History 4
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The Indians
The Great Black Swamp
Pre-French & Indian Wars
Shot Heard Round the World
Beaver Wars
French Indian War
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The Indians, French,  English & the Americans
The history of the Ohio area was determined by the conflict over who controlled the area. The Indians, the French, the English and the Colonists all wanted control. The final control and the future of the area was determined by the French & Indian War.
The Beginnings of the French & Indian War: George Washington

In 1754 the first volley was fired in what would become known as the French & Indian War. Robert Dinwiddie, Governor of Virginia, had an important mission for a young, 22 year old lieutenant colonel of the Virginia Regiment named George Washington. He was to carry a letter from the Governor addressed to the French Commander in the Ohio Territory saying the French needed to leave the area west of the Allegheny Mountains. The French had been building Forts and Virginia had a claim on this land from the original charter of 1606. Washington and his eight man group crossed the Blue Ridge Mountains then the Allegheny Mountains in the winter of 1753-54 through icy weather, swollen rivers and deep snow to first meet with a friendly Seneca (Iroquois) chief named Half-King. Then they were to proceed to the French outpost at Presque Isle (present-day Erie, Pennsylvania). The French commander at Fort Le Boeuf, Jacques Le Gardner, sieur de Saint Pierre politely said they had no intentions of leaving despite claims that the British Crown lay to the entire Ohio Country and it was their design to occupy all of Ohio. He wrote out a response and gave it to Washington. Washington returned to Dinwiddie carrying the news. 

Washington kept a journal about his travels and got them published in a couple of the papers in the colonies. The French were quite polite to Washington and treated him very well as a guest. He wrote it was such a contrast to travel across the wild and hostile environment to find to Parisian comforts at the French fort.  His journal was reprinted in England and Scotland providing a first hand account of what it was like in the Ohio Country.  One of the most interesting things in Washington's journal was record of his conversations with the Seneca Chief, Half-King. The Chief's real name was Tanacharison. He got the English name as the representative from the  Iroquois Confederation, also called the Six Nations, to the British. Half-King told Washington he preferred the British over the French. The French were building forts & settlements and taking the land by force unlike the British. He also made it quite clear any treaties with the British were temporary. And that his people laid claim to the Ohio Country not because of any paper agreement or lead plaques buried in the ground. Half-Life based his claim on the fact his people had possession of the land for more than 300 years. Washington also knew the British intentions were to expand and put more colonists in the area, a direct conflict with the Seneca's intentions.

What had prompted this effort was control of the Ohio Territory. The Ohio Company, a group of British and Virginians, had gotten a grant for 200,000 acres in the upper Ohio River Valley from Virginia. Settlements were planned and a road was to be built 80 miles to the Monongahela River. The French on the other hand thought this area was vital between Quebec, New France (Canada) and Louisiana. They moved southward driving out the English, claiming the area for France. The French built forts at Fort Presque Isle near Lake Erie and Fort Le Boeuf, part of the area claimed by Virginia. Virginia Governor Dinwiddie sent a detachment to build a fort at the forks of the Ohio where Pittsburg is located today. Before they could finish the fort, the French attacked driving off the Virginians. They in turn built a large fort at that location and named it Fort Duquesne, after the new governor of New France. Washington was in the area, building a road and was ordered to help defend the fort. When it fell into French hands he went to Redstone Creek to await orders. He was joined there by Colonel Joshua Fry and the rest of the Virginia regiment at the end of May. 

Dinwiddie ordered Washington to return and construct a fort. By late May the group made it to a large clearing called Great Meadows. They set up camp. Word reached Washington three days later that a small group of French soldiers were  camped seven miles away at Chestnut Ridge. He assembled his troops and started an all night march to the French camp on the night of May 27th, 1754. The next morning they reached the camp of Chief Half-Life and discussed strategies. Half-Life's scouts took the Virginians two miles to the French soldiers. When they got to the French camp, there were no sentries, so the Virginia militia easily surrounded the French. A shot rang out. To this day no knows who fired it. But within 15 minutes ten French soldiers died, one was wounded and 21 were taken prisoner. Washington lost one man with 2 wounded. The French prisoners were sent back to Williamsburg, VA. Washington and the rest of his group returned to Great Meadow and built a defensive fortification in anticipation of a counter attack from the French. He called it Fort Necessity. Five weeks later 600 French with 100 Indian allies did attack Washington's fortifications and his 400 men including 100 British regulars reinforcements. The battle raged on for a day, in a heavy rain that flooded the Virginia fort. The French Commander Capt. Louis Coulon de Villiers, commander of the French force and brother of Jumonville requested a truce to discuss Washington's surrender the next day, July 3, 1754. Near midnight after hours of negotiations Washington & British commander MacKay signed the terms of surrender. The British & Virginia forces were allowed to leave, yielding their swivel guns, the morning of July 4th. The French burned Fort Necessity.

The French were not happy about the attack on their soldiers at what later came to be known as Jumonville Glen, named after the French commander Joseph Coulon de Villiers, Sieur de Jumonville who was killed there. The French claimed this group was on a similar peaceful mission as Washington was in the winter which is why there were no sentries. They insisted Washington attacked for no reason. They demanded Washington sign a confession. On the night of July 3rd Washington signed a document saying he was guilty of the assassination of a French officer, Jumonville. Washington claimed the French document he signed was explained to him as saying he did not assassinate the French officer but that the officer was killed during the skirmish. The French used the confession all over Europe to discredit the British and their efforts.

Some years later British statesman Horace Walpole wrote, "The volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America set the world on fire." The outcome of that volley, the French and Indian War, would have great impact on global affairs. Some historians called this conflict the first world war since it was also fought in Europe as the Seven Years' War.  The French lost most of their influence in North America. The English colonies in America had to pay taxes levied upon them by England to help pay for what turned out to be an expensive war. The stage was set as many colonists began to dream of independence from the British.

There is more to this story. This just sets the stage of the French & Indian Wars, click here to read more.

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  1.  His Excellency: George Washington by Joseph Ellis
  2. Fort Necessity National Battlefield Jumonville Glen




 
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