The Jumonville Massacre: A “Savannah of Williamsburg” Book IV Excerpt

Today marks the 260th anniversary of the Jumonville Massacre. It also marks nearly as many years gone by since my pally, author Jennifer Susannah Devore, started writing Book IV in her Savannah of Williamsburg Series. Folks, she tells me this one is the most difficult one yet to scribe. Not only is this period of Colonial American history intricately spiderwebbed with FFV (First Families of Virginia: the Fairfaxes, the Randolphs, the Carters, the Byrds, the Washingtons et al) and all manner of their ensuing drama and personal conflicts, but 1754 is also a period of exponential growth in commerce, communication and westward expansion.

As Book IV in the planned, six-book, pre-Revolutionary series running 1705-1776, it also serves as a slight pivot wherein, like true colonials of the formative years of mid-18thC. America, characters begin to see varying ideals of life across the sea from The Crown. Whether royal power is dispensed via greedy royal governors like Gov. Robert Dinwiddie, or faceless judges of the Privy Council back in London, personal opinions and political ideologies are being formed. This is an arduous road to take with characters whom have always been only the very best of friends with little to worry about than fishing conditions on the James River, which bottle of wine to take to a hostess and whether or not a pink or a green hat should be worn for a spring garden party. Such is life, though. Folks grow up and, sometimes, especially during great turning points in history, disagree. Yes?

Savannah of Williamsburg's Master Dante Marcus Pritchen. Artwork/copyright: KIM, LLC
Savannah of Williamsburg’s Master Dante Marcus Pritchen. Artwork/copyright: KIM, LLC

History’s account of the Jumonville Massacre is whitewashed and glossed over so much so that it has come to be known romantically as the Jumonville Affair, to Americans and British anyway. Even the National Park Service (as the massacre occurred near what would become Fort Necessity, what is now in the Farmington, PA-area, and is now a national park) labels it “The Skirmish”. One particular “history” book describes the massacre as “A second expedition in 1754 led to bloodshed.” Jumonville is most oft characterized by one or two sentences with an airy flip of the wrist that says, “who knows what really happened?”. I do, and so does Savannah of Williamsburg. To be fair, PBS, as one might expect, has approached it with honesty and scholarship via their phenomenal series The War That Made America.

Jumonville is a deep, dark scar in our shared history, masked by the thick makeup of time. 22-year old George Washington’s first step onto the military stage is tripped by deceit, gullibility, naivete, youth, ambition and manipulation. Washington is played by not only those he thought confidants, but also his own vigorous itch to reach the next echelon of the gentry’s intimate infrastructure. The French have a different recounting of the Jumonville “affair”, of the slaughter in the woods; this is the tale I, and Our Dante Marcus Pritchen, intend to tell in Savannah of Williamsburg: Washington’s Folly and The French & Indian War, Virginia 1754.

So, for all you history geeks out there, as Book IV is still far from the publishing stage, Miss Jenny proffers the following excerpt to her long-suffering, long-patient readers waiting for the next title in the Savannah of Williamsburg Series of Books.

Excerpt from Savannah of Williamsburg: Washington’s Folly and The French & Indian War, Virginia 1754

by Jennifer Susannah Devore.

 

“Do you hear the owl, Ensign Jumonville?” Officer Druillong, though not superstitious, was aware his men might be less than rational about such things. “The men, they are sometimes wary of such omens,” he smiled.

L’hibou? The owl? Oui, je l’ecoute. I hear it. Not to worry. It is merely an owl. Crows are bad luck, magpies are bad luck, corvids are bad luck. I do not believe the owl brings bad luck. Maybe in America, though? You know a bit of the American culture, M’sieur Laforce.” he turned to his his other officer and compatriot. “Is the owl a harbinger of evil, here in America?”

“I do not think so, universally, Joseph.” He held up an index finger and added, “Although, I do know of a superstitious saying that comes from the British colonies in the South. From South Carolina, I think. I learn this from a trapper I once meet in Montreal; he learned this from a fur buyer for a French family in Charleston.” LaForce cleared his throat and looked upward for a moment, remembering the recitation properly.

When you hear the screech owl, honey, in the sweet gum tree, it’s a sign as sure as you’re born a death is bound to be,” he recited in his thick, French accent and ended with a bit of a chuckle, amused by the Southrons and their provincial ways.

Still, nobody else laughed or chuckled here in the officers’ tent; the misty, rain-soaked morning was just a little too creepy. All three officers then looked to the trees, set their cafes back on the wooden cabaret-tray, on top of the leather-trimmed trunk, and placed preparatory hands on their own firearms as a chill suddenly skittered up each man’s spine. Seeing nothing out of order, each man went back to his early-morning business, in silence, and ignored the hoots of M’sieur Owl. On the other side of the camp, cadets Remy St. Raphael and Xavier Moreau de Poirot went back to attending their cartridges and keeping a sharp eye for anything out of place.

Up on the cliffs, overlooking the glen, Washington stood anxiously, a young man, barely out of boyhood and ready for action. He looked back and forth amongst his Virginia militia. They looked ready, yet unsteady. These men were not trained for this; they were farmers, William & Mary dropouts and shopkeeps, not professional soldiers. It was akin to sending volunteer firemen into the raging mouth of a forest fire. Washington then turned his gaze to the troops with whom he shared this campaign: the British regulars, the professionals.

Captain Stephen’s men, about twenty in count, had arrived as silently as Tanaghrisson’s warriors and placed themselves just west of the glen, flanking the pit where the French obliviously set about their morning routine. Washington’s men had come up from the south, whilst the Indians were everywhere, and nowhere, all at once. As he squatted behind a rock, keeping his lithe, 6’2″ frame hidden from the French, Washington watched the contrasts between his Virginians and Stephen’s regulars. That was where he really wanted to be, in charge of a proper British army. This Virginia militia business was okay for a bit; but it wasn’t the stuff of gentlemen. Royal officers were gentlemen. Colonial lieutenants were simply chief rabble-rousers. Of course, he could have joined the Royal Navy straight away. Alas, there would be little to no opportunity to rise within those ranks. He may have had family connections; but so did every young man of note on either side of the Atlantic and they all wanted to be naval officers. Few wanted to rough the wilds of the colonies. If Washington could move along the French, secure some prime property with Governor Dinwiddie and the other Ohio Company landowners, he’d be certain to receive a commendation, a promotion and a grand step up the social ladder. He just needed to get through today.

Long ago young Washington lost sight of his Indians: the savviest group of this military triad, at least where the deep woods were concerned. Their numbers were small, maybe only ten, but a powerful ten they were. The Seneca, Iroquois and Delta warriors knew this area better than all of the Virginians and Britons put together. They certainly knew it better than young Dante, Washington’s official journaler.

 Commissioned to document all goings-on, Master Dante Marcus Pritchen was an adventurous tabby always on the lookout for an escapade and a good time and whom also called Williamsburg his home. He had jumped at the chance to be embedded with this expedition led by the equally adventurous Lt. Colonel George Washington. A country cat by nature whom lived in a rather comfortable tavern in the colonial capital city and who was descended from the cats of Julius Caesar’, Dante’s version of country was more suited to the life of a English country gentleman. These Ohio Country, dense woods were a little wet and wild for his druthers; but hearty he was and every bramble, bug and blister was nudged away with a sturdy spirit and not a small bit of cockalorum. Not a soldier by any stretch of the imagination, Dante was still a natural athlete, never a flabby and lazy tabby, if not altogether fit for a forest atmosphere. Accustomed to a fine meal, a decent glass of port and a quality bed of goose-down, he made the best of dining on stale bread, a ration of rum (not bad, that) and sleeping in a tree, which, by the morning, was wet with dew. If there was any test for Dante, it was wet fur in the morning.

For now, he shook a bit off his back legs, adjusted his scarlet-lace stock, smoothed his sleep-wrinkled blue frock coat and shot his , now-torn, lace cuffs. Just because he was camping, didn’t mean he had to look like an animal. Thinking back though, the blue-and-scarlet drawing room ensemble, even though capped with very expedition-appropriate, buckskin cloak and moccasins, might not have been the best choice of gear. Nevertheless, though many of the soldiers had openly mocked his dress and, whilst never uttering a word, Washington’s occasional side-long glance betrayed his bewilderment about clearly found it an odd selection, it had yet to impede his job. In fact, Dante had already filled two of his four journals with notes, reports and even some sketches. Nobody could have covered this expedition better and if any military embed was to get his work published in the Virginia Gazette, or, even more exciting, the London Times, it was Dante Marcus Pritchen, cub correspondent. With a final shake of dew off a back leg, he snatched a fresh journal and a dry quill and nib from his leather bag and began to scribe onto the first page. He always loved scratching his nib onto that first page. He surveyed the morning’s situation.

With the British on one side, Virginians on another and the Indians all around, the French would have neither a clue what was happening, nor a sliver of a way out; trapped like rats on a sinking ship. Maybe then they would heed King George’s polite requests to extricate from British lands.

Without warning, a single pop of ignited gunpowder cleaved the peaceful dawn, like a sharpened hatchet through brittle firewood. In a flash, chaos, screams and the smell of sulfur replaced the morning serenity, cricket-song and the musky scent of moss and wet earth. Before anyone in the French camp knew what was happening, dozens of men flooded into the hollow, like water flowing freely out of a pitcher and into a bowl. Indian warriors dropped from the trees like acorns as polished British redcoats and countrified Virginians poured into that same bowl, into the glen. Scattering this way and that, the regulars and Virginians blocked the only egress up and out of the glen. Armed Indians lined the cliffs like a row of stolid pickets. The French screams were sudden and surprised, ranging from soprano to deep baritone pitches. Remy turned toward the excited and terrified screams of his friend.

Au secours! Au secours!” Xavier pulled a piercing screech from his lungs, a last-ditch warning to Remy. “Les Anglais! Les Anglais! Les sauvages, mon ami! Les sauvages!” and he pointed to a warrior crouched on the cliff directly above where Remy stood.

 Remy looked upward in the direction of Xavier’s telltale finger. The sharp edge of a tomahawk was the last thing Remy saw. It was quick. Xavier had just enough time to pray his friend’s end was painless before he saw his own mortality at the edge of the same blade. Blessedly, it was instantaneous and painless for both of them.

Excerpt from Savannah of Williamsburg: Washington’s Folly and The French & Indian War, Virginia 1754 by Jennifer Susannah Devore. All rights reserved. Property of KIMedia, LLC. Excerpt may be shared digitally for entertainment,  non-commercial purposes only and may not be reprinted in analog format or sold in any format, digital, analog or otherwise.

 

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