WHO IS THE HALF KING? 

The eighteenth-century Seneca chief known as "The Half King" is a figure so obscure that no one knows his real name - it was most likely Tanaghrisson, or something close to it.  Tanaghrisson stepped into American history in 1748, when the Iroquois League designated him leader of the Senecas and Delawares who had migrated to the upper Ohio valley. Ordinarily an Iroquois headman who acted as an official spokesman for the League was called a "King", but because the Ohio Indians were hunters and warriors without permanent council fire, Tanaghrisson enjoyed only an abridged authority; hence his title, "Half King."  By the early 1750's English traders and French soldiers began to penetrate the upper Ohio, and the English seemed likely to threaten the autonomy of Tanaghrisson and his people the least; they also offered the most abundant trade goods for him to distribute among his followers.  Thus Tanaghrisson allied himself with traders from Virginia, but he could not stop the French from building a line of forts from Lake Erie down to the Forks of the Ohio.  In May of 1754, a young Lieutenant Colonel named George Washington marched several hundred troops to the area to protect Virginia's interests.  The French sent Ensign Jumonville up from Fort Duquesne to warn them off.  Tanaghrisson alerted Washington to the presence of a French party, guided him to their camp, and encouraged him to make a surprise attack.

Naively, Washington did just that the morning of May 28, 1754, wounding Jumonville before he could explain that he had come on a diplomatic mission.  The French called for a ceasefire and tried to parley with their assailants, but Tanaghrisson cut off the chances for a diplomatic resolution by bashing in Jumonville's skull and washing his hands in the dead man's brains.  He intended to make it impossible for Washington, the Virginians, and the British empire as a whole to back out of their alliance with him, and to use Britain's strength to eject the French from his land.  Tanaghrisson's calculated act triggered events that ranged unimaginably far beyond his control, however.  A French counterattack quickly escalated into the French and Indian War, which spread to Europe as the Seven Years' War.  By 1763 France's empire lay in ruins and Britain was in at least theoretical control of the eastern half of North America.  The newly-expanded British Empire proved too unwieldy to control, however, and 13 years later George Washington would lead colonial forces against the British in a revolt that would become known as the American Revolution.

 

--Fred Anderson, Crucible of War