How George Washington Started the French and Indian War: Part 3

gwsurveyorGeorge Washington as a young surveyor

Dinwiddie’s Response to Legardeur

Governor Dinwiddie had been empowered under his instructions to take military action if the French did not withdraw. The Governor drafted William Trent, who Trent was a frontiersman who had been a fur trader and who had explored the Ohio Valley extensively.  Although now he was more of a merchant and although he lived in Pennsylvania, he was still a man whose reputation would induce men of the Frontier to join him in an expedition.  Trent was to raise a company of frontiersmen, go into the Ohio Valley and build a fort at the Forks, which Washington has scouted.


At first Trent declined, until the Governor advised Trent that the King had ordered Two Independent Companies from New York and one from Carolina, to march into Virginia to augment what the Governor raised. In addition, the Governor had gotten the Virginia House of Burgesses to grant him £10,000, such that the Governor would raise a full Virginia Regiment, to be commanded by Colonel Joshua Fry and Lt. Colonel George Washington


In February, 1754 Trent and his men had constructed the fort, nearby the French fort of Duquesne.


Later, after Trent had departed with his company, in Alexandria, Lt. Colonel Washington was readying his men for their march. On April 2, 1754, he would lead his men to Fort Trent at the Forks of the Ohio.  Now, Washington was leading Virginia Colonial Troops to relieve and reinforce Trent and his men.  Washington saw his job as one of construction.  He would build the roads to the fort and open up the Ohio.


Washington had moved his men with great speed, in a heroic attempt to save Trent’s men now besieged at the Fort at the Forks of the Ohio.


They marched into Winchester, where the people of the town lined the street. Washington was uniformed like a British officer, with a long, dark navy blue coat with the inner lining blood red, as were both his waistcoat and his breeches.  He wore a polished bronze gorget slung around his neck, the vestigial armor worn by an officer to denote his rank.  It was perchance the last harbinger of being a knight.  Slung over his shoulder was a haversack.  At his left hip was his sword, while his hands were covered with tan riding gloves.  Unusual for an officer, his horse on its side bore a musket in a long tan leather holster.  His face was clean shaven and betrayed his youth.  Among the crowd watching Washington coming into Winchester was a 15 year old runaway named Daniel Morgan.  Morgan was not only the cousin of Daniel Boone, but also would later be one of George Washington’s best general in the American Revolution, winning the battle of Cowpens in South Carolina.


Just as quickly as they marched in, they marched out, a little stronger for their reinforcements were waiting for them in the town square. Even so, Washington’ celerity was not enough to get his band of men to the Fort, before Ensign Ward, Trent’s second-in-command, had surrendered the fort.


Washington, having learned of the surrender, still forged on ahead. He did so because he understood that Tanaghrisson and his Iroquois were wavering in their support of the British.  Tanaghrisson, who was also known by the name the Half King, was an Indian chief in the Ohio.  Unlike most of the other Indian chiefs, the Half King had seen the value in allying with the British against the other Indians.  The British were more constant in their trade of muskets with the Indians, which Tanaghrisson thought made them better allies.  Washington was clever enough to write Tanaghrisson, not of his desire to keep the Half King on his side, but rather, he couched it in terms of what the British could do for the Half King.  He wrote to the Indian Chief:


“I am coming with a Great Number of Our Warriors to ensure that you still will rule in the Ohio. Do not despair.  I will honor our Treaty.”


Washington signed it with great flourish with his Indian name, “Connotaucarious”, which was the name given his great-grandfather, John Washington, over seventy-five years before in 1675. Washington knew that this name held great power, for it meant “Devourer of Villages.”

Next week, we will continue with the construction of Ft. Necessity in the Great Meadows.


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