George Washington's path to revolution: The first turning point

There were a number of events that led the father of America to turn from being in support of England to staunch supporter of American independence. Each turning point was crucial to making him the man he came to be. Remove a single point from his life and he may very well have been fighting for Britain, instead of an independent America.

The first turning point for Washington happened with how England and Lt. Governor Robert Dinwiddie handled the shots that started the French and Indian War in the American colonies. The rest of the world marks it as the beginning of a global conflict called the Seven Years’ War.

Dinwiddie was appointed Lt. Governor of Virginia in 1751 and immediately started to strictly enforce taxes and instituted a talent for every land patent, regardless of acreage. A talent was approximately 18 shillings, which was a considerable sum for most who lived in Virginia at that time. Virginians who were able to afford a small plot of land found themselves having to do without.

His actions started a feud between himself and the House of Burgesses that would last until 1754. As a result of his feud, the House of Burgesses refused to release the funds necessary to raise a militia in order to go into the Ohio Valley to deal with the French.

Dinwiddie had just promoted a young and inexperienced George Washington to Lt. Col. and charged him to raise a militia to deal with the French encroachments with no financial support. Washington, being young and ambitious without any military experience, took it as a challenge to be embraced.

From Mount Vernon, Washington and the French & Indian War:

“Dinwiddie was convinced that the French fort-building activity and St. Pierre’s response were acts of aggression against Great Britain.  Furthermore he believed that the aggression was egregious enough to warrant a military response.  While the Governor’s Council was willing to approve military action, the House of Burgesses was not.  Therefore, while the House of Burgesses was out of session, the Council authorized Dinwiddie to raise a force to drive the French out of the Ohio.”

Washington gets a lot of flak by historians, both amateur and professional, for setting out to the Ohio Valley without the proper provisions for what militia he could get. Dinwiddie refused to pay any costs associated with the raising of a militia and the House of Burgesses, had they been in session, would have refused for no other reason than Dinwiddie wanted to raise the militia. Washington could press horses, wagons and provisions into service, but most Virginians hid much of what they had. Without the resources necessary, it was impossible for him to properly provision a militia force of any size.

Washington and a small force of militia came across a French camp without knowing it included French diplomat, Ensign Jumonville. Had he known, he never would have given the order to attack. It would have been considered dishonorable for him to do so. Honor mattered greatly to Washington.

From Mount Vernon, Ten Facts About George Washington and the French and Indian War:

“Eager to send their own diplomatic directive demanding an English withdrawal from the region, a French force of 35 soldiers commanded by Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville camped in a rocky ravine not far from Washington's encampment at the Great Meadows (now in Fayette County, Pennsylvania). Accompanied by Tanacharison, a Seneca chief (also known as the Half-King) and 12 native warriors, Washington led a party of 40 militiamen on an all night march towards the French position. On May 28, 1754, Washington's party stealthily approached the French camp at dawn. Finally spotted at close range by the French, shots rang out and a vigorous firefight erupted in the wooded wilderness. Washington's forces quickly overwhelmed the surprised French force and killed 13 soldiers and captured another 21.”

The battle, which had both sides blaming the other for firing first and no way to know for certain who fired the first shot, ignited a war that spread around the world. With tensions rising between England and France, any event could have sparked Seven Years’ War that followed.

The Battle of Fort Necessity which followed soon after served as Washington’s first military loss. He was inexperienced in military matters which could only be gained through the experience of bitter warfare.

As was common with most British colonials in America, Washington did not speak or read French. There was almost no one in his militia who did, and none were fluent. When the French offered Washington a chance to surrender, he took it and spent several hours negotiating for the best terms he could get on a document written in French.

From National Park Services: Battle of Fort Necessity:

“One clause stated that Washington was guilty of the assassination of a French officer, Jumonville. He denied this. He said the translation he had been given was not "assassination", but "death of" or "killing." In any event, the French used this propaganda to great advantage in efforts to discredit the English.”

Washington would have never admitted to assassinating anyone, especially not a French diplomat. It was for the same reason he never would have attacked a French camp with a diplomat unless he had no idea a diplomat was there. It was a matter of honor.

Dinwiddie put Washington in an impossible position. Neither he nor the English government ever defended Washington’s honor when it came to being called an assassin by the French.

Dinwiddie took the insult to Washington’s honor one step further. When he wanted Washington to reform the militia, he offered him a lower rank. Washington took it as an insult.

From Mount Vernon, Washington and the French & Indian War:

“He hoped to appoint Virginians to regular, captains’ positions.  Washington did not want to serve at a lower rank than before, even if it came with a regular commission.”

The only ones who defended his honor were his fellow Virginians. Had Dinwiddie or England defended his honor, he most likely would have remained a loyalist. The important truth of his day was that colonials, like Washington, were looked down upon. It served as an important lesson that would lead to other turning points away from being a loyalist to revolutionary.

Bob Ryan is a writer who has an MBA. He is an American Christian Zionist who staunchly supports Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state. He has been a weekly blogger at the Times of Israel since 2019.


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