Today in History, May 28th, 1754 — The Battle of Jumonville Glen, the First Battle of the French and Indian War.
In the 1750’s French traders and colonists began to move from Canada and the Great Lakes region to settle in the Ohio River Valley. This caused escalating tensions with the rival British, who also claimed the territory. In 1754 Virginia Royal Governor Robert Dinwiddie sent a detachment of Virginia Militia into the Ohio Valley to investigate the situation and tell the French to leave. The expedition was led by a young 22 year old officer named Major George Washington.
As Washington and his men marched north, they were met by a Seneca chief known as “Half King” who informed him that a large group of French soldiers were exploring the area under the command of a French officer named de Jumonville. The French camp was located in what is now Fayette County in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Washington gave orders not to fire unless fired upon. It was his goal to peacefully capture the French then escort them out of the territory. On the night of May 28th, Washington and his men, which included 40 militia and 12 Seneca warriors, surrounded and crept up on the French camp. When they reached the camp, Washington demanded their surrender, and to know why they were encroaching upon the area. De Jumonville claimed that the party was nothing more than a diplomatic mission. In the midst of the situation, one of the soldiers discharged a musket, sparking an all out firefight between the two groups.
The battle only lasted 15 minutes and the Virginians with their Seneca allies quickly defeated the French. De Jumonville surrendered, but after the battle Half King drew a tomahawk and slew the French officer in cold blood. The story of the massacre spread all over the Ohio Valley, summoning French forces to the area. Washington order the construction of a large fort, called Fort Necessity to defend the area. Despite building formidable defenses, the French were able to capture the fort and force Washington to surrender. The terms of surrender were presented to Washington written in French. Not wanting anyone to know that he could not speak French, Washington unwisely signed the surrender papers. Little did he know, the papers contained a clause in which Washington claimed all responsibility for the murder of de Jumonville.
The massacre at Jumonville Glen was used as propaganda against the British, leading to war between the two colonial empires. The proceeding French and Indian War would last nine years, and would lead to a greater war called the Seven Years War, which would be fought all over the world. More importantly, the French and Indian War would decide who would be the colonial master of North America.