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The Fort Dewart Project

by Ian MacLean CMHT

 

Some of you will have read my piece on Castle Duart, Pennsylvania, more commonly known as Fort Dewart.  It is a redoubt (small fort) built in 1758 by Captain Sir Allan Maclean and his clansmen, when they were serving with Montgomery’s Highlanders.  Others of you have heard me “going on” about it at the recent Rural Hills games.  Your President, Bob McLean, my wife, and I had the opportunity to visit the site, and meet the local owners, supporters and historians.  What a visit it was!

Many of you will have heard of Fort Ligonier, - home of the Fort Ligonier Games, and also in Pennsylvania.  Phil Light, a local Mayor, AND a big supporter of anything that will spread the word about Fort Dewart and the Forbes Road (of which Dewart was a part) had arranged for us to have a personal tour of the Fort.  It was originally built at the same time as Fort Dewart, and is an excellent and accurate reconstruction.  We were briefed on the French Indian War, and the importance of the Forbes Road in the defeat of the French and their Indian allies at Fort Duquesne, - now Pittsburgh.  The tour was lead initially by Martin West, the Executive Director of Fort Ligonier.  He handed us off to, one of the Historical Interpreters, Jeff Graham who took us around the grounds.  Not only was the tour fascinating in it’s own right, but both these experts were able to give us insights into how Fort Dewart, the next Fort in the chain, - would have been constructed and defended. 

Off to the Fort Dewart site, with many detours so Phil could show us remnants of the Forbes Road.  Much to our pleasure and excitement, there were not the couple of folks to meet us that we expected, but approximately a dozen people, - at least four in reenactment gear.  We took a short walk back through the woods, and found the site.  It is marked by a huge stone marker, which was raised in 1930.  The outline of the star shaped redoubt was very clear, and the walls and ditch, although greatly reduced after 250 years, was evident.  I would estimate that the ditch is still a foot or so deep, and the wall a couple of feet high. A program had been planned to both welcome us, and inform us of the history of the site, and the efforts to maintain and preserve it.  Peter Folen, the past President of the Folmont Property Owners Group, and one of the reenactors started it off. He had been the person that the Pennsylvania Historical Commission had referred me to about a year ago.  Bob and I were pleased, and a bit surprised, when he described the visit of we Macleans as a “miracle”.  Macleans are not always so popular!  Seriously, he was very moved, as he and many others had been working on the preservation of the site for many years.  He admitted to having been a bit discouraged as he felt interest was lagging, and the group had been plagued with “four wheelers”  chewing up the trail.  As a result, the Property Owners were forced to restrict public access.  Now he felt the corner had been turned and all Dewart’s supporters were reenergized.

Peter paid special tribute to Jack Finnigan, a former scout leader who had not only worked hard for 40 years to preserve the site, and parts of the Road, but also had his scouts work on the road and often cleaned up the site. They were rewarded, as we were with Fort Dewart merit badges.  Jack was there, even though he is over 80, and needed to have his oxygen tank with him.  He wasn’t going to miss this occasion.  He told us how very pleased he was that the Road and Fort Dewart might now get the recognition he had always sought for them. 

Dr Walt Powell, one of the historians who has been employed by the Property Owners Group, gave us a brief history of the Forbes campaign, the building of Dewart, and it’s importance and purpose.   I, of course had to chime in, and explain why the name of the Fort would have been so important to Sir Allan and his clansmen.  After all, not only were they a long way from home, but they had lost much of their lands, notably Duart Castle, with little hope of recovery.  This Castle Duart seemed to me to be symbolic of that homesickness, and their desire to transport something of home to this new and wild land.  I know there are Scottish names transplanted to many places worldwide for the same reasons. The ceremony ended with a three-musket salute from the reenactors.  We were honored.

We had a short business meeting where fund raising was discussed.  The local folks had a number of ideas as to how the money for the historians who are going to put together the exhaustive details and documentation needed, will be raised.  At this point they are not asking the Trust or Clan Gillean for funds.  They may well ask us as individuals to contribute, or perhaps buy a sketch of what Fort Dewart would have looked like.  That is only one of the ideas.  The group do hope that the CMHT and Clan Gillean will help when the time comes to erect story boards, a plaque commemorating the contributions of Sir Allan and his Macleans, and to have a celebration of the confirmation of Fort Dewart as a national U.S. Historic Site.

Later we were shown artifacts that had been collected from the site, and Bob and I were both presented with musket balls found near Fort Dewart.

That evening, Marjorie and I were taken to view the escarpment form below, - to the east where the Road had come from.  What a task it must have been, as the land rose to a height of 3000 feet in a very short distance.  Coming from the west, we had not appreciated the steepness of the mountain over which the road had been built, and canons and wagons had to be dragged.

A social evening with all the available members of the council, and their spouses, again illustrated the importance that the owners place on the site and our visit.  I learned that Bill & Helga, who had bought the land and started the development, had ensured in covenants, that the Fort, and large portions of the Forbes road were protected.  The Property Owners jointly own these historic places, and so they can not be developed.  I also found out that many had assumed that the name Dewart must be French, not knowing the Maclean Scottish connection.

Both Bob and I feel that the local folks, and the Property Owners will make great partners with the Clan Maclean Heritage Trust and Clan Gillean in remembering, commemorating, and preserving this unique American and Maclean historic site.  Onwards and Upwards!!