storehouse and to make a magazine out of it. Dinwiddie also reported that he had directed the building of a breastwork on the company property and had authorized cannon to be mounted for its defense.
Fort Ohio was never formally garrisoned by the militia or by troops form the Virginia Regiment. Being only 400 yards away from Fort Cumberland, although separated by the river, it did not appear necessary that it be garrisoned. The Ohio Company, being engaged in the fur trade, had employed a great many frontiersmen to trap the fur bearing animals upon which much of he companys profits depended, and these experienced riflemen and hunters were expected to protect company property in case of Indian attack. Soldiers from the garrison at Fort Cumberland spent much time at the store when no on duty, so even without regular troops, the place seemed to be in a position to offer a strong defense.
Indians were in the vicinity of the New Store many times. Being so near Fort Cumberland, a place of special interest to the savages, whenever the larger fort was surrounded, the Ohio Company property was also invested. On April 8, 1757, about 124 friendly Catawba Indians arrived at the Maryland fort. A few days later, two of these Indians were in a canoe on the North Branch when they were suddenly fired upon by hostile Indians concealed along the shore near Fort Ohio on the Virginia side. Both Catawbas were killed. All the Indians at Fort Cumberland, together with nearly 100 white soldiers, went in pursuit of the enemy. The pursuing force came up with the savages several miles up the North Branch and after a smart skirmish, several of the enemy Indians were killed an the remainder made a hasty retreat.
On November 30, 1755, a soldier, while climbing down the river bank in front of the New Store, accidentally discharged his musket and shot another soldier who was crossing the river in a canoe at the time. On November 26th, Captain Charles Lewis reached this place having left Fort Nicholas near present Cresaptown, crossed the river and then followed Knobley Mountain down to what he called the New Store.
Fort Ohio was located under a bluff, a part of Knobly Mountain and on the bank of the North Branch close to the place where the present bridge crosses the river into Maryland. The Indians were in the habit of climbing up Knobley to a height sufficient so that they could fire into the Fort Cumberland stockade, the line of flight of their bullets passing almost directly over Fort Ohio. Being below the high ground, the Indians had no trouble whatsoever firing into the buildings making up the Ohio Company property, and they could do so without much danger of a return fire. But the place was never taken by the Indians and the Company continued to operate the store on a somewhat limited basis during much of the course of the war, the Maryland and Virginia settlers between Indian alarms bringing in their furs, ginseng and livestock to trade for spices, loaf sugar, cloth, powder, lead, salt and other commodities which they could not produce on their frontier farms.
George Washington, as a soldier and private citizen, visited the New Store on numerous occasions. His last stop there was on November 27, 1770, when returning from a visit to his western land; he had breakfast with Colonel James Innis at the New Store. Washington was at Fort Cumberland in 1784 and again in 1794, but there is no record that he crossed the river to visit what remained of the Virginia holdings of the Ohio Company
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