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 military officer. His defeat and killing at the Battle of Jumonville Glen by forces led by George Washington, was one of the sparks that ignited the Seven Years' War, known as the French and Indian War on the North American front.

Early life[edit]

Jumonville was born in the seigneury of Verchères, New France (now part of Quebec), 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 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) 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 during King George's War (as the North American theater of the War of the Austrian Succession is sometimes called). In 1745 he married Marie-Anne-Marguerite Soumande of Montreal.

Battle of Jumonville Glen[edit]

In June 1754, Jumonville was posted to Fort Duquesne with his older half-brother, Louis Coulon de Villiers. The French were building up military strength, much of it Amerindian recruitment[a][1] in the disputed territory of the Ohio Country in response to an increasing presence by British American traders and settlers.[b]

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 and the leader of a band of new[c] Iroquoian peoples allied to the British, the Mingos, 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. 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 ambushed 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 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, 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.[3]

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 killed the first fire." No reference was made to Jumonville's having been captured and unsuccessfully interrogated by Colonel Washington.[4] Also, it is unclear as to whether de Jumonville was dispatched by bullet or tomahawk. In his footnotes added to Washington's journal in 1893, J.M. Toner 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." [5]

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 and forced them to surrender on July 3, 1754. In the surrender document, written in French, Coulon de Villiers inserted a clause describing Jumonville's death as an "assassination".[6]

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."[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The editors of the American Book of Indians point out:
    "Some, maybe many,escaped from the long nightmare to the intact tribes beyond the [colonies'] borders; the Narraganset went to Maine and turn [into] Abnaki by the hundreds, maybe thousands, after King Philip's War; and the parade of Tuscarora plodding north to [join] the Iroquois took 100 years to pass.
     But one after the other of the intact tribes marched to destruction in their turn in the major colonial wars from 1689 to 1763, echoes for the most part of European wars between France and England, but in America, fought on the American plan, with as much use as possible of Indian allies.
    As covered elsewhere in the work, the date range is really from before the 1610s (i.e. First Contacts—Champlain made mortal enemies of the Iroquois in 1608 aiding a Huron and Algonkian war party against the Mohawk nation.[1]) for many years, colonial governments in New England and Virginia went to war alongside Indian war parties, lending their allied tribes use of firearms or military forces while Indians settled old scores with rival tribes.[1]
    The encyclopedia also points out such wars before rarely resulted in great loss of life and wholesale displacement of women and children or destruction of crops and villages theretofore, but white contact and fire power created a cultural shift,[1] instead of a resolution under smoking a peace-pipe setting terms of a subjugation and tributes from a defeated tribe, now North America seethed under a succession of blood baths that often included genocide[1] as events escalated into wars of revenge, with each round giving more cause for revenge for the next round—the whole process leading to wars of conquest and extermination, rippling westwards ahead of white-vs.-Indian frontier conflicts as a separate frontier preceding the later migration of Europeans.[1]
  2. ^ After the end of the French and Indian War, the British Crown acted repressively to prevent most trans-Allegheny settlement, including arresting pioneers and forcibly returning families back to the east. The very passage of the act was a causus belli among the colonies' less propertied classes, and many considered the act a betrayal, as opposed to the service or support they'd provided to the British Crown during the war just ended.[2]
  3. ^ During the so called Beaver Wars, internecine wars for territory and displacement, unusual in character theretofore in Indian cultures, developed as Amerindian tribes realized they could acquire firearms for Beaver pelts.[1] Multiple tribes fell during the many decades of near continual war, including five culturally related Iroquoian peoples to the Five Nations of the Iroquois, who did most of the final conquering. The Iroquoian religious beliefs created a strong pattern of adopting conquered tribal members into their own nations, so many Susquehannock, Erie, Werno, Neutral or Tabacco peoples finished the eighteenth century as part of the economic and military might of the Iroquois.
    In the next 7–8 decades, many remnants of these tribes drifted to the nearly empty lands of present-day western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio where surviving groups joined with bands of Seneca creating the new Mingo people.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Editor: Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., by The editors of American Heritage Magazine (1961). "The American Heritage Book of Indians". In page 197 (ed.). ,. American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc. LCCN 61-14871. (Grouped with Notes. See note immediately preceding)CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link) CS1 maint: Extra text: authors list (link)
  2. ^ The American Heritage Book of Indians, discussion point.
  3. ^ For a detailed discussion, see Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America 1754-1766 (2001).
  4. ^ Stephen, Adam. "The Ohio Expedition of 1754"
  5. ^ Toner, J.M., "The Journal of Colonel Washington" p.37
  6. ^ Articles of Capitulation at Fort Necessity Fort Necessity National Battlefield Museum.
  7. ^ Bradley, A. G. The Fight with France for North America. London: Constable, 1908, p.68.

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