Life of George Washington

The governor, in truth, was sorely perplexed about this time by
contradictions and cross-purposes, both in military and civil affairs. A
body of three hundred and fifty North Carolinian troops had been enlisted
at high pay, and were to form the chief reinforcement of Colonel Innes at
Wills’ Creek. By the time they reached Winchester, however, the provincial
military chest was exhausted, and future pay seemed uncertain; whereupon
they refused to serve any longer, disbanded themselves tumultuously, and
set off for their homes without taking leave.

The governor found the House of Burgesses equally unmanageable. His demands
for supplies were resisted on what he considered presumptuous pretexts; or
granted sparingly, under mortifying restrictions. His high Tory notions
were outraged by such republican conduct. “There appears to me,” said he,
“an infatuation in all the assemblies in this part of the world.” In a
letter to the Board of Trade he declared that the only way effectually to
check the progress of the French, would be an act of parliament requiring
the colonies to contribute to the common cause, _independently of
assemblies_; and in another, to the Secretary of State, he urged the
policy of compelling the colonies to their duty to the king by a general
poll-tax of two and sixpence a head. The worthy governor would have made a
fitting counsellor for the Stuart dynasty. Subsequent events have shown how
little his policy was suited to compete with the dawning republicanism of

In the month of October the House of Burgesses made a grant of twenty
thousand pounds for the public service; and ten thousand more were sent out
from England, beside a supply of firearms. The governor now applied himself
to military matters with renewed spirit; increased the actual force to ten
companies; and, as there had been difficulties among the different kinds of
troops with regard to precedence, he reduced them all to independent
companies; so that there would be no officer in a Virginia regiment above
the rank of captain.

This shrewd measure, upon which Dinwiddie secretly prided himself as
calculated to put an end to the difficulties in question, immediately drove
Washington out of the service; considering it derogatory to his character
to accept a lower commission than that under which his conduct had gained
him a vote of thanks from the Legislature.

Governor Sharpe, of Maryland, appointed by the king commander-in-chief of
all the forces engaged against the French, sought to secure his valuable
services, and authorized Colonel Fitzhugh, whom he had placed in temporary
command of the army, to write to him to that effect. The reply of
Washington (15th Nov.) is full of dignity and spirit, and shows how deeply
he felt his military degradation.

“You make mention,” says he, “of my continuing in the service and retaining
my colonel’s commission. This idea has filled me with surprise; for if you
think me capable of holding a commission that has neither rank nor
emolument annexed to it, you must maintain a very contemptible opinion of
my weakness, and believe me more empty than the commission itself.” After
intimating a suspicion that the project of reducing the regiment into
independent companies, and thereby throwing out the higher officers, was
“generated and hatched at Wills’ Creek,”–in other words, was an expedient
of Governor Dinwiddie, instead of being a peremptory order from England, he
adds, “Ingenuous treatment and plain dealing I at least expected. It is to
be hoped the project will answer; it shall meet with my acquiescence in
every thing except personal services. I herewith inclose Governor Sharpe’s
letter, which I beg you will return to him with my acknowledgments for the
favor he intended me. Assure him, sir, as you truly may, of my reluctance
to quit the service, and the pleasure I should have received in attending
his fortunes. Inform him, also, that it was to obey the call of honor and
the advice of my friends that I declined it, and not to gratify any desire
I had to leave the military line. My feelings are strongly bent to arms.”

Even had Washington hesitated to take this step, it would have been forced
upon him by a further regulation of government, in the course of the
ensuing winter, settling the rank of officers of his majesty’s forces when
joined or serving with the provincial forces in North America, “which
directed that all such as were commissioned by the king, or by his general
commander-in-chief in North America, should take rank of all officers
commissioned by the governors of the respective provinces. And further,
that the general and field officers of the provincial troops should have no
rank when serving with the general and field officers commissioned by the
crown; but that all captains and other inferior officers of the royal
troops should take rank over provincial officers of the same grade, having
older commissions.”

These regulations, originating in that supercilious assumption of
superiority which sometimes overruns and degrades true British pride, would
have been spurned by Washington, as insulting to the character and conduct
of his high-minded brethren of the colonies. How much did this open
disparagement of colonial honor and understanding, contribute to wean from
England the affection of her American subjects, and prepare the way for
their ultimate assertion of independence.

Another cause of vexation to Washington was the refusal of Governor
Dinwiddie to give up the French prisoners, taken in the affair of De
Jumonville, in fulfilment of the articles of capitulation. His plea was,
that since the capitulation, the French had taken several British subjects,
and sent them prisoners to Canada he considered himself justifiable in
detaining those Frenchmen which he had in his custody. He sent a flag of
truce, however, offering to return the officer Drouillon, and the two
cadets, in exchange for Captains Stobo and Van Braam, whom the French held
as hostages; but his offer was treated with merited disregard. Washington
felt deeply mortified by this obtuseness of the governor on a point of
military punctilio and honorable faith, but his remonstrances were

The French prisoners were clothed and maintained at the public expense, and
Drouillon and the cadets were allowed to go at large; the private soldiers
were kept in confinement. La Force, also, not having acted in a military
capacity, and having offended against the peace and security of the
frontier, by his intrigues among the Indians, was kept in close durance.
Washington, who knew nothing of this, was shocked on visiting Williamsburg,
to learn that La Force was in prison. He expostulated with the governor on
the subject, but without effect; Dinwiddie was at all times pertinacious,
but particularly so when he felt himself to be a little in the wrong.

As we shall have no further occasion to mention La Force, in connection
with the subject of this work, we will anticipate a page of his fortunes.
After remaining two years in confinement he succeeded in breaking out of
prison, and escaping into the country. An alarm was given, and circulated
far and wide, for such was the opinion of his personal strength, desperate
courage, wily cunning, and great influence over the Indians, that the most
mischievous results were apprehended should he regain the frontier. In the
mean time he was wandering about the country ignorant of the roads, and
fearing to make inquiries, lest his foreign tongue should betray him. He
reached King and Queen Court House, about thirty miles from Williamsburg,
when a countryman was struck with his foreign air and aspect. La Force
ventured to put a question as to the distance and direction of Fort
Duquesne, and his broken English convinced the countryman of his being the
French prisoner, whose escape had been noised about the country. Watching
an opportunity he seized him, and regardless of offers of great bribes,
conducted him back to the prison of Williamsburg, where he was secured with
double irons, and chained to the floor of his dungeon.

The refusal of Governor Dinwiddie to fulfil the article of the capitulation
respecting the prisoners, and the rigorous treatment of La Force, operated
hardly upon the hostages, Stobo and Van Braam, who, in retaliation, were
confined in prison in Quebec, though otherwise treated with kindness. They,
also, by extraordinary efforts, succeeded in breaking prison, but found it
more difficult to evade the sentries of a fortified place. Stobo managed to
escape into the country; but the luckless Van Braam sought concealment
under an arch of a causeway leading from the fortress. Here he remained
until nearly exhausted by hunger. Seeing the Governor of Canada passing by,
and despairing of being able to effect his escape, he came forth from his
hiding place, and surrendered himself, invoking his clemency. He was
remanded to prison, but experienced no additional severity. He was
subsequently shipped by the governor from Quebec to England, and never
returned to Virginia. It is this treatment of Van Braam, more than any
thing else, which convinces us that the suspicion of his being in collusion
with the French in regard to the misinterpretation of the articles of
capitulation, was groundless. He was simply a blunderer.



Having resigned his commission, and disengaged himself from public affairs,
Washington’s first care was to visit his mother, inquire into the state of
domestic concerns, and attend to the welfare of his brothers and sisters.
In these matters he was ever his mother’s adjunct and counsellor,
discharging faithfully the duties of an eldest son, who should consider
himself a second father to the family.

He now took up his abode at Mount Vernon, and prepared to engage in those
agricultural pursuits, for which, even in his youthful days, he had as keen
a relish as for the profession of arms. Scarcely had he entered upon his
rural occupations, however, when the service of his country once more
called him to the field.

The disastrous affair at the Great Meadows, and the other acts of French
hostility on the Ohio, had roused the attention of the British ministry.
Their ambassador at Paris was instructed to complain of those violations of
the peace. The court of Versailles amused him with general assurances of
amity, and a strict adherence to treaties. Their ambassador at the court of
St. James, the Marquis de Mirepoix, on the faith of his instructions, gave
the same assurances. In the mean time, however, French ships were fitted
out, and troops embarked, to carry out the schemes of the government in
America. So profound was the dissimulation of the court of Versailles, that
even their own ambassador is said to have been kept in ignorance of their
real designs, and of the hostile game they were playing, while he was
exerting himself in good faith, to lull the suspicions of England, and
maintain the international peace. When his eyes, however, were opened, he
returned indignantly to France, and upbraided the cabinet with the
duplicity of which he had been made the unconscious instrument.

The British government now prepared for military operations in America;
none of them professedly aggressive, but rather to resist and counteract
aggressions. A plan of campaign was devised for 1755, having four objects.

To eject the French from lands which they held unjustly, in the province of
Nova Scotia.

To dislodge them from a fortress which they had erected at Crown Point, on
Lake Champlain, within what was claimed as British territory.

To dispossess them of the fort which they had constructed at Niagara,
between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.

To drive them from the frontiers of Pennsylvania and Virginia, and recover
the valley of the Ohio.

The Duke of Cumberland, captain-general of the British army, had the
organization of this campaign; and through his patronage, Major-general
Edward Braddock was intrusted with the execution of it, being appointed
generalissimo of all the forces in the colonies.

Braddock was a veteran in service, and had been upwards of forty years in
the guards, that school of exact discipline and technical punctilio.
Cumberland, who held a commission in the guards, and was bigoted to its
routine, may have considered Braddock fitted, by his skill and preciseness
as a tactician, for a command in a new country, inexperienced in military
science, to bring its raw levies into order, and to settle those questions
of rank and etiquette apt to arise where regular and provincial troops are
to act together.

The result proved the error of such an opinion. Braddock was a brave and
experienced officer but his experience was that of routine, and rendered
him pragmatical and obstinate, impatient of novel expedients “not laid down
in the books,” but dictated by emergencies in a “new country,” and his
military precision, which would have been brilliant on parade, was a
constant obstacle to alert action in the wilderness. [Footnote: Horace
Walpole, in his letters, relates some anecdotes of Braddock, which give a
familiar picture of him in the fashionable life in which he had mingled in
London, and are of value, as letting us into the private character of a man
whose name has become proverbial in American history. “Braddock,” says
Walpole, “is a very Iroquois in disposition. He had a sister, who, having
gamed away all her little fortune at Bath, hanged herself with a truly
English deliberation, leaving a note on the table with these lines: ‘To die
is landing on some silent shore,’ &c. When Braddock was told of it, he only
said: ‘Poor Fanny! I always thought she would play till she would be forced
to tuck herself up.'”

Braddock himself had been somewhat of a spendthrift. He was touchy also,
and punctilious. “He once had a duel,” says Walpole, “with Colonel Glumley,
Lady Bath’s brother, who had been his great friend. As they were going to
engage, Glumley, who had good humor and wit (Braddock had the latter) said:
‘Braddock, you are a poor dog! here, take my purse, if you kill me you will
be forced to run away, and then you will not have a shilling to support
you.’ Braddock refused the purse, insisted on the duel, was disarmed, and
would not even ask for his life.”]

Braddock was to lead in person the grand enterprise of the campaign, that
destined for the frontiers of Virginia and Pennsylvania; it was the
enterprise in which Washington became enlisted, and, therefore, claims our
especial attention.

Prior to the arrival of Braddock, came out from England Lieutenant-colonel
Sir John St. Clair, deputy quartermaster-general, eager to make himself
acquainted with the field of operations. He made a tour of inspection, in
company with Governor Sharpe, of Maryland, and appears to have been
dismayed at sight of the impracticable wilderness, the region of
Washington’s campaign. From Fort Cumberland, he wrote in February to
Governor Morris, of Pennsylvania, to have the road cut, or repaired, toward
the head of the river Youghiogeny, and another opened from Philadelphia for
the transportation of supplies. “No general,” writes he, “will advance with
an army without having a communication open to the provinces in his rear,
both for the security of retreat, and to facilitate the transport of
provisions, the supplying of which must greatly depend on your province.”
[Footnote: Colonial Records, vi., 300.]

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