Tensions were high in the spring of 1754. Rival claims to the vast territory between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi approached a climax between the British and the French. After being asked to help defend the English fort on the Ohio River, Lieutenant Colonel George Washington had finally reached western Pennsylvania:
By late May of 1754, Washington and his troops had at last reached a large, natural clearing known as the Great Meadows, which eventually became Fort Necessity National Battlefield. There, they made their base camp. Soon after their arrival, Washington received the news that a party of French soldiers was camped quite close to their position. Not knowing what the their intentions were, Washington decided to lead a contact mission himself.
On the night of May 27th, 1754, Washington and about forty of his men began their march to confront the French. All night, they marched, travelling through woods so dark that the men could hardly see the trail. Around dawn, Lieutenant Colonel Washington met with the Seneca chief, named Tanacharison, or Half King. Together, they made plans to contact the French. Because the French commander had not posted sentries, Washington and his men easily surrounded the unsuspecting French.
Then suddenly, a shot was fired. To this day, it isn’t certain who fired that first shot, but soon the glen was filled with the crash of musketry. The small skirmish lasted about 15 minutes, but by the time it ended, only one of Washington’s men was killed and two others wounded, but thirteen of the Frenchmen were dead and twenty-one had been captured. One Frenchman did escape and eventually found his way back to Fort Duquesne to inform others of the affair.
The skirmish became known as the Battle of Jumonville Glen or the Jumonville Affair, and the area was named after Ensign Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, the leader of the French detachment who was killed during the battle. The French survivors claimed they had been attacked without cause by Washington. Following the battle, Washington returned to the Great Meadows and pushed onward the construction of a fort, which they called Fort Necessity.
The conflict soon led to the rest of the Fort Necessity campaign, including the Battle of Fort Necessity, and ultimately to the French & Indian War as well as the Revolutionary War.
You can learn more about this Battle and the entire campaign by visiting Fort Necessity National Battlefield, which is now a National Park. Explore their website to learn more and start planning your visit today!