The Washington Trilogy: 

Jumonville Glen, Fort Necessity and the Monongahela

by Kimber VanRy

March 13, 2019

Upon his death in December 1799, George Washington was eulogized with the now well-worn words of his place in United States history: “first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen.” These words, summing Washington’s leadership as first President of the newly-born republic and as commanding general of the Continental Army during the War of Independence, cemented his legend learned by Americans to this day. Rolling the clock back to a younger, inexperienced yet self-determined Washington reveals a more interesting story than the god-like status in which he is most remembered.

In the early 1750s, Washington was a young man eager to make his mark as a colonial British officer. At the age of 21 in December 1753, Major Washington was tasked by Virginia Colonial Governor Robert Dinwiddie to take a message to the French demanding they leave their settlement at the confluence of the Ohio, Monongahela and Allegheny rivers, the central area of control of the contested Ohio Country. After being rebuffed by the French leader Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, a disgraced but now promoted Lt. Colonel Washington returned to the region the following spring with a raised force of colonial militia.

Encamped some 40 miles south of the now under construction French Fort Duquesne at the Forks of the Ohio, Washington’s Indian allies reported a French party camped in a nearby rocky glen. Early on the rainy morning of May 28, 1754, Washington and some 40 militia and a dozen Indians crept toward the French camp in the grotto below. A quick firefight erupted and was won by a thrilled Washington. However, Washington’s victory soon turned to horror in the surrender negotiation after when the French leader Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville was struck dead by Washington’s Seneca ally Tanacharison (“The Half King”).

Preparing for a French reprisal, abandoned by the Half King and awaiting reinforcements, Washington built a “fort of necessity” in the nearby Great Meadows. On July 3, 1754, some 700 French, Canadian and Indian allies attacked the round palisade from the cover of surrounding woods. In the ensuing battle, Washington’s outnumbered, sick and undersupplied men were whittled down by the attackers. As a harsh afternoon rain drove the battle to an end, Washington signed a formal document of surrender before vacating the field. With his signature, Washington unwittingly admitted responsibility for the death of Jumonville, the brother of the leader of the French force at the battle, Louis Coulon de Villiers. Signing the paper as a British officer, Washington effectively set in motion the French & Indian War.

Washington returned to the region the following spring of 1755 as aide to his mentor, British General Edward Braddock. Braddock and his expedition sought to move a traditional European force of some 2,000 British regulars and provincials, ten cannon and a miles-long supply train of civilians to siege Fort Duquesne. The army made slow progress, cutting a road through the wilderness and the mountainous Allegheny region. On July 9, 1755, Braddock’s advance guard crossed the Monongahela River a few miles from Fort Duquesne and were ambushed from the woods by French, Canadian militia and hundreds of their Indian allies. In the ensuing chaos, the British suffered heavy casualties, Braddock was mortally wounded and Washington was forced into a role of organizing a hasty retreat.

In less than two years, and by the age of 23, Washington had lived through a series of bloody wilderness experiences he would carry with him for the rest of his life. In the forthcoming Forts & Frontiers Battles: The French & Indian War, this “Washington Trilogy” is presented in three scenarios — “Thou Are Not Yet Dead, My Father” – The Battle of Jumonville Glen, “A Charming Field for an Encounter” – The Battle of Fort Necessity and “They Suffered Greatly” — The Battle of the Monongahela. It is our hope that in these scenarios players will find a closer understanding of the young, brash twenty-something George Washington far from the legend etched in marble and verse in the centuries to come.