The Start of the French and Indian War and George Washington’s Military Career, Part I

A young upstart by the name of George Washington, a member of Virginia’s landed gentry, was sent into frontier territory to confront the commander of the French forces threatening Virginian interests there.

The American Revolution was not the first war the American Colonies united for. In 1753, many of the colonies’ governors corresponded with each other concerning the looming threat of French encroachment upon their land, trade, and futures in America.

The French had begun to settle southward from Canada and into Ohio Country (modern: Ohio and West Pennsylvania) by setting up trading outposts, military forts, and winning over the loyalty of Native American Indians. The French claimed this land by virtue of their discovery of it through the explorations of French trader René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle in the 17th Century.

The British Colonies claimed that their colonial grants from the royal British government and a treaty with the Iroquois promised them this land. Moreover, they thought that the French would not stop there but would likely try to drive the British Colonies completely off the eastern seaboard. Furthermore, they believed that keeping the French out of Ohio and away from the Ohio River would cut off French Canadian access to the Mississippi River and their lucrative Louisiana Territory. So, for both defensive and offensive purposes, imminent action was called for by those governors.

To address this bubbling conflict, Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia sent a young upstart by the name of George Washington in the Winter of 1753 to deliver a letter to the French commander stationed in-around Logstown, a central trading post on the Ohio River. The letter contained both a warning and a query as to the grounds on which the New French dared encroach and build so many forts upon.

Logstown map,  Colonial America

It was Washington’s task to deliver this letter and return with a response, and to write a report of the layout of the lands along the way and the design and dimensions of any French forts he saw. Washington did so and made observations with a lean towards how these lands could be fortified by the British Colonists and how those French forts could be sieged and taken. Not only that, but along the way he paid visits with gifts to the various kings and queens of the Six Nations of Native American Tribes allied with Britain and the Colonies. All this at the age of 21, the young Major took his first steps as a leader of America.

He reached Logstown, the main and largest trading outpost in Ohio Country, successfully but not without fair hardship. The French commander had recently passed away. And Washington’s company of Mingo Native American Indian escorts led by “Half King” Tanacharison were apt to get drunk wherever the French offered them liquor, which the French did on purpose so to disrupt Washington’s mission and influence over them. The French also offered Half King a supply of guns should he wait a few days at Logstown, this causing a delay in Washington’s scheduled return. And then on that return, when returning to the frontier land of Ohio Country, Half King got too drunk and hungover to keep up with Washington, and so excused himself from the journey back.

Washington was then left with only his personal guide, a prominent colonial trader by the name of Christopher Gist, to go the rest of the way. And this they did with near fatality. Once, they were shot at by a Native American Indian. Then, they nearly caught frostbite when they forded a river half-frozen with chunks of ice surging down its currents.

Since having been shot at, they had pushed their pace fearing another attack from a group of that Native American Indian’s friends. So, at coming to that half-frozen river, they did not tarry but quickly built a raft and attempted to cross it. Chunks of ice rendered their raft in half, unable to make the cross, so they swam off it towards a little island in the river’s stream and spent the bitter night there till the morning when the river was frozen over enough to walk across. From thence they made it home safely.

George Washington,  Christopher Gist ford a frozen river

Washington’s report was delivered and later published with some popularity in Colonial newspapers. And it was determined that the French collected some 15,000 soldiers on the frontier of French Canada with intent to move further into Ohio and build a bevy of forts all along the Ohio River till its confluence with the Alleghany River, each to be stocked with approximately 150 soldiers plus officers. George Washington would soon-thereafter lead a regiment of militiamen to guard the construction of a new fort at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, ordered built to protect the territorial interests of the Colonies and the economic interests of the Ohio Company of Virginia.

Young George Washington,  Colonial  Officer
Young George Washington

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