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.

Jumonville Glen

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 purposes.  

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.

Fort Necessity

Washington had only about 130 men to build and man the 'fort of 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 rectangular earthwork.

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.

Indian Run

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 Cpt Jumonville!     

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.  Braddock's force 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 that 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

The body 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

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