A few dozen men were killed in the battle at Jumonville Glen in 1754, after then-Colonel George Washington led an ambush against the French. But the conflict that began as a result of that battle marked a turning point in the relations between Great Britain and France, sparking a war that spanned Europe and the colonies in the New World, and claimed as many as 1.4 million lives. The Seven Years’ War, despite the name, lasted nine years and contributed to the start of the American War of Independence some 20 years later. And yet the tragic battle often blamed for starting the long war is surprisingly little-known.
In the mid-18th century, as early American colonists began to move west into and over the Appalachia Mountains, it was inevitable that they would come into conflict with the French and Canadians who laid claim to the land. Both sides wanted to control the area around what is now Pittsburgh and the Ohio River. In 1754, Colonel George Washington, at the time just 21 years old, was stationed in the area to protect a fort under construction,Fort Necessity, when exactly this happened.
On May 27, Washington and 40 of his men began a night march to confront the French and learn their intentions. The group easily surrounded the unsuspecting French, who were camped under a rock escarpment. The battle officially took place the next day. Who fired first is a matter of dispute, but after about 15 minutes of combat, 15 Frenchmen lay dead and those retreating were captured by Native Americans, including the commander, Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, a French-Canadian officer who captured and killed with a tomahawk. That act would come back to haunt Washington and in turn propelled the Seven Years’ War.
The glen area itself hasn’t changed much since the battle. The forest and the rock formations that made up the French campsite are virtually unchanged. Visitors are few, as getting there requires a specific trip. Still, the site marks an area of incredibly important but often forgotten history.