New Castle News

Closer Look

July 15, 2014

Local man leading French and Indian War invasion of Portersville

NEW CASTLE — A New Castle man will be in command when The French and Indian War resumes this week.

Mark Wiley is organizer of the Grand Encampment, which will be staged Thursday through Sunday at the site of Cheeseman’s Farm/Portersville Steam Show Grounds.

“We will recreate the Battle of Great Meadows; however, the other tacticals will change into challenging, war-game-type scenarios,” said Wiley, a 1988 graduate of the Lawrence County Career and Technical Center.

More than 350 reenactors — some coming from as far as Quebec, Ontario, Wisconsin, Illinois and New England — are expected to participate. One re-enactor will portray George Washington.

The event is open to the public.

Wiley, who lives in Rose Point, said the Grand Encampment’s focus this year will be on the events of 1753-1754 in western Pennsylvania. It will inaugurate a decade of anniversary events commemorating actions of the war. The 260th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Great Meadows will take place Saturday. Also known for Washington’s hurried construction of Fort Necessity, the skirmish was the opening action of the French and Indian War, as it was known in North America.

“We contracted to utilize this site for its location, rural (and quiet) setting, proximity to Washington’s Trail of 1753 and other period sites,” Wiley said, “and its logistical ability to handle the hundreds of participants we expect this year along with a full contingent of some of the best 18th century craftspeople and sutlers in the country.”

The re-enactments begin Friday. Gates will be open from noon to 7:30 p.m. and will feature a 90-minute presentation of the a raid by French and Indian forces on English settlements.

Saturday’s schedule includes a recreation of the Battle of Great Meadows from 2 to 5 p.m. Gates will open at 10 a.m. Sunday, and hours will be until 4 p.m., featuring an open field battle, European-style engagement.

Admission is $10 per carload per day.

Wiley, 43, has been actively involved with the Sample’s Border Rangers of Prospect for eight years. His interest took root after reading a biography on Daniel Boone.

He is pleased to have the event in western Pennsylvania “because most of the fighting actually took place here.”

He began organizing for the event in February. Members of the group spent the last few days transforming the showgrounds and building a site that will serve as Fort Necessity during the reenactment.

Washington was 21 when he made the journey as a British emissary in midwinter of 1753-54. French officers politely told Washington they were not obliged to obey his summons, and they were going to stay. Washington returned to Virginia and informed Gov. Robert Dinwiddie that the French refused to leave.

By late May 1754, Washington had reached a large natural clearing known as the Great Meadows, which he made his base camp. Soon after arriving, he received word that a party of French soldiers was camped in a ravine not far from his position. On the stormy night of May 27, Washington and about 40 men began an all night march to confront the French and learn their intentions.

About dawn, Washington met with a friendly Seneca chief, Half King, and made plans to contact the French camp. As the French commander had not posted sentries, Washington and his men easily surrounded the unsuspecting French. A shot was fired and soon the peaceful glen was filled with the crash of musketry and the sulphurous smell of powder. The skirmish lasted about 15 minutes. When it was over, 13 Frenchmen were dead and 21 captured. One escaped and made his way back to Fort Duquesne at the fork of the Ohio. Washington’s casualties were one man killed and two or three wounded.

After the skirmish, Washington fortified his position at the Great Meadows. During the last two days of May and the first three days of June, he built a circular palisaded fort, which he called Fort Necessity.

 (Email: d_burcham@ncnewsonline.com)

 

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