In the mid-1700s, a number of nations, mostly European, were doing their best to expand their territories around the world as new lands were discovered and explored. Much of that had to do with North America, but India and South America were also lands sought after.
The quest for expansion led to tensions among nations and by 1750, sides were chosen with Great Britain, Prussia and Hanover on one side and Austria, France, Spain, Sweden, Saxony and Russia on the other.
In North America, Great Britain believed that they owned the colonies and much of the land to the west. France believed they owned much of the central US and part of Canada. Spain was focusing on the American southwest and Mexico.
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One of the areas of hottest dispute was the wilderness of the Ohio River Valley. Both France and Great Britain laid claim to the land and neither side intended to yield.
When the French moved into the area, they befriended the Indians, unlike the British who would rather drive them out than deal with them. As British colonists began to move into the wilderness, they met sharp resistance by the French and local Indians.
In addition to the quest for land between the British and French, there was also colonial leaders who sought more land for their colonies. One of those was Robert Dinwiddie, Governor of Virginal. He wanted to expand west and north into western Pennsylvania and the Ohio Valley.
However, the skirmishes between colonial settlers and the French and Indians was a growing problem. Dinwiddie decided to send a young 22-year-old Lieutenant Colonel of the Virginia militia to southwestern Pennsylvania to warn the French to leave, along with completing the construction of a fort along the Monongahela River and defend it from the French. That raw officer was none other than George Washington. Since Virginia was a British colony, his commission in the Virginia militia also made him a British officer.
When Washington began his trek into the wilderness of southwestern Pennsylvania, he met with some of the Indian leaders of the area. The Delaware, Mingo and Shawnee were allies with the Iroquois Council and as such, their tribal leaders were known as half-kings. One of the half-kings that Washington met with was a Seneca known as Tanacharison or Half King by the Virginians. Washington discovered that Tanacharison had problems with the French and was eager to ally himself with Washington the British. He agreed to accompany Washington to his destination.
On this day, May 28, 1754, Washington discovered a French and Indian scouting party. Fearing that they would attack, Washington made the first move and attacked the scouting party. The scouting party was led by French Ensign, Joseph Coulon de Jumonville who was a French speaking Canadian. In the battle, Jumonville was captured. Washington was trying to interrogate the ensign but didn’t speak French. During the interrogation, Tanacharison grew angry and murdered Jumonville.
When news reached the French that Jumonville had been murdered while in captivity, they were furious and launched a retaliatory raid against Washington at his make-shift Fort Necessity.
On July 4th, 1754, Washington surrendered the fort to the French.
Washington’s attack on the scouting party and the murder of Jumonville was the spark that ignited open warfare between the French and British. The war took place not just in the American wilderness but in Europe as well. The war was known as the French and Indian War as well as the Seven Year War, which is ironic since it started on this day in 1754 and didn’t end until the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763.
The cost of fighting the French and Indian War threw Great Britain into debt which they tried to climb out of by placing one heavy tax after another on the American colonies. Those taxes played a major role in the steps leading up the Revolutionary War between the American colonies and Great Britain. And to think, it all started with young George Washington’s raid on a French and Indian scouting party on this day in 1754.
Sources for the above includes: British Soldier George Washington Experiences Combat for First Time; Ten Facts About George Washington and the French & Indian War; French and Indian War/Seven Years’ War, 1754–63; French and Indian Wars; French And Indian War; Washington and the French & Indian War; French and Indian War.