Life of George Washington

The route hence to Shannopins Town lay through a trackless wild, of which
the travellers knew nothing; after some consultation, therefore, it was
deemed expedient to engage one of the Indians as a guide. He entered upon
his duties with alacrity, took Washington’s pack upon his back, and led the
way by what he said was the most direct course. After travelling briskly
for eight or ten miles Washington became fatigued, and his feet were
chafed; he thought, too, they were taking a direction too much to the
north-east; he came to a halt, therefore, and determined to light a fire,
make a shelter of the bark and branches of trees, and encamp there for the
night. The Indian demurred; he offered, as Washington was fatigued, to
carry his gun, but the latter was too wary to part with his weapon. The
Indian now grew churlish. There were Ottawa Indians in the woods, he said,
who might be attracted by their fire, and surprise and scalp them; he
urged, therefore, that they should continue on: he would take them to his
cabin, where they would be safe.

Mr. Gist’s suspicions increased, but he said nothing. Washington’s also
were awakened. They proceeded some distance further: the guide paused and
listened. He had heard, he said, the report of a gun toward the north; it
must be from his cabin; he accordingly turned his steps in that direction.

Washington began to apprehend an ambuscade of savages. He knew the
hostility of many of them to the English, and what a desirable trophy was
the scalp of a white man. The Indian still kept on toward the north; he
pretended to hear two whoops–they were from his cabin–it could not be far

They went on two miles further, when Washington signified his determination
to encamp at the first water they should find. The guide said nothing, but
kept doggedly on. After a little while they arrived at an opening in the
woods, and emerging from the deep shadows in which they had been
travelling, found themselves in a clear meadow, rendered still more light
by the glare of the snow upon the ground. Scarcely had they emerged when
the Indian, who was about fifteen paces ahead, suddenly turned, levelled
his gun, and fired. Washington was startled for an instant, but, feeling
that he was not wounded, demanded quickly of Mr. Gist if he was shot. The
latter answered in the negative. The Indian in the mean time had run
forward, and screened himself behind a large white oak, where he was
reloading his gun. They overtook, and seized him. Gist would have put him
to death on the spot, but Washington humanely prevented him. They permitted
him to finish the loading of his gun; but, after he had put in the ball,
took the weapon from him, and let him see that he was under guard.

Arriving at a small stream they ordered the Indian to make a fire, and took
turns to watch over the guns. While he was thus occupied, Gist, a veteran
woodsman, and accustomed to hold the life of an Indian rather cheap, was
somewhat incommoded by the scruples of his youthful commander, which might
enable the savage to carry out some scheme of treachery. He observed to
Washington that, since he would not suffer the Indian to be killed, they
must manage to get him out of the way, and then decamp with all speed, and
travel all night to leave this perfidious neighborhood behind them; but
first it was necessary to blind the guide as to their intentions. He
accordingly addressed him in a friendly tone, and adverting to the late
circumstance, pretended to suppose that he had lost his way, and fired his
gun merely as a signal. The Indian, whether deceived or not, readily chimed
in with the explanation. He said he now knew the way to his cabin, which
was at no great distance. “Well then,” replied Gist, “you can go home, and
as we are tired we will remain here for the night, and follow your track at
daylight. In the mean time here is a cake of bread for you, and you must
give us some meat in the morning.”

Whatever might have been the original designs of the savage, he was
evidently glad to get off. Gist followed him cautiously for a distance, and
listened until the sound of his footsteps died away; returning then to
Washington, they proceeded about half a mile, made another fire, set their
compass and fixed their course by the light of it, then leaving it burning,
pushed forward, and travelled as fast as possible all night, so as to gain
a fair start should any one pursue them at daylight. Continuing on the next
day they never relaxed their speed until nightfall, when they arrived on
the banks of the Allegany River, about two miles above Shannopins Town.

Washington had expected to find the river frozen completely over; it was so
only for about fifty yards from either shore, while great quantities of
broken ice were driving down the main channel. Trusting that he had
out-travelled pursuit, he encamped on the border of the river; still it was
an anxious night, and he was up at daybreak to devise some means of
reaching the opposite bank. No other mode presented itself than by a raft,
and to construct this they had but one poor hatchet. With this they set
resolutely to work and labored all day, but the sun went down before their
raft was finished. They launched it, however, and getting on board,
endeavored to propel it across with setting poles. Before they were half
way over the raft became jammed between cakes of ice, and they were in
imminent peril. Washington planted his pole on the bottom of the stream,
and leaned against it with all his might, to stay the raft until the ice
should pass by. The rapid current forced the ice against the pole with such
violence that he was jerked into the water, where it was at least ten feet
deep, and only saved himself from being swept away and drowned by catching
hold of one of the raft logs.

It was now impossible with all their exertions to get to either shore;
abandoning the raft therefore, they got upon an island, near which they
were drifting. Here they passed the night exposed to intense cold by which
the hands and feet of Mr. Gist were frozen. In the morning they found the
drift ice wedged so closely together, that they succeeded in getting from
the island to the opposite side of the river; and before night were in
comfortable quarters at the house of Frazier, the Indian trader, at the
mouth of Turtle Creek on the Monongahela.

Here they learned from a war party of Indians that a band of Ottawas, a
tribe in the interest of the French, had massacred a whole family of whites
on the banks of the great Kanawha River.

At Frazier’s they were detained two or three days endeavoring to procure
horses. In this interval Washington had again occasion to exercise Indian
diplomacy. About three miles distant, at the mouth of the Youghiogeny
River, dwelt a female sachem, Queen Aliquippa, as the English called her,
whose sovereign dignity had been aggrieved, that the party on their way to
the Ohio, had passed near her royal wigwam without paying their respects to

Aware of the importance, at this critical juncture, of securing the
friendship of the Indians, Washington availed himself of the interruption
of his journey, to pay a visit of ceremony to this native princess.
Whatever anger she may have felt at past neglect, it was readily appeased
by a present of his old watch-coat; and her good graces were completely
secured by a bottle of rum, which, he intimates, appeared to be peculiarly
acceptable to her majesty.

Leaving Frazier’s on the 1st of January, they arrived on the 2d at the
residence of Mr. Gist, on the Monongahela. Here they separated, and
Washington having purchased a horse, continued his homeward course, passing
horses laden with materials and stores for the fort at the fork of the
Ohio, and families going out to settle there.

Having crossed the Blue Ridge and stopped one day at Belvoir to rest, he
reached Williamsburg on the 16th of January, where he delivered to Governor
Dinwiddie the letter of the French commandant, and made him a full report
of the events of his mission.

We have been minute in our account of this expedition as it was an early
test and development of the various talents and characteristics of

The prudence, sagacity, resolution, firmness, and self-devotion manifested
by him throughout; his admirable tact and self-possession in treating with
fickle savages and crafty white men; the soldier’s eye with which he had
noticed the commanding and defensible points of the country, and every
thing that would bear upon military operations; and the hardihood with
which he had acquitted himself during a wintry tramp through the
wilderness, through constant storms of rain and snow; often sleeping on the
ground without a tent in the open air, and in danger from treacherous
foes,–all pointed him out, not merely to the governor, but to the public
at large, as one eminently fitted, notwithstanding his youth, for important
trusts involving civil as well as military duties. It is an expedition that
may be considered the foundation of his fortunes. From that moment he was
the rising hope of Virginia.



The reply of the Chevalier de St. Pierre was such as might have been
expected from that courteous, but wary commander. He should transmit, he
said, the letter of Governor Dinwiddie to his general, the Marquis du
Quesne, “to whom,” observed he, “it better belongs than to me to set forth
the evidence and reality of the rights of the king, my master, upon the
lands situated along the river Ohio, and to contest the pretensions of the
King of Great Britain thereto. His answer shall be a law to me. … As to
the summons you send me to retire, I do not think myself obliged to obey
it. Whatever may be your instructions, I am here by virtue of the orders of
my general; and I entreat you, sir, not to doubt one moment but that I am
determined to conform myself to them with all the exactness and resolution
which can be expected from the best officer.” …

“I made it my particular care,” adds he, “to receive Mr. Washington with, a
distinction suitable to your dignity, as well as his own quality and great
merit. I flatter myself that he will do me this justice before you, sir,
and that he will signify to you, in the manner I do myself, the profound
respect with which I am, sir,” &c. [Footnote: London Mag., June, 1754.]

This soldier-like and punctilious letter of the chevalier was considered
evasive, and only intended to gain time. The information given by
Washington of what he had observed on the frontier convinced Governor
Dinwiddie and his council that the French were preparing to descend the
Ohio in the spring, and take military possession of the country.
Washington’s journal was printed, and widely promulgated throughout the
colonies and England, and awakened the nation to a sense of the impending
danger, and the necessity of prompt measures to anticipate the French

Captain Trent was despatched to the frontier, commissioned to raise a
company of one hundred men, march with all speed to the Fork of the Ohio,
and finish as soon as possible the fort commenced there by the Ohio
Company. He was enjoined to act only on the defensive, but to capture or
destroy whoever should oppose the construction of the works, or disturb the
settlements. The choice of Captain Trent for this service, notwithstanding
his late inefficient expedition, was probably owing to his being
brother-in-law to George Croghan, who had grown to be quite a personage of
consequence on the frontier, where he had an establishment or
trading-house, and was supposed to have great influence among the western
tribes, so as to be able at any time to persuade many of them to take up
the hatchet.

Washington was empowered to raise a company of like force at Alexandria; to
procure and forward munitions and supplies for the projected fort at the
Fork, and ultimately to have command of both companies. When on the
frontier he was to take council of George Croghan and Andrew Montour the
interpreter, in all matters relating to the Indians, they being esteemed
perfect oracles in that department.

Governor Dinwiddie in the mean time called upon the governors of the other
provinces to make common cause against the foe; he endeavored, also, to
effect alliances with the Indian tribes of the south, the Catawbas and
Cherokees, by way of counterbalancing the Chippewas and Ottawas, who were
devoted to the French.

The colonies, however, felt as yet too much like isolated territories; the
spirit of union was wanting. Some pleaded a want of military funds; some
questioned the justice of the cause; some declined taking any hostile step
that might involve them in a war, unless they should have direct orders
from the crown.

Dinwiddie convened the House of Burgesses to devise measures for the public
security. Here his high idea of prerogative and of gubernatorial dignity
met with a grievous countercheck from the dawning spirit of independence.
High as were the powers vested in the colonial government of Virginia, of
which, though but lieutenant-governor, he had the actual control; they were
counterbalanced by the power inherent in the people, growing out of their
situation and circumstances, and acting through their representatives.

There was no turbulent factious opposition to government in Virginia; no
“fierce democracy,” the rank growth of crowded cities, and a fermenting
populace; but there was the independence of men, living apart in
patriarchal style on their own rural domains; surrounded by their families,
dependants and slaves, among whom their will was law,–and there was the
individuality in character and action of men prone to nurture peculiar
notions and habits of thinking, in the thoughtful solitariness of country

When Dinwiddie propounded his scheme of operations on the Ohio, some of the
burgesses had the hardihood to doubt the claims of the king to the disputed
territory; a doubt which the governor reprobated as savoring strongly of a
most disloyal French spirit; he fired, as he says, at the thought “that an
English legislature should presume to doubt the right of his majesty to the
interior parts of this continent, the back part of his dominions!”

Others demurred to any grant of means for military purposes which might be
construed into an act of hostility. To meet this scruple it was suggested
that the grant might be made for the purpose of encouraging and protecting
all settlers on the waters of the Mississippi. And under this specious plea
ten thousand pounds were grudgingly voted; but even this moderate sum was
not put at the absolute disposition of the governor. A committee was
appointed with whom he was to confer as to its appropriation.

This precaution Dinwiddie considered an insulting invasion of the right he
possessed as governor to control the purse as well as the sword; and he
complained bitterly of the assembly, as deeply tinctured with a republican
way of thinking, and disposed to encroach on the prerogative of the crown,
“which he feared would render them more and more difficult to be _brought
to order_.”

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