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Charles Willson PealePortrait de George Washington, 1772.


The Battle of Jumonville Glen

  • George Washington goes to the Ohio Country
  • George Washington travels with Tanacharison, the Half King

It is difficult to tell what happened at the Battle of Jumonville Glen. First, it was not a battle; it was an ambush. Yet, it started the French and Indian War (1754-1763), which in turn, started the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763), a global conflict and a defeat for France. Tanacharison (1718-1754), an angry Mingo (Iroquoian Amerindian), also called the Half King pressed George Washington (1732-1799) into joining him and attacking a French encampment Amerindians had spotted. When they reached the encampment, it seems that Tanacharison brutally murdered an innocent French captain, Coulon de Jumonville. He stood next to George Washington, thus starting the French and Indian War (1754-1763) which led to the arbitrarily considered last and lost Battle of the Plains of Abraham, and which also led to the Seven Year’s War (1756-1763), or the defeat of France.

Aubert de Gaspé keeps repeating that the defeated are forever defeated and then says, in full, that at the Treaty of Paris 1763 (“trois ans après”), Louis XV abandoned France’s colony in North America. The Battle of Sainte-Foy was a French victory, but the Battle of the Plains of Abraham, a short confrontation, was deemed the last and lost battle of the French and Indian War (1754-1763) when in fact the last battle, the Battle of Saint-Foy, fought on 28 April 1760, was a French victory. “Nonchalant” Louis XV tossed the Battle of Sainte-Foy aside, turning a victory into a defeat. Not necessarily. Coulon de Villiers could avenge his half-brother’s assassination, however, by 1759, could France reinforce its troops in New France. France was losing the Seven Years’ War.

La Nouvelle-France, abandonnée de la mère patrie, fut cédée à l’Angleterre par le nonchalant Louis XV, trois ans après cette glorieuse bataille qui aurait pu sauver la colonie.
Les Anciens Canadiens (XIV: page 321)

[New France, abandoned by the mother country, was ceded to England by the careless Louis three years after the battle.]
Cameron of Lochiel (XIII: 202-203)

Tanacharison tries to return his wampum & the ambush

December 1753

In 1753, the French started to build forts in the Ohio country and were driving out British traders. Therefore, Virginia lieutenant governor Robert Dinwiddie sent George Washington (1732-1799) to these forts to demand that the French vacate. On his journey, Washington stopped at Logstown to ask Tanacharison, the Half-King, to travel with him. Tanacharison agreed to return the symbolic wampum given to him by French captain Philippe-Thomas Chabert de Joncaire. Tanacharison also travelled with George Washington to meet with Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, the French commander of Fort Le Bœuf. Neither Chabert de Joncaire nor Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre took the wampum back, and the French did not leave the Ohio country, at least, not then. 

So, we know why Washington was in Ohio Country. He had been asked to drive the French away.

27 – 28 May 1754

On 27 May 1754, Tanacharison learned of a French encampment. He urged Washington to ambush the French and Washington agreed.

On 28 May 1754, “[a] company of colonial militia from Virginia under the command of Lieutenant Colonel George Washington, and a small number of Mingo warriors led by Tanacharison ambushed a force of 35 Canadiens under the command of Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville.” (See Battle of Jumonville Glen, Wikipedia).

I have not been able to determine whether Virginia lieutenant governor Robert Dinwiddie authorized the “ambush” that took place on 28 Mary 1754. But in 1753, George Washington was asked to tell the French to leave the Ohio Country.

Questions: the Jumonville Affair

  • Who started the Jumonville affair?
  • Who killed Jumonville?
  • a battle, a skirmish or an ambush …

In the Wikipedia entry on Tanacharison, one can read that Tanacharison, the Half King, started the French and Indian War (1754-1763) which would develop into the Seven Years’ War, an international conflict. (See Tanacharison, Wikipedia.)

Questions do arise? For instance, who initiated the offensive, an ambush, that took place on 28 May 1754? Was it George Washington or Tanacharison, or was it a joint decision by George Washington and Tanacharison? More importantly, as noted above, had Virginia lieutenant governor Robert Dinwiddie authorized the ambush of an encampment of 35 Frenchmen? In Wikipedia’s entry on Robert Dinwiddie, it is stated that Virginia lieutenant governor Robert Dinwiddie started Washington’s military career. In one of the videos embedded in my last post, George Washington opened fire. This could be the case. In fact, if Jumonville did not have a gun, or, if a gun was not at hand, should Washington have shot at Jumonville? Robert Dinwiddie is credited with having started George Washington’s military career. Not quite.

“Washington was heavily criticized in Britain for the incident. British statesman Horace Walpole referred to the controversy surrounding Jumonville’s death as the “Jumonville Affair” and described it as ‘a volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America that set the world on fire.'” (See Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, Wikipedia.)

Jumonville Glen has been called a battle and the Jumonville Skirmish, but it was an ambush, and Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville was murdered. George Washington took Tanacharison to the Ohio Country. However, it seems, that Tanacharison took George Washington to ambush Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville. Whether Virginia Royal Governor Robert Dinwiddie authorized this second event cannot be ascertained. It also seems that Jumonville and a few Frenchmen were killed or wounded and that all of them, but one, were captured. Moreover, Jumonville may have been killed at Fort Duquesne. When Washington surrendered, if he surrendered, he admitted that Jumonville was assassinated. But, as mentioned above, this may not be true.

In fact, “[t]he exact circumstances of Jumonville’s death are a subject of historical controversy and debate.” (See Battle of Jumonville Glen, Wikipedia.)

It seems that Canadiens seigneurs were the military in New France. Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville was a seigneur. Seigneuries had been given to members of the Régiment de Carignan-Salières who wanted to remain in Canada. They arrived in 1665. Nouvelle-France was often attacked by Iroquois, who were allies of the British in North America. Canada had its French and Indian War 1754-1763), its French and Indian Wars (1688-1763), inter-colonial wars, and it also had its Beaver Wars or Guerres franco-iroquoises. In the early 1750s, the French were building forts in the Ohio country. Forts were trading posts and fortresses.


So Aubert de Gaspé comments on the inanity of wars. But in North America, a war was waged that was a tinier war than the Seven Years’ War, but it was absurdism at its peak. Nouvelle-France fell. Jumonville was not a battle, whether it took place at an encampment or in Fort Duquesne, and the French won the Battle of Saint-Foy. I feel as though I were reading an early draft of Malraux‘s Condition Humaine (Man’s Fate, 1933), or Camus, all of Camus.

Militarily, Jumonville’s brother, Captain Coulon de Villiers, “marched on Fort Necessity on the 3rd of July [1754] and forced Washington to surrender.” (See Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, Wikipedia.) The lex talionis was at work: an eye for an eye. Humanity has been avenging itself for millennia at a huge cost. Historically, the people of New France change masters overnight. I suspect that Sir Guy Carleton, 1st Baron Dorchester, who passed the Quebec Act of 1774, could tell that the French, the people, did not have to be punished. It is also very refreshing to read Aubert de Gaspé who writes:

Des deux côtés la bravoure était égale, et quinze mille hommes des meilleures troupes du monde n’attendaient que l’ordre de leurs chefs pour ensanglanter de nouveau les mêmes plaines qui avaient déjà bu le sang de tant de valeureux soldats.
Les Anciens Canadiens (XIV: p. 318)

[The courage of both was beyond question, and fifteen thousand of the best troops in the world only awaited the word of their commanders to spring at each other’s throats.]
Cameron of Lochiel (XIII: 201-202).


Sources and Resources

Wikipedia, The Canadian Encyclopedia, & Britannica
Escarmouche de Jumonville Glen
George Washington in the French & Indian War on Vimeo
Jumonville Glen Skirmish · George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Les Anciens Canadiens (ebooksgratuits.com). FR
Cameron of Lochiel (Archive.org ), Sir Charles G. D. Roberts, translator. EN
Cameron of Lochiel is Gutenberg [EBook#53154], Sir Charles G. D. Roberts, translator. EN
Une Colonie féodale en Amérique: l’Acadie 1604 – 17 (Rameau, Google Books)

French and Indian War

© Micheline Walker
24 July 2021