Page images

by industry. In the gayest period of his life, he was a stranger to dissipation and riot.

That he had established a solid reputation even in his juvenile years, may.

be presumed from the following circumstances. At the age of nineteen, he was appointed one of the adjutants general of Virginia, with the rank of major. When he was barely twenty-one, hé was employed by the governor of his native colony in an enterprise which required the prudence of age as well as the vigor of youth.

The French, as the first European discoverers of the Mississippi, claimed all that immense region whose waters run into that river. In

In pursuance of this claim, in 1755, they took possession of a tract of country, supposed to be within the chartered limits of Virginia, and were proceeding to erect a chain of posts from the lakes of Canada to the river Ohio, in subserviency to their grand scheme of connecting Canada with Louisiana, and limiting the English colonies to the east of the Alleghany mountains.

Mr. Dinwiddie, then governor of Virginia, dispatched Washington with a letter to the French commandant on the Ohio, remonstrat+ ing against the prosecution of these designs, as hostile to the rights of his Britannic ma



very difficult

jesty. The young envoy was also instructed to penetrate the designs of the French, to conciliate the affections of the native tribes, and to procure useful intelligence. In the discharge of this trust he set out on the 14th of November, 1753, from Wills creek, then an extreme frontier settlement, and pursued his course through a vast extent of unexplored wilderness, amidst rain and snou', and over rivers of


and among tribes of Indians, several of whom, from previous attentions of the French, were hostile to the English. When his horses were incompetent, he proceeded on foot, with a gun in his hand and a pack on his back. He observed every thing with the eye soldier, and particularly designated the forks of the Monongahela and Alleghany rivers (the spot' where fort Duquesne was afterwards built, and where Pittsburg now stands) as an advantageous position for a fortress.

Here he secured the affections of some neighbouring Indians, and engaged them to accompany him.

With them he ascended the Alleghany river and French creek, to a fort on the river La Beuf, one of its western branches. He there found monsieur Legardeur de St. Pierre, the commandant on the Ohio, and delivered toʻlim Dinwiddie's letter,

B 3


of a

and receiving his answer, returned with it to Williamsburgh on the seventy-eighth day after bis appointment.

The patience and firmness displayed on this occasion by Washington, added to his judicious treatment of the Indians, both merited and obtained a large share of applause. A journal of the whole was published, which inspired the public with high ideas of the energies both of his body and mind.

The French were too intent on their favo. rite project, of extending their empire in America, to be diverted from it by the remonstrançes of a colonial governor. The answer brought by Washington was such, as induced the assembly of Virginia to raise a regiment of 300 men to defend their frontiers, and maintain the right claimed in behalf of Great Britain over the disputed territory. Of this, Mr. Fry was appointed colonel, and George Washington lieutenant-colonel. The latter advanced with two companies of this regiment early in April as far as the Great Meadows. War had not yet been declared between France and England; but as neither was disposed to recede from their claims to the lands on the Ohio, it was deemed inevitable, and on the point of commencing. Seyeral circumstances were supposed to indicate an hostile intention on the part of the advancing French detachment. Washington, under the guidance of some friendly Indians, in a dark rainy night surprised their encampment, and, after firing once, rushed in, and surrounded them. The commanding officer, mons. Jumonville, was killed, one person escaped, and all the rest immediately surrendered. Soon after this affair, colonel Fry died, and the command devolved on Washington, who speedily collected the whole at the Great Meadows. Two independent companies of regulars, one from New York, and one from South Carolina, shortly after arrived at the same place, Colonel Washington was now at the head of nearly 400 men. A stockade, afterwards called fort Necessity, was erected at the Great Meadows, in which a small force was left; and the main body advanced, with the view of dislodging the French from fort Duquesne, which they had recently erected at the confluence of the Alleghany and Monongahela rivers. They had not proceeded more than thirteen miles, when they were informed by friendly Indians, that the French, as numerous as pigeons in the woods, were advancing in a hostile manner towards the English settlements, and also that fort Duquesne had been recently and


[ocr errors]

strongly reinforced. In this critical situation, a council of war unanimously recommended a retreat to the Great Meadows, which was effected without delay; and every

exertion made to render fort Necessity tenable. Before the works intended for that

purpose were completed, monsieur de Villiers, with a considerable force, attacked the fort. The assailants were covered by trees and high grass. The Ainericans received them with great resolution, and fought, some within the stockade, and others in the surrounding ditch. Washington continued the whole day on the outside of the fort, and conducted the defence with the greatest coolness and intrepidity. The engagement lasted from ten in the morning till night, when the French commander demanded a parley, and offered articles of capitulation. His first and second proposals were rejected, and Washington would accept of none short of the following honorable terms, which were mutually agreed upon in the course of the night : " That the fort was to be surrendered on condition that the garrison should march out with the honors of war, and be permitted to retain their arms and baggage, and to march unmolested into the inhabited parts of Virginia.” ”

[ocr errors]


« PreviousContinue »