Witness a leader rise
Journey back to the 1750s when a young George Washington found himself center stage at the start of the first world war, to a time when he wished to be a British officer as he fought alongside future adversaries to expel the French from North America. Discover the events at Fort Ligonier that haunted him for the rest of his life, and how his first war led to the American Revolution. See extraordinarily rare treasures that marked his legacy.
A handwritten recollection of his years on the Pennsylvania frontier, known as the “Remarks,” was written by George Washington around 1787. He wrote it for his friend and biographer, David Humphreys, who requested that Washington share his memories as a young officer in the French and Indian War.
The “Remarks” are a rare glimpse into the mind of Washington, who refers to himself as “G.W.” throughout the document. His memories are recorded as a raw stream of consciousness, with notes added in the margins when another memory was sparked through his reminiscence.
At the end of the document, Washington gave specific instructions that, “after Colo. Humphreys has extracted what he shall judge necessary…that the whole of what is here contained may be returned to G.W., or committed to the flames.” Humphreys disobeyed these orders thus preserving this important document for posterity.
The Washington Lafayette Pistols
The Marquis de Lafayette presented this pair of saddle pistols to George Washington during the Revolutionary War. Washington is said to have carried them while commander-in-chief of the Continental army at Valley Forge, Monmouth, and Yorktown. He also likely had them during the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania in 1794. The pistols are an extraordinary symbol of the important relationship between Washington and Lafayette and the vital French support of the American Revolution.
Washington cherished the pistols until his death in 1799. Later, the weapons were given to General Andrew Jackson, who called them “sacred and holy relics” and prized them throughout his presidency. Upon his death, Jackson bequeathed them back to the Lafayette family.
The History Behind the Exhibit
On November 12, 1758, one day after Forbes had made the decision to wait until spring to pursue Fort Duquesne, a small raiding party of around 40 French marines with 100-200 American Indian allies went after horses and cattle at the Post at Loyalhanna. The raid, like that of October 12th, was designed to slow down Forbes's army.
The raiders were pursued by around 500 Virginians under Colonel George Mercer. Colonel George Washington was sent with an equal number of Virginians to surround the enemy. Instead of engaging the enemy, the Virginians collided with each other. The setting sun, forested terrain, and emerging fog only added to the confusion. Realizing their mistake, several officers bravely ran down the line of fire to stop the firefight. It was a devastating instance of friendly fire.
Despite the horror of friendly fire, Washington’s troops managed to capture three French prisoners. One of them, Richard Johnson, a captive of the Delaware from Pennsylvania who fought for the French, provided information about the weak state of Fort Duquesne. The numbers of soldiers and American Indian allies were low and supplies dwindled. Forbes immediately reversed his decision from the day before and prepared to strike Fort Duquesne.
The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1763, ending the global Seven Years’ War. It was the most expensive war to date and left Great Britain in debt. It also expanded the British Empire in North America to include Canada, Florida, and lands westward to the Mississippi River. This vast new territory required military protection, an additional expense for Parliament.
To pay for the cost of the Seven Years’ War, Great Britain’s leaders looked to their already overtaxed mainland citizens. But they still had the expense of defending new territory in British North America. Their solution? Tax the colonists. Many colonists did not agree with taxation without representation in Parliament and were wary of a standing army in North America. In the decade following the end of the Seven Years’ War, revolutionary sentiment spread throughout the colonies.
In 1775, George Washington accepted command of the Continental army. He had gone from fighting with the British against the French, to now leading an army against the British, and he needed help from his former adversary, France, to be successful.