How George Washington Started the French and Indian War: Part 2


Fort de la Riviere au Boeuf


Ahead at Fort de la Riviere au Boeuf, which is near to modern day Waterford PA, Captain Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre was continuing to strengthen his fortifications. He was the ideal man for his job.  He was knighted or, as the French would say, he had become a Chevalier in the Ordre Royale et Militaire de Saint-Louis, which was a lofty title bestowed only upon Catholic officers who had served at least ten years, had performed exceptional service, and were veterans of many campaigns.  The Captain also was an expert in numerous Indian languages and a renowned explorer of what the French called ‘pays d’en haut’, or all of the land west of Montreal, including both north and south of the Great Lakes.  There was virtually no one in British service that could rival this Frenchmen’s experience.


When Washington met Captain Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, he bowed as he presented his summons to Captain Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre. “His Britannic Majesty, King George II, respectfully requests the departure of your forces from this fort, as well as all the forces of France from everywhere in the Ohio Valley.”


Captain Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre extended every courtesy of his fort to Washington and Gist as they awaited Captain Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre answer. Secretly, Captain Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre was extremely impressed and yet extremely worried that Gist and Washington had been able to march to his fort in the middle of winter through unbelievably deep snows.


George Washington insisted upon an immediate answer to his King’s request, but Captain Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre demurred and delayed.   Washington began to become uncomfortable in his role as diplomat because he started to realize that he was at a sharp disadvantage in the niceties and subtleties of diplomacy with Legardeur.


Over the course of the next few days, Washington walked around the fort with Gist. He talked with Legardeur.  He enjoyed the scenery at the Forks.  Finally, Washington announced over dinner, that he had to leave the next day; he thanked his French host, and indicated that he had to have his answer by the morning.  Legardeur proposed a toast to friendship.


It was January 1754, when Washington and Gist arrived back in Williamsburg. Washington and Gist had come all the way back from Fort de la Riviere au Boeuf in what must have been blinding speed for they had covered over 800 miles in the dead of a brutal winter with horrific snows that were hip deep.


Washington advised Governor Dinwiddie that the Captain Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre on behalf of France had declined to remove his forces from the fort or to take any measures to withdraw any French forces from anywhere in the Ohio.


Immediately, the Governor was incensed. As he began to berate Washing ton, he noticed that Washington had a large scroll under his arm.  Washington began to spread a large sheet on the table before the Governor.  Washington advised the Governor that he had drawn a map with its location, its dimensions, and its armament, as well as further notes of strategic interest, such as the French having amassed 50 canoes and 170 pirogues to convey troops into the lower Ohio valley next summer.  He drew a map of the Forks of the Ohio, which demonstrated how important this area is to hold and how it dominates the rivers and the area around.

Washington’s return to Williamsburg had been the match to set off a fire, although he did not know then how large the conflagration would grow.


Shortly after his return to Williamsburg in January 1754, George Washington sat down and wrote a detailed account of his journey to the Ohio Valley and a description of all that he had seen. This account was so well received by Lt. Governor Robert Dinwiddie that Dinwiddie had Maj. Washington’s journal published in both Williamsburg and in London. The Journal of Major George Washington included not only Washington’s careful account of his experiences in the Ohio country, but also Dinwiddie’s letter to the French and the French reply. Washington was now a celebrity on both sides of the Atlantic.


Next week, we will continue with Governor Dinwiddie’s response to  Legardeur.


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