Throughout the 18th Century, the major colonial powers of France and Great Britain were vying for control of North America. By the 1750's the British extended their settlements westward over the Appalachian Mountains and the French moved south out of Canada, setting the stage for war. In Maryland, Anglo-Americans settled the fertile lands of the Potomac River valley along the Conococheague, Licking, Little Tonoloway, and Big Tonoloway Creeks. Mainly English, Scots-Irish and German immigrants, these settlers organized self-sufficient communities centered on agriculture.
In 1754 the French established Fort Duquesne (present day Pittsburgh, PA) at forks of the Ohio River. British armies were twice defeated, in 1754 and 1755, while attempting to capture Fort Duquesne. Encouraged by these victories, the French, who had enlisted the aid of Delaware and Shawnee Indians, launched raiding parties against the frontier inhabitants in the fall of 1755. French hoped these devastating raids would keep the British on the defensive and force them to cede the disputed territories to France. Panic soon gripped the entire Western Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland backcountry.
Early attempts to protect the frontier, such as the construction of Stoddert's Fort (near present day Hancock, MD), proved inadequate. Governor Horatio Sharpe
decided a strong fortification was needed in Maryland. After a prolonged debate with the colonial legislature over financial support Sharpe began construction of a large stone fortification—Fort Frederick.
Construction of Fort Frederick began in June of 1756. Work continued until December of 1757, when the Maryland Assembly, leery of the high cost of building the fort, cut off funding. In its completed form the fort included two enlisted men's barracks and an officer's quarters—or "Governor's House"—all surrounded by a stone wall three to four feet thick. Considered spacious and commodious for the time, the barracks could house near 400 men when necessary, although they were intended to accommodate 200 "comfortably". Sharpe also recruited five companies of Maryland troops to garrison Forts Frederick and Cumberland, and to patrol the frontier.
In 1757, Fort Frederick was the scene of an important conference between Maryland authorities and 60 Cherokee warriors under Chief Wahachey of Keowee (in present day South Carolina). The Cherokees agreed to aid Maryland in the war with the French, and assisted the Maryland Forces, as well as troops from Virginia, in protecting the frontier.
In 1758 British General John Forbes led a successful campaign that captured Fort Duquesne. Fort Frederick became an important supply depot and staging area for Forbes' army. At various times, stores within the fort included 483 bushels of oats, 1028 bushels of Indian corn, 4320 pounds of hay, 33 wagonloads of musket balls, artillery shells, and cannon balls, and road-building tools.
With Fort Duquesne's capture the threat to the the frontier was eliminated. In early 1759 the last of the Maryland Forces were mustered out and Fort Frederick was left the responsibility of a single caretaker. In 1763 the fort was pressed into brief service during Pontiac's war. Maryland Militia was sent to the frontier and Fort Frederick provided a safe haven for local residents. Soon the threat had passed, and the fort was again abandoned.
This 18th Century map illustrates the great expanse of territory claimed by France. Outlined in yellow are the British Colonies. Notice the small area the French were willing to permit to British claims. Courtesy National Park Service.
Governor Horatio Sharpe
Portrait of Cherokee Chief Cunne Shote. While not with the group that accompanied Wahachey to Fort Frederick, his dress is typical of Cherokee headmen in the mid-eighteenth century. Francis Parsons, "Cunne Shote, Cherokee Chief" from the collection of Gilcrease Museum, Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Modern artist's interpretation of the Maryland Forces, 1756-1759. Owing to the reluctance of the Colonial Assembly to provide funding for military defense, surviving documentation suggests Maryland's troops received a variety of uniforms, if any at all.