George Washington triggers the French and Indian Wars
5/29/2023 8:38:38 AM
The Battle of Jumonville Glen occurred on May 28, 1754.
Really more of a skirmish as Lt. Col. George Washington of the Virginia Colony was dispatched by Gov. Dinwiddie to take and hold the forks of the Ohio River. Dinwiddie was a bit of a rogue governor. He was acting on his own without consultation with the British government. Dinwiddie had sent delegations in the past to ask the French to vacate territory that Virginia claimed.
Britain and France were not at war in 1754. There had been six years of peace and the British government would have preferred to keep it that way. But Governor Dinwiddie was convinced that the Royal Charter that allowed for the creation of Virginia colony also granted the colonists ownership of lands to the west of the Allegheny Mountains, specifically in the Ohio Valley. The French argued that the mountains were a natural barrier between New France and New England and that the British should honour that separation.
Both French and British fur traders were active in the Ohio Valley area and a Virginia Company called the Ohio Company was selling land to speculators. Shareholders in the Ohio Company included Dinwiddie himself and Washington among other notable Virginians. The French were certainly not innocent in this march to war. They had been busy building a string of forts extending south from Lake Erie. They claimed this land as part of New France.
As well, they physically removed British fur traders from the area. This was obviously provocative to the Virginians who were settling in the Ohio territory. The string of French forts would allow them to protect their economic interests in the territory.
When Virginians tried to build a fort at the Forks of the Ohio, near present day Pittsburg, the French had forced them to leave and then built their own fort, Fort Duquesne.
Washington had orders, Dinwiddie's orders, to take whatever action was necessary to remove the French from the Ohio territory. And so he marched and came to the place south of the forks of the Ohio that has become known as Jumonville Glen. Washington had been informed by a white settler that a French force was gathered not far ahead.
What is known is that there was a skirmish and that the French-Canadian commander, Joseph Coulon de Jumonville was killed. So were several others of his men and the rest captured. Of those, nine more were killed and scalped by FN allies of the British.
This is where the story gets sketchy as in a later battle at Fort Necessity, Washington would be forced to surrender and he signed a document in which he admitted to assassinating Jumonville. Later, Washington would claim that he did not know what he had signed as it was written in French.
There were several supposedly eye witness accounts. One that is most often cited is that the leader of the FN warriors assisting Washington walked up to Jumonville and split his head open with his tomahawk. This encouraged his compatriots to kill and scalp a further nine prisoners before a shocked Washington could stop the slaughter. Most of those killed were not French regulars but French-Canadian colonists in the militia.
Another account said that Jumonville was killed by a musket ball to the head while reading a summons to Washington. The summons was a formal order for the British to retreat or be evicted through force of arms. It also stated that he was on a mission of peace. Who shot him is not known but it seems that Washington had been informed by FN allies that the French intended to shoot to kill any British forces that they encountered. So was Jumonville on a mission of peace or not? There are reports that he was in possession of two documents, one asking for a peaceful resolution to the conflict and the other authorizing the use of force to evict the Virginians.
Virginia would demand British support and as mentioned, the British were initially reluctant to send troops but eventually they did and the French and Indian War was under way. The skirmish at Jumonville Glen is accepted as the first battle of that war.
If anyone has more information about what actually happened at Jumonville Glen, I would be happy to read it.