Life of George Washington

From this encampment the party proceeded to the mouth of Patterson’s Creek,
where they recrossed the river in a canoe, swimming their horses as before.
More than two weeks were now passed by them in the wild mountainous regions
of Frederick County, and about the south branch of the Potomac, surveying
lands and laying out lots, camped out the greater part of the time, and
subsisting on wild turkeys and other game. Each one was his own cook;
forked sticks served for spits, and chips of wood for dishes. The weather
was unsettled. At one time their tent was blown down; at another they were
driven out of it by smoke; now they were drenched with rain, and now the
straw on which Washington was sleeping caught fire, and he was awakened by
a companion just in time to escape a scorching.

The only variety to this camp life was a supper at the house of one Solomon
Hedge, Esquire, his majesty’s justice of the peace, where there were no
forks at table, nor any knives, but such as the guests brought in their
pockets. During their surveys they were followed by numbers of people, some
of them squatters, anxious, doubtless, to procure a cheap title to the land
they had appropriated; others, German emigrants, with their wives and
children, seeking a new home in the wilderness. Most of the latter could
not speak English; but when spoken to, answered in their native tongue.
They appeared to Washington ignorant as Indians, and uncouth, but “merry,
and full of antic tricks.” Such were the progenitors of the sturdy yeomanry
now inhabiting those parts, many of whom still preserve their strong German

“I have not slept above three or four nights in a bed,” writes Washington
to one of his young friends at home, “but after walking a good deal all the
day I have lain down before the fire upon a little straw or fodder, or a
bear skin, whichever was to be had, with man, wife, and children, like dogs
and cats; and happy is he who gets the berth nearest the fire.”

Having completed his surveys, he set forth from the south branch of the
Potomac on his return homeward; crossed the mountains to the great
Cacapehon; traversed the Shenandoah valley; passed through the Blue Ridge,
and on the 12th of April found himself once more at Mount Vernon. For his
services he received, according to his note-book, a doubloon per day when
actively employed, and sometimes six pistoles. [Footnote: A pistole is

The manner in which he had acquitted himself in this arduous expedition,
and his accounts of the country surveyed, gave great satisfaction to Lord
Fairfax, who shortly afterwards moved across the Blue Ridge, and took up
his residence at the place heretofore noted as his “quarters.” Here he laid
out a manor, containing ten thousand acres of arable grazing lands, vast
meadows, and noble forests, and projected a spacious manor house, giving to
the place the name of Greenway Court.

It was probably through the influence of Lord Fairfax that Washington
received the appointment of public surveyor. This conferred authority on
his surveys, and entitled them to be recorded in the county offices, and so
invariably correct have these surveys been found that, to this day,
wherever any of them stand on record, they receive implicit credit.

For three years he continued in this occupation, which proved extremely
profitable, from the vast extent of country to be surveyed and the very
limited number of public surveyors. It made him acquainted, also, with the
country, the nature of the soil in various parts, and the value of
localities; all which proved advantageous to him in his purchases in after
years. Many of the finest parts of the Shenandoah valley are yet owned by
members of the Washington family.

While thus employed for months at a time surveying the lands beyond the
Blue Ridge, he was often an inmate of Greenway Court. The projected manor
house was never even commenced. On a green knoll overshadowed by trees was
a long stone building one story in height, with dormer windows, two wooden
belfries, chimneys studded with swallow and martin coops, and a roof
sloping down in the old Virginia fashion, into low projecting eaves that
formed a verandah the whole length of the house. It was probably the house
originally occupied by his steward or land agent, but was now devoted to
hospitable purposes, and the reception of guests. As to his lordship, it
was one of his many eccentricities, that he never slept in the main
edifice, but lodged apart in a wooden house not much above twelve feet
square. In a small building was his office, where quitrents were given,
deeds drawn, and business transacted with his tenants.

About the knoll were out-houses for his numerous servants, black and white,
with stables for saddle-horses and hunters, and kennels for his hounds, for
his lordship retained his keen hunting propensities, and the neighborhood
abounded in game. Indians, half-breeds, and leathern-clad woodsmen loitered
about the place, and partook of the abundance of the kitchen. His
lordship’s table was plentiful but plain, and served in the English

Here Washington had full opportunity, in the proper seasons, of indulging
his fondness for field sports, and once more accompanying his lordship in
the chase. The conversation of Lord Fairfax, too, was full of interest and
instruction to an inexperienced youth, from his cultivated talents, his
literary taste, and his past intercourse with the best society of Europe,
and its most distinguished authors. He had brought books, too, with him
into the wilderness, and from Washington’s diary we find that during his
sojourn here he was diligently reading the history of England, and the
essays of the Spectator.

Such was Greenway Court in these its palmy days. We visited it recently and
found it tottering to its fall, mouldering in the midst of a magnificent
country, where nature still flourishes in full luxuriance and beauty.

Three or four years were thus passed by Washington, the greater part of the
time beyond the Blue Ridge, but occasionally with his brother Lawrence at
Mount Vernon. His rugged and toilsome expeditions in the mountains, among
rude scenes and rough people, inured him to hardships, and made him apt at
expedients; while his intercourse with his cultivated brother, and with the
various members of the Fairfax family, had a happy effect in toning up his
mind and manners, and counteracting the careless and self-indulgent
habitudes of the wilderness.



During the time of Washington’s surveying campaigns among the mountains, a
grand colonizing scheme had been set on foot, destined to enlist him in
hardy enterprises, and in some degree to shape the course of his future

The treaty of peace concluded at Aix-la-Chapelle, which had put an end to
the general war of Europe, had left undefined the boundaries between the
British and French possessions in America; a singular remissness,
considering that they had long been a subject in dispute, and a cause of
frequent conflicts in the colonies. Immense regions were still claimed by
both nations, and each was now eager to forestall the other by getting
possession of them, and strengthening its claim by occupancy.

The most desirable of these regions lay west of the Allegany Mountains,
extending from the lakes to the Ohio, and embracing the valley of that
river and its tributary streams. An immense territory, possessing a
salubrious climate, fertile soil, fine hunting and fishing grounds, and
facilities by lakes and rivers for a vast internal commerce.

The French claimed all this country quite to the Allegany mountains by the
right of discovery. In 1673, Padre Marquette, with his companion, Joliet,
of Quebec, both subjects of the crown of France, had passed down the
Mississippi in a canoe quite to the Arkansas, thereby, according to an
alleged maxim in the law of nations, establishing the right of their
sovereign, not merely to the river so discovered and its adjacent lands,
but to all the country drained by its tributary streams, of which the Ohio
was one; a claim, the ramifications of which might be spread, like the
meshes of a web, over half the continent.

To this illimitable claim the English opposed a right derived, at second
hand, from a traditionary Indian conquest. A treaty, they said, had been
made at Lancaster, in 1744, between commissioners from Pennsylvania,
Maryland, and Virginia, and the Iroquois, or Six Nations, whereby the
latter, for four hundred pounds, gave up all right and title to the land
west of the Allegany Mountains, even to the Mississippi, which land,
_according to their traditions_, had been conquered by their

It is undoubtedly true that such a treaty was made, and such a pretended
transfer of title did take place, under the influence of spirituous
liquors; but it is equally true that the Indians in question did not, at
the time, possess an acre of the land conveyed; and that the tribes
actually in possession scoffed at their pretensions, and claimed the
country as their own from time immemorial.

Such were the shadowy foundations of claims which the two nations were
determined to maintain to the uttermost, and which ripened into a series of
wars, ending in a loss to England of a great part of her American
possessions, and to France of the whole.

As yet in the region in question there was not a single white settlement.
Mixed Iroquois tribes of Delawares, Shawnees, and Mingoes, had migrated
into it early in the century from the French settlements in Canada, and
taken up their abodes about the Ohio and its branches. The French pretended
to hold them under their protection; but their allegiance, if ever
acknowledged, had been sapped of late years by the influx of fur traders
from Pennsylvania. These were often rough, lawless men; half Indians in
dress and habits, prone to brawls, and sometimes deadly in their feuds.
They were generally in the employ of some trader, who, at the head of his
retainers and a string of pack-horses, would make his way over mountains
and through forests to the banks of the Ohio, establish his head-quarters
in some Indian town, and disperse his followers to traffic among the
hamlets, hunting-camps and wigwams, exchanging blankets, gaudy colored
cloth, trinketry, powder, shot, and rum, for valuable furs and peltry. In
this way a lucrative trade with these western tribes was springing up and
becoming monopolized by the Pennsylvanians.

To secure a participation in this trade, and to gain a foothold in this
desirable region, became now the wish of some of the most intelligent and
enterprising men of Virginia and Maryland, among whom were Lawrence and
Augustine Washington. With these views they projected a scheme, in
connection with John Hanbury, a wealthy London merchant, to obtain a grant
of land from the British government, for the purpose of forming settlements
or colonies beyond the Alleganies. Government readily countenanced a scheme
by which French encroachments might be forestalled, and prompt and quiet
possession secured of the great Ohio valley. An association was accordingly
chartered in 1749, by the name of “the Ohio Company,” and five hundred
thousand acres of land was granted to it west of the Alleganies; between
the Monongahela and Kanawha rivers; though part of the land might be taken
up north of the Ohio, should it be deemed expedient. The company were to
pay no quitrent for ten years; but they were to select two fifths of their
lands immediately; to settle one hundred families upon them within seven
years; to build a fort at their own expense, and maintain a sufficient
garrison in it for defence against the Indians.

Mr. Thomas Lee, president of the council of Virginia, took the lead in the
concerns of the company at the outset, and by many has been considered its
founder. On his death, which soon took place, Lawrence Washington had the
chief management. His enlightened mind and liberal spirit shone forth in
his earliest arrangements. He wished to form the settlements with Germans
from Pennsylvania. Being dissenters, however, they would be obliged, on
becoming residents within the jurisdiction of Virginia, to pay parish
rates, and maintain a clergyman of the Church of England, though they might
not understand his language nor relish his doctrines. Lawrence sought to
have them exempted from this double tax on purse and conscience.

“It has ever been my opinion,” said he, “and I hope it ever will be, that
restraints on conscience are cruel in regard to those on whom they are
imposed, and injurious to the country imposing them. England, Holland, and
Prussia I may quote as examples, and much more Pennsylvania, which has
nourished under that delightful liberty, so as to become the admiration of
every man who considers the short time it has been settled. … This colony
(Virginia) was greatly settled in the latter part of Charles the First’s
time, and during the usurpation by the zealous churchmen; and that spirit,
which was then brought in, has ever since continued; so that, except a few
Quakers, we have no dissenters. But what has been the consequence? We have
increased by slow degrees, whilst our neighboring colonies, whose natural
advantages are greatly inferior to ours, have become populous.”

Such were the enlightened views of this brother of our Washington, to whom
the latter owed much of his moral and mental training. The company
proceeded to make preparations for their colonizing scheme. Goods were
imported from England suited to the Indian trade, or for presents to the
chiefs. Rewards were promised to veteran warriors and hunters among the
natives acquainted with the woods and mountains, for the best route to the
Ohio. Before the company had received its charter, however, the French were
in the field. Early in 1749, the Marquis de la Galisonniere, Governor of
Canada, despatched Celeron de Bienville, an intelligent officer, at the
head of three hundred men, to the banks of the Ohio, to make peace, as he
said, between the tribes that had become embroiled with each other during
the late war, and to renew the French possession of the country. Celeron de
Bienville distributed presents among the Indians, made speeches reminding
them of former friendship, and warned them not to trade with the English.

He furthermore nailed leaden plates to trees, and buried others in the
earth, at the confluence of the Ohio and its tributaries, bearing
inscriptions purporting that all the lands on both sides of the rivers to
their sources appertained, as in foregone times, to the crown of France.
[Footnote: One of these plates, bearing date August 16, 1749, was found in
recent years at the confluence of the Muskingum with the Ohio.] The Indians
gazed at these mysterious plates with wondering eyes, but surmised their
purport. “They mean to steal our country from us,” murmured they; and they
determined to seek protection from the English.

Celeron finding some traders from Pennsylvania trafficking among the
Indians, he summoned them to depart, and wrote by them to James Hamilton,
Governor of Pennsylvania, telling him the object of his errand to those
parts, and his surprise at meeting with English traders in a country to
which England had no pretensions; intimating that, in future, any intruders
of the kind would be rigorously dealt with.

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