In January 1754, George Washington was a twenty-one-year-old major serving in the Virginia militia who just returned to Williamsburg from a 900-mile mission into the Ohio country. Upon his arrival, Washington delivered the French Commandant's letter of refusal to abandon the Ohio territory to Governor Robert Dinwiddle of Virginia.
Washington wrote a report of his two-and-a-half month trans-Allegheny journey, stretching from October 31, 1753 until January 16, 1754. Dinwiddle immediately rushed the report into print in Williamsburg in order to awaken colonial and British officials to the urgent need to defend the western frontier from French encroachment.
The Journal of Major George Washington is of considerable historical significance. The journal provides a first-hand glimpse of frontier diplomacy, the beginnings of the French and Indian War, as well as early indications of Washington's well-documented physical vigor and leadership. The first British edition was printed by Thomas Jefferys, an engraver from England's Board of Trade, and appeared in June 1754 with a map that was not included in the Williamsburg printing.
The Ohio area was rich and vast, critical to the expansion of both Britain and France. The governor of Virginia championed a united intercolonial front against the French and the strengthening of British alliances with Native American tribes. However, many Virginians were skeptical of his concern over such a remote territory and of Dinwiddle's personal interest in the Ohio Company, a private land company that included such shareholders as George Mason and Lawrence and Augustine Washington. By August 28, 1753, the Crown ordered Dinwiddle to investigate foreign incursions into the Ohio country.
A young George Washington volunteered to be Dinwiddle's emissary and assembled a group of explorers and interpreters including Christopher Gist, an experienced frontiersman who would be both his teacher and guide. Constantly battling excessive rains and vast quantities of snow, Washington visited Native American settlements and French fortifications in the wilderness. The trip was an important lesson for Washington in the complexities of political allegiances and provided an opportunity to utilize his surveying skills to sketch a map of the Ohio territory.
The 1754 journal not only appeared in monograph form but was published in several newspapers. Washington later commented: "It was an extraordinary circumstance that so young and inexperienced a person be employed on a negotiation with which the subjects of the greatest importance were involved." With his first publication, Washington became known both through the colonies and in prominent circles in England.
The Diaries of George Washington, Vol. 1, ed. Donald Jackson. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1976.
The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series, Vol. 1 ed. W.W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1983.