Life of George Washington

About eight at night the French requested a parley. Washington hesitated.
It might be a stratagem to gain admittance for a spy into the fort. The
request was repeated, with the addition that an officer might be sent to
treat with them, under their parole for his safety. Unfortunately the
Chevalier de Peyrouney, engineer of the regiment, and the only one who
could speak French correctly, was wounded and disabled. Washington had to
send, therefore, his ancient swordsman and interpreter, Jacob Van Braam.
The captain returned twice with separate terms, in which the garrison was
required to surrender; both were rejected. He returned a third time, with
written articles of capitulation. They were in French. As no implements for
writing were at hand, Van Braam undertook to translate them by word of
mouth. A candle was brought, and held close to the paper while he read.
The rain fell in torrents; it was difficult to keep the light from being
extinguished. The captain rendered the capitulation, article by article, in
mongrel English, while Washington and his officers stood listening,
endeavoring to disentangle the meaning. One article stipulated that on
surrendering the fort they should leave all their military stores,
munitions, and artillery in possession of the French. This was objected to,
and was readily modified.

The main articles, as Washington and his officers understood them, were,
that they should be allowed to return to the settlements without
molestation from French or Indians. That they should march out of the fort
with the honors of war, drums beating and colors flying, and with all their
effects and military stores excepting the artillery, which should be
destroyed. That they should be allowed to deposit their effects in some
secret place, and leave a guard to protect them until they could send
horses to bring them away; their horses having been nearly all killed or
lost during the action. That they should give their word of honor not to
attempt any buildings or improvements on the lands of his most Christian
Majesty, for the space of a year. That the prisoners taken in the skirmish
of Jumonville should be restored, and until their delivery Captain Van
Braam and Captain Stobo should remain with the French as hostages.
[Footnote: Horace Walpole, in a flippant notice of this capitulation, says:
“The French have tied up the hands of an excellent _fanfaron_, a Major
Washington, whom they took and engaged not to serve for one year.”
(Correspondence, vol. iii., p. 73.) Walpole, at this early date, seems to
have considered Washington a perfect fire-eater.]

The next morning accordingly, Washington and his men marched out of their
forlorn fortress with the honors of war, bearing with them their regimental
colors, but leaving behind a large flag, too cumbrous to be transported.
Scarcely had they begun their march, however, when, in defiance of the
terms of capitulation, they were beset by a large body of Indians, allies
of the French, who began plundering the baggage, and committing other
irregularities. Seeing that the French did not, or could not, prevent them,
and that all the baggage which could not be transported on the shoulders of
his troops would fall into the hands of these savages, Washington ordered
it to be destroyed, as well as the artillery, gunpowder, and other military
stores. All this detained him until ten o’clock, when he set out on his
melancholy march. He had not proceeded above a mile when two or three of
the wounded men were reported to be missing. He immediately detached a few
men back in quest of them, and continued on until three miles from Fort
Necessity, where he encamped for the night, and was rejoined by the

In this affair, out of the Virginia regiment, consisting of three hundred
and five men, officers included, twelve had been killed, and forty-three
wounded. The number killed and wounded in Captain Mackay’s company is not
known. The loss of the French and Indians is supposed to have been much

In the following days’ march the troops seemed jaded and disheartened; they
were encumbered and delayed by the wounded; provisions were scanty, and
they had seventy weary miles to accomplish before they could meet with
supplies. Washington, however, encouraged them by his own steadfast and
cheerful demeanor, and by sharing all their toils and privations; and at
length conducted them in safety to Wills’ Creek, where they found ample
provisions in the military magazines. Leaving them here to recover their
strength, he proceeded with Captain Mackay to Williamsburg, to make his
military report to the governor.

A copy of the capitulation was subsequently laid before the Virginia House
of Burgesses, with explanations. Notwithstanding the unfortunate result of
the campaign, the conduct of Washington and his officers was properly
appreciated, and they received a vote of thanks for their bravery, and
gallant defence of their country. Three hundred pistoles (nearly eleven
hundred dollars) also were voted to be distributed among the privates who
had been in action.

From the vote of thanks, two officers were excepted; Major Stobo, who was
charged with cowardice, and Washington’s unfortunate master of fence and
blundering interpreter, Jacob Van Braam, who was accused of treachery, in
purposely misinterpreting the articles of capitulation.

In concluding this chapter, we will anticipate dates to record the fortunes
of the half-king after his withdrawal from the camp. He and several of his
warriors, with their wives and children, retreated to Aughquick, in the
back part of Pennsylvania, where George Croghan had an agency, and was
allowed money from time to time for the maintenance Of Indian allies. By
the by, Washington, in his letter to William Fairfax, expressed himself
much disappointed in Croghan and Montour, who proved, he said, to be great
pretenders, and by vainly boasting of their interest with the Indians,
involved the country in great calamity, causing dependence to be placed
where there was none. [Footnote: Letter to W. Fairfax, Aug. 11th, 1754.] For, with all their boast, they never could induce above thirty fighting
men to join the camp, and not more than half of those rendered any service.

As to the half-king, he expressed himself perfectly disgusted with the
white man’s mode of warfare. The French, he said, were cowards; the
English, fools. Washington was a good man, but wanted experience: he would
not take advice of the Indians and was always driving them to fight
according to his own notions. For this reason he (the half-king) had
carried off his wife and children to a place of safety.

After a time the chieftain fell dangerously ill, and a conjurer or
“medicine man” was summoned to inquire into the cause or nature of his
malady. He gave it as his opinion that the French had bewitched him, in
revenge for the great blow he had struck them in the affair of Jumonville;
for the Indians gave him the whole credit of that success, he having sent
round the French scalps as trophies. In the opinion of the conjurer all the
friends of the chieftain concurred, and on his death, which took place
shortly afterwards, there was great lamentation, mingled with threats of
immediate vengeance. The foregoing particulars are gathered from a letter
written by John Harris, an Indian trader, to the Governor of Pennsylvania,
at the request of the half-king’s friend and fellow sachem, Monacatoocha,
otherwise called Scarooyadi. “I humbly presume,” concludes John Harris,
“that his death is a very great loss, especially at this critical time.”
[Footnote: Pennsylvania Archives, vol. ii., p. 178.]


We have been thus particular in tracing the affair of the Great Meadows,
step by step, guided by the statements of Washington himself and of one of
his officers, present in the engagement, because it is another of the
events in the early stage of his military career, before the justice and
magnanimity of his character were sufficiently established which have been
subject to misrepresentation. When the articles of capitulation came to be
correctly translated and published, there were passages in them derogatory
to the honor of Washington and his troops, and, which, it would seem, had
purposely been inserted for their humiliation by the French commander; but
which, they protested, had never been rightly translated by Van Braam. For
instance, in the written articles, they were made to stipulate that for the
space of a year, they would not work on any establishment beyond the
mountains; whereas it had been translated by Van Braam “on any
establishment _on the lands of the King of France_” which was quite
another thing, as most of the land beyond the mountains was considered by
them as belonging to the British crown. There were other points, of minor
importance, relative to the disposition of the artillery; but the most
startling and objectionable one was that concerning the previous skirmish
in the Great Meadows. This was mentioned in the written articles as
_l’assassinat du Sieur de Jumonville_, that is to say, the
_murder_ of De Jumonville; an expression from which Washington and his
officers would have revolted with scorn and indignation; and which, if
truly translated, would in all probability have caused the capitulation to
be sent back instantly to the French commander. On the contrary, they
declared it had been translated to them by Van Braam the _death_ of De

M. de Villiers, in his account of this transaction to the French
government, avails himself of these passages in the capitulation to cast a
slur on the conduct of Washington. He says, “We made the English consent to
sign that they had assassinated my brother in his camp.”–“We caused them
to abandon the lands belonging to the king.–We obliged them to leave their
cannon, which consisted of nine pieces, &c.” He further adds: “The English,
struck with panic, took to flight, and left their flag and one of their
colors.” We have shown that the flag left was the unwieldy one belonging to
the fort; too cumbrous to be transported by troops who could not carry
their own necessary baggage. The regimental colors, as honorable symbols,
were scrupulously carried off by Washington, and retained by him in after

M. de Villiers adds another incident intended to degrade his enemy. He
says, “One of my Indians took ten Englishmen, whom he brought to me, and
whom I sent back by another.” These, doubtless, were the men detached by
Washington in quest of the wounded loiterers; and who, understanding
neither French nor Indian, found a difficulty in explaining their peaceful
errand. That they were captured by the Indian seems too much of a

The public opinion at the time was that Van Braam had been suborned by De
Villiers to soften the offensive articles of the capitulation in
translating them, so that they should not wound the pride nor awaken the
scruples of Washington and his officers, yet should stand on record against
them. It is not probable that a French officer of De Villiers’ rank would
practise such a base perfidy, nor does the subsequent treatment experienced
by Van Braam from the French corroborate the charge. It is more than
probable the inaccuracy of translation originated in his ignorance of the
precise weight and value of words in the two languages, neither of which
was native to him, and between which he was the blundering agent of



Early in August Washington rejoined his regiment, which had arrived at
Alexandria by the way of Winchester. Letters from Governor Dinwiddie urged
him to recruit it to the former number of three hundred men, and join
Colonel Innes at Wills’ Creek, where that officer was stationed with
Mackay’s independent company of South Carolinians, and two independent
companies from New York; and had been employed in erecting a work to serve
as a frontier post and rallying point; which work received the name of Fort
Cumberland, in honor of the Duke of Cumberland, captain-general of the
British army.

In the mean time the French, elated by their recent triumph, and thinking
no danger at hand, relaxed their vigilance at Fort Duquesne. Stobo, who was
a kind of prisoner at large there, found means to send a letter secretly by
an Indian, dated July 28, and directed to the commander of the English
troops. It was accompanied by a plan of the fort. “There are two hundred
men here,” writes he, “and two hundred expected; the rest have gone off in
detachments to the amount of one thousand, besides Indians. None lodge in
the fort but Contrecoeur and the guard, consisting of forty men and five
officers; the rest lodge in bark cabins around the fort. The Indians have
access day and night, and come and go when they please. If one hundred
trusty Shawnees, Mingoes, and Delawares were picked out, they might
surprise the fort, lodging themselves under the palisades by day, and at
night secure the guard with their tomahawks, shut the sally-gate, and the
fort is ours.”

One part of Stobo’s letter breathes a loyal and generous spirit of
self-devotion. Alluding to the danger in which he and Van Braam, his
fellow-hostage, might be involved, he says, “Consider the good of the
expedition without regard to us. When we engaged to serve the country it
was expected we were to do it with our lives. For my part, I would die a
hundred deaths to have the pleasure of possessing this fort but one day.
They are so vain of their success at the Meadows it is worse than death to
hear them. Haste to strike.” [Footnote: Hazard’s Register of Penn., iv.,

The Indian messenger carried the letter to Aughquick and delivered it into
the hands of George Croghan. The Indian chiefs who were with him insisted
upon his opening it. He did so, but on finding the tenor of it, transmitted
it to the Governor of Pennsylvania. The secret information communicated by
Stobo, may have been the cause of a project suddenly conceived by Governor
Dinwiddie, of a detachment which, by a forced march across the mountains,
might descend upon the French and take Fort Duquesne at a single blow; or,
failing that, might build a rival fort in its vicinity. He accordingly
wrote to Washington to march forthwith for Wills’ Creek, with such
companies as were complete, leaving orders with the officers to follow as
soon as they should have enlisted men sufficient to make up their
companies. “The season of the year,” added he, “calls for despatch. I
depend upon your usual diligence and spirit to encourage your people to be
active on this occasion.”

The ignorance of Dinwiddie in military affairs, and his want of forecast,
led him perpetually into blunders. Washington saw the rashness of an
attempt to dispossess the French with a force so inferior that it could be
harassed and driven from place to place at their pleasure. Before the
troops could be collected, and munitions of war provided, the season would
be too far advanced. There would be no forage for the horses; the streams
would be swollen and unfordable; the mountains rendered impassable by snow,
and frost, and slippery roads. The men, too, unused to campaigning on the
frontier, would not be able to endure a winter in the wilderness, with no
better shelter than a tent; especially in their present condition,
destitute of almost every thing. Such are a few of the cogent reasons urged
by Washington in a letter to his friend William Fairfax, then in the House
of Burgesses, which no doubt was shown to Governor Dinwiddie, and probably
had an effect in causing the rash project to be abandoned.

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