The Military Empire

The Ohio Valley

Virginia Takes a Hand

Plan of Fort Duquesne in 1754

Caption: Plan of Fort Duquesne in 1754

The governor of Virginia, Robert Dinwiddie, was equally convinced that the Ohio Valley belonged to the king of England, and he took a dim view of the construction of all these forts. He therefore sent an ultimatum to Fort Le Boeuf, demanding that the garrison leave the area. The bearer of this message would one day become famous; it was George Washington. However, the ultimatum he delivered did not impress either Captain Saint-Pierre, who received it on December 11, 1753, or Governor Duquesne, who sent a large expedition of reinforcements to Ohio on February 3, 1754 under Claude Pécaudy de Contrecoeur. Arriving on April 16 at the junction of the Monongahela and Ohio rivers, Contrecoeur found a company of Virginian soldiers building a fort. He ordered them to withdraw immediately, which they did the next day. The French soldiers then continued to build the fort, which they named Fort Duquesne (today Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania) in honour of the governor general of New France.

Alarmed by events in Ohio, Governor Dinwiddie proposed energetic countermeasures: the construction of a fort on the Monongahela River, the mobilization of 800 militiamen for a few weeks, and the immediate raising of a provincial corps of 300 volunteers. He wanted nothing less than the eradication of French possessions in Ohio. However, the neighbouring colony of Pennsylvania was governed at the time by Quakers, a pacifist religious sect, and was the only one of the 13 American colonies not to have passed a law obliging men to serve in a militia. Its governor was authorized at most to enlist non-Quaker volunteers (who were paid, however, by the colony). In short, there was little hope of raising large forces there. Even Philadelphia did not have a regular garrison. However, Virginia was a large, prosperous colony with 27,000 militiamen. In February 1754, the legislative assembly approved the measures proposed by Dinwiddie. A Virginia regiment was rapidly formed, equipped, and supplied with red uniforms. Soon a detachment was en route for Ohio, its young colonel none other than George Washington.