How George Washington Started the French and Indian War-Part 6

George Washington in 1772



The Indian allies of the French, who were mainly Iroquois from Canada, hid behind the trees that ringed Fort Necessity.  Wisely, the French did as the Indians.  The superior marksmanship of the Indians and of the French soon began to tell, as British soldier after British soldier fell.  The day wore on with few, if any, of the French and their Indian allies being wounded or killed.  By nightfall, however, Washington’s force of about 400 men was reduced to below 300 men.


On the morning of July 4, 1754, Washington, who spoke no French, asked for terms for surrender, through his interpreter, Jacob Van Braam. Although Van Braam was only about three years older than Washington, he seemed much older and more experienced.


Perhaps, it was his service in the British Navy during the War of Jenkin’s Ear in 1741. Lawrence Washington had met Van Braam during the War.  He became wholly impressed with the skill with which Van Braam welded a sword, even though Van Braam was then only twelve years old.   Unfortunately, their campaign together ended at the disastrous defeat of the British in the Battle of Cartagena de Indias in Columbia. After the War, Lawrence brought Van Braam back to his Plantation at Mount Vernon.  Lawrence did this because his younger brother had been named as Major of the Colonial Militia for his district.  “George, I really have to do something for you so you will grow into your rank of ‘Major’ of the Militia,” Lawrence said.  At Mount Vernon, Van Braam taught George Washington fencing and about field fortifications, flags, as well as schooling him in the ways of the European armies.


Van Braam was Washington’s interpreter; however, he spoke little French and apparently read even less French. The French, only too willing to oblige the giving of terms, had Washington sign a document in French.  This document of surrender allowed Washington and his men full military honors.  They could retain their weapons and their flags. But the document also required Washington’s forces to surrender Fort Necessity.  Importantly, The document of surrender also acknowledged that the French had acted only to avenge the assassination of their diplomat, Ensign de Jumonville. Washington had surrendered his first command and had unknowingly taken responsibility for the death of a French officer acting as a diplomat, which France would use as a justification for making war upon Britain.  So, Washington had personally fired the first shot of what would become the French and Indian War in North American, a world war that became known as the Seven Year’s War in Europe, had surrendered the first British army to fight in that War, and had taken full responsibility for starting the War in the first place.


What did George Washington learn from this?

  1. He realized that he acted impetuously in surrendering.
  2. He realized that his words in the surrender document had gotten him and his country into grave trouble. This may have been the source of later laconic personality.
  3. He had led his first army and had surrendered his first command. Washington would never surrender an army again-no matter how hard pressed.
  4. A year later at Monongahela, July 9, 1755, Washington was the model of courage and determination. Although most of the officers that accompanied Braddock were killed or seriously wounded, Washington was not. Washington’s uniform was riddled by bullet holes, but he suffered not even a minor wound. Washington felt that Providence had spared him, because he had an important destiny to fulfill. He led the forces in a skillful retreat, even though he was only a Colonial Captain. While Braddock lay dying, Braddock gave Washington his red battle sash saying that he knew no man more worthy to receive it.

Horatio Gates



Charles Lee




III.       Epilogue

Twenty years to the date, July 9, 1775, George Washington had just taken over the command of the Continental Army outside of Boston. He called to his headquarters his two subordinates, Charles Lee and Horatio Gates.  There, he toasted the Battle of Monongahela, General Braddock.  He toasted his two comrades, Charles Lee and Horatio Gates, both of whom had been at the Battle of Monongahela-Horatio Gates had suffered a wound to his abdomen and was thought not likely to survive, but Washington had insisted on taking him on the retreat.  The Washington toasted the commander of the British forces, Thomas Gage, who had also been a fellow officer ta Monongahela.  It is reputed that Washington told Charles Lee and Horatio Gates that he had learned one thing from the Monongahela:  The vaunted British Army could be beaten.




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