Independence Day is approaching us, which means I get to share stories about our founding fathers that I believe most Americans have either forgotten or never heard of before.
My past articles:
,What Does Freedom Mean – Explains the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, what our founders knew they were giving up when they signed that document and the inspiring story of Nathan Hale.
,The Black Robe Regiment – The name the British gave to the colonial preachers who helped fuel the fire of liberty in the colonies. I talk about the history of these famous pastors, along with three specific examples of how they influenced the founding of our great country.
,Founding Frenemies – The story about the great friendship & conflict of two of the most famous founders of our country. Both of them died on the same day, America’s 50th anniversary.
In this article, we will go over one of the most fascinating stories of the French & Indian War. Focusing on who would later become the “Father of the Nation”, the original Commander & Chief; George Washington
French and Indian War
When George Washington was 21 years old, he was a Major of the Virginia Regiment for the British.(1) The British were concerned about the French expanding into the Ohio Valley territory, of which the British would send young Washington to confront the French. His message from Governor Robert Dinwiddie was to demand the French leave the region and to stop harassing English traders.(1)
Washington left Williamsburg, Virginia in October of 1753 and arrived to meet the French Captain on December 11, 1753.(1) Washington delivered the French response back to the governor after 900 miles in two and a half winter months of dangerous travel. Their reply to the British was that the French King’s claim to the Ohio Valley was “incontestable.”(1) This event would lead to the start of the French and Indian War.
Battle of the Monongahela (Braddock’s Defeat)
In the spring of 1755, Major General Braddock had an army of 2,100 British and 500 colonial militia to set out from Virginia to advance upon the rough and densely wooded Allegheny Mountains to take the French stronghold at Fort Duquesne.(1) George Washington was among Braddock’s army as they reached the Monongahela River, which was about ten miles from Fort Duquesne. Braddock’s leading force of 1300 men was in a wooded ravine when suddenly attacked and defeated by a French and Native force (200 French, 600 Native) on July 9, 1755. This would become known as the Battle of Monongahela, or Braddock’s Defeat.
During the attack, most of the senior British officers, including General Braddock, were killed or severely wounded. During the battle, George Washington rode into the fray several times to re-establish some amount of order. During the fight Washington had two horses shot out from underneath him and his coat was pierced by four musket balls. Washington’s leadership allowed many of the soldiers to escape the battle. Despite the British having around 900 killed or wounded (French/Indian lost around 40), Washington would be labeled the “hero of Monongahela” by Virginia Governor Robert Dinwiddie and was given the rank of Colonel in command of the Virginia Regiment.(1)
Before this battle, Washington considered himself a military failure and was even contemplating retiring from the military and becoming a full-time farmer for life. Washington was considered a hero by General Braddock, and eventually the rest of the colonies, which gave him the confidence to continue his military (eventually political) career. Although Washington continued the effort of leading men in uniform, this would be his last official battle until he is made Commander in Chief of the Continental Army.
Washington (who is 23 at the time) had dysentery, causing pain and a high fever weeks before and during the battle. He was suffering from dysentery so severe, he had to put pillows on his saddle to be able to ride on horseback. For someone not being in the best shape for battle, Washington not only survived but thrived and saved many men because of his actions. The daunting question is, how did he survive?
The French and Indians targeted the ranking officers, as 63 out of 86 were killed or disabled. Every officer on horseback was taken out, except for Washington.
“… the Indians afterwards noted, ‘that they had especially noticed Washington’s bearing, and conspicuous figure, and repeatedly shot at him. But at length they became convinced that he was protected by an invisible power.’”
An Indian Chief who fought against him in that battle later traveled a long distance to meet Washington, whom he described as one who “cannot die in battle” because he was “under the protection of the Great Spirit.”(3)
Washington shortly after the battle wrote a letter to his brother because of news about his death, which did not occur. He writes,
“As I have heard; since my arrival at this place, a circumstantial account of my death and dying speech; I take this early opportunity of contradicting the first, and of assuring you, that I have not, as yet, composed the latter.—But, by the All-powerful Dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four Bullets through my Coat, and two Horses shot under me; yet escaped unhurt, altho[ugh] Death was leveling my Companions on every side of me!”(5)
Washington himself, some 30 years later, acknowledges to a biographer that he had shots not only through his coat but also his HAT!(2)
Washington’s survival is truly remarkable. He was extremely sick and had been for weeks. He rode up to the front lines to establish order when his horse was shot from under him. He ran back to grab a second horse to establish order again, only to have his second horse shot from under him. He then ran back to grab a third to establish order and military position and helped save countless men in the process. The French and Indians admitted to going after the higher-level officials, including Washington personally, and failed to take out the 23-year-old Washington. Let’s not forget Washington is 6’4″, compared to the average soldier at the time being around 5’6″. If you wanted to find Washington it was an easy task. At the end of it all, he wasn’t hurt but somehow had bullet holes through his clothes and hat.
Within months of the battle Samuel Davies, a well-respected preacher in Virginia and would later become the fourth president of Princeton, recorded in his sermon to his congregation,
“I beg leave to point the attention of the public to that heroic young Colonel Washington who cannot but hope, providence has preserved for some great service to this country.”(6)
Samuel Davies 1755 quote would end of being an understatement.
Facts about George Washington
George Washington was preserved in what would be the forming of the United States of America. Describing his importance to our nation is impossible, but let’s highlight some of the most impactful events.
He was a heavy political figure against the British before the Revolution. Opposing taxes imposed by the British on the Colonies without representation, and restricting Americans from settling further west which was done to protect the British fur Trade.(8)
In July 1774, Washington and George Mason drafted a list of resolutions for the Fairfax County committee which Washington chaired. The Committee would later call for a Continental Congress, which Washington would end up being a delegate of Virginia in the First Continental Congress.(8) During this time he was also training county militias in the Virginia colony.
The tension of War grew in 1775, and much of the colonists were divided on whether to separate from British rule or not. Washington left Mount Vernon to join the Continental Congress on May 4, 1775.(8)
On June 14, 1755, Samuel Adams and Johns Adams nominated George Washington to be Commander in Chief. He was considered an incisive leader who kept his “ambition in check”. He was unanimously elected as the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army the next day.
His leadership was necessary for the colonies to defeat the British. I simply do not have the space to go over his amazing war stories. Even more amazing, after they won the war, he resigned his commission at the end of 1783 after an amazing farewell address.
“I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my official life, by commending the interests of our dearest Country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping.“(8)
Washington gave his recommendations to Congress about the establishment of a standing army and state held militias. This action helped establish a civilian rule rather than a military rule.
Before returning to private life Washington called for a strong union. He claimed that the Articles of Confederation was “a rope of sand” linking the states. He believed the nation was on the verge of “anarchy and confusion“, was vulnerable to foreign intervention and that a national constitution would unify the states under a strong central government.(9)
After the war, he constantly had visitors coming to Mount Vernon to pay respects to Washington and his actions. Washington simply picked up the same projects he was working on before his 8.5 years as Commander in Chief. His estate lost money every year while at war, and did so until 1787.(8)
The nation was in the process of putting together a new constitution, just as Washington recommend. He was selected to lead the Virginian delegations, but he declined. He didn’t want to medal with civil affairs anymore because he didn’t want it to look like a military leader was taking over the nation. He was begged to attend just for his presence, thinking that the nation would take it seriously if Washington was simply at attendance.(8)
In 1787 the convention was held, and Benjamin Franklin nominated Washington (later unanimously elected) to oversee the convention, whose purpose was to put together a better solution than the current Articles of Confederation.(8)
After overseeing the convention which would put together what is still today’s Constitution, Washington was unanimously chosen as the nation’s first President against his wishes. He was the only president to receive a unanimous electoral college vote.(3) He was also unanimously selected for a second term. He stopped after two terms, which could have easily been a third term, to set an example to limit power to an individual.
His Farewell Address after his presidency is one of the greatest speeches of all time. In it he highlights several warnings to the nation, of which I will highlight a few.(11)
1) Unity is a “main pillar” of “real independence”. The most commanding motive is to preserve the “union of the whole.” Unity leads to greater strength, resources, and security and will help “avoid the necessity of . . . overgrown military establishments” and will be the main “prop of your liberty.”
2) Parties are “potent engines” that men will use to take over the “reins of government.” “discourage and restrain” the spirit of the party because it can lead to the absolute power of an individual. It creates “animosity of one part against another” which can lead to “riot and insurrection” and open the “door to foreign influence and corruption.“
3) Religion and morality are “indispensable supports” for “political prosperity.” The oaths in our courts would be useless without “the sense of religious obligation.” “Reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
4) On foreign policy, “The great rule of conduct for us” is “as little political connection as possible.” Exercising, “good faith and justice towards all nations.” We should fulfill obligations then stop. “Steer clear of permanent alliances with any portion of the foreign world.” However, we may have “temporary alliances, for extraordinary emergencies.”
Because of his significant influence, it is no surprise that Washington was lovingly titled by his contemporaries as the man who was “First in war, First in peace, First in the hearts of his countrymen.”(3)
It is my humble opinion, which I am only able to scratch the surface of, that George Washington is the most indispensable and important person in establishing what would be the greatest nation the world has ever known.
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1) “Ten Facts About George Washington and the French & Indian War.” George Washington’s Mount Vernon, www.mountvernon.org/george-washington/french-indian-war/ten-facts-about-george-washington-and-the-french-indian-war/.
2) Washington, George. Braddock’s Battlefield History Center, 1785. George Washington recounting the Battle of Monogahela to a biographer.
3) “Who Was Known as ‘First in War, First in Peace, First in the Hearts of His Countrymen’?” WallBuilders, 29 July 2017, wallbuilders.com/known-first-war-first-peace-first-hearts-countrymen/#_edn3.
4)“Ten Facts About George Washington.” WallBuilders, 3 July 2019, wallbuilders.com/ten-facts-about-george-washington/.
5) Washington, George. “Dear Brother.” Received by John Augustine Washington, Encyclopedia Virginia, 18 July 2016, www.encyclopediavirginia.org/Letter_from_George_Washington_to_John_Augustine_Washington_July_18_1755.
6) Davies, Samuel. “Religion & Patriotism the Constituents of a Good Soldier.” 17 Aug. 1755. A sermon to his congregation.
7) “History of the United States” by Emma Willard
8) Chernow 2010 Washington: A Life. Penguin Press. ISBN 978-1-59420-266-7.
9) Alden, John R. (1996). George Washington, a Biography. Louisiana State University Press. ISBN 978-0-8071-2126-9.
10) Elliot, Jonathan, ed. (1827). The Debates, Resolutions, and Other Proceedings, in Convention, on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution, Volume 4: Supplementary to the state Conventions.
11) “George Washington’s Farewell Address” WallBuilders, 29 December 2016, wallbuilders.com/george-washingtons-farewell-address/