How Young George Washington Screwed Up And Started a World War

Stories that Take You for the Ride of Your Life

May, 2015

How Young George Washington Screwed Up And Started a World War

Fame and military glory motivated 22-year-old George Washington, then a young and ambitious militia officer, to ambush a French contingent led by Joseph de Jumonville in May 1754, which changed the history of North America forever.

Horace Walpole, the British historian and politician, has rightly observed “a volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America set the world on fire.” The confrontation over Jumonville Affair escalated, leading to the Seven Year’s War. Washington, blamed for the incident and disregarded for promotion, lost all hopes of ever getting a commission in the British military.

In The Rule of Ranging, not having a clue what they signed up for, my heroes Finn and Gus were looking forward to starting a new life when they enlisted in the Braddock Expedition along with George Washington.

Jumonville Affair: The Incident

In 1754, young George Washington of the Virginia colonial militia was sent to the Ohio County, on an area domination mission. The area, now a part of western Pennsylvania, was the frontier between the French and English colonies and a bone of contention with rival claims. The French control over the territory was considered a threat to British trading and colonial expansion to the east. The British colonists, including Virginia, often dispatched expeditionary forces to the area to checkmate the French-Canadian presence there and assert their territorial claim.

Washington reached the Great Meadows, and his troops began constructing a fort close to the modern-day Fayette County of Pennsylvania. Learning the presence of colonial forces in the area, the French sent a scouting party of 35 French and Canadian men under the command of Joseph de Jumonville, who carried a summon from his commander to Washington, demanding his withdrawal.

Unsure of the real French motive, Washington dispatched his men to establish contact with the French camp. However, before his advance party could report back, he made a decision to confront the Canadian commander and marched on with 40 of his men. Tanacharison, the Seneca chief, supported the Virginia forces. On May 28, 1754, the day broke with a gun fire and the French contingent was ambushed. Washington’s men killed 13 enemy soldiers, including Jumonville, and captured 21 others.

In early July, a 600-strong French army under Jumonville’s brother attacked and defeated the Virginia forces. Washington was compelled to sign a capitulation document admitting assassination of French soldiers led by Jumonville to get a safe passage.

The French claimed that Jumonville was on a diplomatic mission to deliver the message of his commander to Washington and he was massacred. The British argued that the French party was spying on Washington’s army. Tensions ran high leading to more French-British enmity in North America. While a mainland British army under Major General Edward Braddock was sent to reoccupy the area, a large French army from Europe arrived in Canada in 1755.

The Turning Point in George Washington’s Life

Jumonville Affair was a great learning experience for George Washington. It ended his dream of becoming a commissioned officer in the British army but prepared him to become leader of independence war that broke out two decades later. The disgraceful comments by British and Virginian leaders accusing him of precipitating an international crisis caused Washington to suffer a lot of heartburn. He resigned following an order to demote him.

(Image credits: The Last of the Mohicans (1992), directed by Michael Mann and starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, and Russell Means.)

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