In the 1750s, the inhabitants of the royal colony of Virginia cast wary eyes over the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains to the Ohio Country. A rival European power, France could be seen encroaching on what the royal governor, Robert Dinwiddie, considered to be Virginia’s territory, so he sent a detachment of troops under the command of a 22- year-old lieutenant colonel to harry the intruders out of the land. As a result, the first shots of the French and Indian War were fired, and the young officer presided helplessly over a scene of butchery that he later tried hard to hide.
On May 28, 1754, the Virginians, who were allied with an Indian band led by Chief Tanacharison, came upon 32 French soldiers encamped in a forest glen. The Frenchmen, after an initial exchange of gunfire, threw down their weapons and tried to surrender. Their leader, Monsieur De Jumonville, tried to explain that they had come to negotiate, not fight. While he was talking, Tanacharison slipped up behind him and struck him in the head with a hatchet, splitting his skull. The chief’s followers took that as a sign to exact the proverbial pound of flesh from their enemies.
The Indians fell on the wounded French soldiers and scalped them all, after which they decapitated one and stuck his head on a stake. Then came the high point of the carnage. Chief Tanacharison walked over to Jumonville’s body and pried his skull apart. He then pulled out the Frenchman’s brain and washed his hands in the mixture of blood and tissue. All the while the stunned young Virginian in charge sat helplessly on his horse and did nothing.
When the rampage was over and the youthful commander wrote out his report, he hid the real horror of the encounter by making it as antiseptic as possible. “…we killed 10, wounded one and took 21 prisoners,” he wrote. “Amongst those that were killed was Monsieur De Jumonville.” There was no mention of the atrocities committed by his Indian allies...