Built in June 1774, Fort Henry was not erected by any specific plan or design, but was one of a number of similar forts built to protect settlers on the frontier in the middle years of the 1770s. The outbreak of the Shawnee (tribe) or Dunmore’s War, a conflict between American Indians of the Ohio Country and Virginia, was the immediate reason for its construction.

Construction was supervised by Colonel William Crawford under the orders of the Royal Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore.

It would appear that the need for a fortified shelter was noticed simultaneously by the residents of the area, and by the military authorities at Fort Pitt (Pennsylvania), in the spring of 1774. John Connolly wrote to Wheeling and urged the settlers to fortify themselves as soon as possible.

Ebenezer Zane and John Caldwell began the fort, which was completed with the help of Captain William Crawford, Colonel Angus McDonald and 400 militia and regulars from Fort Pitt. A letter preserved in the Pennsylvania Archives shows that Connolly told Crawford “to proceed to Wheeling and complete the fort.”

A letter from Lord Dunmore dated June 20, 1774 to Connolly states that Dunmore “entirely [approved] of the measures [Connolly] have taken to build a fort at Wheeling.” Dunmore, then, did not specifically order the fort to be built, but did approve of it. Connolly, according to some accounts, left Fort Pitt with 100 men to help build the fort, but was harassed by a small raiding party of Indians. He returned to Fort Pitt, and then sent out Crawford and McDonald with 400 men.