Jumonville Glen and Fort Necessity
May 28 to July 4, 1754
In the 1740s and 1750s, English traders and colonists began
competing with French traders and colonists in what is now western
Pennsylvania. The fur trade was lucrative, and English colonists
continued their westward expansion. With a more tenuous supply by
sea and higher priced products, the French were losing trade with the
Indians. In addition to the fur trade,
the French also had an interest in expanding south from Canada to the
Ohio River, which would protect lines of communication through the
Great Lakes and facilitate communication with, and expansion to,
the colony of Louisiana. This, of course, would cut off English
expansion. So in 1753, when the French started a series of forts
extending south from the Great Lakes toward the confluence of the
Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers, which form the Ohio River, the
situation became tense. Pennsylvania Quakers were pacificists,
but Virginia then claimed what is now western Pennsylvania, and a
Virginia organization, the Ohio Company, was involved with
expansion into the area. Gov. Dinwiddie dispatched a young
Virginia militia major, George Washington, west to deliver an
ultimatum. Predictably the ultimatum was rejected, so Washington
was promted to Lt. Colonel and ordered to raise a regiment
to occupy the confluence of the Monongahela and Allegheny
Rivers. A Cpt. Trent had been ordered to build a fort there.
The French, however, forced him to leave and began construction
of their own fort, Fort Duquesne.
|Washington started building a 'fort of necessity' at a place called Great Meadows, a clearing in the forest.
When he heard that a small French force had been dispatched from Ft
Duquesne and was advancing toward him, Washington marched to meet it.
On the morning of May 28, 1754, Washington located the French
force camped half a mile off the established trail in a hollow below a
rock outcrop. Washington kept about 20 men atop the rocks under Adam
Stephen and took another twenty off to the right to flank the French
camp. A party of roughly a dozen Indians were sent to the French right
flank. When one of the French troops detected the British troops, he
sounded the alarm, and the French rushed to the muskets. Washington
ordered his men to open fire. After a fight of no more than 15
minutes, the French surrendered, except for one man who escaped to Fort
Duquesne. Washington't force lost one killed and two wounded. The
French party lost 10 killed and 21 captured.
There are few accounts of this controversial incident, and they do not
always correspond. The commander of the French party, Cpt. Jumonville,
was killed in the fight. Some accounts say that he read a diplomatic
letter at the beginning of the fight. Other accounts, including from a
French participant, make no mention. Washington himself denied that it
happened. We can only make an educated guess at the truth. The facts
that Jumonville had been away from Ft Duquesne for several days and was
camping in a remote location suggests that his mission was not wholely
diplomatic. A good argument can be made that Jumonville was given the
option to either use military force if he had the advantage or to
attempt diplomacy if he was weaker. The French called the event an assassination and used it for propoganda
The skirmish would be the first of the French and Indian War - and
therefore of the Seven Years War. Horace Walpole would write, "A
volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America... set
the world on fire." Washington, at the beginning of what would be
a long military career, would write that the whistle of bullets at
Jumonville Glen was charming. He would hear many more by the end
of his career, including come in the coming weeks. The escaped
Frenchman reported the skirmish at Fort Duquesne, and a force of about
700 men under Cpt de Villiers, Jumonville's half-brother, was sent
against Washington at Great Meadows.
|Washington had only about 130 men to build and man the 'fort
necessity' that he was building at Great Meadows, but reinforcements
brought the number up to around 400. The fort consisted
of a storehouse, 14 by 14 feet, surrounded by a circular stockade about
53 feet across. The fort also included a roughly
On July 3rd, the French, along with Indian allies, advanced toward the
fort from the right-center of the panorama before returning to the
woods and moving to surround the fort.
|Washington used some of his troops to confront the French in
the open meadow. Fighting mainly from the protection of the
woods, the French and their Indian allies had the advantage. The
British troops took cover in this streambed and in the muddy trenches
of the fort. About half of Washington's men were killed, wounded,
or were sick, and in the rain, much of Washington's ammunition got
wet and was useless. So when the French suggested negotiations at
8pm, Washington felt that he had no alternative. The terms were
generous - the British could march home with the arms, equipment, and
wounded. What Washington did not realize was that by signing the
document, written in French, he was admitting to the assassination of
Battle of Monongahela
In response, Britian dispatched two regiments under Edward Braddock to
join provincial troops and capture Ft. Duquesne, a major escalation in
the conflict as troops from Europe would be used for the first time.
totalled 2,400 men. Washington, who served Braddock as a
volunteer aide, would distinguish himself in the expedition, but
Braddock was mortally wounded and his force routed by a much smaller
force of 200 French and 600 Indians on July 9, 1755 several miles from
Ft Duquesne. Of 1,400 British engaged, 900 would become
casualties. Contributing to the defeat was Braddock's
lack of Indian allies - in part because he is said to have stated
to them that British settlement of the area was their objective.
Nevertheless, there were willing Indian allies that Braddock
refused. Another contributing factor was Braddock's
overconfidence and neglect of flank security after passing through what
he believed to be the danger point. When the French and Indians
attacked, they moved along either side of the column, and the British
troops remained concentrated in the road rather than deploying to
either side, remaining easy targets. Eventually panic set in.
The area of the fight has since been lost to development.
From a brief look at maps, the area shown above appears
to be the
location of the fight, with the hill here with the modern cemetery
being high ground off the British fank that they failed to occupy.
||The mortally wounded Braddock was taken from the field in a
tunbrel, usually used to carry tools for the road builders.
Braddock died on July 13th, and Washington
officiated the funeral. Because of fears that the Indians might
disturb the remains, Braddock was buried in the roadway so that the
troops would march over the grave and obscure it.
Original Site of Braddock's Grave
The road built by British troops became the National Road, the country's first federal road.
A body, believed to be Braddock's, was found here near a creek crossing by road workers in 1804.
Current Site of Braddock's Grave
was reinterred on top of the nearby rise, and a monument was placed there in
1913. The original grave site was down this hill by the creek.
Rather than remain in the area to provide protection, the defeated
British withdrew entirely from the frontier and went into winter
quarters in August! Fortunately, Fort Cumberland had been
built in western Maryland, and George Washington supervised the defense
of the Virginia frontier from Winchester with forts spread
throughout the Great Valley of Virginia. In 1758, a methodical
advance under Gen.
John Forbes, which included the construction of Ft Ligonier, finally
captured Ft Duquesne, which the French burned and abandoned. Fort Pitt was built in its place, which helped the British remain in control of the area.
The events in western Pennsylvania between 1753 and 1755 were just the
beginning of what
would become a world war, stretching from North America to the
Caribbean to Europe to India and the Philippines, with some
limited combat even in South America. Britain, Prussia, France,
Austria, Russia, Sweden, Spain, and Portugal would all become involved
along with a number of lesser states. The war
allowed Anglo expansion deep into North America, and it sowed
the seeds of
the American Revolution. In Europe, Prussia survived the
war, and over 100 years later it would unify Germany.
Copyright 2011 by John Hamill