How George Washington Started The French and Indian War


Lt. Governor Robert Dinwiddie


Map Sowing French Forts including Fort de la Riviere au Boeuf

  1. The Snowy Trek to Fort de la Riviere au Boeuf (Near Lake Erie and Modern Waterford, PA)


The determinations of Providence are always wise, often inscrutable; and, though its decrees appear to bear hard upon us at times, is nevertheless meant for gracious purposes.-George Washington


First,  I would like to express that I have great personal admiration for George Washington. He was simply the man who held the Continental Army together and made this nation possible.  He again set the course for this nation as our first and, perhaps, greatest president.  That we did not descend into a monarchy after the revolution is thanks to him and his foresight.  Having said this, George Washington was not perfect.  The time that we are talking about, 1749 through 1755, he was a very young man and he made mistakes that young men often do.

Our story begins in 1749. The Ohio Company of Virginia was founded by Lawrence Washington, the older brother of George Washington, and Lt. Governor Dinwiddie if Virginia. The Ohio Company of Virginia had been granted a royal charter of two hundred thousand acres in the Ohio Valley, as well as the promise of future of three hundred thousand more acres in the Ohio Valley between the Kanawha and Monongahela Rivers. Lt. Governor Dinwiddie was an ambitious man and a greedy man. He saw himself becoming vastly wealthy through the Ohio Company and he wanted to do everything to insure that the future grants were made.

Robert Dinwiddie was a Scot from Glasgow who had been educated at the University of Edinburgh. There he had made some very important connections of which we shall hear more later. He held various government positions, including Customs collector for Bermuda and Surveyor General of the Colonies, which position was responsible for collecting taxes.

In 1750, the Ohio Company had employed a man by the name of Christopher Gist a skillful woodsman and surveyor, to explore and survey this region in order to identify lands for potential settlement. He surveyed by estimating the Kanawhan Region and the Ohio Valley tributaries beginning in 1750, and continuing each summer through  1753.

It was through Gist that Gov. Dinwiddie learned in 1753 that the French had occupied and had built forts in the Ohio Valley area.

Dinwiddie wrote to the Duke of Newcastle, Thomas Pelham-Holles, about the situation. The Duke of Newcastle was one of the very important connections Dinwiddie had made in College.  The Duke’s brother was Henry Pelham, the Prime Minister of England.  In late fall, of 1753, Dinwiddie’s letter so upset the Prime Minister and the Duke of Newcastle that the Prime Minister on behalf of the cabinet wrote the government considered the Ohio Valley to be of such imperial importance that all of the Governors that they must do everything they can to repel the French invaders by force. King George II wrote to Governor Dinwiddie that he was to build forts in the Ohio Valley and especially to take back the Forks of the Ohio River.

Dinwiddie sent an ambassador to warn the French that they must depart the Ohio Valley immediately.

For this role, the Governor chose a man who was virtually unknown to undertake this dangerous journey-George Washington. He was just 21 years of age.  Although he had surveyed the Ohio Valley area when he was 16, George Washington’s claim to fame was his brother, Lawrence. Lawrence Washington was a famous soldier, a wealthy landowner, and by virtue of marriage to Lord Fairfax’s daughter, Ann, he had become one of the most important men in Virginia.

In order to balance the team, Dinwiddie also appointed Christopher Gist to serve under Washington.

Gist had negotiated treaties with key Iroquois leaders such as Tanaghrisson, also known as the Half-King and who will figure greatly in our story later. Most recently, he had negotiated another chieftain, known to his people as Memeskia. Although Memeskia had originally allied with the French, and had been very successful in the fur trade with them, in 1747 Memeskia had switched sides, joined the British, and had raided many a French settlement.  For Memeskia’s loyalty to the British, in 1753, when the French attacked his village and had captured Memeskia, the French boiled him and ate him.  In this manner, the French warned the Indians not to side with the British.

So as Gist trudged through the snow of December 1753, he had unsettling visions of what might happen to him and Washington.

Next week, we will continue our story of the trudge through the blizzards and snows to Ft. de la Riviere au Boeuf.


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