iD magazine


- George Washington

George Washington took the oath of office on April 30, 1789, and became the first president of the United States. The war hero had led the Revolution­ary forces to victory in the War of Independen­ce from British rule, and Americans today continue to revere Washington as the Father of His Country. But most of them are unaware of an incident that occurred 35 years before the first inaugurati­on: As an officer in the Virginia Regiment, Washington was involved in a murder that was never avenged.

In the spring of 1754, Major George Washington—who was just 22 years old at the time—was supporting the British presence at the Forks of the Ohio with a group of Virginia soldiers.

While positioned 10 miles southeast of what is now Uniontown, PA, he had gotten word that French soldiers were encamped nearby. Washington joined forces with his Native American allies and surrounded the French, and in the ensuing encounter 13 Frenchmen and one British soldier were killed. In a letter to his brother John three days later Washington had described the firefight: “The Battle lasted abt 10, or 15 minutes, sharp firing on both sides, when the French gave ground & run. I heard Bulletts whistle and believe me there was something charming in the sound.” There is no dispute shots were fired, but what remains unclear is who fired the first shot. In any event, after that the French had surrendere­d, and the French commander, Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, didn’t make it out of the skirmish alive. Controvers­y surrounds the encounter, as no one is sure exactly how Jumonville died. To this day historians still disagree as to whether Washington gave the order to attack the Frenchmen or if another member of his contingent killed Jumonville of his own accord. Some historians, such as Raymond Bluhm, say the death occurred later and that Jumonville was tomahawked to death by Washington’s Indian ally, Chief Tanacharis­on. The British had regarded Jumonville’s men as spies. The French saw the skirmish as an ambush and regarded Jumonville’s death as the murder of a diplomat. Weeks later the French defeated Washington’s forces at the Battle of Fort Necessity. Soon the dispute between Britain and France culminated in the outbreak of the French and Indian War. Washington never faced justice for Jumonville’s death; by the time of his inaugurati­on, the incident had been overshadow­ed by all his military victories.

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