In the meanwhile the king of England had heard how the French were building forts along the Ohio and how they were sending their traders to the Great Lakes and to the valley of the Mississippi.
"If we allow them to go on in this way, they will soon take all that vast western country away from us," he said.
And so, the very next winter, he sent over an army under General Edward Braddock to drive the French out of that part of America and at the same time teach their Indian friends a lesson.
It was in February, 1755, when General Braddock and his troops went into camp at Alexandria in Virginia. As Alexandria was only a few miles from Mount Vernon, Washington rode over to see the fine array and become acquainted with the officers.
When General Braddock heard that this was the young man who had ventured so boldly into the Ohio Country, he offered him a place on his staff. This was very pleasing to Washington, for there was nothing more attractive to him than soldiering.
It was several weeks before the army was ready to start: and then it moved so slowly that it did not reach the Monongahela until July.
The soldiers in their fine uniforms made a splendid appearance as they marched in regular order across the country.
Benjamin Franklin, one of the wisest men in America, had told General Braddock that his greatest danger would be from unseen foes hidden among the underbrush and trees.
"They may be dangerous to your backwoodsmen," said Braddock; "but to the trained soldiers of the king they can give no trouble at all."
But scarcely had the army crossed the Monongahela when it was fired upon by unseen enemies. The woods rang with the cries of savage men.
The soldiers knew not how to return the fire. They were shot down in their tracks like animals in a pen.
"Let the men take to the shelter of the trees!" was Washington's advice.
But Braddock would not listen to it. They must keep in order and fight as they had been trained to fight.
Washington rode hither and thither trying his best to save the day. Two horses were shot under him; four bullets passed through his coat; and still he was unhurt. The Indians thought that he bore a charmed life, for none of them could hit him.
It was a dreadful affair—more like a slaughter than a battle. Seven hundred of Braddock's fine soldiers, and more than half of his officers, were killed or wounded. And all this havoc was made by two hundred Frenchmen and about six hundred Indians hidden among the trees.
At last Braddock gave the order to retreat. It soon became a wild flight rather than a retreat; and yet, had it not been for Washington, it would have been much worse.
The General himself had been fatally wounded. There was no one but Washington who could restore courage to the frightened men, and lead them safely from the place of defeat.
Four days after the battle General Braddock died, and the remnant of the army being now led by a Colonel Dunbar, hurried back to the eastern settlements.
Of all the men who took part in that unfortunate expedition against the French, there was only one who gained any renown therefrom, and that one was Colonel George Washington.
He went back to Mount Vernon, wishing never to be sent to the Ohio Country again. The people of Virginia were so fearful lest the French and Indians should follow up their victory and attack the settlements, that they quickly raised a regiment of a thousand men to defend their colony. And so highly did they esteem Colonel Washington that they made him commander of all the forces of the colony, to do with them as he might deem best.
The war with the French for the possession of the Ohio Country and the valley of the Mississippi, had now fairly begun. It would be more than seven years before it came to an end.
But most of the fighting was done at the north—in New York and Canada; and so Washington and his Virginian soldiers did not distinguish themselves in any very great enterprise.
It was for them to keep watch of the western frontier of the colony lest the Indians should cross the mountains and attack the settlements.
Once, near the middle of the war, Washington led a company into the very country where he had once traveled on foot with Christopher Gist.
The French had built a fort at the place where the Ohio River has its beginning, and they had named it Fort Duquesne. When they heard that Washington was coming they set fire to the fort and fled down the river in boats.
The English built a new fort at the same place, and called it Fort Pitt; and there the city of Pittsburg has since grown up.
And now Washington resigned his commission as commander of the little Virginian army. Perhaps he was tired of the war. Perhaps his great plantation of Mount Vernon needed his care. We cannot tell.
But we know that, a few days later, he was married to Mrs. Martha Custis, a handsome young widow who owned a fine estate not a great way from Williamsburg, the capital of the colony. This was in January, 1759.
At about the same time he was elected a member of the House of Burgesses of Virginia; and three months later, he went down to Williamsburg to have a hand in making some of the laws for the colony.
He was now twenty-seven years old. Young as he was, he was one of the richest men in the colony, and he was known throughout the country as the bravest of American soldiers.
The war was still going on at the north. To most of the Virginians it seemed to be a thing far away.
At last, in 1763, a treaty of peace was made. The French had been beaten, and they were obliged to give up everything to the English. They lost not only the Ohio Country and all the great West, but Canada also.