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In the fall of 1753 Dinwiddie sent 21-year-old Major Washington to deliver a message to the French, demanding they leave the area. With the help of a frontier guide and local Indians, Washington reached the French fort, Le Boeuf, with Dinwiddie's message. The return trip tested Washington's endurance. He hiked for days through snowy woods, fell off a raft into the ice-choked Allegheny River, nearly drowned, and was forced to spend a freezing night on an island without shelter. His guide, an experienced backwoodsman, suffered frostbite; but Washington suffered no ill effects. Washington's account of the arduous 900-mile journey was published by Governor Dinwiddie in both Williamsburg and London, establishing an international reputation for George Washington by the time he was 22.
A few months later Dinwiddie dispatched Washington, now a lieutenant colonel, and some 150 men to assert Virginia's claims. As they advanced, Washington's men skirmished with French soldiers, killing 10 men, including the French commander. Washington then retreated to an ill-placed and makeshift palisade he called Fort Necessity. He was forced to surrender when the French surrounded the fort. The campaign ended in humiliation for Washington and ignited the French and Indian War.
Although he resigned his commission after the surrender, Washington returned to the frontier in 1755 as a volunteer aide to General Edward Braddock. Braddock had been sent by the King of England to drive the French from the Ohio Country. Braddock's army was routed near the Monongahela River and fled in confusion to Virginia. During the battle, while attempting to rally the British soldiers, Washington had two horses shot out from under him and four bullet holes shot through his coat. Although he behaved with conspicuous bravery, Washington could do little except lead the broken survivors to safety.
In recognition of his conduct, Washington was given command of Virginia's entire military force. With a few hundred men he was ordered to protect a frontier some 350 miles long. Although this was a frustrating assignment, it provided him with experience in commanding troops through an arduous campaign. In 1758 the British finally took the forks of the Ohio. Peace returned to Virginia, and Washington resigned his commission to return to Mount Vernon, his duty faithfully performed.