Soon after Washington's commission in the Virginia militia, he was appointed by Governor Robert Dinwiddie to deliver a message to French troops occupying the Ohio River Valley. Despite English claims to the land, the French were building forts and making alliances with local Indian nations. The British king had granted much of this land to a group of speculators that included Dinwiddie. Eager to protect their claims, these men convinced the king that the French must be removed. He ordered a message to be sent to the French; Washington was to be the messenger.
Washington left Mount Vernon in November of 1753 with a small group of frontiersmen and traveled into the Ohio Valley. He traveled almost all the way to Lake Erie to find a French soldier willing to officially accept his message from the British king. After many weeks of travel he finally delivered his message: leave the Ohio Valley or face the wrath of Britain. Not surprisingly, the French rejected Britain's demand. His mission accomplished, Washington began the long journey home in the dead of winter. Troubled by brutal weather, Indian attacks and river ice, Washington barely made it back to home.
Upon his return, Washington published the news of his journey. This caused a stir among Virginians, who demanded the government do something about the French threat. In response, Dinwiddie appointed Washington to lead 150 troops back into the Ohio Valley. Now a colonel, Washington planned to occupy the area where the Allegheny and the Monongahela Rivers meet to form the Ohio River. This place, known as the Forks of the Ohio, controlled access to a large chunk of the Ohio Valley. En route to the Forks, Washington learned that the French had already built a fort there, which they called Fort Duquesne. It was manned by over a thousand French troops, against whom Washington's 150 men had no hope of victory.
Washington marched on, building Fort Necessity about fifty miles from the Forks of the Ohio. On May 28, he surprised a group of French soldiers at a place called Great Meadows. A battle broke out, and ten French soldiers were killed. The captured survivors insisted that they had been on a peaceful diplomatic mission, just like Washington had the previous year. News of his action spread to Fort Duquesne, and soon the French came to even the score. Washington retreated to Fort Necessity and prepared to fight. The French came, and after a long battle on July 7, Washington was forced to surrender. He and his soldiers were released by the French, but not until they had tricked Washington (who didn't speak French and could not read the document) into signing a "confession" that he had murdered French diplomats. The chain of events sparked by Washington's attack and defeat would eventually lead Britain and France to war in the French and Indian War, which was to be the bloodiest war of the entire eighteenth century.
The British government responded by sending two regiments of the regular British Army, commanded by General Braddock, to dislodge the French from Fort Duquesne. Washington accompanied Braddock as an aide. Braddock's force numbered 2500 troops and should easily have defeated the French. Instead, Braddock's forces were surprised and defeated by the French on July 9, 1755. Braddock and most of his officers were killed in the attack while the army fled in terror. Washington led the retreat. Braddock's Defeat (as the battle came to be known) stunned and humiliated the British, but Washington's role in the battle won him fame and honor among Virginians.
Governor Dinwiddie rewarded Washington by re-appointing him commander of the Virginia militia. He was ordered to defend the frontier, which was over 350 miles long. He suffered from a lack of supplies, untrained soldiers, and constant surprise attacks from the Indians whose land was being taken by British settlers. In these frontier skirmishes Washington seldom won an outright victory, but he gained experience that would prove important in the Revolutionary War.