George Washington in the French and Indian War

George Washington (February 22, 1732–December 14, 1799) commanded America's war for independence (1775–1783), and was the first President of the United States, from 1789 to 1797. Because of his central role in the founding of the United States, Washington is often called the "Father of his Country." His devotion to republicanism and civic virtue made him an exemplary figure among early American politicians.

In the early 1750s Washington was sent as an ambassador to the French traders and Indians as far north as present day Erie, Pennsylvania. Virginia was very interested in this area as the gateway to western expansion via the Ohio River and onward. Pennsylvania and Virginia both competed for this area around what would become Pittsburgh, but the French saw it as even more valuable; a way to unite Quebec and Louisiana via river while pinning the English to the East Coast.

At twenty-two years of age, Washington fired some of the first shots of what would become a world war. The trouble began in 1753, when France began building a series of forts in the Ohio Country, a region also claimed by Virginia. Governor Dinwiddie sent young Major Washington to the Ohio Country to assess French military strength and intentions, and to deliver a letter to the French commander, which asked them to leave. The French declined to leave, but Washington became well-known after his account of the journey was published in both Virginia and England, since most English-speaking people knew little about lands on the other side of the Appalachian Mountains at the time. In 1754, Dinwiddie sent Washington, now commissioned a Lieutenant Colonel in the newly created Virginia Regiment, on another mission to the Ohio Country, this time to drive the French away. Along with his American Indian allies, Washington and his troops ambushed a French Canadian scouting party, of some 30 men, led by Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville and sent from Fort Duquesne to discover if Washington had in fact invaded French-claimed territory. Were this to be the case he was to send word back to the fort, then deliver a formal summons to Washington calling on him to withdraw. His small force was an embassy, resembling Washington’s to Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre the preceding year, and he neglected to post sentries around his encampment. At daybreak on May 28, Washington with 40 men stole up on the French camp near present Jumonville, Pa. Some were still asleep, others preparing breakfast. Without warning, Washington gave the order to fire. The Canadians who escaped the volley scrambled for their weapons, but were swiftly overwhelmed. Ten of the Canadians were killed, one wounded, all but one of the rest taken prisoner. Washington and his men then retired, leaving the bodies of their victims for the wolves.Fact|date=August 2007 The French commander, Ensign Jumonville, and most of the other wounded French were subsequently massacred, the French later claimed, by Tanacharison and the other Indians. [Fred Anderson, "Crucible of War" (Vintage Books, 2001), p. 6.] Washington then built Fort Necessity, which soon proved insufficient, as he was soon compelled to surrender to a larger French and American Indian force. The surrender terms that Washington signed included an admission that he had "assassinated" Jumonville. (The document was written in French, which Washington could not read.) Because the French claimed that Jumonville's party had been on a diplomatic (rather than military) mission, the "Jumonville affair" became an international incident and helped to ignite the French and Indian War, a part of the worldwide Seven Years' War. Washington was released by the French with his promise not to return to the Ohio Country for one year. Back in Virginia, Governor Dinwiddie broke up the Virginia Regiment into independent companies; Washington resigned from active military service rather than accept a demotion to captain.

Washington "bubbled with fury when British regular officers expressed their disdain of provincial officers and soldiers," and at the realization that British officers were always senior to colonials regardless of rank. [John Ferling. "Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the American Revolution" (2002) p 65; Leach in a full length study shows that, “Redcoats often seems to regard the colonists with a condescension bordering on contempt, marking them down as unsophisticated and even crude outlanders…. Such highly negative judgments were constantly being relayed by the officers [to] England." .” Douglas Edward Leach. "Roots of Conflict: British Armed Forces and Colonial Americans, 1677-1763" (1986) p. 106] Fortunately for Washington, British General Edward Braddock was more tolerant than most senior British officers.

In 1755, Braddock headed a major effort to retake the Ohio Country. Washington eagerly volunteered to serve as one of Braddock's aides. The expedition ended in disaster at the Battle of the Monongahela on Braddock's Field, during which Braddock was shot from his horse and killed. Washington distinguished himself in the debacle—he had two horses shot out from under him, and four bullets pierced his coat—yet, he sustained no injuries and showed coolness under fire. In Virginia, Washington was acclaimed as a hero, and he was reappointed as commander of the Virginia Regiment. Although the focus of the war had shifted elsewhere, Washington spent the next several years with rank of colonel and guarding 300 miles (480 km) of mountainous frontier with about 300 men. Washington supervised savage, frontier warfare that averaged two engagements a month. His letters show he was moved by the plight of the frontiersmen he was protecting. With too few troops, inadequate supplies, and insufficient authority for discipline, and hampered by an antagonistic governor, he had a severe challenge. In 1758, he took part in the Forbes Expedition, which successfully drove the French away from Fort Duquesne.

Washington's goal at the outset of his military career had been to secure a commission as a British officer, which had more prestige than serving in the provincial military. His goal was unlikely in view of the British disdain for Americans. The promotion did not come, and so, in 1758, Washington resigned from active military service and spent the next sixteen years as a Virginia planter and politician. [Because of his ambition, provincialism, and military blunders, some scholars have found Washington at this time to be somewhat unsympathetic; for works particularly critical of Washington during this era, see Bernhard Knollenberg, "George Washington: The Virginia Period, 1732–1775" (1964) and Thomas A. Lewis, "For King and Country: The Maturing of George Washington, 1748–1760" (1992). ]

Notes

References

* Fred Anderson, "Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754–1766" (2000)
*Ferling, John E. "The First of Men: A Life of George Washington" (1989). Biography from a leading scholar.
*Flexner, James Thomas. "Washington: The Indispensable Man." (1974). ISBN 0-316-28616-8 (1994 reissue). Single-volume condensation of Flexner's popular four-volume biography.
*Freeman, Douglas S. "George Washington: A Biography". 7 volumes, 1948–1957. The standard scholarly biography, winner of the Pulitzer Prize. A single-volume abridgment by Richard Harwell appeared in 1968
* Grizzard, Frank E., Jr. "George Washington: A Biographical Companion." ABC-CLIO, 2002. 436 pp. Comprehensive encyclopedia by leading scholar
*Hofstra, Warren R., ed. "George Washington and the Virginia Backcountry". Madison House, 1998. Essays on Washington's formative years.
*Lengel, Edward G. "General George Washington: A Military Life." New York: Random House, 2005. ISBN 1-4000-6081-8.
* Bernhard Knollenberg, "George Washington: The Virginia Period, 1732–1775" (1964)
* Thomas A. Lewis, "For King and Country: The Maturing of George Washington, 1748–1760" (1992).
* Lodge, Henry Cabot. "George Washington," 2 vols. (1889), [http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/12652 vol 1 at Gutenberg]


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