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1753, 1754 Washington

Towards the end of spring the vanguard of the expedition sent by Duquesne to occupy the Ohio landed at Presquisle, where Erie now stands. This route to the Ohio, far better than that which Céleron had followed, was a new discovery to the French; and Duquesne calls the harbor "the finest in nature." Here they built a fort of squared chestnut logs, and when it was finished they cut a road of several leagues through the woods to Rivière aux Boeufs, now French Creek. At the farther end of this road they began another wooden fort and called it Fort Le Boeuf. Thence, when the water was high, they could descend French Creek to the Allegheny, and follow that stream to the main current of the Ohio.


It was heavy work to carry the cumbrous load of baggage across the portages. Much of it is said to have been superfluous, consisting of velvets, silks, and other useless and costly articles, sold to the King at enormous prices as necessaries of the expedition.[127] The weight of the task fell on the Canadians, who worked with cheerful hardihood, and did their part to admiration. Marin, commander of the expedition, a gruff, choleric old man of sixty-three, but full of force and capacity, spared himself so little that he was struck down with dysentery, and, refusing to be sent home to Montreal, was before long in a dying state. His place was taken by Péan, of whose private character there is little good to be said, but whose conduct as an officer was such that Duquesne calls him a prodigy of talents, resources, and zeal.[128] The subalterns deserve no such praise. They disliked the service, and made no secret of their discontent. Rumors of it filled Montreal; and Duquesne wrote to Marin: "I am surprised that you have not told me of this change. Take note of the sullen and discouraged faces about you. This sort are worse than useless. Rid yourself of them at once; send them to Montreal, that I may make an example of them."[129] Péan wrote at the end of September that Marin was in extremity; and the Governor, disturbed and alarmed, for he knew the value of the sturdy old officer, looked anxiously for a successor. He chose another veteran, Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, who had just returned from a journey of exploration towards the Rocky Mountains,[130] and whom Duquesne now ordered to the Ohio.

[Footnote 127: Pouchot, _Mémoires sur la dernière Guerre de l'Amérique Septentrionale_, I. 8.]

[Footnote 128: _Duquesne au Ministre, 2 Nov. 1753_; compare _Mémoire pour Michel-Jean Hugues Péan_.]

[Footnote 129: _Duquesne à  Marin, 27 Août, 1753_.]

[Footnote 130: _Mémoire ou Journal sommaire du Voyage de Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre._]

Meanwhile the effects of the expedition had already justified it. At first the Indians of the Ohio had shown a bold front. One of them, a chief whom the English called the Half-King, came to Fort Le Boeuf and ordered the French to leave the country; but was received by Marin with such contemptuous haughtiness that he went home shedding tears of rage and mortification. The Western tribes were daunted. The Miamis, but yesterday fast friends of the English, made humble submission to the French, and offered them two English scalps to signalize their repentance; while the Sacs, Pottawattamies, and Ojibwas were loud in professions of devotion.[131] Even the Iroquois, Delawares, and Shawanoes on the Alleghany had come to the French camp and offered their help in carrying the baggage. It needed but perseverance and success in the enterprise to win over every tribe from the mountains to the Mississippi. To accomplish this and to curb the English, Duquesne had planned a third fort, at the junction of French Creek with the Alleghany, or at some point lower down; then, leaving the three posts well garrisoned, Péan was to descend the Ohio with the whole remaining force, impose terror on the wavering tribes, and complete their conversion. Both plans were thwarted; the fort was not built, nor did Péan descend the Ohio. Fevers, lung diseases, and scurvy made such deadly havoc among troops and Canadians, that the dying Marin saw with bitterness that his work must be left half done. Three hundred of the best men were kept to garrison Forts Presquisle and Le Boeuf; and then, as winter approached, the rest were sent back to Montreal. When they arrived, the Governor was shocked at their altered looks. "I reviewed them, and could not help being touched by the pitiable state to which fatigues and exposures had reduced them. Past all doubt, if these emaciated figures had gone down the Ohio as intended, the river would have been strewn with corpses, and the evil-disposed savages would not have failed to attack the survivors, seeing that they were but spectres."[132]

[Footnote 131: _Rapports de Conseils avec les Sauvages à  Montreal, Juillet, 1753. Duquesne au Ministre, 31 Oct. 1753_. Letter of Dr. Shuckburgh in _N.Y. Col. Docs._, VI. 806.]

[Footnote 132: _Duquesne au Ministre, 29 Nov. 1753_. On this expedition, compare the letter of Duquesne in _N.Y. Col. Docs._, X. 255, and the deposition of Stephen Coffen, _Ibid._, VI. 835.]

Legardeur de Saint-Pierre arrived at the end of autumn, and made his quarters at Fort Le Boeuf. The surrounding forests had dropped their leaves, and in gray and patient desolation bided the coming winter. Chill rains drizzled over the gloomy "clearing," and drenched the palisades and log-built barracks, raw from the axe. Buried in the wilderness, the military exiles resigned themselves as they might to months of monotonous solitude; when, just after sunset on the eleventh of December, a tall youth came out of the forest on horseback, attended by a companion much older and rougher than himself, and followed by several Indians and four or five white men with packhorses. Officers from the fort went out to meet the strangers; and, wading through mud and sodden snow, they entered at the gate. On the next day the young leader of the party, with the help of an interpreter, for he spoke no French, had an interview with the commandant, and gave him a letter from Governor Dinwiddie. Saint-Pierre and the officer next in rank, who knew a little English, took it to another room to study it at their ease; and in it, all unconsciously, they read a name destined to stand one of the noblest in the annals of mankind; for it introduced Major George Washington, Adjutant-General of the Virginia militia.[133]

[Footnote 133: _Journal of Major Washington. Journal of Mr. Christopher Gist._]

Dinwiddie, jealously watchful of French aggression, had learned through traders and Indians that a strong detachment from Canada had entered the territories of the King of England, and built forts on Lake Erie and on a branch of the Ohio. He wrote to challenge the invasion and summon the invaders to withdraw; and he could find none so fit to bear his message as a young man of twenty-one. It was this rough Scotchman who launched Washington on his illustrious career.

Washington set out for the trading station of the Ohio Company on Will's Creek; and thence, at the middle of November, struck into the wilderness with Christopher Gist as a guide, Vanbraam, a Dutchman, as French interpreter, Davison, a trader, as Indian interpreter, and four woodsmen as servants. They went to the forks of the Ohio, and then down the river to Logstown, the Chiningué of Céloron de Bienville. There Washington had various parleys with the Indians; and thence, after vexatious delays, he continued his journey towards Fort Le Boeuf, accompanied by the friendly chief called the Half-King and by three of his tribesmen. For several days they followed the traders' path, pelted with unceasing rain and snow, and came at last to the old Indian town of Venango, where French Creek enters the Alleghany. Here there was an English trading-house; but the French had seized it, raised their flag over it, and turned it into a military outpost.[134] Joncaire was in command, with two subalterns; and nothing could exceed their civility. They invited the strangers to supper; and, says Washington, "the wine, as they dosed themselves pretty plentifully with it, soon banished the restraint which at first appeared in their conversation, and gave a license to their tongues to reveal their sentiments more freely. They told me that it was their absolute design to take possession of the Ohio, and, by G----, they would do it; for that although they were sensible the English could raise two men for their one, yet they knew their motions were too slow and dilatory to prevent any undertaking of theirs."[135]

[Footnote 134: Marin had sent sixty men in August to seize the house, which belonged to the trader Fraser. _Dépêches de Duquesne_. They carried off two men whom they found here. Letter of Fraser in _Colonial Records of Pa._, V. 659.]

[Footnote 135: _Journal of Washington_, as printed at Williamsburg, just after his return.]

With all their civility, the French officers did their best to entice away Washington's Indians; and it was with extreme difficulty that he could persuade them to go with him. Through marshes and swamps, forests choked with snow, and drenched with incessant rain, they toiled on for four days more, till the wooden walls of Fort Le Boeuf appeared at last, surrounded by fields studded thick with stumps, and half-encircled by the chill current of French Creek, along the banks of which lay more than two hundred canoes, ready to carry troops in the spring. Washington describes Legardeur de Saint-Pierre as "an elderly gentleman with much the air of a soldier." The letter sent him by Dinwiddie expressed astonishment that his troops should build forts upon lands "so notoriously known to be the property of the Crown of Great Britain." "I must desire you," continued the letter, "to acquaint me by whose authority and instructions you have lately marched from Canada with an armed force, and invaded the King of Great Britain's territories. It becomes my duty to require your peaceable departure; and that you would forbear prosecuting a purpose so interruptive of the harmony and good understanding which His Majesty is desirous to continue and cultivate with the Most Christian King. I persuade myself you will receive and entertain Major Washington with the candor and politeness natural to your nation; and it will give me the greatest satisfaction if you return him with an answer suitable to my wishes for a very long and lasting peace between us."

Saint-Pierre took three days to frame the answer. In it he said that he should send Dinwiddie's letter to the Marquis Duquesne and wait his orders; and that meanwhile he should remain at his post, according to the commands of his general. "I made it my particular care," so the letter closed, "to receive Mr. Washington with a distinction suitable to your dignity as well as his own quality and great merit."[136] No form of courtesy had, in fact, been wanting. "He appeared to be extremely complaisant," says Washington, "though he was exerting every artifice to set our Indians at variance with us. I saw that every stratagem was practised to win the Half-King to their interest." Neither gifts nor brandy were spared; and it was only by the utmost pains that Washington could prevent his red allies from staying at the fort, conquered by French blandishments.

[Footnote 136: "La Distinction qui convient à  votre Dignitté à  sa Qualité et à  son grand Mérite." Copy of original letter sent by Dinwiddie to Governor Hamilton.]

After leaving Venango on his return, he found the horses so weak that, to arrive the sooner, he left them and their drivers in charge of Vanbraam and pushed forward on foot, accompanied by Gist alone. Each was wrapped to the throat in an Indian "matchcoat," with a gun in his hand and a pack at his back. Passing an old Indian hamlet called Murdering Town, they had an adventure which threatened to make good the name. A French Indian, whom they met in the forest, fired at them, pretending that his gun had gone off by chance. They caught him, and Gist would have killed him; but Washington interposed, and they let him go.[137] Then, to escape pursuit from his tribesmen, they walked all night and all the next day. This brought them to the banks of the Alleghany. They hoped to have found it dead frozen; but it was all alive and turbulent, filled with ice sweeping down the current. They made a raft, shoved out into the stream, and were soon caught helplessly in the drifting ice. Washington, pushing hard with his setting-pole, was jerked into the freezing river; but caught a log of the raft, and dragged himself out. By no efforts could they reach the farther bank, or regain that which they had left; but they were driven against an island, where they landed, and left the raft to its fate. The night was excessively cold, and Gist's feet and hands were badly frost-bitten. In the morning, the ice had set, and the river was a solid floor. They crossed it, and succeeded in reaching the house of the trader Fraser, on the Monongahela. It was the middle of January when Washington arrived at Williamsburg and made his report to Dinwiddie.

[Footnote 137: _Journal of Mr. Christopher Gist_, in _Mass. Hist. Coll., 3rd Series_, V.]

Robert Dinwiddie was lieutenant-governor of Virginia, in place of the titular governor, Lord Albermarle, whose post was a sinecure. He had been clerk in a government office in the West Indies; then surveyor of customs in the "Old Dominion,"--a position in which he made himself cordially disliked; and when he rose to the governorship he carried his unpopularity with him. Yet Virginia and all the British colonies owed him much; for, though past sixty, he was the most watchful sentinel against French aggression and its most strenuous opponent. Scarcely had Marin's vanguard appeared at Presquisle, when Dinwiddie warned the Home Government of the danger, and urged, what he had before urged in vain on the Virginian Assembly, the immediate building of forts on the Ohio. There came in reply a letter, signed by the King, authorizing him to build the forts at the cost of the Colony, and to repel force by force in case he was molested or obstructed. Moreover, the King wrote, "If you shall find that any number of persons shall presume to erect any fort or forts within the limits of our province of Virginia, you are first to require of them peaceably to depart; and if, notwithstanding your admonitions, they do still endeavor to carry out any such unlawful and unjustifiable designs, we do hereby strictly charge and command you to drive them off by force of arms."[138]

[Footnote 138: _Instructions to Our Trusty and Well-beloved Robert Dinwiddie, Esq., 28 Aug. 1753._]

The order was easily given; but to obey it needed men and money, and for these Dinwiddie was dependent on his Assembly, or House of Burgesses. He convoked them for the first of November, sending Washington at the same time with the summons to Saint-Pierre. The burgesses met. Dinwiddie exposed the danger, and asked for means to meet it.[139] They seemed more than willing to comply; but debates presently arose concerning the fee of a pistole, which the Governor had demanded on each patent of land issued by him. The amount was trifling, but the principle was doubtful. The aristocratic republic of Virginia was intensely jealous of the slightest encroachment on its rights by the Crown or its representative. The Governor defended the fee. The burgesses replied that "subjects cannot be deprived of the least part of their property without their consent," declared the fee unlawful, and called on Dinwiddie to confess it to be so. He still defended it. They saw in his demand for supplies a means of bringing him to terms, and refused to grant money unless he would recede from his position. Dinwiddie rebuked them for "disregarding the designs of the French, and disputing the rights of the Crown"; and he "prorogued them in some anger."[140]

[Footnote 139: _Address of Lieutenant-Governor Dinwiddie to the Council and Burgesses, 1 Nov. 1753._]

[Footnote 140: _Dinwiddie Papers._]

Thus he was unable to obey the instructions of the King. As a temporary resource, he ventured to order a draft of two hundred men from the militia. Washington was to have command, with the trader, William Trent, as his lieutenant. His orders were to push with all speed to the forks of the Ohio, and there build a fort; "but in case any attempts are made to obstruct the works by any persons whatsoever, to restrain all such offenders, and, in case of resistance, to make prisoners of, or kill and destroy them."[141] The Governor next sent messengers to the Catawbas, Cherokees, Chickasaws, and Iroquois of the Ohio, inviting them to take up the hatchet against the French, "who, under pretence of embracing you, mean to squeeze you to death." Then he wrote urgent letters to the governors of Pennsylvania, the Carolinas, Maryland, and New Jersey, begging for contingents of men, to be at Wills Creeks in March at the latest. But nothing could be done without money; and trusting for a change of heart on the part of the burgesses, he summoned them to meet again on the fourteenth of February. "If they come in good temper," he wrote to Lord Fairfax, a nobleman settled in the colony, "I hope they will lay a fund to qualify me to send four or five hundred men more to the Ohio, which, with the assistance of our neighboring colonies, may make some figure."

[Footnote 141: _Ibid. Instructions to Major George Washington, January, 1754._]

The session began. Again, somewhat oddly, yet forcibly, the Governor set before the Assembly the peril of the situation, and begged them to postpone less pressing questions to the exigency of the hour.[142] This time they listened; and voted ten thousand pounds in Virginia currency to defend the frontier. The grant was frugal, and they jealously placed its expenditure in the hands of a committee of their own.[143] Dinwiddie, writing to the Lords of Trade, pleads necessity as his excuse for submitting to their terms. "I am sorry," he says, "to find them too much in a republican way of thinking." What vexed him still more was their sending an agent to England to complain against him on the irrepressible question of the pistole fee; and he writes to his London friend, the merchant Hanbury: "I have had a great deal of trouble from the factious disputes and violent heats of a most impudent, troublesome party here in regard to that silly fee of a pistole. Surely every thinking man will make a distinction between a fee and a tax. Poor people! I pity their ignorance and narrow, ill-natured spirits. But, my friend, consider that I could by no means give up this fee without affronting the Board of Trade and the Council here who established it." His thoughts were not all of this harassing nature, and he ends his letter with the following petition: "Now, sir, as His Majesty is pleased to make me a military officer, please send for Scott, my tailor, to make me a proper suit of regimentals, to be here by His Majesty's birthday. I do not much like gayety in dress, but I conceive this necessary. I do not much care for lace on the coat, but a neat embroidered button-hole; though you do not deal that way, I know you have a good taste, that I may show my friend's fancy in that suit of clothes; a good laced hat and two pair stockings, one silk, the other fine thread."[144]

[Footnote 142: _Speech of Lieutenant-Governor Dinwiddie to the Council and Burgesses 14 Feb., 1754._]

[Footnote 143: See the bill in Hening, _Statutes of Virginia_, VI. 417.]

[Footnote 144: _Dinwiddie to Hanbury, 12 March, 1754; Ibid., 10 May, 1754._]

If the Governor and his English sometimes provoke a smile, he deserves admiration for the energy with which he opposed the public enemy, under circumstances the most discouraging. He invited the Indians to meet him in council at Winchester, and, as bait to attract them, coupled the message with a promise of gifts. He sent circulars from the King to the neighboring governors, calling for supplies, and wrote letter upon letter to rouse them to effort. He wrote also to the more distant governors, Delancey of New York, and Shirley of Massachusetts, begging them to make what he called a "faint" against Canada, to prevent the French from sending so large a force to the Ohio. It was to the nearer colonies, from New Jersey to South Carolina, that he looked for direct aid; and their several governors were all more or less active to procure it; but as most of them had some standing dispute with their assemblies, they could get nothing except on terms with which they would not, and sometimes could not, comply. As the lands invaded by the French belonged to one of the two rival claimants, Virginia and Pennsylvania, the other colonies had no mind to vote money to defend them. Pennsylvania herself refused to move. Hamilton, her governor, could do nothing against the placid obstinacy of the Quaker non-combatants and the stolid obstinacy of the German farmers who chiefly made up his Assembly. North Carolina alone answered the appeal, and gave money enough to raise three or four hundred men. Two independent companies maintained by the King in New York, and one in South Carolina, had received orders from England to march to the scene of action; and in these, with the scanty levies of his own and the adjacent province, lay Dinwiddie's only hope. With men abundant and willing, there were no means to put them into the field, and no commander whom they would all obey.

From the brick house at Williamsburg pompously called the Governor's Palace, Dinwiddie despatched letters, orders, couriers, to hasten the tardy reinforcements of North Carolina and New York, and push on the raw soldiers of the Old Dominion, who now numbered three hundred men. They were called the Virginia regiment; and Joshua Fry, an English gentleman, bred at Oxford, was made their colonel, with Washington as next in command. Fry was at Alexandria with half the so-called regiment, trying to get it into marching order; Washington, with the other half, had pushed forward to the Ohio Company's storehouse at Wills Creek, which was to form a base of operations. His men were poor whites, brave, but hard to discipline; without tents, ill armed, and ragged as Falstaff's recruits. Besides these, a band of backwoodsmen under Captain Trent had crossed the mountains in February to build a fort at the forks of the Ohio, where Pittsburg now stands,--a spot which Washington had examined when on his way to Fort Le Boeuf, and which he had reported as the best for the purpose. The hope was that Trent would fortify himself before the arrival of the French, and that Washington and Fry would join him in time to secure the position. Trent had begun the fort; but for some unexplained reason had gone back to Wills Creek leaving Ensign Ward with forty men at work upon it. Their labors were suddenly interrupted. On the seventeenth of April a swarm of bateaux and canoes came down the Alleghany, bringing, according to Ward, more than a thousand Frenchmen, though in reality not much above five hundred, who landed, planted cannon against the incipient stockade, and summoned the ensign to surrender, on pain of what might ensue.[145] He complied, and was allowed to depart with his men. Retracing his steps over the mountains, he reported his mishap to Washington; while the French demolished his unfinished fort, began a much larger and better one, and named it Fort Duquesne.

[Footnote 145: See the summons in _Précis des Faits_, 101.]

They had acted with their usual promptness. Their Governor, a practised soldier, knew the value of celerity, and had set his troops in motion with the first opening of spring. He had no refractory assembly to hamper him; no lack of money, for the King supplied it; and all Canada must march at his bidding. Thus, while Dinwiddie was still toiling to muster his raw recruits, Duquesne's lieutenant, Contrecoeur, successor of Saint-Pierre, had landed at Presquisle with a much greater force, in part regulars, and in part Canadians.

Dinwiddie was deeply vexed when a message from Washington told him how his plans were blighted; and he spoke his mind to his friend Hanbury: "If our Assembly had voted the money in November which they did in February, it's more than probable the fort would have been built and garrisoned before the French had approached; but these things cannot be done without money. As there was none in our treasury, I have advanced my own to forward the expedition; and if the independent companies from New York come soon, I am in hopes the eyes of the other colonies will be opened; and if they grant a proper supply of men, I hope we shall be able to dislodge the French or build a fort on that river. I congratulate you on the increase of your family. My wife and two girls join in our most sincere respects to good Mrs. Hanbury."[146]

[Footnote 146: _Dinwiddie to Hanbury, 10 May, 1754._]

The seizure of a king's fort by planting cannon against it and threatening it with destruction was in his eyes a beginning of hostilities on the part of the French; and henceforth both he and Washington acted much as if war had been declared. From their station at Wills Creek, the distance by the traders' path to Fort Duquesne was about a hundred and forty miles. Midway was a branch of the Monongahela called Redstone Creek, at the mouth of which the Ohio Company had built another storehouse. Dinwiddie ordered all the forces to cross the mountains and assemble at this point, until they should be strong enough to advance against the French. The movement was critical in presence of an enemy as superior in discipline as he was in numbers, while the natural obstacles were great. A road for cannon and wagons must be cut through a dense forest and over two ranges of high mountains, besides countless hills and streams. Washington set all his force to the work, and they spent a fortnight in making twenty miles. Towards the end of May, however, Dinwiddie learned that he had crossed the main ridge of the Alleghanies, and was encamped with a hundred and fifty men near the parallel ridge of Laurel Hill, at a place called the Great Meadows. Trent's backwoodsmen had gone off in disgust; Fry, with the rest of the regiment, was still far behind; and Washington was daily expecting an attack. Close upon this, a piece of good news, or what seemed such, came over the mountains and gladdened the heart of the Governor. He heard that a French detachment had tried to surprise Washington, and that he had killed or captured the whole. The facts were as follows.

Washington was on the Youghiogany, a branch of the Monongahela, exploring it in hopes that it might prove navigable, when a messenger came to him from his old comrade, the Half-King, who was on the way to join him. The message was to the effect that the French had marched from their fort, and meant to attack the first English they should meet. A report came soon after that they were already at the ford of the Youghiogany, eighteen miles distant. Washington at once repaired to the Great Meadows, a level tract of grass and bushes, bordered by wooded hills, and traversed in one part by a gully, which with a little labor the men turned into an entrenchment, at the same time cutting away the bushes and clearing what the young commander called "a charming field for an encounter." Parties were sent out to scour the woods, but they found no enemy. Two days passed; when, on the morning of the twenty-seventh, Christopher Gist, who had lately made a settlement on the farther side of Laurel Hill, twelve or thirteen miles distant, came to the camp with news that fifty Frenchmen had been at his house towards noon of the day before, and would have destroyed everything but for the intervention of two Indians whom he had left in charge during his absence. Washington sent seventy-five men to look for the party; but the search was vain, the French having hidden themselves so well as to escape any eye but that of an Indian. In the evening a runner came from the Half-King, who was encamped with a few warriors some miles distant. He had sent to tell Washington that he had found the tracks of two men, and traced them towards a dark glen in the forest, where in his belief all the French were lurking.

Washington seems not to have hesitated a moment. Fearing a stratagem to surprise his camp, he left his main force to guard it, and at ten o'clock set out for the Half-King's wigwams at the head of forty men. The night was rainy, and the forest, to use his own words, "as black as pitch." "The path," he continues, "was hardly wide enough for one man; we often lost it, and could not find it again for fifteen or twenty minutes, and we often tumbled over each other in the dark[147]." Seven of his men were lost in the woods and left behind. The rest groped their way all night, and reached the Indian camp at sunrise. A council was held with the Half-King, and he and his warriors agreed to join in striking the French. Two of them led the way. The tracks of the two French scouts seen the day before were again found, and, marching in single file, the party pushed through the forest into the rocky hollow where the French were supposed to be concealed. They were there in fact; and they snatched their guns the moment they saw the English. Washington gave the word to fire. A short fight ensued. Coulon de Jumonville, an ensign in command, was killed, with nine others; twenty-two were captured, and none escaped but a Canadian who had fled at the beginning of the fray. After it was over, the prisoners told Washington that the party had been sent to bring him a summons from Contrecoeur, the commandant at Fort Duquesne.

[Footnote 147: _Journal of Washington_ in _Précis des Faits_, 109. This Journal, which is entirely distinct from that before cited, was found by the French among the baggage left on the field after the defeat of Braddock in 1755, and a translation of it was printed by them as above. The original has disappeared.]

Five days before, Contrecoeur had sent Jumonville to scour the country as far as the dividing ridge of the Alleghanies. Under him were another officer, three cadets, a volunteer, an interpreter, and twenty-eight men. He was provided with a written summons, to be delivered to any English he might find. It required them to withdraw from the domain of the King of France, and threatened compulsion by force of arms in case of refusal. But before delivering the summons Jumonville was ordered to send two couriers back with all speed to Fort Duquesne to inform the commandant that he had found the English, and to acquaint him when he intended to communicate with them.[148] It is difficult to imagine any object for such an order except that of enabling Contrecoeur to send to the spot whatever force might be needed to attack the English on their refusal to withdraw. Jumonville had sent the two couriers, and had hidden himself, apparently to wait the result. He lurked nearly two days within five miles of Washington's camp, sent out scouts to reconnoitre it, but gave no notice of his presence; played to perfection the part of a skulking enemy, and brought destruction on himself by conduct which can only be ascribed to a sinister motive on the one hand, or to extreme folly on the other. French deserters told Washington that the party came as spies, and were to show the summons only if threatened by a superior force. This last assertion is confirmed by the French officer Pouchot, who says that Jumonville, seeing himself the weaker party, tried to show the letter he had brought.[149]

[Footnote 148: The summons and the instructions to Jumonville are in _Précis des Faits_.]

[Footnote 149: Pouchot, _Mémoire sur la dernière Guerre_.]

French writers say that, on first seeing the English, Jumonville's interpreter called out that he had something to say to them; but Washington, who was at the head of his men, affirms this to be absolutely false. The French say further that Jumonville was killed in the act of reading the summons. This is also denied by Washington, and rests only on the assertion of the Canadian who ran off at the outset, and on the alleged assertion of Indians who, if present at all, which is unlikely, escaped like the Canadian before the fray began. Druillon, an officer with Jumonville, wrote two letters to Dinwiddie after his capture, to claim the privileges of the bearer of a summons; but while bringing forward every other circumstance in favor of the claim, he does not pretend that the summons was read or shown either before or during the action. The French account of the conduct of Washington's Indians is no less erroneous. "This murder," says a chronicler of the time, "produced on the minds of the savages an effect very different from that which the cruel Washington had promised himself. They have a horror of crime; and they were so indignant at that which had just been perpetrated before their eyes, that they abandoned him, and offered themselves to us in order to take vengeance."[150] Instead of doing this, they boasted of their part in the fight, scalped all the dead Frenchmen, sent one scalp to the Delawares as an invitation to take up the hatchet for the English, and distributed the rest among the various Ohio tribes to the same end.

[Footnote 150: Poulin de Lumina, _Histoire de la Guerre contre les Anglois_, 15.]

Coolness of judgment, a profound sense of public duty, and a strong self-control, were even then the characteristics of Washington; but he was scarcely twenty-two, was full of military ardor, and was vehement and fiery by nature. Yet it is far from certain that, even when age and experience had ripened him, he would have forborne to act as he did, for there was every reason for believing that the designs of the French were hostile; and though by passively waiting the event he would have thrown upon them the responsibility of striking the first blow, he would have exposed his small party to capture or destruction by giving them time to gain reinforcements from Fort Duquesne. It was inevitable that the killing of Jumonville should be greeted in France by an outcry of real or assumed horror; but the Chevalier de Lévis, second in command to Montcalm, probably expresses the true opinion of Frenchmen best fitted to judge when he calls it "a pretended assassination."[151] Judge it as we may, this obscure skirmish began the war that set the world on fire.[152]

[Footnote 151: Lévis, _Mémoire sur la Guerre du Canada_.]

[Footnote 152: On this affair, Sparks, _Writings of Washington_, II. 25-48, 447. _Dinwiddie Papers. Letter of Contrecoeur_ in _Précis des Faits. Journal of Washington, Ibid. Washington to Dinwiddie, 3 June, 1754_. Dussieux, _Le Canada sous la Domination Française_, 118. Gaspé, _Anciens Canadiens, appendix_, 396. The assertion of Abbé de l'Isle-Dieu, that Jumonville showed a flag of truce, is unsupported. Adam Stephen, who was in the fight, says that the guns of the English were so wet that they had to trust mainly to the bayonet. The Half-King boasted that he killed Jumonville with his tomahawk. Dinwiddie highly approved Washington's conduct.

In 1755 the widow of Jumonville received a pension of one hundred and fifty francs. In 1775 his daughter, Charlotte Aimable, wishing to become a nun, was given by the King six hundred francs for her "trousseau" on entering the convent. _Dossier de Jumonville et de sa Veuve, 22 Mars, 1755_. _Mémoire pour Mlle. de Jumonville, 10 Juillet, 1775_. _Résponse du Garde des Sceaux, 25 Juillet, 1775_.]

Washington returned to the camp at the Great Meadows; and, expecting soon to be attacked, sent for reinforcements to Colonel Fry, who was lying dangerously ill at Wills Creek. Then he set his men to work at an entrenchment, which he named Fort Necessity, and which must have been of the slightest, as they finished it within three days.[153] The Half-King now joined him, along with the female potentate known as Queen Alequippa, and some thirty Indian families. A few days after, Gist came from Wills Creek with news that Fry was dead. Washington succeeded to the command of the regiment, the remaining three companies of which presently appeared and joined their comrades, raising the whole number to three hundred. Next arrived the independent company from South Carolina; and the Great Meadows became an animated scene, with the wigwams of the Indians, the camp-sheds of the rough Virginians, the cattle grazing on the tall grass or drinking at the lazy brook that traversed it; the surrounding heights and forests; and over all, four miles away the lofty green ridge of Laurel Hill.

[Footnote 153: _Journal of Washington_ in _Précis des Faits_.]

The presence of the company of regulars was a doubtful advantage. Captain Mackay, its commander, holding his commission from the King, thought himself above any officer commissioned by the Governor. There was great courtesy between him and Washington; but Mackay would take no orders, nor even the countersign, from the colonel of volunteers. Nor would his men work, except for an additional shilling a day. To give this was impossible, both from want of money, and from the discontent it would have bred in the Virginians, who worked for nothing besides their daily pay of eightpence. Washington, already a leader of men, possessed himself in a patience extremely difficult to his passionate temper; but the position was untenable, and the presence of the military drones demoralized his soldiers. Therefore, leaving Mackay at the Meadows, he advanced towards Gist's settlement, cutting a wagon road as he went.

On reaching the settlement the camp was formed and an entrenchment thrown up. Deserters had brought news that strong reinforcements were expected at Fort Duquesne, and friendly Indians repeatedly warned Washington that he would soon be attacked by overwhelming numbers. Forty Indians from the Ohio came to the camp, and several days were spent in councils with them; but they proved for the most part to be spies of the French. The Half-King stood fast by the English, and sent out three of his young warriors as scouts. Reports of attack thickened. Mackay and his men were sent for, and they arrived on the twenty-eighth of June. A council of war was held at Gist's house; and as the camp was commanded by neighboring heights, it was resolved to fall back. The horses were so few that the Virginians had to carry much of the baggage on their backs, and drag nine swivels over the broken and rocky road. The regulars, though they also were raised in the provinces, refused to give the slightest help. Toiling on for two days, they reached the Great Meadows on the first of July. The position, though perhaps the best in the neighborhood, was very unfavorable, and Washington would have retreated farther, but for the condition of his men. They were spent with fatigue, and there was no choice but to stay and fight.

Strong reinforcements had been sent to Fort Duquesne in the spring, and the garrison now consisted of about fourteen hundred men. When news of the death of Jumonville reached Montreal, Coulon de Villiers, brother of the slain officer, was sent to the spot with a body of Indians from all the tribes in the colony. He made such speed that at eight o'clock on the morning of the twenty-sixth of June he reached the fort with his motley following. Here he found that five hundred Frenchmen and a few Ohio Indians were on the point of marching against the English, under Chevalier Le Mercier; but in view of his seniority in rank and his relationship to Jumonville, the command was now transferred to Villiers. Hereupon, the march was postponed; the newly-arrived warriors were called to council, and Contrecoeur thus harangued them: "The English have murdered my children, my heart is sick; to-morrow I shall send my French soldiers to take revenge. And now, men of the Saut St. Louis, men of the Lake of Two Mountains, Hurons, Abenakis, Iroquois of La Présentation, Nipissings, Algonquins, and Ottawas,--I invite you all by this belt of wampum to join your French father and help him to crush the assassins. Take this hatchet, and with it two barrels of wine for a feast." Both hatchet and wine were cheerfully accepted. Then Contrecoeur turned to the Delawares, who were also present: "By these four strings of wampum I invite you, if you are true children of Onontio, to follow the example of your brethren;" and with some hesitation they also took up the hatchet.

The next day was spent by the Indians in making moccasons for the march, and by the French in preparing for an expedition on a larger scale than had been at first intended. Contrecoeur, Villiers, Le Mercier, and Longueuil, after deliberating together, drew up a paper to the effect that "it was fitting (_convenable_) to march against the English with the greatest possible number of French and savages, in order to avenge ourselves and chastise them for having violated the most sacred laws of civilized nations;" that, thought their conduct justified the French in disregarding the existing treaty of peace, yet, after thoroughly punishing them, and compelling them to withdraw from the domain of the King, they should be told that, in pursuance of his royal orders, the French looked on them as friends. But it was further agreed that should the English have withdrawn to their own side of the mountains, "they should be followed to their settlements to destroy them and treat them as enemies, till that nation should give ample satisfaction and completely change its conduct."[154]

[Footnote 154: _Journal de Campagne de M. de Villiers depuis son Arrivée au Fort Duquesne jusqu'à  son Retour au dit Fort_. These and other passages are omitted in the Journal as printed in _Précis des Faits_. Before me is a copy from the original in the Archives de la Marine.]

The party set out on the next morning, paddled their canoes up the Monongahela, encamped, heard Mass; and on the thirtieth reached the deserted storehouse of the Ohio Company at the mouth of Redstone Creek. It was a building of solid logs, well loopholed for musketry. To please the Indians by asking their advice, Villiers called all the chiefs to council; which, being concluded to their satisfaction, he left a sergeant's guard at the storehouse to watch the canoes, and began his march through the forest. The path was so rough that at the first halt the chaplain declared he could go no farther, and turned back for the storehouse, though not till he had absolved the whole company in a body. Thus lightened of their sins, they journeyed on, constantly sending out scouts. On the second of July they reached the abandoned camp of Washington at Gist's settlement; and here they bivouacked, tired, and drenched all night by rain. At daybreak they marched again, and passed through the gorge of Laurel Hill. It rained without ceasing; but Villiers pushed his way through the dripping forest to see the place, half a mile from the road, where his brother had been killed, and where several bodies still lay unburied. They had learned from a deserter the position of the enemy, and Villiers filled the woods in front with a swarm of Indian scouts. The crisis was near. He formed his men in column, and ordered every officer to his place.

Washington's men had had a full day at Fort Necessity; but they spent it less in resting from their fatigue than in strengthening their rampart with logs. The fort was a simple square enclosure, with a trench said by a French writer to be only knee deep. On the south, and partly on the west, there was an exterior embankment, which seems to have been made, like a rifle-pit, with the ditch inside. The Virginians had but little ammunition, and no bread whatever, living chiefly on fresh beef. They knew the approach of the French, who were reported to Washington as nine hundred strong, besides Indians. Towards eleven o'clock a wounded sentinel came in with news that they were close at hand; and they presently appeared at the edge of the woods, yelling, and firing from such a distance that their shot fell harmless. Washington drew up his men on the meadow before the fort, thinking, he says, that the enemy, being greatly superior in force, would attack at once; and choosing for some reason to meet them on the open plain. But Villiers had other views. "We approached the English," he writes, "as near as possible, without uselessly exposing the lives of the King's subjects;" and he and his followers made their way through the forest till they came opposite the fort, where they stationed themselves on two densely wooded hills, adjacent, though separated by a small brook. One of these was about a hundred paces from the English, and the other about sixty. Their position was such that the French and Indians, well sheltered by trees and bushes, and with the advantage of higher ground, could cross their fire upon the fort and enfilade a part of it. Washington had meanwhile drawn his followers within the entrenchment; and the firing now began on both sides. Rain fell all day. The raw earth of the embankment was turned to soft mud, and the men in the ditch of the outwork stood to the knee in water. The swivels brought back from the camp at Gist's farm were mounted on the rampart; but the gunners were so ill protected that the pieces were almost silenced by the French musketry. The fight lasted nine hours. At times the fire on both sides was nearly quenched by the showers, and the bedrenched combatants could do little but gaze at each other through a gray veil of mist and rain. Towards night, however, the fusillade revived, and became sharp again until dark. At eight o'clock the French called out to propose a parley.

Villiers thus gives his reason for these overtures. "As we had been wet all day by the rain, as the soldiers were very tired, as the savages said that they would leave us the next morning, and as there was a report that drums and the firing of cannon had been heard in the distance, I proposed to M. Le Mercier to offer the English a conference." He says further that ammunition was falling short, and that he thought the enemy might sally in a body and attack him.[155] The English, on their side, were in a worse plight. They were half starved, their powder was nearly spent, their guns were foul, and among them all they had but two screw-rods to clean them. In spite of his desperate position, Washington declined the parley, thinking it a pretext to introduce a spy; but when the French repeated their proposal and requested that he would send an officer to them, he could hesitate no longer. There were but two men with him who knew French, Ensign Peyroney, who was disabled by a wound, and the Dutchman, Captain Vanbraam. To him the unpalatable errand was assigned. After a long absence he returned with articles of capitulation offered by Villiers; and while the officers gathered about him in the rain, he read and interpreted the paper by the glimmer of a sputtering candle kept alight with difficulty. Objection was made to some of the terms, and they were changed. Vanbraam, however, apparently anxious to get the capitulation signed and the affair ended, mistranslated several passages, and rendered the words _l'assassinat du Sieur de Jumonville_ as _the death of the Sieur de Jumonville_.[156] As thus understood, the articles were signed about midnight. They provided that the English should march out with drums beating and the honors of war, carrying with them one of their swivels and all their other property; that they should be protected against insult from French or Indians; that the prisoners taken in the affair of Jumonville should be set free; and that two officers should remain as hostages for their safe return to Fort Duquesne. The hostages chosen were Vanbraam and a brave but eccentric Scotchman, Robert Stobo, an acquaintance of the novelist Smollett, said to be the original of his Lismahago.

[Footnote 155: _Journal de Villiers_, original. Omitted in the Journal as printed by the French Government. A short and very incorrect abstract of this Journal will be found in _N.Y. Col. Docs._, X.]

[Footnote 156: See Appendix C. On the fight at Great Meadows, compare Sparks, _Writings of Washington_, II. 456-468; also a letter of Colonel Innes to Governor Hamilton, written a week after the event, in _Colonial Records of Pa._, VI. 50, and a letter of Adam Stephen in _Pennsylvania Gazette, 1754_.]

Washington reports that twelve of the Virginians were killed on the spot, and forty-three wounded, while on the casualties in Mackay's company no returns appear. Villiers reports his own loss at only twenty in all.[157] The numbers engaged are uncertain. The six companies of the Virginia regiment counted three hundred and five men and officers, and Mackay's company one hundred; but many were on the sick list, and some had deserted. About three hundred and fifty may have taken part in the fight. On the side of the French, Villiers says that the detachment as originally formed consisted of five hundred white men. These were increased after his arrival at Fort Duquesne, and one of the party reports that seven hundred marched on the expedition.[158] The number of Indians joining them is not given; but as nine tribes and communities contributed to it, and as two barrels of wine were required to give the warriors a parting feast, it must have been considerable. White men and red, it seems clear that the French force was more than twice that of the English, while they were better posted and better sheltered, keeping all day under cover, and never showing themselves on the open meadow. There were no Indians with Washington. Even the Half-King held aloof; though, being of a caustic turn, he did not spare his comments on the fight, telling Conrad Weiser, the provincial interpreter, that the French behaved like cowards, and the English like fools.[159]

[Footnote 157: Dinwiddie writes to the Lords of Trade that thirty in all were killed, and seventy wounded, on the English side; and the commissary Varin writes to Bigot that the French lost seventy-two killed and wounded.]

[Footnote 158: _A Journal had from Thomas Forbes, lately a Private Soldier in the King of France's Service_. (Public Record Office.) Forbes was one of Villiers' soldiers. The commissary Varin puts the number of French at six hundred, besides Indians.]

[Footnote 159: _Journal of Conrad Weiser_, in _Colonial Records of Pa._, VI. 150. The Half-King also remarked that Washington "was a good-natured man, but had no experience, and would by no means take advice from the Indians, but was always driving them on to fight by his directions; that he lay at one place from one full moon to the other, and made no fortifications at all, except that little thing upon the meadow, where he thought the French would come up to him in open field."]

In the early morning the fort was abandoned and the retreat began. The Indians had killed all the horses and cattle, and Washington's men were so burdened with the sick and wounded, whom they were obliged to carry on their backs, that most of the baggage was perforce left behind. Even then they could march but a few miles, and then encamped to wait for wagons. The Indians increased the confusion by plundering, and threatening an attack. They knocked to pieces the medicine-chest, thus causing great distress to the wounded, two of whom they murdered and scalped. For a time there was danger of panic; but order was restored, and the wretched march began along the forest road that led over the Alleghanies, fifty-two miles to the station at Wills Creek. Whatever may have been the feelings of Washington, he has left no record of them. His immense fortitude was doomed to severer trials in the future; yet perhaps this miserable morning was the darkest of his life. He was deeply moved by sights of suffering; and all around him were wounded men borne along in torture, and weary men staggering under the living load. His pride was humbled, and his young ambition seemed blasted in the bud. It was the fourth of July. He could not foresee that he was to make that day forever glorious to a new-born nation hailing him as its father.

The defeat at Fort Necessity was doubly disastrous to the English, since it was a new step and a long one towards the ruin of their interest with the Indians; and when, in the next year, the smouldering war broke into flame, nearly all the western tribes drew their scalping-knives for France.

Villiers went back exultant to Fort Duquesne, burning on his way the buildings of Gist's settlement and the storehouse at Redstone Creek. Not an English flag now waved beyond the Alleghanies.[160]

[Footnote 160: See Appendix C.]