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Fayette County played important part in French and Indian War

| Wednesday, June 26, 2013, 8:10 a.m.
File Photo
Bryan Cunning, of Washington, Pa. portrays George Washington, during the 2012 Braddock's Crossing held on the banks of the Youghiogheny River.

Editor's note: This weekend, the Connellsville Area Historical Society will celebrate its 10th anniversary of its presentation of the Braddock's Crossing. The event highlights Gen. Edward Braddock's crossing of the Youghiogheny River. In recognition of this celebration, today we take a historical look at the French and Indian War and the local area's part in it.

When American colonials ambushed a small group of French Canadians and Indians at Jumonville Glen in May 1754, it was a dress rehearsal for the American Revolution.

The skirmish was initiated by a young soldier named George Washington, who had been promoted to lieutenant colonel by Virginia Gov. Robert Dinwiddie. Earlier, Dinwiddie had named Washington leader of an expedition to explore Pennsylvania's Ohio River valley, as the British-owned colonies wanted to expand westward over the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River.

The French — who controlled eastern Canada — wanted to keep the British out of the West. So did most Native Americans, who feared that English settlers would take over their land. The majority of those Indians joined forces with the French and taught them the art of “hide and shoot” guerrilla warfare.

On his way to the Ohio River valley, Washington learned that some Frenchmen were encamped near Great Meadows in the vicinity of today's Fayette County village of Farmington. Washington's soldiers surprised the group and several men were killed, including their leader, Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville.

Skirmish started a war

The skirmish “set the world on fire,” British historian Horace Walpole said.

France and England had fought many wars over the centuries; the tension in America was just the latest example. The Jumonville attack touched off a world war called the Seven Years War. It raged for nearly a decade in Europe, the Caribbean, India, the Philippines and in America, where it was called the French and Indian War.

The French avenged Jumonville's death by shellacking Washington's troops in July 1754 at “Fort Necessity,” a hastily built fort at Great Meadows. During that embarrassing defeat, Washington and the colonials suffered from “hide and shoot” Indian warfare. It was a lesson they wouldn't forget.

In the summer of 1755, Washington and frontiersman Daniel Boone were among those with British Gen. Edward Braddock when Braddock's army attempted to seize Fort Duquesne from the French, who were assisted by many Native Americans.

Braddock's defeat

The British and colonials were thrashed in a French and Indians ambush about 10 miles from Fort Duquesne. It didn't help that Braddock refused to allow his men to fight “Indian style.” More than 500 of his men were killed compared to the other side's 100 casualties, and Braddock himself was mortally wounded. The French maintained control of the fort until the British and colonials rallied to capture it in 1758. They renamed it Fort Pitt; today it is the site of Pittsburgh's Point State Park.

Hostilities between Britain and France ended when the Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763. France lost its North American colonies; England got Canada and the territory between the Appalachian Mountains and the Mississippi River.

After the war ended, there was a short-lived outburst of British/American pride. Those warm and fuzzy feelings ended abruptly, however, when King George III taxed the colonies to help pay England's war debt.

Many English were contemptuous of the American colonists, who they thought were unappreciative and disloyal to the Royal Crown.

Tensions mount

On the flip side, many colonists were hostile because British soldiers still loitered in American cities and towns after the war. Americans also resented the king's taxes — especially since colonists had no representation in England's parliamentary government.

Now that the French were defeated, colonists looked toward the western territories with longing. They were more interested in what was happening in America than in England.

The resentment that had simmered under the surface between America and Great Britain boiled over after the French and Indian War. Hostility intensified when King George III imposed more taxes and decreed that colonists must provide housing for British soldiers.

In March 1770, things turned violent when British Redcoats fired their muskets at an angry mob in Boston, killing five men and wounding six others. The Boston Massacre led to other colonial uprisings, including the Boston Tea Party in 1773, when Americans dressed as Indians dumped shiploads of tea into Boston harbor to protest England's tea tax.

As tensions mounted, the colonists convened a Continental Congress, seeking a solution. For the first time ever, leaders from 12 of the 13 colonies met face-to-face (Georgia officials were unable to attend).

English soldiers clashed with the colonial militia in Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, in April 1775, a skirmish that came to be known as “the shot heard ‘round the world.” Those two battles further unified the colonists, who increasingly wanted to be less dependent on Mother England.

On July 4, 1776, 56 members of the Second Continental Congress signed a Declaration of Independence that had been drafted by Thomas Jefferson of Virginia with input from John Adams and Roger Sherman of Massachusetts, Ben Franklin of Pennsylvania and Richard Livingston of New York.

George Washington of Virginia was selected commander of the Continental Army and its state militias. Seven long years later in 1783, England surrendered at the Battle of Yorktown.

Thus was the United States of America born — nearly 30 years after the aftermath of the French and Indian War.

Join the Connellsville Area Historical Society this weekend as it presents its annual Braddock's Crossing, depicting Braddock's crossing of the Youghiogheny.

Laura Szepesi is a freelance writer.

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