Jumonville's Glen (also called Jumonville's Clearing) took place before Washington was the least bit famous. He was a Virginia land surveyor who volunteered to lead a mission into the Ohio River Valley. The year was 1753 and the British and French were officially at peace with one another. Washington's task was twofold. His primary objective was to deliver a letter to the commander of the French army on behalf of King George ordering the French to withdraw from the Ohio River Valley. His second goal was to map the Ohio River Valley and report on French military strength and troop movements.
The British and French were both interested in the Ohio River Valley because of its rich natural resources, namely fur and timber. Control over the Ohio River was also a concern for both countries. On his expedition, Washington recruited Iroquois Chief Tanaghrisson and his men to escort him to the French (called "Half King" by the British).
Washington was welcomed by the French in their first encounter. The two parties dined and drank before Washington set out to Fort Le Boeuf, where the French General was located. Upon delivering King George's Letter, the French General curtly replied that the Ohio River Valley belonged to the French and that all Brits were considered trespassers.
When Washington returned to Virginia with the the French General's reply, he was ordered back to the Ohio River Valley to construct a British fort. The fort was to be located near the French Fort Duquense, which was already under construction. Once Washington returned to the Ohio River Valley Half King informed him that a party of thirty Frenchmen was camped near the construction site of the British fort.
Half King's intention was vengeance. His parents had supposedly been cooked and then eaten by the French, and he was looking to settle the score by killing as many Frenchmen as possible. It is unsurprising then that Half King encouraged Washington to ambush the French campsite. Fred Anderson's assessment of the situation reveals the twenty-two year old's inexperience and poor-decision making skills.
"Overlooking the fact that England and France were not officially at war, forgetting that the French had not attacked the party at the Forks and that Dinwiddie [Washington's commander] had ordered him to warn all Frenchmen away before he engaged in hostilities, Washington allowed himself to be persuaded to use the Indian tactic of a surprise attack."The surprise attack lasted between 10 and 15 minutes. One of Washington's men died while 14 of the French lay dead or wounded. Joseph de Jomenville, the leader of the French outfit, lay wounded and waving a letter in the air when the firing had ceased. The letter was from the French governor of Canada and stated that the British must vacate the Ohio River Valley because it belonged to the French. In other words, Washington had launched surprise attack on a French diplomatic envoy.
In response to the wounded Jomenville's frantic waving, Half King rushed and decapitated him. At that moment, the Iroquois fell on the wounded French, murdering, scalping, and stripping any survivors. One Frenchman's decapitated head was even impaled on a stick.
Jumonville Glen, where Washington led a surprise attack on a French diplomatic envoy
Realizing the gravity of his actions, Washington scrambled and constructed what was aptly named "Fort Necessity." The "fort" was no more than a series of vertical logs surrounding an ammunition and weapons cache in the form of a shed.
The truth may be buried with Washington, but the events in this saga raise important questions, such as:
"Should one be held accountable for signing a document they do not understand?" and
"Was Washington telling the truth, or protecting his reputation?"
Writings (George Washington)
Crucible of War (Fred Anderson)
America's Hidden History (Kenneth C. Davis)