“To Rendezvous at Fredericksburgh”: The Washington-Lewis Family, Fredericksburg, and the World War of 1754-1763: Part I

Editor’s Note: As the two-hundred-sixty-ninth anniversary of the skirmish of Jumonville Glen approaches this Sunday, May 28th, some recent and exciting discoveries have occurred at the battlefield.  The National Park Service (NPS) released an announcement this week stating that after a four-week archeological investigation, objects have been found to verify the location of the first skirmish, Jumonville Glen, of the French and Indian War.  Archeologists found a multitude of artifacts, including several eighteenth-century musket balls.    

Check out the links for more information:

NPS :Recent archaeology project uncovers first shots of the French and Indian War

Archaeological dig in Fayette confirms location of Jumonville Glen skirmish

Scientists find 1754 ballistics of first shots fired in French and Indian War

On to the the history…

Figure 1. Detail of a highly stylized depiction of Fredericksburg, VA by Fench soldier Georg Daniel Flohr, who visited in 1782. Despite the use of artistic license, the illustration conveys Flohr’s perception of the 18th Century town as a “rather large” port with “intense boat traffic.” Source: Account of the Land and Sea Expedition in America of the Acclaimed DeuxPonts Regiment from 1780 to 1784

Crowding out the fresh spring air of a wooded countryside, the acidic scent of aerosolized gunpowder began to sting the interior of a nervous 22-year-old’s nostrils. His ears rang from the shock of dozens of nearby explosions. Smoke clouded his vision, and sensory overload likely clouded his judgment. Soon-to-be-familiar sounds followed rapidly: scurried movement, intense chatter, and groans of agony. Yet, the inexperienced youth had to make decisions on behalf of the crowd around him. He found himself at the center of a new form of chaos: the opening volleys of a world war.

Lieutenant Colonel George Washington’s Virginia soldiers had just fired into a French military camp near the Monongahela River in western Pennsylvania at a moment (May 28th, 1754) when peace among European empires and Native American nations sat at a precarious equilibrium. Over the past several months, French forces had been busy erecting Fort Duquesne at the Forks of the Ohio River (the site of modern-day Pittsburgh, PA). Royal Governor Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia considered this commercially and strategically significant location part of the British Empire and sent Washington to the area to help re-establish British control. This was the context in which Washington’s Virginians and a party of Mingo warriors came upon the ill-fated French camp in a ravine soon to be known by the infamous moniker of “Jumonville’s Glen.”[1]

After the first shots rang out around the glen, things only got worse. Washington’s cocommander, Tannagrison (a Seneca politician leading the party of Mingos), summarily executed the French officer in command, Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villiers, Sieur de Jumonville, and events escalated from there. In fact, this frontier skirmish grew into a world war that would not only give rise to the North America of the Revolutionary Era, but would forever alter the power dynamics of entire globe. Consider the growth of the British Empire, two centuries of exploitation and resistance in India, the birth of the United States, the creation of independent republics in Latin America, the French Revolution, English colonization of Australia, the American Civil War, the Assassination of Archduke Ferdinand, the rise of the Axis Powers, the Vietnamese independence movements of the 20th Century, and even the
War on Terror. The conflict that Washington and Tannagrison started at Jumonville’s Glen, known as the“Seven Years’ War” or the “French and Indian War” (1754-1763), shaped all these events, along with countless others. And as residents of the Fredericksburg region, the Washingtons and Lewises sat at a crossroads of this worldwide upheaval.

As the 250th anniversary of American nationhood approaches, understanding the Seven Years’ War’s social, martial, and political context is perhaps more important than ever. In anticipation of future posts related to this subject, I hope what is below will introduce you to how the stories of those associated with Kenmore and Ferry Farm intertwined with the larger story of the war.

We’ll start with George. As an officer commissioned in the provincial (colonial) Virginia Regiment, George Washington not only helped initiate the Seven Years’ War but saw his first real military service at places like Fort Necessity or as a volunteer aid-de-camp in the ill-fated Braddock Expedition of 1755, where he nearly died during the famous British defeat at Battle of the Monongahela. Of course, historians have worn countless pens, pencils, and keyboards recording Washington’s involvement in the early stages of the war and documenting the future Commander-in-Chief’s first brushes with combat. However, George’s duties increasingly involved more independent responsibility after 1755. These events came on the heels of George’s formal relocation from his mother, Mary Washington’s, residence at Ferry Farm to his late half-brother’s estate at Mount Vernon.

The two years that followed George Washington’s more well-known deeds at the Monongahela produced circumstances similar to those he would contend with during the American War for Independence (1775-1783). Throughout 1756 and 1757, the Virginia Regiment had to defend a string of small, isolated forts along Virginia’s vulnerable frontier to the west of the Blue Ridge Mountains.[3] The task of managing poorly-supplied posts that stretched from Winchester, VA, to the vicinity of modern-day Martinsville, VA, presented George with the opportunity to develop three aspects of leadership that would define his work in future years: military administration over vast geographical territory, long-term strategic planning, and the sustaining of volunteer troops despite strained logistical resources.

Figure 2: a 1772 portrait Charles Wilson Peal depicting Washington in a uniform similar to those worn by officers of the Virginia Regiment Source:Washington and Lee University

During a tour of Virginia’s frontier forts, the “bad regulation of the militia; the disorderly proceedings of the Garrisons; and the unhappy circumstances of the Inhabitants” shocked the young officer.[4] Washington filled his correspondence of this era with phrases such as “inconceivable trouble” and “unhappy Juncture” as he recorded innumerable instances of paucity, civilian death, and desertion.[5]

Washington’s struggles continued into 1758 when the Virginia Regiment became involved in the Forbes Expedition, a laborious campaign that eventually resulted in the British capture of Fort Duquesne. Around that time, the needs of sick veterans of the past three years of fighting, marching, and garrison duty presented further challenges. None other than Fielding Lewis, a young Fredericksburg merchant and husband of George’s sister Betty, agreed to contract with his brother-in-law to provide for Virginia’s ill. That June, for instance, Lewis sent the material for 60 blankets to “Colo. Washington for the Country Dr.”[6]

Figure 3: View of reconstructed fortifications at Fort Ligonier, the centerpiece of the 1758 Battle of Loyalhanna, an important part of the Forbes Expedition. Source: Jeff Kubina via flickr

As a businessman with a growing family, Fielding Lewis must have had more reason than most to fear the potential adverse effects of world war upon his trans-Atlantic commercial ventures. However, as British fortunes began to change for the better, Lewis reaped the benefits of citizenship in a growing empire. Before the war’s end, he was conducting a lucrative speculation business at a fair in Fredericksburg.[7] Lewis’s success eventually provided the means to commission the construction of Historic Kenmore.

Figure 4: Detail of an 1845 illustration of Fredericksburg as seen from Ferry Farm, showing tall ships by the town’s wharves.. Fielding and his father John invested in several merchant vessels, the towering masts of which were once common parts of Fredericksbrug’s cityscape. Source: Internet Archive

Of course, learning about wealthy and influential men like Washington and Lewis is easy. However, countless individuals of all social standings played a part in the drama of the Seven Years’ War. Part II of this post will explore how those on the Homefront coped with world war and how the conflict transformed the community of Fredericksburg in ways still visible today.

Stay tuned.

Ethan Knick,

School and Youth Programs Manager

[1]David Lee Preston, Braddock’s Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution (Oxford University Press, 2015), 26-28.

Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 (Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, 2007), 18-23.

[2] Preston, Braddock’s Defeat, 28-29.

[3] George Washington, The Papers of George Washington: Colonial Series, vol. 4:November 1756 – October 1757, (University Press of Virginia, 1983).

George Washington, The Papers of George Washington: Colonial Series, vol. 5: October 1757-September 1758, (University Press of Virginia, 1983).

[4] George Washington, “Founders Online: From George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie, 9 November 1756” (University of Virginia Press), accessed February 7, 2023, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-04-02-0001-0001.

[5] George Washington, “Founders Online: From George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie, 11 July 1757” (University of Virginia Press), accessed February 2, 2023, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-04-02-0193.

[6] Fielding Lewis, “Founders Online: To George Washington from Fielding Lewis, 10 June 1758” (University of Virginia Press), accessed February 6, 2023, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-05-02-0154.

[7] Martha Saxton, The Widow Washington: The Life of Mary Washington (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2019), 192.

George Washington, “Founders Online: Cash Accounts, 1761” (University of Virginia Press), accessed January 30, 2023, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/02-07-02-0001.