William Crawford was a participant in several major historical events during his lifetime. One of those that had the greatest impact on the course of history was what it is sometimes referred to as the Battle of Jumonville Glen. It was not much a battle really, probably lasting less than 30 minutes. Nonetheless, it set off a chain of events thta resulted in a global war between Great Britain and France.
As with many of the major events in Crawford’s life, this one involved his friend and eventual business partner, George Washington. In April 1754, Washington set out for the Ohio Country from Winchester, Virginia with agroup of about 160 militia. Three months earlier, Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie had commissioned the 22-year old Washington as a Lieutenant Colonel in the colony’s militia, directed him to gather a force of volunteers, and take them north over the mountains into the Allegheny Plateau to counter French claims to the region. Specifically, Dinwiddie charged Washington to take possession of a small fort built by the Ohio Company on the Ohio River and hold it.
Washington had great difficulty assembling his small army of volunteers. Dinwiddie had ordered that the men come from the region around Winchester, but the young lieutenant colonel had little luck getting anyone to sign up for the job. So Washington switched his recruiting efforts to Alexandria, where he was better known. The results were far from satisfactory. With the arrival of spring, he had managed to recruit 134 men, but they were a sad lot whom Washington described as being “loose, idle persons that are quite destitute of house, and home.”
In March, he started moving his men to the Shenandoah Valley. Luckily, just as he was leaving, he learned that Adam Stephen, a physician and recent arrival from Scotland, had assembled a small militia company of 25 riflemen in Winchester. Washington wrote Stephen, directing him to prepare to join his small regiment, and told Dinwiddie on March 20 that, “I have given Captain Stephen orders to be in readiness to join us at Winchester with his company as they were already in that neighborhood—raised there.” Unknown to Washington, his former surveying partner, William Crawford, was a member of Stephen’s militia company. Once Governor Dinwiddie issued his February 19 proclamation, both William and his brother, Valentine, enlisted in the king’s service, likely in hopes of later receiving part of the 200,000 acre land grant Dinwiddie had promised to the volunteers.
Once the entire regiment was assembled in Winchester, they began the march north. However, just a few days into the expedition, Washington learned that a force nearly 1,000 French troops had seized the Ohio Company’s fort. Nonetheless, after consulting with his officers, Washington elected to continue marching north. Along the way, he made an important alliance with Tanaghrisson of the Seneca, known to the British as “Half King.” Tanaghrisson was a viceroy of the Iroquois Confederation appointed to oversee its people in the Ohio Country and Allegheny Plateau. Washington had previously met the Seneca viceroy on an earlier mission when Dinwiddie sent Washington to deliver a message to the French demanding their departure from the region.
The critical event this essay focuses on occurred weeks later when Washington had made a final encampment at a large open spot in the forest called Great Meadows, about 25 miles from the Ohio River (near present-day Farmington, Pennsylvania). On May 27. Washington received a message from frontiersman Christopher Gist that a group of 50 French soldiers who were had arrived at Gist’s small settlement north of Great Meadows.
However, that night, Washington received another message from Tanaghrisson. In it, he told Washington that his warriors had discovered the tracks of two men near the Seneca’s current encampment, only a few hours’ march from Great Meadows. After following the tracks, the warriors came upon a French camp. After receiving this message, Washington immediately sprang into action by placing a heavy guard on the camp at Great Meadows. Next, he assembled a small force of 40 men (including William Crawford and the rest of Adam Stephen’s company) to accompany him as he set out to discuss the situation with his Seneca ally.
When Washington and his men arrived at the Seneca camp in the early morning hours of May 28, he consulted with Tanaghrisson, and the two leaders decided to join forces and attack the French camp. Given that there was no state of war between Great Britain and France, Washington had made a remarkable decision. Yet, given Washington’s ambitions and youth, perhaps this was not very surprising. Once Dinwiddie made him an officer in the colonial militia, Washington began to yearn for a royal commission, believing that a career in His Majesty’s army might be his destiny. He apparently believed that making an assault on the French might help achieve that goal. While Governor Dinwiddie had planted the explosives for war between the two empires through his demands to the French; young Lieutenant Colonel Washington was now about to light the fuse.