American General and President
A selection from
MAJOR GEORGE WASHINGTON'S JOURNAL TO THE RIVER OHIO, ETC.
Narrated by Dick Hill
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(The publication of the journal in The Maryland Gazettte helped spark the French and Indian War and established Washington's reputation as a leader)
Wednesday, October 31, 1753.
I was commissioned and appointed by the Honourable Robert Dinwiddie, Esq, Governor, Etc. of Virginia, to visit and deliver a Letter to the Commandant of the French Forces on the Ohio, and set out on the intended Journey the same Day; the next, I arrived Fredericksburg, and engaged Mr. Jacob Van Braam, to be my French Interpreter; and proceeded with him to Alexandria, where we provided Necessaries; from whence we went to Winchester, and got luggage, Horse, Etc. and from thence we pursued the new Road to Wills Creek, where we arrived the 14th of November. Here I engaged Mr. Gist to pilot us out.
The excessive Rains and vast Quantity of Snow that had fallen, prevented our reaching Mr. Frazier's, an Indian Trader, at the Mouth of Turtle rock, on Monongahela, till Thursday, the 22nd, we were informed here, that Expresses were sent a few days ago to the Traders down the River, to acquaint them with the French General's Death, and the Return of the major Part of the French army into Winter Quarters.
The Waters were quite impassable, without swimming our Horses; which obliged us to get the loan of a Canoe from Frazier, and to send Barnaby Currin, and Henry Steward, down Monongahela with our Baggage, to meet us at the Forks at Ohio, about 10 miles, to cross Allegany.
About two Miles from this, on the South East Side of the River, at the Place where the Obis Company intended to erect a Fort, lives Shingiss, King of the Delawares; we call'd upon him, to invite him to Council at the Loggs Town.
Shingiss attended us to the Loggs Town, where we arrived between Sun setting and Dark, the 25th Day after I left Williamsburg; We travelled over some extreme good, and bad Land, to get to this Place.—-
(November) 25th. Came to Town four of ten Frenchmen that deserted from a Company at the Cuscuscus, which lies at the Mouth of this River; I got the following Account from them. They were sent from New Orleans with 100, and 8 Canoe Loads of Provisions to this Place; where they expected to have met the same Number of Men, from the Forts this Side Lake Erie, to convoy them and the Stores up, who were not arrived when they ran off.
About 3 o'Clock this evening the Half King came to Town; I went up and I invited him and Davisan, privately, to my Tent, and desir'd him to relate some of the Particulars of his Journey to the French Commandant, and Reception there; and to give me an Account of the Ways and Distance. He told me, that the nearest and levellest Way was now impassable, by Reason of many large miry Savannas, that we must be obliged to go by Venango, and should not get to the near Fort under 5 or 6 Night's Sleep, good Travelling. When he went to the Fort, he said he was received in a very stern Manner by the late Commander.
(November) 30th. We set out about 9 o'Clock with the Half-King, Jeskakake, White Thunder, and the Hunter, and travelled on the road to Venango, where we arrived the 4th of December, without any Thing remarkable happening but a continued Series of bad weather.
This is an old Indian Town, situated at the Mouth of French Creek on Ohio, and lies near N. about 60 Miles from Logg-Town, but more than 70 the Way we were obliged to go.
We found the French colours hoisted at a House which they drove Mr. John Frazier, an English Subject, from; I immediately repaired to it, to know where the Commander resided. There were three Officers, one of whom, Capt. Joncaire informed me, that he had the Command of ther Ohio, but that there was a General Officer at the near Fort, which he advised me to for an Answer. He invited us to sup with them, and treated us with the greatest Complaisance.
The Wine, as they dosed themselves pretty plentifully with it, soon banished the Restraint which at first appear'd in their Conversation, and gave a Licence to their Tongues to reveal their Sentiments more freely.
They told me, That it was their absolute Design to take Possession of the Ohio, and by God they would do it; for that they were sensible the English could raise two Men for their one; yet they knew, their Motions were too slow and dilatory to prevent any Undertaking of theirs. They pretend to have an undoubted Right to the River, from a Discovery made by one LaSalle 60 Years ago; and the Rise of this expedition is, to prevent our Settling on the River or Waters of it, as they have heard of some Families moving out in Order thereto. From the best Intelligence I could get, there have been 1500 Men on this side Ontario Lake, but upon the death of the General all were recalled to about 6 or 700, who were left to garrison four Forts, 150 or thereabouts in each, the first of which is on French Creek, near a small Lake, about 60 miles from Venango.
(December) 7th. At 11 o'Clock we set out for the Fort, and were prevented from arriving there 'till the 11th by excessive Rains, Snows, and bad Travelling, through many Mires and Swamps, which we were obliged to pass, to avoid crossing the Creek, which was impossible, either by fording or rafting, the Water was so high and rapid.
We passed over much good Land since we left Venango, and through several extensive and very rich Meadows; one of which I believe was near four Miles in Length, and considerably wide in some Places.
(December) 12th. I prepar'd early to wait upon the Commander, and was received and conducted to him by the second Officer in Command; I acquainted him with my Business, and offer'd my Commission and Letter, both of which he desired me to keep 'til the arrival of Monsieur Riparti, Captain at the next Fort, who was sent for and expected every Hour.
This Commander is a Knight of the Military Order of St. Louis, and named Legardeur de St. Piere. He is an elderly Gentleman, and has much the Air of a Soldier; he was sent over to take the Command, immediately upon the Death of the late General, and arrived here about seven Days before me.
At 2 o'Clock the Gentleman that was sent for arrived, when I offer'd the Letter, etc. again: which they receiv'd, and adjourn'd into a private Apartment for the Captain to translate, who understood a little English; after he had done it, the Commander desired I would walk in, and bring my interpreter to peruse and correct it, which I did.
(December) 13th. The chief Officers retired, to hold a Council of War, which gave me an opportunity of taking the Dimensions of the Fort, and making what Observations I could.
It is situated on the South, or West Fork of French Creek, near the Water, and is almost surrounded by the Creek, and a small Branch of it which forms a Kind of an island; four houses compose the sides; the Bastions are made of Piles driven into the Ground, and about 12 feet above, and sharp at Top, with Port Holes cut for Cannon and Loop Holes for the small Arms to fire through. There are eight 6 lb. pieces mounted, two in each Bastion, and one Piece of four Pound before the Gate; in the Bastions are a Guard House, Chapel, Doctor's Lodging, and the Commander's private store, round which are laid Eight Forms for the Cannon and Men to stand on; There are several barracks without the Fort, for the Soldiers Dwelling, covered, some with Bark, and some with Boards, and made chiefly, such as Stables, Smith's Shop, Etc.
(December) 14th. As the Snow increased very fast, and our Horses daily became weaker, I sent them off unloaded, under the Care of Barnaby Currin and two others to make all convenient Dispatch to Venango, and there— at our Arrival if there was a Prospect of the Rivers freezing, if not, then to continue down to Shawnee's Town, at the Forks of Ohio, and there to wait 'til we came to cross Allegany, intending myself to go down by Water, as I had the Offer of a Canoe or two.
As I found many Plots concerted the Indians Business, and prevent their returning with me; I endeavor'd all that lay in my Power to frustrate their scheme, and hurry them on to execute their intended Design; they accordingly pressed for Admittance this Evening, which at length was granted them, privately, with the Commander and one or two other Officers: The Half-King told me, that he offered the Wampum to the Commander, who evaded taking it, and made many fair Promises of Love and Friendship: said he wanted to live in Peace, and trade amicably with them, as a Proof of which he would send some Goods immediately down to the Loggs Town for them; but I rather think the Design of that is, to being away all our struggling Trades they meet with, as I privately understood they intended to carry an Officer, Etc., with them: and what rather confirms this Opinion, I was enquiring of the Commander, by what Authority he had made Prisoners of several of our English subjects; he told me that the Country belong'd to them, that no Englishman had a Right to trade upon those Waters; and that he had Orders to make every Person Prisoner that attempted it on the Ohio, or the Waters of it.
(December) 15th. The Commandant ordered a plentiful Store of Liquor, Provision, Etc. to be put on board our Canoe, and appeared to be extremely compliant, though he was exerting every Artifice that he could invent to set our own Indians at Variance with us, to prevent their going 'til after our Departure: Presents, Rewards, and every Thing that could be suggested by him or his Officers—— I can't say that ever in my life I suffer'd so much Anxiety as I did in this Affair; I saw that every Strategem that the most fruitful Brain could invent, was practic'd, to win the Half-King to their Interest, and that leaving Him here was giving them the Opportunity they aimed at.—— I went to the Half-King, and press'd him in the strongest Terms to go: He told me the Commandant would not discharge him 'til the morning. I them went to the Commandant, and desired him to do their Business, and complained of ill treatment: for keeping them, as they were Part of my Company, was detaining me: which 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, Etc. if they would wait 'til the Morning.
As I was very much press'd, by the Indians, to wait this Day for them, I Consented, on a Promise, That nothing should hinder them in the Morning.
(December) 16th. The French were not slack in their Inventions to keep the Indians this Day also; but as they were obligated, according to Promise, to give the Present, they then endeavored to try the Power of Liquor, which I doubt not would have prevailed at any other Time than this, but I urged and insisted with the King so closely upon his Word, that he refrained, and set off with us as he had engaged.
We had a tedious and very fatiguing Portage down the Creek, several Times we had like to have been staved against Rocks, and many Times were obliged all Hands to get out and remain in the Water Half an Hour or more, getting over the Shoals; at one Place the ice had lodged and made it impassable by Water; therefore we were obliged to carry our Canoe across a Neck of Land, a Quarter of a Mile over. We did not reach Venango, till the 22nd, where we met with our Horses.
This Creek is extremely crooked, I dare say the Distance between the Fort and Venango can't be less than 130 Miles, to follow the Meanders.
(December) 23rd. Our Horses were now so weak and feeble, and the Baggage heavy, as we were obliged to provide all the Necessaries that the Journey would require; that we doubted much their performing it; therefore myself and others (except the Drivers which were obliged to ride) gave up our Horses for Packs, to assist along with the Baggage; I put myself in an Indian Dress, and continued with them three Days, 'til I found there was no Probability of their getting in, in any reasonable Time; the Horse grew less able to travel every Day; the Cold increased very fast, and the Roads were becoming much worse by a deep Snow, continually freezing; and as I was uneasy to get back, to make Report of my Proceedings to his Honor the Governor, I determined to prosecute my Journey the nearest Way through the Woods, on Foot.
Accordingly I left Mr. Van Braam in charge of our Baggage, with Money and Directions, to provide Necessaries from Place to Place for themselves and Horses, and to make the most convenient Dispatch in.
I took my necessary Papers, pulled off my Clothes, tied myself up in a Match Coat, and with my Pack at my Back with my Papers and Provisions in it, and a Gun, set out with Mr. Gist, fitted to the same Manner, on Wednesday the 26th. The Day following, just after we had passed a Place called the Murdering Town, where we intended to quit the Path, and steer across the Country for Shannopins Town, we fell in with a Party of French Indians, who had lain in wait for us; one of them fired at Mr. Gist or me, not 15 Steps, but fortunately missed. We took this Fellow into Custody, and kept him till about 9 o'Clock at Night, and then let him go, and walked all the remaining Part of the Night without making any Stop, that we might get the Start so far, as to be out of the Reach of their Pursuit the next Day, as we were well assured they would follow our Track as soon as it was light: The next Day we continued travelling till quite dark, and go to the River about 2 Miles above Shannapins; we expected to have found the River frozen, but it was not, only about 50 Yards from each Shore; the Ice I suppose had broke up above, for it was driving in vast Quantities.
There was no Way for getting over but on a Raft, which we set about, with but one poor Hatcher, and got finished just after Sun setting, after a whole Day's Work; we got it launched, and on board of it, and set off; but before we were half Way over, we were jammed in the Ice in such a Manner that we expected every Moment our Raft to sink, and ourselves to perish: I put out my setting Pole to try to stop the Raft, that the Ice might pass by, when the Rapidity of the Stream threw it with so much Violence against the Pole, that it jirked me out into 10 Feet Water, but I fortunately saved myself by catching hold of one of the Raft Logs; notwithstanding all our Efforts we could not get the Raft to either Shore, but were obliged, as we were near an Island, to quit our Raft and make to it.
The Cold was so extremely severe, that Mr. Gist had all his Fingers, and some of his Toes frozen, and the Water was shut up so hard, that we found no Difficulty in getting off the Island on the Ice in the Morning, and went to Mr. Frazier's. We met here with 20 Warriors, who were going to the Southward to War, but coming to a Place upon the Head of the Great Cunnaway, where they found 7 People killed and scalped, all but one woman with very light Hair, they turned about and ran back, for Fear the Inhabitants should rise and take them as the Authors of the Murder: They report that the People were lying about the House, and some of them much torn and eaten by Hogs; by the Marks that were left, they say they were French Indians of the Ottaway Nation, Etc. that did it.
As we intended to take Horse here, and it required some Time to find them, I went up about 8 miles to the Mouth of Youghiogheny to visit Queen Aliquippa, who had expressed great concern that we pressed her in going to the Fort. I made her a Present of a Match coat and a bottle of Rum, which later was thought much the best Present of the two.
Tuesday the 1st Day of January, we left Mr. Frazier's House, and arrived at Mr. Gist's at Monongahela the 2d, where I bought Horse, Saddle, Etc. The 6th we met 17 Horses loaded with Materials and Stores for a Fort at the Forks of Ohio,, and the Day after some Families going out to settle. This Day we arrived at Wills Creek, after as fatiguing a Journey as it is possible to conceive, rendered so by excessive bad Weather; From the first Day of December to the 15th, there was but one Day but it rained or snowed incessantly; and throughout the whole Journey we met with nothing but one continued Series of cold wet Weather, which occasioned very uncomfortable Lodgings, especially after we had left our Tent which was some Screen from the inclemency of it.
On the 11th I got to Belvoir where I stopped one Day to take necessary Rest, and then set out and arrived in Williamsburg the 16th, and waited upon his Honour the Governour with the Letter I had brought from the French Commandant, and to give an Account of the Proceedings of my Journey, which I beg Leave to do by offering the foregoing, as it contains the most remarkable Occurrences that happened to me.
I hope it will be sufficient to satisy your Honour with my Proceedings; for that was my Aim in undertaking the Journey, and chief Study throughout the Prosecution of it.
With the Hope of doing it, with infinite Pleasure, subscribe myself,
Your Honour's most Obedient,
And very humble Servant,
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