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Brief Biographical / Historical Sketch


Robert Stobo (1727-1770) was born in Glasgow, Scotland, and came to Williamsburg, Virginia, after the death of his parents to earn a living as a merchant. He soon gained the favor of Virginia Governor Robert Dinwiddie, who made him a captain in the Virginia militia. Stobo’s mechanical knowledge led to his being named the regimental engineer and he was responsible for the construction of frontier fortifications. In 1754, Stobo’s regiment was to follow Washington’s to Fort Prince George at the Forks of the Ohio, but French forces arrived first and the fort was surrendered without a fight. The French then constructed Fort Duquesne at the site.

As a French expedition marched east toward the British, Washington’s men ran into the party. The resulting skirmish near present day Uniontown, Pa., known as the Battle of Jumonville Glen, saw the first shots fired in the French and Indian War. A French soldier escaped and informed Fort Duquesne of what had occurred at the same time that Stobo and his men reached Washington to assist in the construction of a fort at the Great Meadows that he called Fort Necessity “in honor of our empty bellies.” During a battle at the fort, Washington was forced to surrender, release his French prisoners, and agree that the British would remain east of the Allegheny Mountains for one year. To ensure that they would keep their word, Stobo and Jacob Van Braam were held hostage at Fort Duquesne.

While in captivity, Stobo was free to move around the fort. He acquired paper and a pen and wrote a letter to Colonel James Innes, who was the Commander-in-Chief of colonial forces in the Ohio River Valley stationed at Fort Cumberland on Will’s Creek. The letter outlined the French defenses and their relationship with local Native Americans. He also stated that the fort should be attacked in the fall and, due to frequent visits by natives, that it could easily be captured by 100 Indians. Stobo wrote, “…for my part I wou’d Die ten thousand Deaths to have the pleasuring of possessing this Fort but one Day, they are so vain of their success at the Meadows, its worse than Death to hear them, Strike this Fall as soon as possible make the Indians ours, prevent Intilegence, get the best and its Done…” In addition to the letter, Stobo also drew a detailed diagram of Fort Duquesne and its surroundings, including the layout of magazines, gates, ditches, drawbridge, and interior buildings (and their functions).

An Indian (believed to be named Moses) delivered this letter to Will's Creek, but he did not give it directly to Colonel Innes, but rather to George Croghan, whom he knew and hoped to receive a reward. Croghan opened the letter himself and proceeded to make several copies for Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia and Governor Hamilton of Pennsylvania. During this captivity, Stobo was promoted to Major in July 1754 once Washington's superiors received word of his actions.

Soon the French began to hear rumors about a smuggled map of Fort Duquesne and they sent Stobo and Van Braam to Quebec in September 1754. The following year the French learned that Stobo’s map was published in London and a copy of his original letter and map were found in General Braddock’s war chest following his July 1755 defeat in the Battle of Monongahela. These findings jeopardized Stobo’s status as a “gentleman prisoner” and he was tried and convicted of being a spy. Stobo was sentenced to hang, but proved elusive by managing to escape, be recaptured, and escaping a second time. He then used his newfound knowledge of Quebec to assist the English in its capture.

Stobo took a permanent position with the British military and served in the Caribbean against France and Spain. While fighting to gain control of Havana in 1762, Stobo suffered a fractured skull at Morro Castle. He never fully recovered from his head wound, eventually moving to London where he began to drink excessively and behave erratically. On June 19, 1770, Stobo shot himself with a revolver, ending his life at his own hand.