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Many Americans think of the Revolutionary War as the pivotal event of eighteenth-century America because, to them, it represents the beginnings of our country. However, some historians argue that the French and Indian War was more significant, as its events and aftermath started Americans on the path to independence.

The war tested the relationships between America and the mother country.  The decisions that arose from the conflict caused both the British and the Americans to question the nature of the colonial partnership.  After the French and Indian War, it began to become apparent that America and Britain were developing culturally and socially along different lines, and the war exposed and exacerbated the fundamental differences between British and American goals. 

George Washington was a pivotal figure in the French and Indian War from the earliest days.  For Washington the French and Indian War started in late 1753, when he was selected as the British emissary to the French frontier establishment.  It ended with the fall of Fort Duquesne to the combined British and colonial forces.  He was a young and ambitious man when he volunteered.  His actions--which reflected his lack of experience--and his ambitions helped determine the course of the war. 

The war was also an important event in Washington’s life and development.  His later decisions and actions were influenced by his French and Indian War experience.  Washington’s war experiences not only taught him valuable lessons about command and politics, they also caused him to re-examine his professional and personal goals.  The war both provided Washington with valuable military experience and shaped his perceptions of the relationship between the colonials and the British.  Washington emerged from the war as a less naïve person.

Washington was an ambitious young man who wanted to pursue a military career.  Before his death, Washington’s older, half-brother Lawrence Washington had a brevet officer’s commission in the regular British army during the British invasion of Cartagena[1] and served as the military adjutant for Virginia.  It was common in eighteenth-century Virginia for official positions to pass down within families, and it may have been with this in mind that Washington actively sought to succeed Lawrence as a military adjutant.  The adjutants’ role was to instruct the militia officers and soldiers in the use and exercise of their arms, to increase discipline in the militia, and to teach the men of the lower classes how to be more civilized. The colonial government divided the colony into four military districts; Washington lobbied for the adjutancy of the Northern Neck, which included his home.  However, Washington was appointed to the adjutancy of the Southern district, which stretched from the James River to the North Carolina border.  While he was disappointed not to receive the district closer to home, it was an honor for the as not-yet-21-year-old Washington (who had no military experience) to be appointed to the adjutancy with its £100 per year salary and a Virginia Major’s commission.[2]

By the early 1750s the French and British were in conflict in the Ohio Valley.  Since the beginning of European settlement in the seventeenth century, English settlement had slowly expanded westward from the eastern seaboard, while French settlement moved south from Canada.  In the 1740s, British traders entered the Ohio Valley and began competing with already established French traders for Indian commerce.  In 1744 the Iroquois signed the Treaty of Lancaster with the British, which ceded Iroquois claims in Maryland and Virginia.  While the Iroquois assumed that this meant the Shenandoah Valley and land already within settled colonial boundaries, the British interpreted it as the entire area of English claim.  Virginia’s charter specified that its western boundary was the Pacific Ocean. 

In 1745, the Virginia House of Burgesses began granting western land to Virginia-based land companies.[3]  The French saw this as a threat to their territorial claims, which were based on early exploration and settlement.  In 1752 France sent the Marquis de Duquesne to be the governor-general of Canada and to command French forces in North America.  Throughout the rest of 1752 and early 1753, the French built strategically located forts throughout the Ohio Valley to protect their claims.[4]

Mission to the Ohio

Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie (National Portrait Gallery)
Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie (National Portrait Gallery)
The Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, Robert Dinwiddie, was particularly vocal in calling upon the British government, through the Privy Council, to stop French incursions into the Ohio Valley.  Dinwiddie had a significant financial interest in the Ohio Company and may have seen his investment threatened.  The Privy Council agreed to give the colonial governors the power to resist French incursions in America.  King George II’s instructions stated that the governor was to erect forts, protect English claims and remove any Indians or Europeans from English territory.  He authorized Dinwiddie to ask the House of Burgesses for money and to raise a militia.[5]  However, because Dinwiddie was feuding with the Burgesses[6] who refused to vote the funds for an armed expedition against the French, he decided to send an emissary instead.[7]

Washington may have heard about the expedition from his neighbor and patron, Colonel William Fairfax.  In October 1753, Washington traveled to Williamsburg to present himself to Dinwiddie and to volunteer to be Britain’s emissary to the French. [8]  Washington was not explicit as to why he was willing to take on this assignment, but he may have hoped to ingratiate himself with the governor with the intension of succeeding to the Northern adjutancy.  Dinwiddie accepted Washington’s services, perhaps because of his connections to the Ohio Company.[9]

Dinwiddie instructed Washington to travel to Wills Creek (Cumberland, MD)--where the Ohio Company’s fortified storehouse was located--and to hire Christopher Gist as a guide.[10]  From there, he was to hire porters and proceed to Logstown, an Indian settlement. At Logstown, Washington was to determine where the French forces were posted, request an Indian escort, and proceed to the French forts in the Ohio River Valley[11].  Dinwiddie instructed Washington, once he arrived at the French fort, to present his letter from the Governor, wait for a reply, and request a French escort back to the Virginia settlements.  While waiting at the fort, he was to note troop strength, armaments, defenses, communications, and learn all he could about the French plans.[12] 

Washington’s first official stop was at Logstown.  The Mingos, Shawnee and Delawares who lived in the Ohio Valley were client/allies of the Iroquois Confederacy.  The Iroquois Council appointed resident, village headmen within the subject tribes in the Ohio Valley.  These ‘half-kings’ had the authority to give and receive diplomatic gifts for the Confederacy but not to make independent treaties.[13]  The half king at Logstown was an adoptive Seneca named Tanacharison,[14] most commonly referred to by colonial Virginians as “Half King”.  When Washington arrived at Logstown, he presented gifts and tried to convince Tanacharison to join an allegiance with the British.  Tanacharison seemed eager to ally with the British as he had his own grievances with the French.  Earlier he had met with the French commander--Captain Pierre Paul de la Malgue, sieur de Marin--at the fort at Presque Isle where he demanded that the French leave Indian territory.  The commander had refused to leave, claiming that the French owned the land.  He also had refused to take the wampum treaty belt Tanacharison presented (signifying the treaty with the Indians was broken).  Tanacharison was offended by this and was eager to give  the belt to the new regional French commander, Captain Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, at Fort LeBeouef.  He readily agreed to accompany Washington to the French forts and to provide an official escort party, although it would take a few days to prepare for the journey.  Washington wanted to leave right away and chafed over the delay.  When the group was finally ready, Washington was dismayed to find that the escort party consisted of a few old chiefs and one young hunter to provide fresh meat along the way.[15]

Washington and his party arrived at the first French fort, Venango,[16] on December 4.  The French had expelled a British trader named John Fraser from his trading post and were fortifying his buildings into a fort.  The commander, Captain Philippe Thomas Joincare, sieur de Chabert, greeted Washington cordially but refused to accept his letter.  He insisted that Washington travel to the French senior commander at Fort LeBeouef.  Joincare also refused to accept Tanacharison’s belt, but directed him to Fort LeBeouef as well.[17] 

The party then traveled on to Fort Le Beouef, where they met with Captain Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, the regional commander.  St. Pierre was also reluctant to accept the letter, suggesting that Washington should present it to the governor of Canada in Quebec.  Washington refused and waited for St. Pierre’s response.  As at Venango, Washington examined the fortifications.  The party soon suspected that the French were trying to steal the Indians’ allegiances.  St. Pierre was more sympathetic and accommodating than Marin, although he also refused to accept the treaty belt.  At this point, Washington became convinced that the French were preparing to float a large military contingent down the river as soon as the weather allowed.  He decided that he needed to warn Dinwiddie as soon as possible.[18]  As soon as he received St. Pierre’s response, Washington’s party left, insisting that the Indians accompany them.

In the waning days of December, the expedition became more difficult.  Washington and Gist noted in their journals that the Indians succumbed to French hospitality and alcohol before the party reached the last French outpost, and Washington left them behind.  As the weather grew increasingly worse, Washington ordered the porters to continue on their own while he and Gist went overland on foot to make better time. After several harrowing experiences, Washington and Gist returned to the edge of the Virginia settlement; Washington made haste to deliver his papers and impressions to Dinwiddie.[19] 

Washington arrived in Williamsburg on January 16, 1754 and immediately reported to Dinwiddie.[20]  Dinwiddie was convinced that the French fort-building activity and St. Pierre’s response were acts of aggression against Great Britain.  Furthermore he believed that the aggression was egregious enough to warrant a military response.  While the Governor’s Council was willing to approve military action, the House of Burgesses was not.  Therefore, while the House of Burgesses was out of session, the Council authorized Dinwiddie to raise a force to drive the French out of the Ohio.  Joshua Fry, a well-liked professor at the College of William and Mary, was commissioned Colonel and appointed to lead the expedition.[21]  Washington was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and ordered to raise men and prepare for the mission.[22]  While Washington was recruiting in Alexandria, Virginia, Indian trader William Trent was raising a company of 100 frontiersmen.  The frontiersmen’s task was to build a fort as quickly as possible at the forks of the Monongahela to defend against further French encroachment.[23]

Washington was instructed to recruit men from the militias in the western counties, presumably those most interested in keeping the frontier open.  The County Lieutenants were instructed to help.  This was Washington’s first experience with the difficulties of recruiting and retaining soldiers.  The local militias were in disarray, and few men were willing to volunteer for the low, daily wages paid by the army.  Under threat of a draft, some local officials offered Washington men who were straight from the county jail![24]  Washington wrote to his younger brother, John Augustine, of his difficulties, “you may, with almost equal success, attempt to raize the Dead to Life again, as the force of this Country.”[25]  When it became apparent that militias alone would not provide enough men, Dinwiddie authorized a general enlistment with men to be rewarded with land grants near the soon-to-be established fort.[26] 

Washington also discovered that supplies were nearly as difficult to come by as men.  Most of the men who came to the army were poor.  They did not have clothing or shoes let alone the guns the militia laws mandated.  John Carlyle of Alexandria was appointed Commissary of Supply; however, due to a lack of funds, he was unable to secure the necessary quantities of goods.[27]   

We daily Experience the great necessity for Cloathing the Men, as we find the generality of those who are to be Enlisted are of those loose, Idle Persons that are quite destitute of House and Home, and I may truly say many of them of Cloaths which last, render’s them very incapable of the necessary Service, as they must unavoidably be expos’d to inclement weather in their Marches &ca; and can expect no other, than to encounter almost every difficulty that’s incident to a Soldiers Life [.]  There is many of them without Shoes, other’s want Stockings some are without Shirts, and not a few that have Scare a Coat, or Waistcoat, to their Backs; in short, they are as illy provided as can well be conceiv’d. . .[28]

The supply problems also extended to food, wagons, and horses.  The army was given the authority to impress wagons and teams, but farmers hid their best wagons and horses from the impressers.  Washington wrote several letters to the governor asking for money and supplies with little result.  Washington was frustrated by the government’s failure to provide money or to purchase necessary items.

Jumonville Glen and the Start of the War

Washington began marching his troops toward the frontier on April 18, 1754.  He had only 159 men, few supplies, and fewer wagons.  His destination was the British fort under construction on the forks of the Monongahela.  Dinwiddie had heard that the French were gathering their troops to attack the fort sooner than expected.  His instructions were clear:

You are to act on the Difensive, but in Case any Attempts are made to obstruct the Works or interrupt our Settlemts by any Persons whatsoever, You are to restrain all such Offenders, & in Case of resistance to make Prisoners of or kill & destroy them.  For the rest You are to conduct Yrself as the Circumsts of the Service shall require, & to act as You shall find best for the Furtherance of His M[ajest]y’s Service, & the Good of his Domn. [29]

While on the march, Washington encountered the straggling remains of Ensign Edward Ward’s contingent in retreat from the forks.  The French had taken the British fort without a shot.  Faced with a vastly superior force, Ward had surrendered.[30]  Washington continued on with the understanding that reinforcements were on the way.  Fry was scheduled to leave Alexandria with 100 men.  Three independent companies[31] from South Carolina and New York were on the march.  North Carolina also reported that they were sending militia in support of the British and colonial cause.[32]  Believing he was the advance portion of a large contingent of soldiers, Washington elected to continue his mission and set his sights for the Ohio Company’s fortified storehouse on Red Stone Creek.[33] 

Washington made camp in Great Meadows on May 24 and prepared to erect a small fort.  He found the location favorable because there was a small stream for water, ample forage, gullies that could serve as natural trenches, and an open field for battle.  He reported to Dinwiddie that it was a “charming field for an encounter.”[34] While Washington was in camp, scouts and traders in retreat from French forces on the frontier stopped to report that French parties were active in the area.  Washington felt that the French needed to be cut off before they could report the British strength and location back to the main force.  He sent out a 75-man scouting party the morning of May 27.  That night, a messenger from Tanacharison arrived in camp to say that the Indians knew the French party’s location.  Washington detached forty men and rendezvoused with Tanacharison’s warriors. 

Jumonville Glen today (Rob Shenk)
Jumonville Glen today (Rob Shenk)

Tanacharison and his warriors led Washington to the French camp at the bottom of a deep glen, rimmed with rock. It was early in the morning, and the Frenchmen were just beginning to stir.  It is unclear whether one of the French saw the British and Indians surrounding the glen’s rim and shot up or whether one of Washington’s men fired down first.  Regardless of who began the exchange, Washington’s force, shooting from the top of the glen down into the camp, quickly overcame the French.  Washington later reported one man dead and three wounded while the French had suffered fourteen casualties, including the expedition’s leader Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville.  As Washington began the process of accepting the French surrender, Tanacharison’s Indians suddenly began to kill the wounded and scalp the dead French soldiers.  Washington was able to protect one of the wounded and all of the healthy prisoners.[35] 

The surviving French prisoners insisted that they were an ambassadorial party and handed papers to Washington as proof.  They insisted that their instructions were to find the British and order them from French territory, not unlike Washington’s mission of the previous winter.  The prisoners were taken back to Great Meadows, where Washington dismissed the idea that they were an embassy.  He argued that if they were ambassadors, they would have openly approached the British encampment rather than hiding.  He speculated that they were there to spy on his troops and report back; their diplomatic papers were simply a ruse to be used if they were caught.[36] 

Fort Necessity

Washington returned to Great Meadows and in the following weeks readied for battle.  Fearing that the French and Indians would attack in retribution for his earlier attack on them, he pushed his men to complete the small, palisaded fort called Fort Necessity and deepen the trenches that radiated out from the fort.[37]  Washington bragged to Dinwiddie that the fort was strong enough “not to fear the attack of 500 Men.”[38]  After Joshua Fry died[39], Washington was made the commander of the Virginia forces.  Soon the Independent Company from South Carolina under Captain James Mackay arrived at Great Meadows with 100 men.  At the same time, Tanacharison’s group of about 80 women, children, and a few warriors took up camp in the field.  Two hundred additional Virginia troops marched in.[40]  Washington began to plan his attack on Fort Duquesne.

Washington did not intend to make a stand at Fort Necessity;[41] rather he planned to make the Ohio Company’s fortified storehouse at Red Stone Creek[42] his headquarters.  He and the Virginia forces[43] left Fort Necessity on June 16 bound for Red Stone Creek.  Along the way, he stopped at Gist’s New Settlement for a conference with the local Indian tribes.  Washington hoped to convince the Delawares, Shawnees, and Iroquois to join his attack on the French.  All of the tribes were polite but refused to join him.  Word began to trickle in that the French were readying to attack the British force.  It became apparent that Washington’s troops did not have the energy or ability to make it all the way to Red Stone Creek, so they turned back to Fort Necessity.  Washington hoped that promised and badly needed supplies would have arrived at the Fort.[44] 

At Necessity, Washington concentrated on readying the fort for a fight.  The men deepened and extended the trenches and connected a trench to the water supply.  They had already cleared brush to prepare the field for battle.[45] Washington still assumed that Fort Necessity was well-located in Great Meadows.  The ground was very marshy; the fort was located so that only one side had ground firm enough to support an attack.  He assumed that the French would meet on the field in the traditional, European way of battle.

It began to rain early in the morning on July 3.  The French troops appeared about 11 that morning and advanced in three columns.  Washington ordered his men out of the fort and lined up to fight.  The French fired from about 600 yards and the British took their positions in trenches, now full of rainwater, to defend the fort.  When they had advanced to within about 60 yards, the French scattered to the surrounding hillsides.  The French began an eight-hour bombardment of the little fort and the exposed British soldiers.[46]  “They then from every little rising—tree—stump—stone--and bush kept up a constant, galding fire upon us. . .”[47] The French broke off the attack at  8 pm that night and called for a parley.  Washington was immediately suspicious as to why the French would want to negotiate when they were so clearly winning.  He took stock of his resources.  All of his horses and livestock had been killed.  The powder was wet, and most of the men’s guns were jammed with no hope of repair.  One third of his men were dead or wounded.  Some of the men had broken into the rum supply and were rapidly getting drunk.[48]  Washington sent his only French-speaking officers, Jacob van Braam and William Peroney, to discuss terms with the French.  After several exchanges, van Braam brought back the written terms.[49]

Fort Necessity  (Rob Shenk)
Fort Necessity (Rob Shenk)

The terms were difficult to make out.  They were written in French in very bad handwriting on a piece of paper rapidly getting wet from the rain.  It was dark and the British officers had only a little candlelight with which to make out the terms.  No one but van Braam spoke or read French, and he had poor English skills.  As they understood the terms, the British were welcome to leave their fort unmolested as long as they returned the French prisoners, left the area, agreed not to return for at least a year, and admitted to the “death” or “loss” of Jumonville.  The terms seemed especially liberal and generous; Mackay and Washington signed them.[50]  It was not until the surrender document was more accurately translated and published that Washington and the British world understood that he had admitted to assassinating an ambassador on a mission of peace.[51]  Van Braam was roundly criticized for his translation failures and for a while was even accused of treason.[52] 

On July 4, 1754 Washington and all the British troops left Fort Necessity headed for the frontier town of Winchester, Virginia to regroup.  Along the way and for months afterwards, men deserted in droves.[53]  Dinwiddie was anxious for Washington to immediately recruit his regiment back to full strength and immediately return to the field before the campaign season was over in the fall.[54]  Tiring of the conflicts between colonials and regulars over who had authority over whom, Dinwiddie planned to reorganize the Virginia regiment into independent companies commanded by captains.  He hoped to appoint Virginians to regular, captains’ positions.  Washington did not want to serve at a lower rank than before, even if it came with a regular commission.[55]  When offered a commission he replied, “I think, the disparity between the present offer of a Company, and my former Rank, too great to expect any real satisfaction or enjoyment in a Corps, where I once did, nor thought I had a right to, command.”[56]  Washington resigned his Virginia command to Dinwiddie in October 1754 and returned to private life to concentrate on his farm.

Braddock's March

Washington returned to military life in March 1755.  The British sent Brigadier General Edward Braddock to Virginia with British regular soldiers to take the main French stronghold of Fort Duquesne (near Pittsburgh, PA).  General Braddock offered Washington a place in his “family” on this expedition.  This was Washington’s first opportunity to serve in a military campaign led by an experienced, professional officer.  He had renewed hope for a regular commission, although he denied it to several correspondents.[57]  The mission was not a success; the British were badly defeated at the Monongahela River.[58]  The British regulars broke and ran under the bombardment of French and Indian bullets.  Washington helped to organize the retreat.  Braddock died of his wounds, and Washington ordered him buried under the road he had cut.  Even though it was only July, the next in command, Colonel Thomas Dunbar, put the regulars into winter quarters.  

Dinwiddie refused to accept that the remains of the British forces were unwilling to return to the field.  He petitioned the House of Burgesses for funds and determined to send his Virginians out again.  He offered Washington the command.[59]  Washington insisted on certain conditions: he wanted a military chest from which to pay expenses; he wanted to select his own officers; and he insisted on two aides d’ camp.  Dinwiddie agreed.  Washington set out to establish his headquarters at Winchester, Virginia.[60]

Washington had a Herculean task ahead of him in recruiting and supplying troops.  He spent a tremendous amount of time coordinating these efforts.  He also had difficulty keeping men in the service once recruited or drafted; they deserted in large numbers.  He wrote to the governor and members of the House of Burgesses pleading for a revision in the militia law.  He decried that the laws were written so as to exempt wealthy or even middle-class men from military service.  The laws were disproportionately aimed at drafting the extremely poor: men who were a charge on the community.  Washington was frustrated by the quality of the soldiers he could obtain.  “I see the growing Insolence of the Soldiers, the Indolence, and Inactivity of the Officers. . .I can plainly see that under our present Establishment we shall become a Nusance: an insupportable charge to our Country, and never answer any one expectation of the Assembly.”[61]   “[A]s many of those [men] we have got are really, in a manner unfit to Duty; and were received more through necessity than choice; and will very badly bear a re-examination.”[62]  He found the militiamen to be wasteful and unmotivated.  Furthermore, the militia’s short enlistment times made their service unreliable.  “[T]hese militia being raised only for a month, lose half the time in marchings out & home. especially those who come from the adjacent Counties, who must be on duty sometime before they reach their Station; by which means double sets of men are in pay at the same time, and for the same Service.”[63]  Washington was frequently frustrated by the men he had and sought to overcome these deficiencies with stricter regulations and pleas to the Virginia government for more support.

Supporting to the war was unpopular among the people in the countryside.  Deserters were routinely hidden from the military.  Washington wrote of a local mob that freed several men from jail who had been drafted and were being held until they could be attached to a regiment.  This was not an isolated act.[64]  Settlers also threatened, “to blow out my [Washington’s] brains” when the army tried to impress needed supplies.[65]  Washington was challenged in fulfilling his duty by the lack of support among the people he was fighting for and by the Virginia government’s lukewarm support.[66] 

Washington’s mission as Virginia’s commander-in-chief was to execute a strategy to maintain the Virginia frontiers.  After Braddock’s defeat, the colonies’ western borders contracted dramatically.  Indians mounted attacks on frontier settlements and isolated towns.  Washington said that the settlers were leaving the backcountry in droves for fear of Indian attack; the settlers were quickly abandoning their farms and retreating to more secure areas.[67]  Virginia, along with Pennsylvania and Maryland, decided to erect and garrison a string of small, frontier forts.  They were meant to provide a wall of protection against Indian raids and French incursion.  Washington was skeptical of the plan from the beginning, “It seemed to be the Sentiments of the House of Burgesses when I was down, that a chain of Forts should be erected upon our Frontiers for the defence of the people: This expedient, in my opinion, will never, without an inconceivable number of men, answer their expectations.”[68]  In practice, the forts proved woefully inadequate to the task.  Very few could be considered forts in the true sense of the word.  Most were small, poorly constructed affairs that offered little protection and were difficult to defend.  Washington’s dilemma was that the forts were spaced too far apart--about 18 to 20 miles--to allow men to effectively patrol between.  This left the settlers unprotected.  If the settlers took refuge in a fort, their farms were vulnerable.[69]  Although, Washington and his men acquitted themselves honorably, fighting about 10 small conflicts and losing about 100 men,[70]  Washington was challenged in protecting the frontier.

The Forbes Expedition   

Then, in 1755, the British frontier strategy changed.  The army in America was reorganized to undertake three major campaigns.  Washington and his First Virginia regiment were assigned to General John Forbes.  The Second Virginia regiment was constituted and raised under Colonel William Byrd III; it also was placed under Forbes.  Forbes’ mission was to lead an attack on Fort Duquesne.  Washington and Byrd were to be line officers under Forbes’ command.[71]  The question of command was finally settled when it was decided that colonial officers could only be commanded by their regular counterparts and above.[72]  This was satisfactory to Washington, although he continued to hope for a regular commission.

Fort Ligonier (Rob Shenk)
Fort Ligonier (Rob Shenk)

Washington agreed with the strategy of marching a well-supplied, powerful force to Fort Duquesne.  Forbes’ army consisted of between six and seven thousand regular and colonial forces.[73]  Washington disagreed with the route that Forbes decided to take.  Forbes intended to cut an entirely new western road, starting in Pennsylvania, rather than resurrect Braddock’s old road.  Washington argued that it would be easier to enlarge Braddock’s road than to start over again.  Washington also knew that the army’s road would subsequently funnel frontier trade back east.  He would have preferred that it travel along Braddock’s road towards Virginia rather than along Forbes’ proposed route to Pennsylvania.[74]  To Washington’s disappointment, Forbes refused to change his mind and proceeded to cut a new road through Pennsylvania. 

The Forbes expedition was carefully planned and executed.  Forbes’ strength lay in his attention to detail and his resolve that the supply lines remain open.  He also insisted that his underlings not act independently, but follow his orders exactly.  He was furious when he found out that several hundred men had been lost in an unauthorized, pre-emptive attack on Duquesne.[75]  Forbes was a good role model for Washington who learned from him the importance of supply in keeping an army in the field.

The campaign ended in November when the British forces finally took Fort Duquesne.  As the British moved closer, the French commander grew more concerned about his ability to defend his post.  He had few men and resources, his supply lines having been cut off a few months before when the British took Fort Frontenac.  He elected to abandon his post, and on November 23 he ordered the magazines blown up and the fort burned down.  Leading an advance group, Washington reached the smoking remains of the fort on November 24, 1758.[76]  By the time the British took Fort Duquesne without firing a shot, they had mounted a series of successful attacks on other French positions as well.  The French were now losing the war.

Forbes was fortunate in his timing as the colonial enlistments were due to expire at the end of November.  However, November not only marked the end of many provincials’ enlistments, it was also to be the end of Washington’s involvement with the war.  He ended his campaigns having achieved his original military goal.  Washington began the war with the expedition to the French, ordering them to leave British-claimed territory.  He ended the war when the French were quickly losing territory and in retreat.  Washington would return to Williamsburg at the end of the year and, finally, permanently resign his commission in the Virginia forces.  He had successfully stood for election to the House of Burgesses that year and would take his seat in February.  His proposal to the widow Martha Dandridge Custis had been accepted, and their wedding date was set for January.  Washington was ready for new challenges as a legislator and a planter.

Washington began his military career with enthusiasm and a hope that he could rise in His Majesty’s Service.  When he resigned his commission for the final time, it was with the knowledge that he could not succeed under the conditions of his service, even though his “inclinations [were] strongly bent to arms.”[77]  He finally accepted that a regular army commission at the rank he wanted would not be forthcoming.  He had several offers of a captaincy, [78] but taking a lower rank than what he had held in the Virginia forces was unacceptable.  When he did serve with regular officers, it became apparent that the British had little respect for the colonials or their abilities.  When he commanded his own Virginia forces, he found the House of Burgesses unwilling to commit the money necessary to equip and support an army.  He was further frustrated by the lack of support among the people he was supposed to be protecting.  His initial enthusiasm, which led him to report at Jumonville’s Glen, “I heard Bulletts whistle and believe me there was something charming in the sound,”[79] had waned by the taking of Fort Duquesne.  However, years later, in the war for independence, he would call upon his French and Indian War military experience and apply the lessons he had learned.


By Elizabeth L. Maurer
Education Project Manager

[1] Cartagena, Columbia is an island city and major South American port.   The Spanish held Cartagena in 1740 when the British army and navy attacked their forts as part of a declared war with Spain.  

[2] Douglas Southall Freeman, George Washington: A Biography, Young Washington, vol. 1, New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1948, 267-8.

[3] Fred Anderson, Crucible of War; The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 2000,  23.

[4] Anderson, 31-32.

[5] Freeman, 274.

[6] The feud was over the pistole fee.  According to law, the governor was entitled to one pistole (coin of moderate value) every time he used the seal of Virginia on official documents.  No governor had ever been successful in collecting this fee from the assembly, though most had tried.  Dinwiddie was more adamant than most and refused to execute the seal on any official documents—like new laws—until the fee was paid.  Dinwiddie eventually lost the fight. 

[7] Anderson, 41.

[8] Freeman, 273.

[9] Washington’s older brother Lawrence had been an investor in the Ohio Land Company.  Washington had executed several surveys on the Fairfax patents.  Lord Fairfax was also an investor. 

[10]  Christopher Gist was a frontiersman and explorer.  He was hired by the Ohio Company in 1749 to survey land claims and explore the Ohio Valley.  He was active in settling the frontier.  See Papers, vol. I, Colonial Series, 60-61 for the text of Washington’s instructions.

[11] The British did not know the precise location of the French forts.  Dinwiddie and Washington knew that the Indians at Logstown knew their locations and the best routes to them, and this is the primary reason why Washington was sent to Logstown.

[12] Freeman, 276.  See Appendix Two for the mileage of Washington’s trip. 

[13] Anderson, 18.

[14] There are several spellings of this name.  This is the National Park Service spelling.

[15] George Washington, The Journal of Major George Washington: An Account of His First Official Mission, made as Emissary from the Governor of Virginia to the Commandant of the French Forces on the Ohio, October 1753-January 1754, Dominion Books, The University Press of Virginia (Charlottesville, VA; 1959), 13.  Washington did not understand Tanacharison’s relationship to the Onondaga council and the extent of his powers.  The Half King did not have the authority to make treaties, and that is what Washington was essentially asking him to do.  However, as nominal allies of the British, he had to appease Washington as far as he could.  Tanacharison could return the treaty belt to the French and make known that the French had offended him.  He could not risk taking a large body of warriors to the French forts because it might have been interpreted aggressively.  The Iroquois had succeeded for years in making both the French and English believe that they controlled the balance of power in the Ohio Valley, and it was in their interests to maintain this façade. See Anderson, p. 18.

[16] Site of present-day Franklin, PA.

[17] Washington’s Journal,  15.   Joncaire provided Washington a meal with great quantities of wine.  Washington pretended to get drunk and eavesdropped as Joncaire and his officers discussed the French plans to control the Ohio Valley. 

[18] Freeman, 311.

[19] See  “Washington’s Return from the French Forts” essay for a more complete description of Washington’s adventures upon his return from the French. See Appendix One for text of Dinwiddie’s letter and St. Pierre’s response.

[19] Anderson, 45.

[20] Freeman, 338.  Dinwiddie was pleased with Washington’s accomplishments; soon after his arrival, Washington was rewarded with the military adjutancy for the Northern Neck.  Dinwiddie insisted that Washington publish his journal to raise support for driving out the French.

[21] Freeman, 338-9.

[22] Anderson, 45.

[23] Freeman, 334.

[24] Anderson, 50.

[25]The Papers of George Washington, 1748-August 1755, ed. By W.W. Abbott, Colonial Series, vol. I, Charlottesville, University Press of Virginia, 289.  Washington to John Augustine Washington, May 28, 1755.

[26] Freeman, 334.

[27] Freeman, 336.

[28] Papers, Colonial Series, vol. I, 73-4.

[29] Papers, Colonial Series, vol. I, 65.   Robert Dinwiddie to Washington, Jan. n.d., 1754.

[30] Freeman, 350.  Washington’s papers.

[31] An Independent Company was a company of British regular soldiers recruited from among the colonials and commanded by regular officers.  They were not attached to specific regiments; therefore, they were independent companies.

[32] Freeman, 360.

[33] Freeman, 362.

[34] Papers, Colonial Series, vol. I, 105.  George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie May 27, 1754.

[35] Anderson, 6.

[36] Freeman, 375.

[37] The fort was completed on June 2, four days after Jumonville.  See Anderson, 59.

[38] Papers Colonial Series, vol. I, 124.  George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie June 3, 1754.

[39] Joshua Fry died after falling from a horse.

[40] Anderson, 8.

[41] Anderson, 60.

[42] The exact location of the Red Stone Creek  building is not known, but it was south of present day Fayette City, PA.  It is about 30 miles northwest of Great Meadows.

[43] The Independent Company remained behind.  Washington and Mackay were in disagreement as to who was in the command.

[44] Freeman, 397-398.

[45] Freeman, 401.

[46] Freeman, 403.  Anderson, 62-63.

[47] Papers, Colonial Series, vol. I, 172.  George Washington’s Account of the Capitulation of Fort Necessity. 1786.

[48] Freeman, 405.  Anderson, 63.

[49] Peroney seems to have been injured or collapsed from earlier wounds before the conclusion of the negotiations leaving van Braam as the sole translator.

[50] Freeman, 408.  Anderson, 64.

[51] The published terms created quite a stir in France and Britain.  They portrayed Great Britain as the aggressor.  The French were outraged that an ambassador had been killed.  Washington defended himself by pointing out that Jumonville’s behavior was very suspicious for an emissary; he believed Jumonville to be a spy using ambassadorial papers as a cover.

[52] Freeman, 413.

[53] Anderson, 65.

[54] Freeman, 431.

[55] Freeman, 441.

[56] Papers, Colonial Series, vol. I., 225.  George Washington to William Fitzhugh, November 15, 1754.

[57] Papers, Colonial Series, vol. I, 243, George Washington to Robert Orme, March 15, 1755; Papers, Colonial Series, vol. I, 250, George Washington to William Byrd, April 20, 1755.

[58] See “Washington and the Battle of Monongahela” essay for more complete information on the expedition.

[59] Freeman, Washington, vol. 2., 109

[60] Papers, Colonial Series, vol. II.,  5-6. Instructions from Robert Dinwiddie to George Washington, August 14, 1755.

[61] Papers, Colonial Series, vol. II, 102-103.  George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie, October 11, 1755.

[62] Papers, Colonial Series, vol. II,  335. George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie, April 7, 1756

[63] Library of Congress, Washington papers collection, George Washington to John Robinson, November 1756.

[64] Papers, Colonial Series, vol. II, 30-1.  George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie, September 11, 1755.

[65] Papers, Colonial Series, vol. II, 102.  George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie, October 11, 1755.  “In all things I meet with the greatest opposition no orders are obey’d but what a Party of Soldier’s or my own drawn sword Enforces; without this a single horse for the most urgent occasion cannot be had, to such a pitch has the insolence of these People arrivd by having every point hitherto submitted to them; however, I have given up none where his Majestys Service requires the Contrary, and where my proceedings are justified by my Instruction’s, nor will I, unless they execute what they threaten i.e, to blow out my brains.”

[66] Some argue that the House of Burgesses did not adequately supply the Virginia regiment because they did not care about frontier defense.  The most powerful members were great planters from the Tidewater with little interest in the frontier.  They were more concerned with potential slave uprisings.  They allocated 55% of the military budget to militias, which provided internal security, and 45% to the external security force: the Virginia regiment.  See Anderson  159-160.

[67] Papers, Colonial Series, vol. II, 105.  George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie, October 11, 1755.

[68] Papers, Colonial Series, vol. II, 334. George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie, April 7, 1756.

[69] Anderson, 158.

[70] Anderson, 160.

[71] Freeman, vol. II, 397-8.

[72] James Thomas Flexner, George Washington: The Forge of Experience (1732-1775), Boston, New York, Toronto, London: Little, Brown and Company, 1965. 194.

[73] Flexner, 194.

[74] Flexner, 206-7.

[75] Anderson, 272.

[76] Anderson, 282-3.

[77] Papers, Colonial Series, vol. I, 225-6.  George Washington to William Fitzhugh, November 15, 1754.

[78] Papers, Colonial Series, vol. I, 225-6.  George Washington to William Fitzhugh, November 15, 1754.

[79] Papers, Colonial Series, vol. I, 118.  George Washington to John Augustine Washington, May 31, 1754.