THE FRENCH OCCUPANCY— WASHINGTON’S CAMPAIGN.
The Ohio Company at the "Forks of the Ohio"—-Captain Trent’s Virginia Company—-Their Capture by the French Under Contrecoeur—-Completion of Fort Du Quesne—-Movements of the Virginians Under Col. George Washington—-He Defeats a French Detachment Under De Jumonville—-Death of the Latter—-Washington Reinforced by Mackay’s Company of South Carolinians—-The French in Pursuit—Washington Retreats—-He Builds Fort Necessity-—The Battles—-Surrender of the English—-Casualties—-Further Movements of the French—-The Vanquished English Return to Will’s Creek--Erection of Fort Cumberland.
The result of Washington’s expedition showed beyond all doubt that the French intended to occupy in force all the country bordering the headwaters of the Ohio river. Thereupon, Gov. Dinwiddie transmitted Washington’s statement to England, and meanwhile, without waiting for instructions from the home government, began preparations for raising a force to be sent to the "Forks of the Ohio" (Pittsburgh), to take possession of that point, and to construct a defensive work to enable them to hold the position against the French. A party had already gone forward from Virginia across the mountains for the same purpose, it being the one alluded to in Washington’s journal on the return from Le Boeuf. He said, "The sixth (of January, while proceeding from Gist’s to Will’s Creek) we met seventeen horses loaded with materials and stores for a fort at the fork of the Ohio, and the day after some families going out to settle." But these were not troops sent by Dinwiddie, or tinder provincial authority; they were merely employees and colonists going out under the directions of the "Ohio Company" to locate and to build a fort or blockhouse for the protection of themselves and the company’s interests on the frontier.
In January, 1754, the first English military force to move westward, having the Ohio river for its objective point, marched from Virginia under the command of Capt. William Trent. From Will’s Creek Capt. Trent marched with his force of about thirty- three men over the same route which Washington had traversed to the "Great Crossing of the Youghiogheny," at the present village of Somerfield, in Somerset county, thence via Gist’s settlement to the mouth of Redstone creek on the Monongahela, where a storehouse called the "Hangard" was erected for the "Ohio Company." After completing it the march was continued to the site of the present city of Pittsburgh, which was reached February 17. There they met Christopher Gist and several others. A fort was immediately commenced, but not many days passed ere Capt. Trent returned to Will’s Creek, Lieut. Frazier going to his home at the mouth of Turtle creek, leaving Ensign Ward the remaining commissioned officer in command.
Work on the fort progressed slowly (on account of the severe weather) for some two months, when suddenly, on April 17, Ensign Ward found himself confronted by a hostile force of about seven hundred French and Indians, having with them eighteen pieces of light artillery. This force, which had come down the Allegheny river in sixty bateaux and a great number of canoes, was under command of Capt. Contrecoeur, who at once demanded a surrender of the work and position. It was of course impossible for Ward and his small party to successfully contend against so large a force supplied with artillery, therefore, after some parleying, the unfinished fort was surrendered. The French commander treated Ensign Ward with great politeness—-invited him to supper and provided comfortable quarters for the night.
On the following morning (the 18th) Ward took his departure, and with his men marched up the valley of the Monongahela to Redstone creek, thence across the country via Gist’s and the Great Crossings of the Youghiogheny to Will’s Creek, Maryland, where they arrived April 22. The fort which had been surrendered to Contrecoeur was completed by the French with all practicable dispatch, and named "Fort Du Quesne," in honor of the Marquis du Quesne, the French governor-general of Canada.
While the events just mentioned were in progress, troops, intended for the occupation of the "Forks of the Ohio," were being raised and organized under the authority of Gov. Dinwiddie, of Virginia, and the first detachment of these was sent forward under Lieut.-Col. George Washington (who, on March 31, 1754, had received from the governor a commission
dated March 15, of that grade in the Virginia regiment, of which Col. Joshua Fry was the commanding officer), he being ordered to take the troops then quartered in Alexandria, Virginia, and to march them to the Ohio, "there to help Capt. Trent to build forts, and to defend the possessions of his Majesty against the attempts and hostilities of the French."
The force, which consisted of two companies of infantry, commanded respectively by Capt. Peter Hogg and Lieut. Jacob Van Braam, marched out of Alexandria April 2. Subsequently a small company under Capt. Stephens joined the detachment, bringing the strength of the command up to one hundred and fifty men. On reaching Will’s Creek Washington met Ensign Ward, and on receiving Ward’s account of the surrender of the fort to the French, a council of war was convened to determine on the proper course to be pursued in this exigency.
The council decided on April 23 "that it would be proper to advance as far as Redstone creek, on the Monongahela, about thirty-seven miles on this side of the fort, and there to raise a fortification, clearing a road broad enough to pass with all our artillery and baggage and there to wait for fresh orders." After a few brief preparations Washington’s forces moved out on the path leading to the Great Crossings of the Youghiogheny, cutting out the road as they proceeded, so that it was not until May 9 that they reached the Little Crossings (Castleman’s river). While at this place, on May 11, Washington sent out a reconnoitering party of twenty-five men under Capt. Stephens with orders to scout as far as Gist’s place, "to inquire where La Force* and his party were, and in case they were in the neighborhood, to cease pursuing and take care of themselves;" also, "to examine closely all the woods round about," and if any straggling Frenchman should be found away from the others, to capture and bring him in to be examined for information. "We were exceedingly desirous," said Washington, "to know if there was any possibility of sending down anything by water, as also to find out some convenient place about the mouth of Redstone creek, where we could build a fort."
Washington’s forces remained three days at
*La Force, a Frenchman, had been sent out from Fort Du Quesne about May 1 with a small party of French and Indians, ostensibly for the purpose of capturing deserters; but Washington, who had received information from an Indian runner sent by the Half-King, believed they had other purposes in view, and therefore ordered the reconnoissance.
the Little Crossings, then, "May the 12th.—-Marched away, and went on a rising ground, where we halted to dry ourselves, for we had been obliged to ford a deep river, where our shortest men had water up to their armpits." Within the next six days Washington was informed that Col. Fry with upward of one hundred men, Col. Innis with 350 Carolinians, and Capt. Mackay with an independent company of 100 men, were marching rapidly to join him; also, that the French at Fort Du Quesne were expecting reinforcements sufficient to make their total force 1600 men.
The Great Crossings (Somerfield) was reached on the 18th, where the troops encamped for several days. The halt at this place was necessary to wait for lower water in the river, which had been swollen by recent rains; but besides this, tile young commander wished to explore the stream below, hoping to find it navigable for bateaux, or canoes of sufficient size to carry cannon and stores. There were those with him who doubted the possibility of opening a road suitable for the transportation of guns and other heavy material to the mouth of Redstone creek, and doubtless the idea was entertained of making his military base here on the Youghiogheny, the present southwest border of Somerset county, instead of on the Monongahela, as determined at the council of war.
Whatever may have been his reasons, it is certain that Washington decided on and made the exploration, commencing the voyage on the 20th, in a canoe, "with Lieut. West, three soldiers and one Indian." Following "the river along about half a mile," they were obliged to go ashore, where they met Peter Suver, a trader, who spoke discouragingly of their chances of finding a passage by water, " which," says Washington," caused me to alter my mind of causing canoes to be made; I ordered my people to wade, as the waters were shallow enough, and continued myself going down the river in the canoe. * * * We gained Turkey Foot by the beginning of the night." They remained some time at Turkey Foot on the morning of the 21st, "to examine the place," which they found very convenient to build a fort. From there they passed down the river, finding nearly every variety of channel, sometimes rocky and rapid, and then still and deep, until at last, at a computed distance of about ten miles below Turkey Foot, "it became so rapid as to oblige
us to come ashore." Thus ended Washington’s explorations of the Youghiogheny.
Upon his return to the camp at the Great Crossings the troops were put in motion, and, crossing to the west hank of the river (the high waters having subsided), marched on northwestwardly toward the Great Meadows, at which place they arrived in the afternoon of the 24th. In the morning of that day, while on the march, two Indian runners came in with a message from Half-King, saying that the "French army" was already on the march from Fort Du Quesne to meet Washington’s force, also notifying him that Tanacharison and other chiefs would soon be with him to hold council, as Washington had requested in a dispatch sent from Will’s Creek. During the same afternoon a trader came in from Gist’s confirming the report brought by the Indians. Washington thereupon decided to remain at the Meadows for a time, and avail himself of the advantages offered by the position. There were here, as he said in his notes, " two natural entrenchments," which he caused to be strengthened, and within these slight defenses he placed a part of the troops and the wagons. On the 27th he wrote "We have, with nature’s assistance, made a good entrenchment, and by clearing the bushes out of the meadows, prepared a charming field for an encounter."
On the 25th several small detachments were sent out in the "endeavor to get some news of the French, of their forces and of their motions," hut these parties returned without having discovered anything concerning the movements of tile enemy. Early on the morning of the 27th, however, Christopher Gist arrived from his plantation, and reported that at about noon on the preceding day a French detachment of about fifty men had visited his house and committed considerable depredation there. He also said he had seen their tracks within five miles of the Virginians’ camp. Meanwhile Washington, having learned that Tanacharison, the Half-King, and a considerable body of Indians, were near by, sent out a detachment of Virginians in search of the French. The latter were found encamped in a rocky ravine, secluded, and difficult of access. Suspicious that the secret movements of the French were part of a stratagem to draw some of his forces away from the camp and then attack them, Washington left his camp strongly guarded, and set out with the rest of his men for the camp of the Half-King. The night was rainy and very dark; the path over which they traveled was narrow, rough and hard to distinguish; but they persevered, and in the morning at a little before sunrise reached the Half-King’s camp, where, at a council held with the old sachem, it was determined to proceed at once to attack the French camp.
The party whose movements had been reported by Gist and others was the "French army," of whose departure from Fort Du Quesne Washington had been notified. In some accounts of this campaign it has been stated that it was under the command of M. La Force, but this was not the case; it was commanded by M. de Jumonville, a French ensign, who was accompanied by La Force, but the latter was simply a volunteer, and held no military command in the expedition. Afterward the French authorities and writers claimed that Jumonville himself was not engaged in a military enterprise, but that he was merely an envoy or hearer of dispatches, charged by the commandant at Fort Du Quesne with the duty of delivering a communication to the commanding officer of the English force; and that the military party which accompanied him was acting simply as his guard while performing this service. If it was but a guard to a peaceful envoy, then most certainly its leader adopted a very strange course in lurking near Washington’s encampment for two days and hiding his men in an obscure and gloomy ravine among rocks and thickets.
In proceeding to attack Jumonville’s party, Washington’s Virginians and Tanacharison's Indians left the camp of the latter and marched "Indian file" to near the French camp, where a line was formed with the English on the right, the Indians being on the left, and in this order the combined forces moved to the attack. It was not a complete surprise, however, for the French discovered their assailants before they were in rifle range. Washington’s troops opened fire, and received that of the French. The fight raged only about fifteen minutes, when the French surrendered, having lost ten killed and one wounded. Among the killed was their commander, M. de Jumonville. All the dead were scalped by Tanacharison’s Indians. The English lost but one killed and two wounded. The prisoners, 21 in number, were sent, under guard, to Winchester, Virginia.
On the 30th Washington "began to raise a
fort with small palisadoes, fearing that when the French should hear the news of that defeat we might be attacked by considerable forces." The work evidently was but a slight affair, for on June 2 it was completed and religious services were held in it. Here he was joined by some thirty families of Indians, friends of the English, who had fled from Logstown and the lower Monongahela and other neighborhoods, fearing the vengeance of the French. A considerable number of Shawnees also came to the fort. But the presence of these refugees was very embarrassing to the commander on account of the prospective scarcity of provisions, and for numberless other reasons. On June 6th Christopher Gist arrived from Will’s Creek with the information that Col. Fry, the commanding officer of the Virginia regiment, had died at that place on May 30th while on his way to the Great Meadows with troops. By his death Washington succeeded to the command of the regiment. On the 9th Maj. Muse arrived with the remainder of the regiment and nine small swivel guns, with ammunition for them. Although the entire regiment was now assembled, the total force under Washington was but little more than 300 men, divided into six companies, and commanded respectively by Capts. Stephens, Jacob Van Braam, Robert Stobo, Peter Hogg, Andrew Lewis,** Polson and George Mercer. Maj. Muse was detailed as quartermaster, and Capt. Stephens was made acting major.
Capt. Mackay, of the "South Carolina Royal In dependent Company," reached Washington’s camp on June 10, having with him about one hundred men, five days’ rations of flour, sixty head of cattle, and a considerable supply of ammunition. Capt. Mackay was a regular officer in the royal service, and from the first he evinced a disinclination to act under the orders of a "buckskin colonel" of Virginia provincial troops. This feeling even extended to the private soldiers of the Carolina company, but no act of pronounced insubordination resulted from it. Momentarily expecting an attack from the French, Washington remained at the fortified camp before mentioned, until June 16, when he determined to advance toward Redstone. Accordingly on that day he moved out
*Afterward Gen. Lewis, who fought the battle of Point Pleasant in Dunmore’s war of 1774. He was a relative of Washington, and it has been related that in 1775 the latter recommended him for the appointment which he himself soon after received, that of commander-in-chief of the American armies.
on the Nemacolin trail toward Gist’s, taking his artillery, some wagons, and all his command except the Carolinians, who were left at the fort to guard the stores. This we are told, was done to avoid a possible conflict of authority with Mackay, who seemed unwilling to have his company perform its share of labor in clearing the way for the passage of the train.
The force under Washington was employed thirteen days in making the road passable from the fort to Gist’s, though the distance was but as many miles. During the same time Capt. Lewis with seventy men was sent ahead to attempt the opening of a road from Gist’s to Redstone, while Capt. Polson was sent out to reconnoiter in advance. On arriving at Gist’s on the 29th, Washington learned that a strong French force was advancing up the Monongahela. He at once called a council of war, when it was considered best to concentrate at that point and await the French attack. Lewis’ and Polson’s detachments were called in, and Mackay was ordered to move forward to Gist’s without delay. He obeyed promptly, as did also Lewis and Polson, they having completed nearly eight miles of road from Gist’s toward Redstone. But on the arrival of all the forces a second council of war was held which reversed the decision of the first, and resolved, without a dissenting voice, to retreat to Will’s Creek, over the route by which the advance had been made.
During the retreat, the transportation facilities being very limited,* Col. Washington set a noble example to the officers by loading his own horse with ammunition and other public stores, leaving his baggage behind and giving the soldiers four pistoles to carry it forward. The other officers followed this example. There were nine swivels, which were drawn by the soldiers of the Virginia regiment over a very broken road, unassisted by the men belonging to the independent company (Mackay’s), who refused to perform any service of the kind. Neither would they act as pioneers, nor aid in transporting the public stores, considering this a duty not incumbent on them as king’s soldiers. This conduct had a discouraging effect upon the soldiers of the Virginia regiment, by dampening their ardor and making them more dissatisfied with their extreme fatigue."~
*Sargent says," Two miserable teams and a few pack-horses being all their means of transporting their ammunition, the officers at once added their own steeds to the train."
The retreating column reached the fortified camp at the Great Meadows in two days, or July 1, but on his arrival there Washington found that it was impracticable to go on, for, says Sparks, "his men had become so much fatigued from great labor and a deficiency of provisions, that they could draw the swivels no farther nor carry the baggage on their backs. They had been eight days without bread, and at the Great Meadows they found only a few bags of flour. It was thought advisable to wait here, therefore, and fortify themselves in the best manner they could till they should receive supplies and reinforcements. They had heard of the arrival at Alexandria of two independent companies from New York twenty days before, and it was presumed they must, by this time, have reached Will’s Creek. An express was sent to hasten them on with as much dispatch as possible."
As soon as it had been determined to make a stand at the Great Meadows, no time was lost in enlarging and strengthening the rude defenses already erected. The work was done under the supervision of Capt. Stobo, who had some experience in military engineering, and when completed was named by Washington "Fort Necessity," as expressive of the destitution of his command, and the necessity he was laboring under to stand there and fight. This fort was located in the present township of Wharton, Fayette county, three or four hundred yards south of what is called the National road, four miles from the foot of the western slope of Laurel Hill, and. by the route then in use, seventy miles from Will’s Creek, now known as Cumberland, Maryland. The site was a poor one, however, for purposes of defense, for, standing upon a bottom or natural meadow, it was commanded on three sides by higher ground, in no place more than 150 yards distant, with the opportunity for an enemy to approach on one side within sixty yards under cover of woods.
The French force, which was marching in pursuit of Washington, consisted of five hundred Frenchmen and about four hundred Indians, under the command of M. Coulon de Villiers, a half-brother of the slain M. de Jumonville. It had ascended the Monongahela from Fort Du Quesne to the mouth of Redstone creek in periaguas (large canoes), the Indians meanwhile scouting on either bank of the stream, thence tip the valley of Redstone creek. Referring to De Villiers’ journal, he says, under date of July 2nd: "After having marched some time we stopped, for I was resolved to proceed no farther until I had positive news; wherefore I sent scouts upon the road. In the meanwhile came some of the Indians to me whom we had left at the Hangard; they had taken a prisoner who called himself a deserter. I examined him, and threatened him with the rope if he offered to impose on me. I learned that the English had left their post (at Gist’s) in order to rejoin their fort, and that they had taken back their cannon. Some of our people finding that the English had abandoned the camp, we went thereto, and I sent some men to search it throughout. They found several tools and other utensils hidden in many places, which I ordered them to carry away. As it was late, I ordered the detachment to encamp there.* * * We had rain all night."
Soon after sunrise of the 3d the advance scouts of the French appeared before the fort and wounded one of the pickets. Being fully apprised of the enemy’s approach, Washington formed his forces in line outside the defenses, and there awaited his pursuers. Finally, at a little before noon, the French appeared in the edge of the woods toward the northwest, and began firing at long range but doing no execution. Finding that the enemy manifested no disposition to make a general attack, Col. Washington withdrew his men within the defenses, the Carolinians occupying the rifle-pit trenches behind the low log parapet which formed the outer line (though they were afterward driven out, not by the enemy’s fire, but by the torrents of rain that filled the trenches in which they were posted).
"The battle continued through the remainder of the day. Sparks’ account of it is as follows: "At eleven o’clock they (the French) approached. the fort and began to fire, at the distance of 600 yards, but without effect. Col. Washington had drawn up his men on the open and level ground outside of the trenches, waiting for the attack, which he presumed would be made as noon as the enemy’s forces emerged from the woods, and he ordered his men to reserve their fire till they should be near enough to do execution. The distant firing was supposed to be a stratagem to draw Washington’s men into the woods, and thus take them at a disadvantage, he suspected the design and maintained
his post till he found the French did not incline to leave the woods and attack the fort by an assault, as he supposed they would, considering their superiority of numbers. He then drew his men back within the trenches, and gave them order’s to fire according to their discretion, as suitable opportunities might present themselves. The French and Indians remained on the side of the rising ground which was nearest to the fort, and, sheltered by the trees, kept up a brisk, fire of musketry, but never appeared in the open plain below.
"The rain fell heavily through the day, the trenches were filled with water, and many of the arms of Col. Washington’s men were out of order and used with difficulty. In this way the battle continued from eleven o’clock in the morning till eight at night, when the French called and requested a parley. Suspecting this to be a feint to procure the admission of an officer into the fort that he might discover their condition, Col. Washington at first declined listening to the proposal; but when the call was repeated, with the additional request that an officer might be sent to them, engaging at the same time their parole for his safety, he sent out Capt. Van Braam, the only person under his command that could speak French except the Chevalier de Peyrouny, an ensign in the Virginia regiment, who was dangerously wounded and disabled from rendering any service on the occasion. Van Braam returned and brought with him from M. de Villiers, the French commander, proposed articles of capitulation. These he read and pretended to interpret, and some changes having been made by mutual agreement, both parties signed them about midnight."
The articles of capitulation were written in French. A translation reads as follows
"Article 1. We grant leave to the English commander to retire with all his garrison, and to return peaceably into his own country, and promise to hinder his receiving any insult from us French, and to restrain, as much as shall be in our power, the Indians that are with us.
"Article 2. It shall be permitted him to go out and carry with him all that belongs to them except the artillery, which we reserve;
"Article 3. That we will allow them the honors of war—-that they march out with drums beating and one swivel gun; being willing thereby to convince them that we treat them as friends.
"Article 4. That as soon as the articles are signed by both parties the English colors shall be struck.
"Article 5. That tomorrow, at break of day, a detachment of French shall go and make the garrison file off, and take possession of the fort.
"Article 6. As the English have but few oxen or horses left they are at liberty to hide their effects and to come again and search for them when they have a number of horses sufficient to carry them off, and that for this end they may have what guards they please on condition that they give their word of honor to work no more on any buildings in this place, or any part on this side of the mountains.
"Article 7. And as the English have in their power one officer, two cadets and most of the prisoners made at the assassination of M. de Jumonville, and promise to send them back with a safeguard to Fort Du Quesne, situate on the Ohio, for surety of their performing this article, as well as this treaty, MM. Jacob Van Braam and Robert Stobo, both captains, shall be delivered as hostages till the arrival of our French and Canadians above mentioned. We oblige ourselves on our side to give an escort to return these two officers in safety, and expect to have our French in two months and a half at farthest."
Washington, Mackay and Villiers signed the capitulation. The latter had very cunningly caused article seven to be so worded that the English officers, in their ignorance of the French language, were made to sign an acknowledgment that the killing of Dc Jumonville in battle was an act of assassination. Washington firmly held to the opinion that Capt. Van Braam, the so-called interpreter, knowingly connived at the deception, and in writing of this affair afterward, said: "That we were willfully or ignorantly deceived by our interpreter in regard to the word assassination, I do aver, and will to my dying moment; so will every officer that was present. The interpreter was a Dutchman, little acquainted with the English tongue, therefore might not advert to the tone and meaning of the word in English; but whatever his motives were for so doing, certain it is he called it the death or the loss of the Sieur Jumonville. So we received and so we understood it, until, to our great surprise and mortification, we found it otherwise in a literal translation."
According to Washington’s official statement the Virginia regiment of three hundred men lost in the engagement twelve killed and 43 wounded. The casualties in Capt. Mackay’s were not stated. On the French side, according to the report of De Villiers, the losses were two Frenchmen and one Indian killed, fifteen Frenchmen and two Indians seriously and a number of others slightly wounded.
At break of day on the morning of July 4, Washington, with his troops, filed out of the fort with drums beating and colors flying, and (without any transportation for their effects other than was afforded by the backs and shoulders of the men, and having no means of carrying their badly wounded except on rude, hastily constructed stretchers) moved sadly away to commence their weary journey of seventy miles over the mountains and streams to Will’s Creek. They were even unable to take with them the cannon granted by article three of the terms of capitulation. After marching southeasterly for a distance of about three miles the vanquished and forlorn command halted until the following morning, for the purpose of making some necessary arrangements before continuing the march.
Returning to the further movements of the French, it appears that De Villiers was apprehensive lest the expected reinforcements to Washington should arrive, which might place him in an unpleasant position and reverse the fortunes of the day, for the fort was immediately demolished, the captured cannon broken up, several barrels of rum destroyed (to guard against the disorder and perhaps bloodshed which would doubtless have ensued had the liquor been allowed to fall into the hands of the Indians), and at as early an hour as possible the French began their return march toward the northwest, accomplishing two leagues before nightfall of the 4th. They arrived at Fort Du Quesne in the afternoon of the 7th of July, after having destroyed the stockade which Washington had partially erected at Gist’s, the "Hangard storehouse" at the mouth of the Redstone, and all the English settlements found along the Monongahela, down which, they floated in their "periaguas" from Redstone creek.
The English—-Washington’s Virginia regiment and Mackay’s company of South Carolinians—-marched forward on the morning of the 5th, and, fording the Youghiogheny at the Great Crossings, retraced their steps over the route previously traveled and reached Will’s Creek after a slow and toilsome journey. From thence Washington went to Alexandria, and the Virginia troops returned to their homes. Mackay’s Carolina company, however, remained at Will’s Creek, and, together with two independent companies from the province of New York, all under the command of Col. James Innes, erected the fortification afterward known as "Fort Cumberland." This, then, was the extreme western outpost of the English; beyond it, and in all the country west of the Alleghenies, there was no hindrance to French occupation and supremacy.
SOURCE: History of Bedford, Somerset and Fulton Counties, pp. 28-34.
Return to Bedford County Genealogy Project
(c) Bedford County Pennsylvania Genealogy Project