Life of George Washington

So difficult was it, however, to settle these disputes of precedence,
especially where the claims of two governors came in collision, that it was
determined to refer the matter to Major-General Shirley, who had succeeded
Braddock in the general command of the colonies. For this purpose
Washington was to go to Boston, obtain a decision from Shirley of the point
in dispute, and a general regulation, by which these difficulties could be
prevented in future. It was thought, also, that in a conference with the
commander-in-chief he might inform himself of the military measures in

Accordingly, on the 4th of February (1756), leaving Colonel Adam Stephen in
command of the troops, Washington set out on his mission, accompanied by
his aide-de-camp, Captain George Mercer of Virginia, and Captain Stewart of
the Virginia light horse; the officer who had taken care of General
Braddock in his last moments.

In those days the conveniences of travelling, even between our main cities,
were few, and the roads execrable. The party, therefore, travelled in
Virginia style, on horseback, attended by their black servants in livery.
[Footnote: We have hitherto treated of Washington in his campaigns in the
wilderness, frugal and scanty in his equipments, often, very probably, in
little better than hunter’s garb. His present excursion through some of the
Atlantic cities presents him in a different aspect. His recent intercourse
with young British officers, had probably elevated his notions as to style
in dress and appearance; at least we are inclined to suspect so from the
following aristocratical order for clothes, sent shortly before the time in
question, to his correspondent in London.

“2 complete livery suits for servants; with a spare cloak, and all other
necessary trimmings for two suits more. I would have you choose the livery
by our arms, only as the field of the arms is white, I think the clothes
had better not be quite so, but nearly like the inclosed. The trimmings and
facings of scarlet, and a scarlet waistcoat. If livery lace is not quite
disused, I should be glad to have the cloaks laced. I like that fashion
best, and two silver-laced hats for the above servants.

“1 set of horse furniture, with livery lace, with the Washington crest on
the housings, &c. The cloak to be of the same piece and color of the

“3 gold and scarlet sword-knots. 3 silver and blue do. 1 fashionable
gold-laced hat.”] In this way they accomplished a journey of five hundred
miles in the depth of winter; stopping for some days at Philadelphia and
New York. Those cities were then comparatively small, and the arrival of a
party of young Southern officers attracted attention. The late disastrous
battle was still the theme of every tongue, and the honorable way in which
these young officers had acquitted themselves in it, made them objects of
universal interest. Washington’s fame, especially, had gone before him;
having been spread by the officers who had served with him, and by the
public honors decreed him by the Virginia Legislature. “Your name,” wrote
his former fellow-campaigner, Gist, in a letter dated in the preceding
autumn, “is more talked of in Philadelphia than that of any other person in
the army, and every body seems willing to venture under your command.”


With these prepossessions in his favor, when we consider Washington’s noble
person and demeanor, his consummate horsemanship, the admirable horses he
was accustomed to ride, and the aristocratical style of his equipments, we
may imagine the effect produced by himself and his little cavalcade, as
they clattered through the streets of Philadelphia, and New York, and
Boston. It is needless to say, their sojourn in each city was a continual

The mission to General Shirley was entirely successful as to the question
of rank. A written order from the Commander-in-chief determined that
Dagworthy was entitled to the rank of a provincial captain, only, and, of
course, must on all occasions give precedence to Colonel Washington, as a
provincial field officer. The latter was disappointed, however, in the hope
of getting himself and his officers put upon the regular establishment,
with commissions from the king, and had to remain subjected to mortifying
questions of rank and etiquette, when serving in company with regular

From General Shirley he learnt that the main objects of the ensuing
campaign would be the reduction of Fort Niagara, so as to cut off the
communication between Canada and Louisiana, the capture of Ticonderoga and
Crown Point, as a measure of safety for New York, the besieging of Fort
Duquesne, and the menacing of Quebec by a body of troops which were to
advance by the Kennebec River.

The official career of General Shirley was drawing to a close. Though a man
of good parts, he had always, until recently, acted in a civil capacity,
and proved incompetent to conduct military operations. He was recalled to
England, and was to be superseded by General Abercrombie, who was coming
out with two regiments.

The general command in America, however, was to be held by the Earl of
Loudoun, who was invested with powers almost equal to those of a viceroy,
being placed above all the colonial governors. These might claim to be
civil and military representatives of their sovereign, within their
respective colonies; but, even there, were bound to defer and yield
precedence to this their official superior. This was part of a plan devised
long since, but now first brought into operation, by which the ministry
hoped to unite the colonies under military rule, and oblige the Assemblies,
magistrates, and people to furnish quarters and provide a general fund
subject to the control of this military dictator.

Beside his general command, the Earl of Loudoun was to be governor of
Virginia and colonel of a royal American regiment of four battalions, to be
raised in the colonies, but furnished with officers who, like himself, had
seen foreign service. The campaign would open on his arrival, which, it was
expected, would be early in the spring; and brilliant results were

Washington remained ten days in Boston, attending, with great interest, the
meetings of the Massachusetts Legislature, in which the plan of military
operations was ably discussed; and receiving the most hospitable attentions
from the polite and intelligent society of the place, after which he
returned to New York.

Tradition gives very different motives from those of business for his two
sojourns in the latter city. He found there an early friend and
school-mate, Beverly Robinson, son of John Robinson, speaker of the
Virginia House of Burgesses. He was living happily and prosperously with a
young and wealthy bride, having married one of the nieces and heiresses of
Mr. Adolphus Philipse, a rich landholder, whose manor-house is still to be
seen on the banks of the Hudson. At the house of Mr. Beverly Robinson,
where Washington was an honored guest, he met Miss Mary Philipse, sister of
and co-heiress with Mrs. Robinson, a young lady whose personal attractions
are said to have rivalled her reputed wealth.

We have already given an instance of Washington’s early sensibility to
female charms. A life, however, of constant activity and care, passed for
the most part in the wilderness and on the frontier, far from female
society, had left little mood or leisure for the indulgence of the tender
sentiment; but made him more sensible, in the present brief interval of gay
and social life, to the attractions of an elegant woman, brought up in the
polite circle of New York.

That he was an open admirer of Miss Philipse is an historical fact; that he
sought her hand, but was refused, is traditional, and not very probable.
His military rank, his early laurels and distinguished presence, were all
calculated to win favor in female eyes; but his sojourn in New York was
brief; he may have been diffident in urging his suit with a lady accustomed
to the homage of society and surrounded by admirers. The most probable
version of the story is, that he was called away by his public duties
before he had made sufficient approaches in his siege of the lady’s heart
to warrant a summons to surrender. In the latter part of March we find him
at Williamsburg attending the opening of the Legislature of Virginia, eager
to promote measures for the protection of the frontier and the capture of
Fort Duquesne, the leading object of his ambition. Maryland and
Pennsylvania were erecting forts for the defence of their own borders, but
showed no disposition to co-operate with Virginia in the field; and
artillery, artillerymen, and engineers were wanting for an attack on
fortified places. Washington urged, therefore, an augmentation of the
provincial forces, and various improvements in the militia laws.

While thus engaged, he received a letter from a friend and confidant in New
York, warning him to hasten back to that city before it was too late, as
Captain Morris, who had been his fellow aide-de-camp under Braddock, was
laying close siege to Miss Philipse. Sterner alarms, however, summoned him
in another direction. Expresses from Winchester brought word that the
French had made another sortie from Fort Duquesne, accompanied by a band of
savages, and were spreading terror and desolation through the country. In
this moment of exigency all softer claims were forgotten; Washington
repaired in all haste to his post at Winchester, and Captain Morris was
left to urge his suit unrivalled and carry off the prize.



Report had not exaggerated the troubles of the frontier. It was marauded by
merciless bands of savages, led, in some instances, by Frenchmen.
Travellers were murdered, farm-houses burnt down, families butchered, and
even stockaded forts, or houses of refuge, attacked in open day. The
marauders had crossed the mountains and penetrated the valley of the
Shenandoah; and several persons had fallen beneath the tomahawk in the
neighborhood of Winchester.

Washington’s old friend, Lord Fairfax, found himself no longer safe in his
rural abode. Greenway Court was in the midst of a woodland region,
affording a covert approach for the stealthy savage. His lordship was
considered a great chief, whose scalp would be an inestimable trophy for an
Indian warrior. Fears were entertained, therefore, by his friends, that an
attempt would be made to surprise him in his green-wood castle. His nephew,
Colonel Martin, of the militia, who resided with him, suggested the
expediency of a removal to the lower settlements, beyond the Blue Ridge.
The high-spirited old nobleman demurred; his heart cleaved to the home
which he had formed for himself in the wilderness. “I am an old man,” said
he, “and it is of little importance whether I fall by the tomahawk or die
of disease and old age; but you are young, and, it is to be hoped, have
many years before you, therefore decide for us both; my only fear is, that
if we retire, the whole district will break up and take to flight; and this
fine country, which I have been at such cost and trouble to improve, will
again become a wilderness.”

Colonel Martin took but a short time to deliberate. He knew the fearless
character of his uncle, and perceived what was his inclination. He
considered that his lordship had numerous retainers, white and black, with
hardy huntsmen and foresters to rally round him, and that Greenway Court
was at no great distance from Winchester; he decided, therefore, that they
should remain and abide the course of events.

Washington, on his arrival at Winchester, found the inhabitants in great
dismay. He resolved immediately to organize a force, composed partly of
troops from Fort Cumberland, partly of militia from Winchester and its
vicinity, to put himself at its head, and “scour the woods and suspected
places in all the mountains and valleys of this part of the frontier, in
quest of the Indians and their more cruel associates.”

He accordingly despatched an express to Fort Cumberland with orders for a
detachment from the garrison; “but how,” said he, “are men to be raised at
Winchester, since orders are no longer regarded in the county?”

Lord Fairfax, and other militia officers with whom he consulted, advised
that each captain should call a private muster of his men, and read before
them an address, or “exhortation” as it was called, being an appeal to
their patriotism and fears, and a summons to assemble on the 15th of April
to enroll themselves for the projected mountain foray.

This measure was adopted; the private musterings occurred; the exhortation
was read; the time and place of assemblage appointed; but, when the day of
enrolment arrived, not more than fifteen men appeared upon the ground. In
the mean time the express returned with sad accounts from Fort Cumberland.
No troops could be furnished from that quarter. The garrison was scarcely
strong enough for self-defence, having sent out detachments in different
directions. The express had narrowly escaped with his life, having been
fired upon repeatedly, his horse shot under him, and his clothes riddled
with bullets. The roads, he said, were infested by savages; none but
hunters, who knew how to thread the forests at night, could travel with

Horrors accumulated at Winchester. Every hour brought its tale of terror,
true or false, of houses burnt, families massacred, or beleaguered and
famishing in stockaded forts. The danger approached. A scouting party had
been attacked in the Warm Spring Mountain, about twenty miles distant, by a
large body of French and Indians, mostly on horseback. The captain of the
scouting party and several of his men had been slain, and the rest put to

An attack on Winchester was apprehended, and the terrors of the people rose
to agony. They now turned to Washington as their main hope. The women
surrounded him, holding up their children, and imploring him with tears and
cries to save them from the savages. The youthful commander looked round on
the suppliant crowd with a countenance beaming with pity, and a heart wrung
with anguish. A letter to Governor Dinwiddie shows the conflict of his
feelings. “I am too little acquainted with pathetic language to attempt a
description of these people’s distresses. But what can I do? I see their
situation; I know their danger, and participate their sufferings, without
having it in my power to give them further relief than uncertain
promises.”–“The supplicating tears of the women, and moving petitions of
the men, melt me into such deadly sorrow, that I solemnly declare, if I
know my own mind, I could offer myself a willing sacrifice to the
butchering enemy, provided that would contribute to the people’s ease.”

The unstudied eloquence of this letter drew from the governor an instant
order for a militia force from the upper counties to his assistance; but
the Virginia newspapers, in descanting on the frontier troubles, threw
discredit on the army and its officers, and attached blame to its
commander. Stung to the quick by this injustice, Washington publicly
declared that nothing but the imminent danger of the times prevented him
from instantly resigning a command from which he could never reap either
honor or benefit. His sensitiveness called forth strong letters from his
friends, assuring him of the high sense entertained at the seat of
government, and elsewhere, of his merits and services. “Your good health
and fortune are the toast of every table,” wrote his early friend, Colonel
Fairfax, at that time a member of the governor’s council. “Your endeavors
in the service and defence of your country must redound to your honor.”

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