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Washington in Western Pennsylvania: a timeline

Sunday, June 30, 2002

One practical and logical starting place from which to retrace the steps of George Washington is Pittsburgh's Point State Park. That's because two of his visits here, in 1753 and 1758, frame his adventures in the French and Indian War.

Here is a chronology of dates linking Washington and Western Pennsylvania:

Nov. 22, 1753: Washington, age 21, sets foot on the Point for the first time. He writes that it would make a fine site for the fort. He had been sent by Virginia's Lt. Gov. Robert Dinwiddie to warn the French to leave the Ohio Valley.

Dec. 27, 1753: Returning from an unsuccessful mission to the French Fort LeBoeuf, south of present-day Erie, Washington reports being shot at by an unfriendly Indian, possibly near present-day Harmony, Butler County.

Dec. 29, 1753: While crossing the icy Allegheny River with guide Christopher Gist, Washington is thrown into 10 feet of freezing water and almost drowns. He and Gist stay overnight on what is now Herrs Island.

May 27, 1754: Washington leads militia and Indian allies in a dawn attack on French soldiers encamped on Chestnut Ridge. The site, now called Jumonville Glen, is situated about five miles southeast of Uniontown. Great Britain and France are formally at peace, and the French call the assault "an unprovoked act of war."

July 3, 1754: Bent on revenge for the attack at Jumonville, a much larger force of French and Indians attack the 400 British soldiers and Colonial militia Washington had gathered in a wooden stockade and behind low stockade and breastworks he called Fort Necessity.

July 4, 1754: Washington is forced to surrender, but is allowed to return to Virginia with all but two officers, who remain as hostages.

May 1755: Washington becomes an aide-de-camp -- an unpaid executive assistant -- to British Gen. Edward Braddock. Braddock's orders are to take the French Fort Duquesne, which has been built at the Point.

July 9, 1755: Braddock's force of about 1,200 is attacked by 600 Indians and 300 French and Canadian soldiers. More than two-thirds of the British forces are killed or wounded, including Braddock himself. The remainder retreat to Chestnut Ridge.

July 16, 1755: Braddock is buried in the middle of the road his troops built through the Allegheny Mountains. Washington presides over the brief ceremony. The site is located about a mile from Fort Necessity, just off what is now Route 40.

Summer and fall, 1758: As the British make peace with many of the local tribes, General James Forbes begins his campaign -- this time traveling across Pennsylvania, rather than up from Maryland -- to capture Fort Duquesne.

Nov. 12, 1758: Virginia militia regiments led by now-Colonel Washington and by Lieutenant Colonel George Mercer mistake each other for the enemy near what is now Ligonier and commence firing. Two officers and 38 men are killed or wounded.

Nov. 24, 1758: Washington, age 26, returns to the Point and the smoking ruins of Fort Duquesne, which the French had burned and abandoned. The British General Forbes renames the settlement for British Secretary of State William Pitt.

Sources: "Crucible of War" by Fred Anderson; "George Washington in the Ohio Valley," edited by Hugh Cleland

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