CASE 1—GETTING TO KNOW THE MAN BEHIND THE IMAGE

CASE 2—VIRGINIA ENVIRONMENT,PART I

CASE 3—VIRGINIA ENVIRONMENT, PART II

CASE 4—THE NORTHERN NECK

CASE 5—FAMILY BACKGROUND, PART I

CASE 6—FAMILY BACKGROUND, PART II

CASE 7—THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR, PART I

CASE 8—THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR, PART II

CASE 9—PLANTER, POLITICIAN, AND PATRIOT

CASE 10—THE MAN, PART I

CASE 11—THE MAN, PART II

CASE 12—THE MAN, PART III

CASE 13—THE MAN, PART IV

CASE 14—THE MAN, PART V

CASE 15—DEATH AND APOTHEOSIS

CASE 16—PRESERVING THE MEMORY

CLEMENTS LIBRARY

George Washington: getting to know the man behind the image

This website is a record of the exhibit, as it appeared in the display cases of the William L. Clements Library. Each page features an image of a single display case and its contents, with details of the artifacts and the accompanying text below. Please click on the images to view enlargements and use the "back" button on your browser to return.

Copyrights to the contents of this exhibit, both text and images, are held by the Clements Library. Permission for use and reproduction must be obtained in advance from the director of the Clements Library.

Case 7 —French and Indian War—Part I

The Ohio Company of Virginia was created in 1747. Basing its claim on the wording of the original Royal patent for Virginia, granting the colony territory stretching "from sea to sea," it petitioned Parliament for a grant of 200,000 acres. It was to be surveyed, divided, and sold to settlers, in much the same way that Lord Fairfax was developing his Northern Neck landholdings. Not surprisingly, Washingtons were involved from the beginning.

The Crown directed Virginia's Governor Dinwiddie to make the grant in1749. The Indians agreed at the Treaty of Logstown to permit settlement on the south side of the Ohio River. A road was cut. Forts and storehouses were established at Will's Creek on the upper Potomac and Redstone (present Brownsville, Pa.) on the Monongahela.
 

 

The French considered the Ohio Valley and the vast territory stretching between Canada and Louisiana, west of the Allegheny Mountains, to be their own. They felt threatened by these upstart Virginians, because the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers provided an exceptionally important line of communication between Quebec and Louisiana. They were willing to defend their interests. In the late 1740s the French began sending parties of frontier-hardened soldiers, posting claims to the land, and establishing forts between Lake Erie and the Ohio River-the most direct line of communication between Quebec and the Mississippi.

The contemporary map shown here uses dramatic color to differentiate French and British territorial claims in the Ohio country and the Great Lakes region. Conflict was clearly inevitable.

Realizing that a showdown of some sort between the Ohio Company and the French was imminent, George Washington lobbied Gov. Dinwiddie to give him the job of warning the French to evacuate the lands south and east of the Ohio River. Setting off with a party of six men in November 1753, he met with the Indians first and then traveled several hundred miles to the present site of Pittsburgh, up the Allegheny to Venango and then to Ft. LeBoeuf (near present-day Meadville, Pa.), where he met the French commander and delivered the warning. The message was treated with respectful contempt. Washington had a harrowing trip back, largely on foot. He was shot at and nearly drowned in a frozen river.

The mission was not successful, but it accomplished several things. Washington, with the surveyor's eye, was the first to spot the present site of Pittsburgh as the key to the Ohio Valley, and he correctly urged that the Americans quickly fortify it. On returning to Williamsburg, he published his Journal (1754) of the expedition. It was quickly reprinted in London, excerpted and mentioned in countless newspapers and magazines. It is a delightfully readable account of a remarkable adventure, told in an easy and modest style. This publication and its widespread distribution made "George Washington" a household name throughout the British world.

Facsimile copies of the journal are freely available online at numerous sources.

In 1754, the Ohio Company sent a party to build a fort at the Forks of the Ohio. The French drove the working party out and began building Fort Duquesne. Washington, now holding a commission in the Virginia militia, was sent to reconnoiter. He encountered a French exploring party on May 27, 1754, attacked, and killed the commanding officer Jumonville. The French sent out a second party from Fort Duquesne that surrounded Washington's men and forced them to surrender. Washington and his party were paroled.

This letter, written by Sir William Johnson to Lord Hillsboro, notices Washington by name and describes the growing conflict between the French and Indians. By Johnson's account, the provocations were entirely on the Side of the French. Similarly one-sided, jingoistic letters and pamphlets were being written throughout America, Britain and France.

Washington's skirmishes with the French in May 1754 night have been considered minor colonial events in normal times. Now that passions had been aroused at ministerial and popular levels, they were the only sparks needed to ignite an international conflict. At age 22, George Washington personally started what quickly became a world war.