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Campus News

November 22, 2021

Washington's Fort Le Boeuf mission explored

Future president played a role in lead-up to French and Indian War

Most people remember George Washington as "the man, the myth and the legend that he is today," observed Dr. Emily Kasecamp during her Joan Crawford Lecture Series presentation Wednesday night at Garrett College. Dr. Kasecamp, however, examined a much younger Washington's mission to Fort Le Boeuf in her presentation, entitled "Washington's Road of 1753: A British, American, and Native American Enterprise".

Dr. Kasecamp explored the background and ambitions of colonial land speculation companies, the British Crown, and indigenous populations, which were "negotiating what the British Empire would look like." She also examined the French claims to the Ohio Valley, which led to Major Washington's mission to Fort Le Boeuf – ostensibly to deliver a letter from Virginia's governor demanding French withdrawal, but also to complete a reconnaissance mission.

Fort Le Boeuf was one of a series of posts built by the French in 1753 and 1754 to assert their possession of the Ohio Valley. Virginia Governor Robert Dinwiddie sent Washington, with a team of escorts, to Fort Le Boeuf.

Fortunately for Washington, the team included Christopher Gist – described by Dr. Kasecamp as "a heavy-hitting Ohio Valley diplomat" – and "Half-King" Tanacharison, a key Iroquois diplomat. Gist's frontier skills were put to use when he pulled the future president out of the freezing Allegheny River after Washington had fallen off a makeshift raft.

Dr. Kasecamp said Washington's trip followed years of negotiations between the Ohio Company of Virginia, various segments of the British government, and indigenous populations regarding development of colonial America. France's belated claim provided a new challenge for this venture, resulting in the Washington mission to Fort Le Boeuf.

After delivering the letter – and receiving French Commander Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre's rejection of Dinwiddie's demands – Washington conducted reconnaissance of the Fort and a survey of the area.

"Washington's expedition to Fort Le Boeuf has been viewed traditionally as the origins of the [French and Indian] War," noted Dr. Kasecamp, adding that Washington would resurface in both victory (Battle of Jumonville Glen) and defeat (Battle of Fort Necessity), and of course emerge as commander-in-chief of all American forces in the revolution.

A Western Maryland native, Dr. Kasecamp has taught history, political science, and interdisciplinary classes at Garrett College, Potomac State College and her alma mater, Frostburg State University. She completed her master's degree in history at West Virginia University and her doctorate at Kent State University.

Dr. Kasecamp's presentation completed the three fall 2021 semester lectures in the Joan Crawford Lecture Series. Dr. Ryan Harrod, GC's chief academic officer, kicked off the series with "Hard Labor and Hostile Encounters: Chinese Immigrants and the Transcontinental Railroad." Retired Garrett College Professor Beth Lauers presented "Hitler's Wrath, When Hatred Takes Root" in the lecture series' second event of the year.