Robert Stobo Letter and Plan of Fort Duquesne
Stobo, Robert, 1726-1770
July 28, 1754
0.08 linear feet (1 box)
This collection contains a French and Indian War-era letter written by Captain Robert Stobo to Colonel Innes, who were officers in the British army in the mid-18th century. Stobo writes in captivity from Fort Duquesne, describing French negotiations with the Shawnee [Shanoe] Indians, among other observations. On the reverse of the letter is a map of Fort Duquesne and its environs. The collection also contains a manuscript (clerical) copy of the 1754 letter, and a typed transcription. Digital reproductions of the collection are available online.
ULS Archives Service Center
University of Pittsburgh Library System
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Pittsburgh, PA, 15260
Finding aid prepared by Angela Manella.
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.
Collection Scope and Content Notes
The collection contains the two-page letter with the hand-drawn plan of Fort Duquesne on the verso of the letter, written by Robert Stobo to Colonel James Innes, pressing for an attack of the fort by British colonial and Indian forces. There is also an early manuscript (clerical) copy of the letter and plan, in addition to a typed transcription of the letter.
Robert Stobo wrote two letters during his captivity at Fort Duquesne by the French. This first letter -- the one in the Darlington collection -- is dated July 28, 1754. The other is dated July 29 which can be found in the Pennsylvania State Archives. On the verso of the first letter, Stobo sketched a detailed plan of the fort. Evidence suggests he also made a copy of the first letter in case the original was intercepted. It is this second copy that is found in the Darlington collection. The location of the original is unknown.
Stobo smuggled the letters out of Fort Duquesne by way of friendly Indians and had them sent to Colonel James Innes (c. 1700-1759), the Commander-in-Chief of colonial forces in the Ohio River Valley. Colonel Innes was headquartered at Fort Cumberland on Will’s Creek during the summer of 1754. An Indian, named Moses, delivered the letter in this collection to Will's Creek, but he did not give it directly to Colonel Innes first, 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. Innes received the second letter (July 29th) before he received the one from July 28th.
The July 28th letter describes the concerns of the Shanoe (Shawnee) Indians about the alleged imprisonment of two of their "kings and 300 warriors." Stobo communicates the plight of the Shanoe left in the villages who are vulnerable to raids from Cheroquees (Cherokees) and Cotabes. Stobo describes the competing English and French attempts to ally themselves with the Shanoe. At the time of writing, the Shanoe council is deliberating on the matter.
The remainder of the letter describes the number and movement of French troops at Fort Duquesne. On the reverse of the letter is a map of the fort and its environs. The map shows the Ohio and Monongahela rivers with the Allegheny River drawn but not identified by name. A descriptive legend translates letters and numbers depicted on the diagram of the fort revealing the location of arms and embankments. The map indicates a half mile of cornfields and woods beyond the fort. Stobo closes with an optimistic assessment of the British position, stating that one hundred Indians could take the fort by autumn.
According to author Walter R. Borneman, Stobo's letter was found in General Edward Braddock's trunk and returned to Fort Duquesne after the defeat of Braddock by the French and Indians on July 9, 1755 at the Battle of Monongahela. However, evidence suggests from a detailed textual and handwriting analysis conducted by a E[mily] Driscoll, a manuscript dealer in New York City in the 1960s, it was a copy of the letter given to General Braddock by Colonel Innes when Braddock set off on his engagement. While it has been presumed that Braddock carried the original letter that Stobo penned, the analysis conducted by Driscoll suggests otherwise.
By making detailed comparisons, Driscoll claims that the copy given to Braddock and now held at the Bibliotheque et Archives Nationales du Quebec is not the original letter penned by Stobo but a copy. It is believed that the first version of Stobo's July 28th letter is in the hands of a private collector while the copy Stobo made himself was acquired by William Darlington along with one of the clerical copies made by Innes' staff. In Robert C. Albert's book,
The Most Extraordinary Adventures of Major Robert Stobo (1965), he cites in a footnote that five copies of the letter are known to exist: "two in the University of Pittsburgh's Darlington Library, one in the State Archives in Harrisburg, Pa., one in the library of Mr. George Spannuth in Pottsville, Pa., and one (presumably the original) in the old Court House Archives in Montreal." Again evidence suggests that the original is actually not in Canada but in the hands of a private owner.
- Cherokee Indians -- Pennsylvania -- History
- Indians of North America -- Pennsylvania -- History
- Shawnee Indians -- Pennsylvania -- History
- Fort Duquesne (Pa.) -- History
- Pittsburgh (Pa.)
- United States -- History -- French and Indian War, 1755-1763
Access and Use
Part of the original donation of William M. Darlington’s family library to the University of Pittsburgh in 1918 and 1925 by his daughters, Edith Darlington Ammon and Mary Carson Darlington.
Digital reproductions of the collection are available online.
This collection was located in the Darlington Memorial Library in the University’s Cathedral of Learning until 2007 when it was moved to the ULS Archives Service Center for processing, storage, preservation and service. However, it remains in the custodianship of the ULS Special Collections Department.
Robert Stobo Letter and Plan of Fort Duquesne, July 28, 1754, DAR.1925.05, Darlington Collection, Special Collections Department, University of Pittsburgh
This collection was processed by Angela Manella in August 2007.
No copyright restrictions.
- Alberts, Robert C.,
The Most Extraordinary Adventures of Major Robert Stobo, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1965.
- Stobo, Robert and Neville B. Craig.
Memoirs of Stobo. Pittsburgh: John S. Davidson, 1854.