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Washington inadvertently ignited the French and Indian War in 1754, when, while serving as a lieutenant colonel in the Virginia militia, he and a party of militiamen attacked a band of French troops. Baltimore Map Among those Frenchmen killed in the attack was Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, a French diplomat, carrying a message that ordered the English to abandon the Ohio Valley. Several months later, a larger French force captured Washington and his men; they forced him to sign a paper, written in French, stating that he had assassinated the French diplomat.

A 1779 portrait by Charles Willson Peale honors General George Washington and his victory at the Battle of Princeton. He wears a blue sash, designating his rank as commander in chief of the Continental army. (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia/Bridgeman Art Library) During the 1755 campaign, Washington accompanied British General Edward Braddock’s expedition against Fort Duquesne in modern-day Pennsylvania.

On July 9, he was present as a force of French soldiers and their native allies ambushed and devastated Braddock’s column. Washington performed well and survived the battle with his hide and reputation intact. Later in the war, he commanded the Virginia Regiment as a colonel, attempting to defend the Virginia frontier. He resigned in December 1758.

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