In the early 1750s, France and Britain were at peace. However, the French military had begun occupying much of the Ohio Valley, protecting the King's land interests and fur trappers and French settlers. But the border lands of this area were unclear and prone to dispute between the two countries. Washington showed early signs of natural leadership and shortly after Lawrence's death, Virginia's Lieutenant Governor, Robert Dinwiddie, appointed Washington adjutant with a rank of major in the Virginia militia.
On October 31, 1753, Dinwiddie sent Washington
to Fort LeBoeuf, at what is now Waterford, Pennsylvania, to warn the
French to remove themselves from land claimed by Britain. The French
politely refused and Washington made a hasty ride back to Williamsburg,
Virginia's colonial capitol. Dinwiddie sent Washington back with troops
and they set up a post at Great Meadows. Washington's small force
attacked a French post at Fort Duquesne killing the commander, Coulon de
Jumonville, and nine others and taking the rest prisoners. The French
and Indian War had begun.
The French counter attacked and drove
Washington and his men back to his post at Great Meadows (later named
"Fort Necessity.") After a full day siege, Washington surrendered and
was soon released and returned to Williamsburg, promising not to build
another fort on the Ohio River. Though a little embarrassed at being
captured, he was grateful to receive the thanks from the House of
Burgesses and see his name mentioned in the London gazettes.
was given the honorary rank of colonel and joined British General
Edward Braddock's army in Virginia in 1755. The British had devised a
plan for a three-prong assault on French forces attacking Fort Duquesne,
Fort Niagara and Crown Point. During the encounter, the French and
their Indian allies ambushed Braddock, who was mortally wounded.
Washington escaped injury with four bullet holes in his cloak and two
horses shot out from under him.
Though he fought bravely, he
could do little to turn back the rout and led the broken army back to
safety. In August, 1755, Washington was made commander of all Virginia
troops at age 23. He was sent to the frontier to patrol and protect
nearly 400 miles of border with some 700 ill-disciplined colonial troops
and a Virginia colonial legislature unwilling to support him. It was a
frustrating assignment. His health failed in the closing months of 1757
and he was sent home with dysentery.
In 1758, Washington returned
to duty on another expedition to capture Fort Duquesne. A friendly fire
incident took place killing 14 and wounding 26 of Washington's men.
However, the British were able to score a major victory, capturing Fort
Duquesne and control the Ohio Valley. Washington retired from his
Virginia regiment in December 1758. His experience during the war was
generally frustrating, with decisions made excessively slow, poor
support from the colonial legislature, and poorly trained recruits.
Washington applied for a commission with the British Army but was turned
down. In December 1758, he resigned his commission and returned to
Mount Vernon disillusioned.
A month after leaving the army,
Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, a widow, who was only a few
months older than he. Martha brought to the marriage a considerable
fortune: an 18,000-acre estate, from which George personally acquired
6,000 acres. With this and land he was granted for his military service,
Washington became one of the more wealthy landowners in Virginia. The
marriage also brought Martha's two young children, John (Jacky) and
Martha (Patsy), ages 6 and 4, respectively. Washington lavished great
affection on both of them, and was heartbroken when Patsy died just
before the Revolution. Jacky died during the Revolution, and George
adopted two of his children.
From his retirement from the
Virginia militia until the start of the Revolution, George Washington
devoted himself to the care and development of his land holdings,
attending the rotation of crops, managing livestock and keeping up with
the latest scientific advances. He loved the landed gentry's life of
horseback riding, fox hunts, fishing, and cotillions. He worked six days
a week, often taking off his coat and performing manual labor with his
workers. He was an innovative and responsible landowner, breeding cattle
and horses and tending to his fruit orchards. While he kept over 100
slaves, he was said to dislike the institution, but accepted the fact
that slavery was the law. He also entered politics and was elected to
Virginia's House of Burgesses in 1758.