Photo of the National Park Jumonville Glenn
outside plaque by:
Christopher, Fort Couch Middle School, Upper St. Clair
A few days after the incident, this is how George Washington described his
first experience under fire. The shots at Jumonville Glen were the first in the
Fort Necessity campaign, ultimately leading the world to war. But the story of
Jumonville Glen has the intrigue of a mystery thriller and contains controversy
and unanswered questions.
George Washington had been sent to the Ohio country as a British emissary in the
winter of 1753-54 to tell the French, who had been building forts in the area,
to leave. French officers politely told Washington they were not obliged to obey
his summons, and they were going to stay.
Washington returned to Virginia and informed Governor Robert Dinwiddie that the
French refused to leave. The governor immediately assembled a force of men to go
to the Ohio River and construct a fort. Washington, as the lieutenant colonel of
the Virginia Regiment, was to gather men and supplies and build a road to the
forks, reinforcing the men who were there.
By late May, Washington had reached a large natural clearing known as the Great
Meadows. He made this his base camp. Grass there could provide food for his
animals, and water was readily available.
Soon after he arrived, he received word that a party of French soldiers was
camped in a ravine not far from his position. On the stormy night of May 27th,
1754, Washington and about 40 men began an all night march to confront the
French and learn their intentions. They traveled through woods so dark the men
sometimes spent nearly half and hour just trying to find the trail.
About dawn, Washington met with a friendly Seneca chief, Half King, and made
plans to contact the French Camp. As the French commander had not posted
sentries, Washington and his men easily surrounded the unsuspecting French.
A shot was fired, no one really knows by whom, and soon the peaceful glen was
filled with the crash of musketry and the sulphurous smell of powder. The
skirmish lasted about 15 minutes. When it was over, 10 Frenchmen were dead and
21 captured. One escaped and made his way back to Fort Duquesne at the forks of
the Ohio. Washington's casualties were one man killed and two or three wounded.
Washington now knew he was discovered. He sent his prisoners to Williamsburg
while he returned to the Great Meadows. There he started construction of a small
fortification to protect from probable attack. About five weeks later the attack
came. A larger force of French and Indians attacked Washington's force of 400 at
his "Fort of Necessity."
Controversy surrounds the events that took place at Jumonville Glen, named after
the leader of the French detachment, who was killed there.
Soon after the smoke had cleared, French survivors claimed they had been
attacked without cause by Washington. They claimed they were on the same sort of
mission Washington himself had been on the winter before. That explained, they
said, why they had been so easily surprised and why they had not posted
sentries. Washington asked why, if the French were on a diplomatic mission, they
were hidden in a ravine, off the trail, and present in the area for perhaps a
couple of days without approaching him.
The skirmish at Jumonville returned to haunt Washington sooner than he thought.
After an all day battle at Fort Necessity on July 3rd, Washington surrendered
his command to the French. That night he signed a multi-part document, one
clause of which stated that he was guilty of the assassination of a French
officer, Jumonville. Washington denied this. He said the translation he had been
given was not "assassination", but "death of" or
"killing." In any event, the French used this propaganda to great
advantage in efforts to discredit the English.
British statesman Horace Walpole wrote in later years, "The volley fired by
a young Virginian in the backwoods of America set the world on fire." The
outcome of the volley, the French and Indian War, would have great impact on
global affairs. France lost most of her influence in North America, while
English colonies in America began to pay taxes levied upon them to help pay for
what had been an expensive war. Some people began to dream of independence.
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