Jumonville, Half King and Washington and the Clash of Empire

On June 28, 1754, while Marine Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville was leading a mission aimed at ascertaining the American position in the Ohio Valley, he and 10 of his men were assassinated by soldiers under the command of George Washington (as documented at his surrender of Fort Necessity).

Thus began the world first global war.

Jumonville was born in the seigneury of Verchères, New France, the son of Nicolas-Antoine Coulon de Villiers, a French military officer. He began service with the Compagnes Franches de la Marine at age 15 in his father's unit.

He served in the Compagnie Franches during several conflicts with native groups in the western Great Lakes region where he was posted with his father and several of his brothers. His father and one of his brothers were killed at Baie-des-Puants during a battle with the Fox tribe. About 1746, and perhaps for some few years previous, the Foxes lived at the Little Butte des Morts on the west bank of Fox river, about 37miles above Green Bay. They made it a point, when ever a trader's boat approached, to place a torch upon the bank as a signal for the traders to come ashore and pay the customary tribute, which they exacted from all. To refuse was to incur their displeasure, and robbery would be the mildest penalty inflicted. Incensed at this exaction, Morand, a leading trader, raised a volunteer force of French and Indians, and after inflicting severe punishment on the Fox in two engagements drove them down Wisconsin river. They settled on the north bank about 20 miles from the mouth. He was later promoted to Second Ensign and was stationed in Acadia during King George's War, called the War of Austrian Secession in Europe.

In June 1754, Jumonville was posted to Fort Duquesne,(pronounced "dew cane") where Pittsburgh now stands, with his older half-brother Louis Coulon de Villiers. The French were building up military strength in the Ohio Country in response to incursions by British traders and settlers, notably those from eastern Pennsylvania and Virginia

On May 23, 1754, Jumonville took command of a 35 man detachment from the fort and headed southwest. The exact nature of Jumonville's mission has been the subject of considerable debate both at the time and up to the present day. Officially, his mission was to scout the area south of Fort Duquesne, the direction most likely to be the approach of Virginia troops under Washington. Washington had been a frequent visitor in the area having delivered a message to the French to remove from the area claimed by the English. Washington had been rebuffed the year before and was moving forward again into the area. Jummonville may also been instructed to be on a diplomatic mission.

The English have long contended that he was sent to spy on their garrison at Great Meadows and their road building project. Half King, the leader of a band of Mingos allied to the British, believed he was planning an ambush. This may have only been Half King's story because he had a well known antipathy towards the French having been captured and forced into slavery as a child. On May 27, 1754, the indian scouts of Half King discovered Jumonville's party camped in a small valley. This area of southwestern Pennsylvania is the third wettest part of the present United States, it was no different in 1754. The area is covered in Laurel and is dotted by natural rock over hangings which afford a great deal of shelter.

Half King begged Washington to attack the French encampment, claiming it was a hostile party sent to ambush them. Washington and a party of 40 men from Great Meadows and marched through the night in a driving rain arriving at the encampment at dawn. Washington had his troops prime their muskets and fired into the French troops in the glen. In a confused skirmish, in which very few muskets on either side could fire due to dampness, 10 French Marines were killed, and 21 were captured including Jummonville, who was wounded and laying on the ground.

As Jummonville was being interrogated by Washington Half King walked up and sent his tomahawk into the brain of Jumonville. At least one French Marine escaped, and reported to Fort Duquesne about the incident.

Washington returned to Great Meadows and completed Fort Necessity. Great Meadows could not have been a poor choice of ground. It rests in a clearing surrounded by hills.

Jumonville's half brother, Captain Coulon de Villiers, vowed revenge. He attacked Washington and the garrison at Fort Necessity and forced them to surrender on July 3, 1754. In the surrender document, written in French, Coulon de Villiers inserted a clause describing Jumonville's death as an "assassination". Washington, who did not speak French, signed the document. The assassination of a French diplomat and revered soldier, Jumonville would later be used as propaganda by the French against the war crimes of Washington and the British, during the conflict.

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."

Pour Dieu et Pour le Roy.

An additional comment. I have reenacted the battle of Jummonville Glen twice. The area is spectacularly beautiful. It is in the Laurel Mountains of western Pennsylvania covered by blooming trees. The woods are full of game, including deer. The present site is maintained as a Methodist retreat, but the glen itself, other than the grass being cut and a small amphitheatre, remains largely as it was on that fateful day in 1754. Did I mention that it rains there? Although I was there in the last days of May it was evident that the snow had just melted. I was fortunate that I could set up our tent in a dry spell. My wife Suzanne, and daughter Geneviève (who started reenacating when she was 4 days old) hearty reenactors in their own right, who have braved the cold, snow, rain, excessive heat, and even an earthquake, refused to ever return to reenact Jummonville again. (Go figure!) The rain did not dampen my ardour for the King Louis but my musket refused to fire on several occasions, bad newswhen you have met with a Roger's Ranger.

Some source material,

For an excellent film documentary about the beginning of the Seven Years War in America, see "When the Forest Ran Red". my film debut is at minute 21 of the is documentary. I am the Frenchman wearing the red toque. (eh?)

A Peoples History of Canada, a CBC documentary may be found here.

Wilderness Empire by Allan Eckert, may be found here

Montcalm and Wolfe: The French and Indian War. by Francis Parkman. Originally published 1884. New York: Da Capo, 1984. may be found here This is a biased work, reflecting the dawning of the pro-British sentiment which was beginning to take root in America at the time.

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