On the following day there was no travelling on account of excessive rain.
Joncaire, in the mean time, having discovered that the half-king was with
the mission, expressed his surprise that he had not accompanied it to his
quarters on the preceding day. Washington, in truth, had feared to trust
the sachem within the reach of the politic Frenchman. Nothing would do now
but Joncaire must have the sachems at head-quarters. Here his diplomacy was
triumphant. He received them with open arms. He was enraptured to see them.
His Indian brothers! How could they be so near without coming to visit him?
He made them presents; but, above all, plied them so potently with liquor,
that the poor half-king, Jeskakake, and White Thunder forgot all about
their wrongs, their speeches, their speech-belts, and all the business they
had come upon; paid no heed to the repeated cautions of their English
friends, and were soon in a complete state of frantic extravagance or
The next day the half-king made his appearance at Washington’s tent,
perfectly sober and very much crestfallen. He declared, however, that he
still intended to make his speech to the French, and offered to rehearse it
on the spot; but Washington advised him not to waste his ammunition on
inferior game like Joncaire and his comrades, but to reserve it for the
commandant. The sachem was not to be persuaded. Here, he said, was the
place of the council fire, where they were accustomed to transact their
business with the French; and as to Joncaire, he had all the management of
French affairs with the Indians.
Washington was fain to attend the council fire and listen to the speech. It
was much the same in purport as that which he had made to the French
general, and he ended by offering to return the French speech-belt; but
this Joncaire refused to receive, telling him to carry it to the commander
at the fort.
All that day and the next was the party kept at Venango by the stratagems
of Joncaire and his emissaries to detain and seduce the sachems. It was not
until 12 o’clock on the 7th of December, that Washington was able to
extricate them out of their clutches and commence his journey.
A French commissary by the name of La Force, and three soldiers, set off in
company with him. La Force went as if on ordinary business, but he proved
one of the most active, daring, and mischief-making of those anomalous
agents employed by the French among the Indian tribes. It is probable that
he was at the bottom of many of the perplexities experienced by Washington
at Venango, and now travelled with him for the prosecution of his wiles. He
will be found, hereafter, acting a more prominent part, and ultimately
reaping the fruit of his evil doings.
After four days of weary travel through snow and rain, and mire and swamp,
the party reached the fort. It was situated on a kind of island on the west
fork of French Creek, about fifteen miles south of Lake Erie, and consisted
of four houses, forming a hollow square, defended by bastions made of
pallisades twelve feet high, picketed, and pierced for cannon and small
arms. Within the bastions were a guard-house, chapel, and other buildings,
and outside were stables, a smith’s forge, and log-houses covered with
bark, for the soldiers.
On the death of the late general, the fort had remained in charge of one
Captain Reparti until within a week past, when the Chevalier Legardeur de
St. Pierre had arrived, and taken command.
The reception of Washington at the fort was very different from the
unceremonious one experienced at the outpost of Joncaire and his convivial
messmates. When he presented himself at the gate, accompanied by his
interpreter, Van Braam, he was met by the officer second in command and
conducted in due military form to his superior; an ancient and
silver-haired chevalier of the military order of St. Louis, courteous but
ceremonious, mingling the polish of the French gentleman of the old school
with the precision of the soldier.
Having announced his errand through his interpreter, Van Braam, Washington
offered his credentials and the letter of Governor Dinwiddie, and was
disposed to proceed at once to business with the prompt frankness of a
young man unhackneyed in diplomacy. The chevalier, however, politely
requested him to retain the documents in his possession until his
predecessor, Captain Reparti, should arrive, who was hourly expected from
the next post.
At two o’clock the captain arrived. The letter and its accompanying
documents were then offered again, and received in due form, and the
chevalier and his officers retired with them into a private apartment,
where the captain, who understood a little English, officiated as
translator. The translation being finished, Washington was requested to
walk in and bring his translator Van Braam, with him, to peruse and correct
it, which he did.
In this letter, Dinwiddie complained of the intrusion of French forces into
the Ohio country, erecting forts and making settlements in the western
parts of the colony of Virginia, so notoriously known to be the property of
the crown of Great Britain. He inquired by whose authority and instructions
the French Commander-general had marched this force from Canada, and made
this invasion; intimating that his own action would be regulated by the
answer he should receive, and the tenor of the commission with which he was
honored. At the same time he required of the commandant his peaceable
departure, and that he would forbear to prosecute a purpose “so
interruptive of the harmony and good understanding which his majesty was
desirous to continue and cultivate with the most catholic king.”
The latter part of the letter related to the youthful envoy. “I persuade
myself you will receive and entertain Major Washington with the candor and
politeness natural to your nation, and it will give me the greatest
satisfaction if you can return him with an answer suitable to my wishes for
a long and lasting peace between us.”
The two following days were consumed in councils of the chevalier and his
officers over the letter and the necessary reply. Washington occupied
himself in the mean time in observing and taking notes of the plan,
dimensions, and strength of the fort, and of every thing about it. He gave
orders to his people, also, to take an exact account of the canoes in
readiness, and others in the process of construction, for the conveyance of
troops down the river in the ensuing spring.
As the weather continued stormy, with much snow, and the horses were daily
losing strength, he sent them down, unladen, to Venango, to await his
return by water. In the mean time, he discovered that busy intrigues were
going on to induce the half-king and the other sachems to abandon him, and
renounce all friendship with the English. Upon learning this, he urged the
chiefs to deliver up their “speech-belts” immediately, as they had
promised, thereby shaking off all dependence upon the French. They
accordingly pressed for an audience that very evening. A private one was at
length granted them by the commander, in presence of one or two of his
officers. The half-king reported the result of it to Washington. The
venerable but astute chevalier cautiously evaded the acceptance of the
proffered wampum; made many professions of love and friendship, and said he
wished to live in peace and trade amicably with the tribes of the Ohio, in
proof of which he would send down some goods immediately for them to
As Washington understood, privately, that an officer was to accompany the
man employed to convey these goods, he suspected that the real design was
to arrest and bring off all straggling English traders they might meet
with. What strengthened this opinion was a frank avowal which had been made
to him by the chevalier, that he had orders to capture every British
subject who should attempt to trade upon the Ohio or its waters.
Captain Reparti, also, in reply to his inquiry as to what had been done
with two Pennsylvania traders, who had been taken with all their goods,
informed him that they had been sent to Canada, but had since returned
home. He had stated, furthermore, that during the time he held command, a
white boy had been carried captive past the fort by a party of Indians, who
had with them, also, two or three white men’s scalps.
All these circumstances showed him the mischief that was brewing in these
parts, and the treachery and violence that pervaded the frontier, and made
him the more solicitous to accomplish his mission successfully, and conduct
his little band in safety out of a wily neighborhood.
On the evening of the 14th, the Chevalier de St. Pierre delivered to
Washington his sealed reply to the letter of Governor Dinwiddie. The
purport of previous conversations with the chevalier, and the whole
complexion of affairs on the frontier, left no doubt of the nature of that
The business of his mission being accomplished, Washington prepared on the
15th to return by water to Venango; but a secret influence was at work
which retarded every movement.
“The commandant,” writes he, “ordered a plentiful store of liquor and
provisions to be put on board our canoes, and appeared to be extremely
complaisant, though he was exerting every artifice which he could invent to
set our Indians at variance with us, to prevent their going until after our
departure; presents, rewards, and every thing which could be suggested by
him or his officers. I cannot say that ever in my life I suffered so much
anxiety as I did in this affair. I saw that every stratagem which the most
fruitful brain could invent was practised to win the half-king to their
interests, and that leaving him there was giving them the opportunity they
aimed at. I went to the half-king, and pressed him in the strongest terms
to go; he told me that the commandant would not discharge him until the
morning. I then went to the commandant and desired him to do their
business, and complained to him of ill treatment; for, keeping them, as
they were a part of my company, was detaining me. This he promised not to
do, but to forward my journey as much as he could. He protested he did not
keep them, but was ignorant of the cause of their stay; though I soon found
it out. He had promised them a present of guns if they would wait until the
morning. As I was very much pressed by the Indians to wait this day for
them, I consented, on the promise that nothing should hinder them in the
The next morning (16th) the French, in fulfilment of their promise, had to
give the present of guns. They then endeavored to detain the sachems with
liquor, which at any other time might have prevailed, but Washington
reminded the half-king that his royal word was pledged to depart, and urged
it upon him so closely that exerting unwonted resolution and self-denial,
he turned his back upon the liquor and embarked.
It was rough and laborious navigation. French Creek was swollen and
turbulent, and full of floating ice. The frail canoes were several times in
danger of being staved to pieces against rocks. Often the voyagers had to
leap out and remain in the water half an hour at a time, drawing the canoes
over shoals, and at one place to carry them a quarter of a mile across a
neck of land, the river being completely dammed by ice. It was not until
the 22d that they reached Venango.
Here Washington was obliged, most unwillingly, to part company with the
sachems. White Thunder had hurt himself and was ill and unable to walk, and
the others determined to remain at Venango for a day or two and convey him
down the river in a canoe. There was danger that the smooth-tongued and
convivial Joncaire would avail himself of the interval to ply the poor
monarchs of the woods with flattery and liquor. Washington endeavored to
put the worthy half-king on his guard, knowing that he had once before
shown himself but little proof against the seductions of the bottle. The
sachem, however, desired him not to be concerned; he knew the French too
well for any thing to engage him in their favor; nothing should shake his
faith to his English brothers; and it will be found that in these
assurances he was sincere.
RETURN FROM VENANGO–A TRAMP ON FOOT–MURDERING TOWN–THE INDIAN GUIDE–
TREACHERY–AN ANXIOUS NIGHT–PERILS ON THE ALLEGANY RIVER–QUEEN
ALIQUIPPA–THE OLD WATCH-COAT–RETURN ACROSS THE BLUE RIDGE.
On the 25th of December, Washington and his little party set out by land
from Venango on their route homeward. They had a long winter’s journey
before them, through a wilderness beset with dangers and difficulties. The
packhorses, laden with tents, baggage, and provisions, were completely
jaded; it was feared they would give out. Washington dismounted, gave up
his saddle-horse to aid in transporting the baggage, and requested his
companions to do the same. None but the drivers remained in the saddle. He
now equipped himself in an Indian hunting-dress, and with Van Braam, Gist,
and John Davidson, the Indian interpreter, proceeded on foot.
The cold increased. There was deep snow that froze as it fell. The horses
grew less and less capable of travelling. For three days they toiled on
slowly and wearily. Washington was impatient to accomplish his journey, and
make his report to the governor; he determined, therefore, to hasten some
distance in advance of the party, and then strike for the Fork of the Ohio
by the nearest course directly through the woods. He accordingly put the
cavalcade under the command of Van Braam, and furnished him with money for
expenses; then disencumbering himself of all superfluous clothing, buckling
himself up in a watch-coat, strapping his pack on his shoulders, containing
his papers and provisions, and taking gun in hand, he left the horses to
flounder on, and struck manfully ahead, accompanied only by Mr. Gist, who
had equipped himself in like manner.
At night they lit a fire, and “camped” by it in the woods. At two o’clock
in the morning they were again on foot, and pressed forward until they
struck the south-east fork of Beaver Creek, at a place bearing the sinister
name of Murdering Town; probably the scene of some Indian massacre.
Here Washington, in planning his route, had intended to leave the regular
path, and strike through the woods for Shannopins Town, two or three miles
above the fork of the Ohio, where he hoped to be able to cross the Allegany
River on the ice.
At Murdering Town he found a party of Indians, who appeared to have known
of his coming, and to have been waiting for him. One of them accosted Mr.
Gist, and expressed great joy at seeing him. The wary woodsman regarded him
narrowly, and thought he had seen him at Joncaire’s. If so, he and his
comrades were in the French interest, and their lying in wait boded no
good. The Indian was very curious in his inquiries as to when they had left
Venango; how they came to be travelling on foot; where they had left their
horses, and when it was probable the latter would reach this place. All
these questions increased the distrust of Gist, and rendered him extremely
cautious in reply.