Ft. Necessity Under Siege by the French July 3, 1754
After a few minutes during which Washington and a few men climbed a rocky ledge just above the French camp, Washington’s men had surrounded the French. It was just before dawn, but still twilight. The French camp was not yet awake. Washington gave the signal by taking careful aim and then firing, felling a French officer. He and his men rushed down from the ledge. The rest of his men also rushed into the French camp. Swords cut the night, bayonets stabbed. The French soon surrendered. While, some of them were killed, many of the French were sprawled on the ground wounded. One of them was Ensign de Jumonville. In the melee, which lasted but 15 minutes, ten of the French were slain and the rest, except one, were captured.
Washington had just begun the interrogation of Ensign de Jumonville. De Jumonville repeatedly told Washington in French, which Washington did not understand, that he was a diplomat trying to deliver an important message. The Half King sat around the fire glaring at de Jumonville. Suddenly, the Half King, eyes glaring with hatred, voice shrill and screaming, rushed across the camp, tomahawk in hand. As he reached the wounded Ensign, the Half King yelled, “Tu n’es Pas Encore Mort, Mon Pere!” (“You are not dead yet, my Father!”) His tomahawk came down hard and split the young Ensign’s skull in two. Unseen, however, by the British, was one form hidden in the woods, who watched these proceedings and then silently escaped in the grey of the twilight. He ran as speedily as he could to Fort Duquesne.
Private Monceau, a cut across his arm bleeding profusely, stumbled into Fort Duquesne. “My Captain! Ensign de Jumonville is murdered!”
Acting with celerity that equaled or surpassed Washington’s own in reacting to de Jumonville being near to the Great Meadows, Captain Contrecoeur dispatched some 600 French troops and 100 Indian allies to engage the British. The commanding officer, Captain Contrecoeur, placed this body of men under the command of Captain Louis Coulon de Villers, the older brother of the Ensign de Jumonville, who had been so brutally killed by the Half King.
Meanwhile, Washington and his Indian allies retreated to the Great Meadows and into Fort Necessity. Although its name was grandiose, Fort Necessity was little more than a stockade, which Washington had being building.
Captain Contrecoeur settled into a siege of the little fort. Late May faded into June, and then June gave way to July. Somehow, during this time, Washington received reinforcements from South Carolina under Captain James MacKay bringing his force to something around 400. He also received word from Governor Dinwiddie that, because Colonel Fry had died in a horse riding accident, Washington was promoted to command the Virginia regiment and was now a full Colonel. Washington, while proud of his promotion, lamented the irony of being promoted while he was being desperately besieged. No matter what Washington did, the French would not be lured into a stand-up fight in the great space of the Great Meadows.
July 3, 1754 dawned, but the day remained gloomy and dark. Rain fell in torrents. The deluge turned the Meadows into a quagmire of muck and mud. Captain Contrecoeur had decided that today he would attack. He was tired of the siege and he wanted to end it, before Washington received more reinforcements.
In our next and final installment concerning the start of the French and Indian War, we will learn of the Treaty which Washington signed and its consequences.