George Washington. America’s first president. Commander-in-chief of the U.S forces in the Revolutionary War. The father of our country. The guy who copped as a kid to chopping down his father’s favorite cherry tree.
That (along with his allegedly wooden teeth — actually constructed of hippopotamus ivory, and animal and human teeth) is the George Washington every American knows and loves and celebrates first and foremost each February on President’s Day.
What you might not know is that George Washington was also a confessed murderer!
The deadly drama began in May 1754, when Georgie Boy (we can call him that because he was just 22) drew the wrath of an enemy’s military might after a high-ranking prisoner died under his command.
At the time, Washington was leading colonial British troops against French forces during the Seven Years’ War. The young Lieutenant’s men ambushed a small scouting party and captured Ensign Joseph Coulon de Jumonville.
As Washington could only speak English, he grew frustrated while interrogating Jumonville, who refused to speak anything but French. In an attempt, then, to “motivate” the Ensign, Tanaghrisson — a Native American chief and ally of the Colonial cause — ended up killing the captured officer.
The French army responded furiously. Washington and his men slapped together the makeshift Fort Necessity and fought back for as long as they could, but their efforts ultimately went down in blazes of artisanal French musket fire.
It would be the only time Washington would ever officially give up in the field of battle.
On July 4 — of all days — Washington formally surrendered and signed a murder confession, in which he stated that he, personally, took full responsibility for Jumonville’s “assassination.”
Of course, the confession document was in French, which George couldn’t read, but he knew when he was whooped. It was also pretty cool that he took the rap for Tanaghrisson.
In an early example of political “spin,” the Virginia legislature turned Washington’s defeat into a tale of triumph, portraying him standing his ground to the last man against the “depraved” French while surrounded by “savage Indians.”
Ultimately, the British beat the French in the Seven Years’ War, and France would later team up with Washington to fight England during the American Revolution.
It’s often said that “history is written by the winners.” That notion may well be the reason that so many of us have heard about George Washington throwing a silver dollar all the way across the Potomac River (which he didn’t) rather than confessing to murder (which he did).
None of that makes him look any less awesome in that “crossing the Delaware” painting, though.