Joseph Coulon de Jumonville

Joseph Coulon de Jumonville

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Joseph Coulon de Villiers, Sieur de Jumonville (8 September 1718 – May 28, 1754) was a French Canadian
Canada, New France
Canada was the name of the French colony that once stretched along the St. Lawrence River; the other colonies of New France were Acadia, Louisiana and Newfoundland. Canada, the most developed colony of New France, was divided into three districts, each with its own government: Quebec,...

 military officer. His defeat and killing at the Battle of Jumonville Glen
Battle of Jumonville Glen
The Battle of Jumonville Glen, also known as the Jumonville affair, was the opening battle of the French and Indian War fought on May 28, 1754 near what is present-day Uniontown in Fayette County, Pennsylvania...

 by forces led by George Washington
George Washington
George Washington was the dominant military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1799. He led the American victory over Great Britain in the American Revolutionary War as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army from 1775 to 1783, and presided over the writing of...

 was one of the sparks igniting the Seven Years' War
Seven Years' War
The Seven Years' War was a global military war between 1756 and 1763, involving most of the great powers of the time and affecting Europe, North America, Central America, the West African coast, India, and the Philippines...


Early life

Jumonville was born in the seigneury of Verchères, New France
New France
New France was the area colonized by France in North America during a period beginning with the exploration of the Saint Lawrence River by Jacques Cartier in 1534 and ending with the cession of New France to Spain and Great Britain in 1763...

 (now part of Quebec
Quebec or is a province in east-central Canada. It is the only Canadian province with a predominantly French-speaking population and the only one whose sole official language is French at the provincial level....

), the son of Nicolas-Antoine Coulon de Villiers, a French military officer. He began service with the French military at age 15, in his father's unit.

He served in the army during several conflicts with native groups in the western Great Lakes
Great Lakes
The Great Lakes are a collection of freshwater lakes located in northeastern North America, on the Canada – United States border. Consisting of Lakes Superior, Michigan, Huron, Erie, and Ontario, they form the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth by total surface, coming in second by volume...

 region where he was stationed with his father and several of his brothers. His father and one of his brothers were killed at Baie-des-Puants (present Green Bay, Wisconsin
Green Bay, Wisconsin
Green Bay is a city in and the county seat of Brown County in the U.S. state of Wisconsin, located at the head of Green Bay, a sub-basin of Lake Michigan, at the mouth of the Fox River. It has an elevation of above sea level and is located north of Milwaukee. As of the 2010 United States Census,...

) in 1733 during a battle with the Fox tribe. In 1739, he served in Governor Bienville's abortive expedition against the Chickasaw nation. He was later promoted to Second Ensign and was stationed in Acadia
Acadia was the name given to lands in a portion of the French colonial empire of New France, in northeastern North America that included parts of eastern Quebec, the Maritime provinces, and modern-day Maine. At the end of the 16th century, France claimed territory stretching as far south as...

 during King George's War
King George's War
King George's War is the name given to the operations in North America that formed part of the War of the Austrian Succession . It was the third of the four French and Indian Wars. It took place primarily in the British provinces of New York, Massachusetts Bay, New Hampshire, and Nova Scotia...

 (as the North American theater of the War of the Austrian Succession
War of the Austrian Succession
The War of the Austrian Succession  – including King George's War in North America, the Anglo-Spanish War of Jenkins' Ear, and two of the three Silesian wars – involved most of the powers of Europe over the question of Maria Theresa's succession to the realms of the House of Habsburg.The...

 is sometimes called). In 1745 he married Marie-Anne-Marguerite Soumande of Montreal.

Battle of Jumonville Glen

In June 1754, Jumonville was posted to Fort Duquesne
Fort Duquesne
Fort Duquesne was a fort established by the French in 1754, at the junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers in what is now downtown Pittsburgh in the state of Pennsylvania....

 with his older half-brother, Louis Coulon de Villiers
Louis Coulon de Villiers
Sieur Louis Coulon de Villiers was a French Canadian military officer during the French and Indian War . Perhaps his greatest claim to fame is the fact that he is the only military opponent to force George Washington to surrender.Coulon was born into a prominent French Canadian family...

. The French were building up military strength in the Ohio Country
Ohio Country
The Ohio Country was the name used in the 18th century for the regions of North America west of the Appalachian Mountains and in the region of the upper Ohio River south of Lake Erie...

 in response to an increasing presence by British American traders and settlers.

On May 23, 1754, Jumonville took command of a 35 man detachment from the fort and headed southeast. The exact nature of Jumonville's mission has been the subject of considerable debate both at the time and up to the present day. Officially, his mission was to scout the area south of the fort. The French would later claim that he was a diplomat on a peaceful mission to deliver a message to the British. The British contended that he was sent to spy on their garrison at Fort Necessity and their road building project. Tanacharison, known as the Half King, the leader of a band of Mingos allied to the British, believed he was planning an ambush.

On May 27, 1754, a group of Native American scouts discovered Jumonville's party camped in a small valley (later called Jumonville Glen) near what is now Uniontown, Pennsylvania
Uniontown, Pennsylvania
Uniontown is a city in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, southeast of Pittsburgh and part of the Pittsburgh Metro Area. Population in 1900, 7,344; in 1910, 13,344; in 1920, 15,692; and in 1940, 21,819. The population was 10,372 at the 2010 census...

. Half King went to Washington and pleaded with him to attack the French encampment, claiming it was a hostile party sent to ambush them.

Washington took a detachment of about 40 men and marched all night in a driving rain arriving at the encampment at dawn. What happened next, like so much about the incident, is a matter of controversy. The British claimed the French discovered their approach and opened fire on them. The French claimed the British ambush
An ambush is a long-established military tactic, in which the aggressors take advantage of concealment and the element of surprise to attack an unsuspecting enemy from concealed positions, such as among dense underbrush or behind hilltops...

ed their encampment. In either event, the battle lasted little more than 15 minutes and was a complete British victory. Ten French soldiers were killed and 21 captured, including the wounded Jumonville.

Washington treated Jumonville as a prisoner of war
Prisoner of war
A prisoner of war or enemy prisoner of war is a person, whether civilian or combatant, who is held in custody by an enemy power during or immediately after an armed conflict...

 and extended him the customary courtesies due a captured military officer. Washington attempted to interrogate Jumonville but the language barrier made communication difficult. During their conversation however, the Half King walked up to Jumonville and without warning struck him in the head with a tomahawk
Tomahawk (axe)
A tomahawk is a type of axe native to North America, traditionally resembling a hatchet with a straight shaft. The name came into the English language in the 17th century as a transliteration of the Powhatan word.Tomahawks were general purpose tools used by Native Americans and European Colonials...

, killing him.

Why the Half King did this has never been clear. He had been kidnapped by the French and sold into slavery as a child. He claimed that the French had boiled and eaten his father. He was also a representative of the Iroquois Confederacy, which stood to lose its authority over other Indian peoples in the Ohio River Valley if the French were able to assert their control.

Other accounts state that de Jumonville was not in fact captured but was one of the first killed by Washington's expeditionary forces. Adam Stephen, a military officer who had accompanied Washington to the scene stated that Jumonville "was kill'd the first fire." No reference was made to Jumonville's having been captured and unsuccessfully interrogated by Colonel Washington. Also, it is unclear as to whether de Jumonville was dispatched by bullet or tomahawk. In his journal, George Washington stated that Half-King "was credited in certain quarters with having slain that officer [Jumonville] with his hatchet; but this was without any foundation in fact."

When word reached Fort Duquesne about the incident, Jumonville's half brother, Captain Coulon de Villiers, vowed revenge. He attacked Washington and the garrison at Fort Necessity
Battle of the Great Meadows
The Battle of Fort Necessity, or the Battle of the Great Meadows took place on July 3, 1754 in what is now the mountaintop hamlet of Farmington in Fayette County, Pennsylvania. The engagement was one of the first battles of the French and Indian War and George Washington's only military surrender...

 and forced them to surrender on July 3, 1754. In the surrender document, written in French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

, Coulon de Villiers inserted a clause describing Jumonville's death as an "assassination
To carry out an assassination is "to murder by a sudden and/or secret attack, often for political reasons." Alternatively, assassination may be defined as "the act of deliberately killing someone, especially a public figure, usually for hire or for political reasons."An assassination may be...


Washington was heavily criticized in Britain for the incident. British statesman Horace Walpole referred to the controversy surrounding Jumonville's death as the "Jumonville Affair" and described it as "a volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America [that] set the world on fire."

It was an incident, ignited by Washington, that would become a global war. Significantly, it began while both powers were at peace. It also began under very dubious circumstances.

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