Jumonville Glen and the genesis of America

05/29/2009

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It’s doubtful that one in a 100 Americans recognizes the geographic locale of Jumonville Glen, but 255 years ago this week it was the site of a small but crucial event that helped lead to the creation of the United States of America.

On May 28, 1754, George Washington, then a lieutenant colonel in the Virginia militia, was on his way through the Pennsylvania frontier to reinforce a British fort when he learned that a French force had been spotted in the area.

He and about 40 men went on a reconnaissance mission and came upon the sleeping French camp shortly after dawn. What happened next is still mired in controversy: The French maintained that their diplomatic party had been ambushed, while Washington reported that he had been fired on first.

When the smoke cleared, the entire French force appeared to have been killed, wounded or captured. The dead included the French commander, the Ensign Jumonville, who had been slain by Half King, an Indian ally of the British.

Called the Battle of Jumonville Glen, the event was the opening battle of the French and Indian War. The conflict not only ultimately gave Great Britain control of Canada and much of North America, but it laid the groundwork for the American Revolution.

“The goal was for the British to remove the French from North America , which they did,” Thomas Markwadt, public relations director at Fort Necessity, told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in May 2008. “It left the British with a large empire, which created the need for more revenue, which resulted in higher taxes for the colonists.”

As the colonists took on more of a role in their own defense, they began to assert their own identity.

“Because the colonists were no longer threatened by the French, the colonists no longer needed British protection,” Markwadt said. “They wanted to handle their own affairs. It set the stage for the American Revolution.”

Washington was just 22 years old at the time of Jumonville Glen and the battle marked his first test under fire. Although the Battle of Jumonville Glen was a victory for Washington, he lost the campaign when his troops were surrounded by French and Indian enemies a month later.

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