CONFLICTING CLAIMS—-WASHINGTON AS AN ENVOY IN 1753.
The French and English Claim the Region West of the Alleghenies—-The Ohio Company—-Instructed by Gov. Dinwiddie, of Virginia, George Washington Visits the French Commander—-Account of the Journey—-Various Extracts from Washington’s Journal.
ABOUT the middle of the eighteenth century both France and England were asserting their respective claims to the dominion of the wilderness region west of the Allegheny Mountains, especially of that west of Laurel Hill, and it was in the conflict which resulted from the attempts of each of these rivals to expel the other and to enforce their own alleged rights by the fact of actual possession, that the events occurred that are here to be narrated, and which mark the beginning of the history of southwestern Pennsylvania.
France made claim to the ownership of the western part of the province by reason of La Salle having descended the Mississippi river in 1682, and at its mouth on April 9, of that year, taking formal possession, in the name of the French sovereign, of all the valley of the mighty stream, and of all the regions discovered and to be discovered contiguous to it or to any and all of its tributaries. Sixty-seven years later (1749), Capt. Celeron, an officer in the service of the king of France, and having under his command a force of about 300 men, penetrated southward from Lake Erie to the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers, where he took and confirmed the French possession of the valleys of these tributaries, by burying metallic plates duly inscribed with a record of the event, as evidences of actual occupation.
England, on the other hand, claimed the country by virtue of a treaty made with the chiefs of the Six Nations at Lancaster, Pennsylvania, in June, 1744, when the Indians ceded to the British king an immense scope of territory west of the royal grant to Penn,* co-extensive with the western limits of Virginia, which at that time were of indefinite extent. At a subsequent treaty, however, held in 1752 at Logstown, on the Ohio, below Pittsburgh, one of the Iroquois chiefs, who had also taken part in the Lancaster treaty, declared that it had not been the intention of his people to
*It was thought at that time that Penn’s western boundary would not fall to the westward of Laurel Hill.
convey to the English any lands west of the Alleghenies, but that they would not oppose the white man’s definition of the boundaries.
The Six Nations in council had also decided that, notwithstanding their friendship for the English, they would remain neutral in the contest which they saw was imminent between that nation and the French, both of whom were now using every effort to strengthen themselves in the occupation of the territory bordering on the headwaters of the Ohio.
During the year 1750, the "Ohio Company," acting under an English charter and royal grant, sent its agent, Christopher Gist, to the Ohio river to explore the country along that stream, with a view to its occupation and settlement. Under these instructions he viewed the country along the west bank from the mouth of the Allegheny to the Falls of the Ohio, opposite the present city of Louisville, Kentucky, and in the following year he explored the other side of the stream down to the mouth of the Great Kanawha. These and other movements on the part of those acting under authority of the British king caused the French to bestir themselves, and move more energetically toward the occupation of the region west of the Alleghenies.
Early in 1753 they began to move southward from the Great Lakes, and on May 21, in that year, intelligence was received that a party of 150 French and Indians "had arrived at a camping-place leading from the Niagara to the head of the Ohio." Again, on August 7, a report was received "of the passage of a large number of canoes with French troops by Oswego on their way to the Ohio." Hence, in consequence of these aggressive movements on the part of the French, the English home government at once adopted more vigorous measures than had heretofore been employed to meet and resist the French advance into the valley of the Ohio, and among the official communications addressed by the Earl of Holderness, secretary of state, to the governors of the several American provinces, was one to Gov. Dinwiddie, of Virginia, containing directions concerning the French encroachments. The letter of the secretary reached Dinwiddie in October, 1753, and in pursuance of the instructions contained therein the latter at once appointed and commissioned George Washington, then a youth of only twenty-one years, but "one of the adjutants-general of the troops and forces in the colony of Virginia," as a bearer of dispatches to the commanding officer of the French on the Ohio. Following is a copy of Washington’s letter of instructions
"Whereas, I have received information of a body of French forces being assembled in a hostile manner on the river Ohio, intending by force of arms to erect certain forts on the said river within this territory, and contrary to the dignity and peace of our sovereign the King of Great Britain.
"These are therefore to require and direct you, the said George Washington, forthwith to repair to Logstown, on the said river Ohio, and, having there informed yourself where the said French forces have posted themselves, thereupon to proceed to such place, and, being there arrived, to present your credentials, together with my letter, to the chief commanding officer, and in the name of his Britannic Majesty to demand an answer thereto.
"On your arrival at Logstown you are to address yourself to the Half-King, to Monacatoocha, and the other sachems of the Six Nations, acquainting them with your orders to visit and deliver my letter to the French commanding officer, and desiring the said chiefs to appoint you a sufficient number of their warriors to be your safeguard as near the French as you may desire, and to wait your further direction.
"You are diligently to inquire into the numbers and force of the French on the Ohio and the adjoining country; how they are likely to be assisted from Canada; and what are the difficulties and conveniences of that communication, and the time required for it.
"You are to take care to be truly informed what forts the French have erected, and where; how they are garrisoned and appointed, and what is their distance from each other and from Logstown; and from the best intelligence you can procure, you are to learn what gave occasion to this expedition of the French; how they are likely to be supported, and what their pretensions are.
"When the French commandant has given you the required and necessary dispatches, you are to desire of him a proper guard to protect you as far on your return as you may judge for your safety, against any straggling Indians or hunters that may be ignorant of your character and molest you. Wishing you good success in
your negotiation, and safe and speedy return, I am, etc.,
"WILLIAMSBURG, October 30, 1753."
Washington left Williamsburg on the day of his appointment, and on the 31st reached Fredericksburg, Virginia, where he employed Jacob Van Braam as a French interpreter. The two then went to Alexandria, where some articles necessary for their journey were procured. Thence they proceeded to Winchester, where pack-horses were purchased; after which they rode to Will’s Creek (Cumberland, Maryland), arriving there on November 14. "Here," said Washington in his journal of the expedition, "I engaged Mr. Gist* to pilot us out, and also hired four others as servitors—-Barnaby Currin and John McGuire, Indian traders, Henry Steward, and William Jenkins; and in company with these persons left the inhabitants the next day."
The party, now numbering seven persons, moved from Will’s Creek in a northwesterly direction, crossed the southwestern corner of what is now Somerset county, and proceeded by way of Gist’s settlement to Frazier’s on the Monongahela river, some ten miles above its junction with the Allegheny. They had found the traveling through the wilderness so difficult that the journey to this point from Will’s Creek occupied a week. Referring to this part of the route, the journal says "The excessive rains and vast quantities of snow which had fallen prevented our reaching Mr. Frazier’s, an Indian trader, at the mouth of Turtle creek, on Monongahela river, till Thursday, the 22d. We were informed here that expresses had been sent a few days before 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 the Monongahela with our baggage to meet us at the forks of the Ohio."
On crossing the Allegheny Washington found Shingas, the Delaware king, who accompanied the party to Logstown, which place they reached in twenty-five days from Williamsburg, Virginia. They found there the Indian Monacatoocha, but
*Christopher Gist, agent of the "Ohio Company," who, a few months previously—-in 1753—-had located and built a cabin near the center of the territory now known as Fayette county, a point now termed Mount Braddock. Said Washington in his journal: "Mr. Gist’s new settlement (which we passed by) bears about west-northwest, seventy miles from Will’s Creek."
the Half-King was absent hunting. Washington told the former through the Indian interpreter, John Davidson, that he had come as a messenger to the French general, and was ordered to call and inform the sachems of the Six Nations of the fact. The Half-King* was sent for by runners, and at about three o’clock in the afternoon of the 25th he came in and visited Washington in his tent, where through the interpreter, Davidson, he told him that it was a long way to the headquarters of the French commandant on the Allegheny. "He told me," says the journal, "that the nearest and levelest way was now impassable by reason of many large miry savannahs; that we must be obliged to go by Venango, and should not get to the near fort in less than five or six nights’ sleep, good traveling." He told Washington that he must wait until a proper guard of Indians could be furnished him. "The people whom I have ordered in," said he, "are not yet come, and cannot until the third night from this until which time, brother, I must beg you to stay. I intend to send a guard of Mingoes, Shannoahs and Delawares, that our brothers may see the love and loyalty we bear them."
Although anxious to reach his destination at the earliest possible time, Washington, in deference to the wishes of the friendly Tanacharison, remained at Logstown until November 30, when, as it is recorded in the journal, "we set out about nine o’clock with the Half-King, Jeskakake, White Thunder and the Hunter, and traveled on the road to Venango, where we arrived the 4th of December, without anything remarkable happening but a continued series of bad weather. This is an old Indian town, situated at the mouth of French creek, on the Ohio, and lies near north about sixty miles from Logstown, but more than seventy the way we were obliged to go.
From Venango the party set out on the 7th for the French fort and reached it on the 11th, having been greatly impeded "by excessive rains, snows and bad traveling through many mires and swamps." On the 12th Washington waited on the commander, acquainted him with the business on which he came, exhibited his commission, and delivered the letter from Gov. Dinwiddie. While it was
*Tanacharison, the Half-King, always continued to be a firm friend of the English, but he lived less than a year after meeting Washington at Logstown. He died at Harris’ Ferry (Harrisburg, Pennsylvania) in October, 1754.
being translated he employed his time in viewing the dimensions of the fort and making other observations with which he was charged. During the evening of the 14th he received the answer of the commandant to the governor; but although he was now ready to set out on his return, he could not get away until the second day after that, as the French, although treating him with the greatest outward show of politeness, were using every artifice with his Indians to seduce them from their allegiance and friendship to the English, and were constantly plying them with brandy, which made the Indians loth to leave the place. Washington could not well go without them, and even if he could have done so, he was very unwilling to leave them behind him, subject to the dangerous influence of the French officers and the French brandy.
On the 16th he induced Half-King and the other Indians to leave, and set out for Venango, which was reached on the 22d. There the chiefs were determined to remain for awhile, and therefore, accompanied only by Young Hunter, whom the Half-King had ordered to go with them as a guide, Washington’s party was compelled to proceed. Washington’s journal narrates the events of this stage of the journey as follows:
"Our horses were now so weak and feeble and the baggage so heavy (as we were obliged to provide all the necessaries which the journey would require) that we doubted much their performing it. Therefore myself and the others, except the drivers, who were obliged to ride, gave up our horses for packs to assist along with the baggage. I put myself in an Indian walking-dress, and continued with them three days, until I found there was no probability of their getting home in reasonable time. The horses became less able to travel every day, the cold increased very fast, and the roads were becoming much worse by a deep snow, continually freezing; therefore, 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 traveling. I took my necessary papers, pulled off my clothes and tied myself up in a watch-coat; then, with gun in hand and pack on my back, in which were my papers, I set out with Mr. Gist, fitted in the same manner, on Wednesday, the 26th."
The following day the two travelers fell in with a party of French Indians, one of whom fired on them, but fortunately missed. They took the fellow in custody, and kept him with them till nine o’clock at night, when they let him go and they continued on their way, walking all night to be out of reach of pursuit. On the next evening at dark they reached the Allegheny river just above Shannapin’s town. At this place, in crossing the river on an improvised craft, Washington was thrown off into the icy current, where the water was ten feet deep, but saved himself by clinging to the logs of the raft. They were then obliged to land on an island, and to pass the night there, but in the morning found the river sufficiently frozen to enable them to cross in safety on the ice to the left bank of the river. They suffered severely from cold and exposure, and Gist had his fingers and toes frozen, but they succeeded in reaching Frazier’s at the mouth of Turtle creek, in the evening of December 30.
Referring again to the journal, it says: "As we intended to take horses here (Frazier’s), and it required some time to find them, I went up about three miles to the mouth of the Youghiogheny, to visit Queen Alliquippa, who had expressed great concern that we passed her in going to the fort. I made her a present of a watch-coat and a bottle of rum, which latter was thought much the better present of the two. Tuesday, January 1, we left Mr. Frazier’s house and arrived at Mr. Gist’s, at Monongahela,* January 2, where I bought a horse and saddle."
The foregoing narrative of the journeyings of Gov. Dinwiddie’s young envoy to and from the French fort "Le Boeuf," is given a place in these pages, less on account of the importance of the events and the incidents related than because it has reference to the first appearance of George Washington in the territory originally a part of Bedford county, a territory which he frequently visited afterward, and in which he became largely interested as a real estate owner. It was here he fought in his first battle, and here were first disclosed his superior
*"Monongahela" was a name applied at that time, not only to the river, but also to a wide scope of country adjacent to it. Gist’s was then almost the only settlement in all that region. It was known as Monongahela, and that Gist had so named his settlement is shown by some of his letters.
military abilities, as shown in the hasty and disordered retreat of Braddock’s army from the ever-to-be-remembered field of disaster on the Monongahela.
SOURCE: History of Bedford, Somerset and Fulton Counties, pp. 24-28.
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