Sunday, May 28, 2017

The Jumonville Skirmish

Jumonville Glen

In 1753, 1,500 French soldiers entered the disputed Ohio Valley area and established several forts, including Fort Le Boeuf, present-day Waterford, PA and Fort Machault, present-day Franklin, PA.

Concerned by reports of French expansion into the Ohio Valley, Virginia Governor Robert Dinwiddie sent Lt. George Washington on a mission to confront the French forces. Washington was to deliver a message from the governor demanding that the French leave the region and halt their harassment of English traders.

Washington departed Williamsburg, Virginia in October 1753 and made his way into the rugged trans- Appalachian region with Jacob Van Braam and Christopher Gist, an Ohio company trader and guide. On December 11, 1753, amidst a raging snowstorm, Washington arrived and was politely received by Captain Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre at Fort LeBoeuf. After reviewing Dinwiddie's letter, Legardeur de Saint-Pierre calmly wrote a reply stating that the French king's claim to the Ohio Valley was "incontestable."

Responding to the defiant French, Lt. Governor Dinwiddie sent Captain William Trent and approximately 20 Virginians to build Fort Prince George at the forks of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers. Work began on the fort on February 17, 1754.
In March Dinwiddie then ordered the newly promoted Lt. Col. George Washington and approximately 160 Virginia militia to return to the Ohio country as part of a small force that was to construct a road to Fort Prince George and defend the fort upon their arrival. Washington was to "act on the defensive," but also clearly empowered Washington to "make Prisoners of or kill & destroy…" all those who resisted British control of the region.

On April 18, a large French force of five hundred strong arrived at Fort Prince George, forcing the small British garrison there to surrender. The French knocked down the tiny British fort and built Fort Duquesne, named in honor of Marquis Duquesne, the governor-general of New France.

Eager to send their own diplomatic directive demanding an English withdrawal from the region, a French force of 35 soldiers commanded by Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville was dispatched.

On May 26 Washington's road building had reached Wills Creek, in south central Pennsylvania, when he received news of the surrender of Fort Prince George as well as the approaching French party.

On May 27 the French diplomatic party camped in a rocky ravine not far from Washington's encampment.

Receiving word of the French approach and accompanied by Tanacharison, a Seneca chief (also known as the Half-King) and 12 native warriors, Washington led a party of 40 militiamen on an all night march towards the French position. 
On May 28, 1754, Washington's party stealthily approached the French camp at dawn. Finally spotted at close range by the French, shots rang out and a vigorous firefight erupted in the wooded wilderness. Washington's forces quickly overwhelmed the surprised French force and killed 13 soldiers including Jumonville and captured another 21. Both sides claimed that the other fired first.

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