George Washington's Early Years


This Site:

Discovery of America

The Explorers

Post Columbian Exploration

Thirteen Original Colonies

Colonization of America

Colonial Life

Colonial Days and Ways

Independence Movement

The Patriots

Prelude to War

Revolutionary War

Revolutionary War Battles

Overview of Revolutionary War

Revolutionary War Timeline


Civil War

American Flag

Mexican War

Republic of Texas


Mother of George WashingtonGeorge Washington, the third son of Augustine Washington, was born on the 22d of February, 1732, near the banks of the Potowmac, in the county of Westmoreland, in Virginia. His father first married Miss Butler, who died in 1728; leaving two sons, Lawrence and Augustine. In 1730, he married Miss Mary Ball. They  had four sons, George, John, Samuel and Charles; and one daughter, Betty, who married Colonel Fielding Lewis, of Fredericksburg.

His great grandfather, John Washington, a gentleman of a respectable family, had emigrated from the north of England about the year 1657, and settled on the place where Mr. Washington was born.

At the age of ten years he lost his father. Deprived of one parent, he became an object of more attention to the other; who continued to impress those principles of religion and virtue on his tender mind, which constituted the solid basis of a character that was maintained through all the challenges of an eventful life. But his education was limited to those subjects, in which alone the sons of gentlemen, of moderate fortune, were, at that time, generally instructed. It was confined to learning strictly useful topics.

George Washington Works as a Surveyor in Virginia

George Washington SurveyorIn 1743, his oldest brother married the daughter of the Honorable George William Fairfax, then a member of the council. This connection introduced Mr. Washington to Lord Fairfax, the proprietor of the Northern Neck of Virginia. Lord Fairfax then offered George employment as a surveyor, in the western part of that territory. Washington was 18 years old. His means being somewhat limited, this appointment was readily accepted. In the performance of these duties, George acquired information respecting vacant lands, and formed opinions concerning their future value, which afterwards contributed greatly to the increase of his private fortune.


George Washington Joins the Military

George became interested in the Military at a young age. He tried to join the navy at age 15. The arguments of his mother deferred the commencement, and changed the direction of his military career. Four years afterwards, at a time when the militia were to be trained for actual service, he was appointed one of the Adjutants General of Virginia, with the rank of Major. The duties annexed to this office soon yielded to others of a more interesting character.

France Begins Fortification of the Western Frontier

France was beginning to develop the vast plan of connecting her extensive dominions in America, by uniting Canada with Louisiana. The troops of that nation had taken possession of a tract of country claimed by Virginia, and had commenced a line of forts, to be extended from the Lakes to the Ohio. The attention of Mr. Dinwiddie, Lieutenant Governor of that Province, was attracted to these supposed encroachments; and he deemed it his duty to demand, in the name of the King his master, that they should be suspended.

This mission was difficult and dangerous. The Envoy would need to pass through a large and almost unexplored wilderness, covered with rugged mountains and wide rivers, and inhabited by fierce natives, who were either hostile to the English, or of doubtful attachment. While the dangers and fatigues of this service deterred others from undertaking it, they seem to have possessed attractions for Mr. Washington, and he engaged in it with enthusiasm.

October 31 - George Washington's  Mission to the French on the Ohio.

On receiving his orders, he left Williamsburg and arrived, on the 14th of November, at Wills' creek, then the extreme frontier settlement of the English, where guides were engaged to conduct him over the Alleghany mountains. After overcoming the barriers of snow and high waters, he reached the mouth of Turtle creek, where he was informed that the French General had died, and that the greater part of the army had retired into winter quarters. Pursuing his route, he examined the country through which he passed with a military eye, and selected the confluence of the Monongahela and Alleghany rivers, the place where fort Du Quesne was afterwards erected by the French, as an advantageous position, which it would be wise to seize and begin fortification.

After employing a few days among the Indians in that neighborhood, and procuring some of their chiefs to accompany him, whose fidelity he took the most judicious means to secure, he ascended the Alleghany river. Passing one fort at the mouth of French creek, he proceeded up the stream to a second, where he was received by Monsieur Le Gardeur de St. Pierre, the commanding officer on the Ohio, to whom he delivered the letter of Mr. Dinwiddie, and from whom he received an answer with which he returned to Williamsburg. January 16.The exertions made by Mr. Washington on this occasion, the perseverance with which he surmounted the difficulties of the journey, and the judgment displayed in his conduct towards the Indians, raised him in the public opinion, as well as in that of the Lieutenant Governor. His journal, [See George Washington's Journal] drawn up for the inspection of Mr. Dinwiddie, was published, and impressed his countrymen with very favorable sentiments of his understanding and fortitude.

George Washington Becomes Colonel of Regular Troops

The French responded that they had no intention of withdrawing from the region, so it was determined that preparations for war should be made. The assembly of Virginia authorized the executive to raise a regiment for the purpose of defending the interests of the British Crown in that area. The regiment was to consist of three hundred men. The command of this regiment was given to Mr. Fry, and Major Washington was appointed Lieutenant Colonel. Anxious to be engaged in active service, he obtained permission to advance with two companies to the Great Meadows in the Alleghany mountains. By this movement he hoped to become more familiar with the country, to gain some information about the intentions of the  French, and to preserve the friendships he had developed with the Indians. Soon after his arrival at that place, he was visited by some friendly Indians, who informed him that the French were themselves engaged in completing a fortification at the confluence of the Alleghany and Monongahela rivers: a detachment from which place was then on its march towards his camp. Open hostilities had not yet begun; but the country was considered as invaded: and several circumstances were related, confirming the opinion that this party was approaching with hostile intentions. Among others, it had withdrawn itself some distance from the path, and had encamped for the night in a bottom, as if to hide. Confident that these troops intended aggressive actions, Lieutenant Colonel Washington resolved to not be caught off guard.

George Washington Attacks the French

Availing himself of the offer made by the Indians to serve him as guides, he proceeded through a dark and rainy night to the French camp, which he completely surrounded. At daybreak, his men fired and rushed upon the party, and they immediately surrendered. One man escaped, and Jumonville, the commanding officer, was killed.

While the regiment was on its march to join the detachment advanced in front, the command devolved on Lieutenant Colonel Washington by the death of Colonel Fry. Soon after its arrival, it was reinforced by two independent companies of regulars. After erecting a small fortification at the Great Meadows, Colonel Washington began his march towards fort Du Quesne, with the intention of removing the French from that location. He had proceeded about thirteen miles, when he was met by some friendly natives, who informed him that the French and their savage allies, "as numerous as the pigeons in the woods," were quickly moving to meet him. Among those who brought this information was a trusty chief, only two days from the fort on the Ohio, who had observed the arrival of a considerable reinforcement at that place, and had heard their intention of marching immediately to attack the English, with a corps composed of eight hundred French and four hundred Indians. This intelligence was corroborated by information previously received from deserters, who had reported that a reinforcement was expected.

George Washington Faces Long Odds

The soldiers led by Colonel Washington were almost destitute of provisions; and the ground he occupied was not well suited for military purposes. A road at some distance, leading through the mountains, would enable the French to pass into his rear, intercept his supplies, and starve him into a surrender, or fight him with a three to one advantage.

In this hazardous situation, a council of war unanimously advised a retreat to the fort at the Great Meadows, now termed fort Necessity; where the two roads united, and where the face of the country was such as not to permit an enemy to pass unperceived. At that place, it was intended to remain, until reinforcements of men, and supplies of provisions, should arrive.

July 2. Battle at Fort Necessity.

In pursuance of this plan, Colonel Washington returned to fort Necessity, and began a ditch around the stockade. Before it was completed, the French, amounting to about fifteen hundred men, commanded by Monsieur de Villier, appeared before the fort, and immediately commenced a furious attack upon it. They were received with great intrepidity by the Americans, who fought partly within the stockade, and partly in the surrounding ditch, which was nearly filled with mud and water. Colonel Washington continued the whole day on the outside of the fort, encouraging the soldiers by his bravery and steadfastness. The assailants fought under cover of the trees and high grass, which covered the countryside. The engagement was continued with great intensity from ten in the morning until dark; when Monsieur de Villier demanded a parley, and offered terms of surrender.

The proposals first made were rejected; but, in the course of the night, articles were signed, by which the fort was surrendered, on condition that its garrison should be allowed the honors of war—should be permitted to retain their arms and baggage, and be allowed to march without interference into the inhabited parts of Virginia. The capitulation being in French—a language not understood by any person in the garrison, and being drawn up hastily in the night, contains an expression which was inaccurately translated at the time, and of which advantage has been since taken, by the enemies of Mr. Washington, to imply an admission on his part, that Monsieur Jumonville was assassinated. This assertion has been thoroughly discredited.

The loss of the Americans in this affair is not ascertained. From a return made on the 9th of July, at Wills' Creek, it appears that the killed and wounded, of the Virginia regiment, amounted to fifty-eight; but the loss sustained by the two independent companies is not stated. That of the assailants was supposed to be more considerable.

Great credit was given to Colonel Washington by his countrymen, for the courage displayed on this occasion. The legislature evinced its satisfaction with the conduct of the whole party, by passing a vote of thanks to him, and the officers under his command; and by giving three hundred pistoles, to be distributed among the soldiers engaged in the action.

The regiment returned to Winchester, to be recruited; soon after which it was joined by a few companies from North Carolina and Maryland. On the arrival of this reinforcement, the Lieutenant Governor, with the advice of council, regardless of the condition or number of the forces, ordered them immediately to march over the Alleghany mountains, and to expel the French from fort Du Quesne, or to build one in its vicinity.

The little army in Virginia, which was placed under the command of Colonel Innes, from North Carolina, did not, as now reinforced, exceed half the number of the enemy, and was neither provided with the means of moving, nor with supplies for a winter campaign. With as little consideration, directions had been given for the immediate completion of the regiment, without furnishing a single shilling for the recruiting service. Although a long peace may account for many errors at the commencement of war, some surprise will be felt at such ill-considered and ill-judged measures.

Colonel Washington remonstrated strongly against these orders, but prepared to execute them. The assembly, however, having risen without making any provision for the farther prosecution of the war, this wild expedition was laid aside, and the Virginia regiment was reduced to independent companies.

Washington Resigns From the Military due to British Arrogance

In the course of the winter, orders were received "for settling the rank of the officers of his majesty's forces when serving with the provincials in North America." These orders directed "that all officers commissioned by the King, or by his General in North America, should take rank of all officers commissioned by the Governors of the respective provinces; and farther, that the general and field officers of the provincial troops should have no rank when serving with the general and field officers commissioned by the crown; but that all captains, and other inferior officers of the royal troops, should take rank over provincial officers of the same grade, having senior commissions."

Strong as was his attachment to a military life, Colonel Washington was too proud to submit to a degrading loss of rank. He indicated that he would gladly continue to serve, if allowed to do so without the dishonor of a loss of rank.

Mount VernonHis eldest brother had lately died, and left him a considerable estate on the Potowmac. This gentleman had served in the expedition against Carthagena; and, in compliment to the admiral who commanded the fleet engaged in that enterprise, had named his seat Mount Vernon. To this delightful spot Colonel Washington withdrew, resolving to devote his future attention to the avocations of private life. This, however, did not last for long.

1755 George Washington Rejoins the Military as Aid-de-Camp to General Braddock

General Braddock, being informed of his qualifications, his knowledge of the country which was to be the scene of war, and his motives for retiring from the service, invited him to enter his forces as a volunteer aid-de-camp.

Having determined to accept this invitation, he joined the commander-in-chief, immediately after his departure from Alexandria, and proceeded with him to Wills' Creek. The army, consisting of two European regiments and a few corps of provincials, was detained at that place until the 12th of June, by the difficulty of procuring wagons, horses, and provisions. Colonel Washington, impatient under these delays, suggested the propriety of using pack-horses instead of wagons, for conveying the baggage. The commander-in-chief, although solicitous to hasten the expedition, was so attached to the usages of regular war, that this wise advice was at first rejected; but, soon after the commencement of the march, its value became too obvious to be ignored any longer.

On the third day after the army had moved from its ground, Colonel Washington was seized with a violent fever, which disabled him from riding on horseback, and was conveyed in a covered wagon. General Braddock, who found the difficulties of the march greater than had been expected, continuing to consult him privately, he strenuously urged that officer to leave his heavy artillery and baggage with the rear division of the army; and with a chosen body of troops and some pieces of light artillery, to press forward with the utmost expedition to fort Du Quesne. In support of this advice, he stated that the French were then weak on the Ohio, but hourly expected reinforcements. During the excessive drought which prevailed at that time, these could not arrive; because the river Le Boeuf, on which their supplies must be brought to Venango, did not then afford a sufficient quantity of water for the purpose. A rapid movement therefore might enable him to carry the fort, before the arrival of the expected aid; but if this measure should not be adopted, such were the delays attendant on the march of the whole army, that rains sufficient to raise the waters might reasonably be expected, and the whole force of the French would probably be collected for their reception; a circumstance which would render the success of the expedition doubtful.

This advice was heeded by the commander-in-chief, it was determined in a council of war, held at the Little Meadows, that twelve hundred select men, to be commanded by General Braddock in person, should advance with the utmost expedition against fort Du Quesne. Colonel Dunbar was to remain with the residue of the two regiments, and all the heavy baggage.

Although this select corps commenced its march with only thirty carriages, including ammunition wagons, the hopes of a fast march were not realized. "I found," said Colonel Washington, in a letter to his brother, written during the march, "that instead of pushing on with vigour, without regarding a little rough road, they were halting to level every mole-hill, and to erect bridges over every brook." It took them four days to cover nineteen miles from the Little Meadows.

Colonel Washington was obliged to stop at that place;—the physician having declared that his life would be endangered by continuing with the army. He obeyed, with reluctance, the positive orders of the general to remain at this camp, under the protection of a small guard, until the arrival of Colonel Dunbar; having first received a promise that means should be used to bring him up with the army before it reached fort Du Quesne.

The day before the battle of the Monongahela he rejoined the general in a covered wagon; and, though weak, entered on the duties of his station.

Battle of Monongahela

In a short time after the action had commenced, Colonel Washington was the only aid remaining alive, and unwounded. The whole duty of carrying the orders of the commander-in-chief, in an engagement with marksmen who selected officers, and especially those on horseback, for their objects, devolved on him alone. Under these difficult conditions, he demonstrated that coolness, that self-possession, that fearlessness which ever distinguished him, and which are so necessary to the character of a consummate soldier. Two horses were killed under him, and four balls passed through his coat; but, to the astonishment of all, he escaped unhurt,—while every other officer on horseback was either killed or wounded. "I expected every moment," says an eye-witness, "to see him fall. His duty and situation exposed him to every danger. Nothing but the superintending care of Providence could have saved him from the fate of all around him."

After three hours of battle, General Braddock, under whom three horses had been killed, received a mortal wound; and his troops fled in great disorder. Every effort to rally them was useless until they had crossed the Monongahela, when, being no longer pursued, they were again formed. The general was brought off in a small tumbril by Colonel Washington, Captain Stewart of the guards, and his servant. The defeated detachment retreated with the utmost precipitation to the rear division of the army; soon after which, Braddock expired. In the first moments of alarm, all the stores were destroyed, except those necessary for immediate use; and not long afterwards, Colonel Dunbar marched the remaining European troops to Philadelphia, in order to place them in, what he termed, winter quarters.

Colonel Washington was greatly disappointed and disgusted by the conduct of the regular troops in this action. In his letter to Lieutenant Governor Dinwiddie, giving an account of it, he said, "They were struck with such an inconceivable panic, that nothing but confusion and disobedience of orders prevailed among them. The officers in general behaved with incomparable bravery, for which they greatly suffered; there being upwards of sixty killed and wounded—a large proportion out of what we had.

"The Virginia companies behaved like men, and died like soldiers; for, I believe, out of three companies on the ground that day, scarce thirty men were left alive. Captain Peronny, and all his officers down to a corporal, were killed. Captain Poulson had almost as hard a fate, for only one of his escaped. In short, the dastardly behaviour of the regular troops (so called,) exposed those who were inclined to do their duty, to almost certain death; and, at length, in spite of every effort to the contrary, they broke, and ran as sheep before hounds; leaving the artillery, ammunition, provisions, baggage, and in short every thing, a prey to the enemy; and when we endeavoured to rally them, in hopes of regaining the ground, and what we had left upon it, it was with as little success as if we had attempted to have stopped the wild bears of the mountains, or the rivulets with our feet: for they would break by, in spite of every effort to prevent it."*

*In another letter, he says, "We have been beaten, shamefully beaten—shamefully beaten by a handful of men, who only intended to molest and disturb our march! Victory was their smallest expectation! But see the wondrous works of Providence, the uncertainty of human things! We, but a few moments before, believed our numbers almost equal to the force of Canada; they only expected to annoy us. Yet, contrary to all expectation and human probability, and even to the common course of things, we were totally defeated, and have sustained the loss of every thing."

This is from an etching made in idealization of the original house, situated on the banks of the Potomac, 38 miles from Fredericksburg, in Westmoreland County, Virginia, where our First President was born, February 22, 1732. The original house, which was built by Washington's father, Augustine, was destroyed by fire more than 150 years ago, before the Declaration of Independence was signed.

George Washington Appointed Commander and Chief

Colonel Washington had long been the most popular soldier of Virginia; and his reputation grew with day. His conduct in this battle had been universally extolled;* and the common opinion of his countrymen was, that, had his advice been pursued, the disaster had been avoided. The assembly was in session, when intelligence was received of this defeat, and of the abandonment of the colony by Colonel Dunbar. The legislature, perceiving the necessity of levying troops for the defense of the province, determined to raise a regiment, to consist of sixteen companies, the command of which was offered to Colonel Washington; who was also designated, in his commission, as the Commander-in-chief of all the forces raised and to be raised in the colony of Virginia. The uncommon privilege of naming his Field Officers was added to this honorable appointment.

*In a sermon preached not long after the defeat of General Braddock, the Rev. Mr. Davies, speaking of that disaster, and of the preservation of Colonel Washington, said: "I can not but hope that Providence has preserved that youth to be the saviour of this country." These words were afterwards considered as prophetic; and were applied by his countrymen to an event very opposite to that which was contemplated by the person who uttered them.

Retaining still his desire of a military life, he cheerfully embraced this opportunity of reentering the army. After making the necessary arrangements for the recruiting service, and visiting the posts on the frontiers, which he placed in the best state of defense of which they were susceptible; he set out for the seat of government, where objects of the first importance required his attention; but was overtaken below Fredericksburg by an express, carrying the intelligence, that a large number of French and Indians, divided into several parties, had broken up the frontier settlements; were murdering and capturing men, women, and children; burning their houses, and destroying their crops. The troops stationed among them for their protection, were unequal to that duty; and, instead of being able to afford aid to the inhabitants, were themselves hunkered down in their forts.

Colonel Washington hurried back to Winchester, where there was lots of confusion and distress. His efforts to raise the militia were unsuccessful. Attentive only to individual security, and regardless of the common danger, they could not be convinced to help. Instead of assembling in arms, and obtaining safety by meeting their invaders, the inhabitants fled into the lower country, and increased the general terror. In this state of things, he endeavored to collect and arm the men who had abandoned their houses, and to remove their wives and children to a distance from this scene of desolation and carnage. Pressing orders were at the same time dispatched to the newly appointed officers, to forward their recruits; and to the county lieutenants, east of the Blue Ridge, to hasten their militia to Winchester: but before these orders could be executed, the party which had done so much mischief, and excited such alarm, had recrossed the Alleghany mountains.

Early in the following spring, the enemy made another invasion, and caused much damage. The number of troops on the regular establishment was insufficient to protect the frontier, and the militia was not effective. The Indians, who were divided into small parties, concealed themselves with so much dexterity, as seldom to be perceived until the blow was struck. Their murders were frequently committed in the very neighborhood of the forts; and the detachments from the garrisons either would not find the guilty parties, or would be mercilessly attacked by them. In one of these skirmishes, the Americans were routed, and Captain Mercer was killed. The people either abandoned the country, or attempted to secure themselves in small stockade forts, where they were in great distress for provisions, arms, and ammunition; were often surrounded, and sometimes cut off. Colonel Washington was deeply affected by this state of things. "I see their situation," said he, in a letter to the Lieutenant Governor, "I know their danger, and participate their sufferings, without having it in my power to give them farther relief than uncertain promises. In short, I see inevitable destruction in so clear a light, that unless vigorous measures are taken by the assembly, and speedy assistance sent from below, the poor inhabitants now in forts must unavoidably fall, while the remainder are flying before the barbarous foe. In fine, the melancholy situation of the people; the little prospect of assistance; the gross and scandalous abuses cast upon the officers in general, which is reflecting upon me in particular for suffering misconduct of such extraordinary kind; and the distant prospect, if any, of gaining reputation in the service, cause me to lament the hour that gave me a commission, and would induce me, at any other time than this of imminent danger, to resign, without one hesitating moment, a command from which I never expect to reap either honor or benefit; but, on the contrary, have almost an absolute certainty of incurring displeasure below, while the murder of helpless families may be laid to my account here."

Colonel Washington had been prevented from taking post at fort Cumberland by an unfortunate and extraordinary difficulty, growing out of an obscurity in the royal orders, respecting the relative rank of officers commissioned by the king, and those commissioned by the governor. A Captain Dagworthy, who was at that place, and of the former description, insisted on taking the command, although it had been committed to Lieutenant Colonel Stevens; and, on the same principle, he contested the rank of Colonel Washington also. This circumstance had retained that officer at Winchester, where public stores to a considerable amount were deposited, with only about fifty men to guard them. In the deep distress of the moment, a council of war was called, to determine whether he should march this small body to some of the nearest forts, and, uniting with their petty garrisons, risk an action; or wait until the militia could be raised. The council unanimously advised a continuance at Winchester. Lord Fairfax, who commanded the militia of that and the adjacent counties, had ordered them to his assistance; but they were slow in assembling. The unremitting exertion of three days, in the county of Frederick, could produce only twenty men.

The incompetency of the military force to the defense of the country having become obvious, the assembly determined to augment the regiment to fifteen hundred men. In a letter addressed to the house of burgesses, Colonel Washington urged the necessity of increasing it still farther, to two thousand men; a less number than which could not possibly, in his opinion, be sufficient to cover the extensive frontier of Virginia, should the defensive system be continued. In support of this demand, he stated, in detail, the forts which must be garrisoned; and observed, that, with the exception of a few inhabitants in forts on the south branch of the Potowmac, the north mountain near Winchester had become the frontier; and that, without effectual aid, the inhabitants would even pass the Blue Ridge. He farther observed that the woods seemed "alive with French and Indians;" and again described so feelingly the situation of the inhabitants, that the assembly requested the governor to order half the militia of the adjoining counties to their relief; and the attorney general, Mr. Peyton Randolph, formed a company of one hundred gentlemen, who engaged to make the campaign, as volunteers. Ten well trained woodsmen, or Indians, would have rendered more service.

The distress of the country increased. As had been foreseen, Winchester became almost the only settlement west of the Blue Ridge, on the northern frontier; and fears were entertained that the enemy would soon pass even that barrier, and ravage the country below. Express after express was sent to hasten the militia, but sent in vain. At length, about the last of April, the French and their savage allies, laden with plunder, prisoners, and scalps, returned to fort Du Quesne.

Some short time after their retreat, the militia appeared. This temporary increase of strength was employed in searching the country for small parties of Indians, who lingered behind the main body, and in making dispositions to repel another invasion. A fort was commenced at Winchester, which, in honor of the general who had been appointed to the command of the British troops in America, was called fort Loudoun; and the perpetual remonstrance of Colonel Washington at length effected some improvement in the laws for the government of the troops.

These errors of a government unused to war, though continually remarked by the officer commanding the troops, were slowly perceived by those in power, and were never entirely corrected.

Successive incursions continued to be made by small bands of French and Indians, who kept up a perpetual alarm, and murdered the defenseless. In Pennsylvania, the inhabitants were driven as far as Carlisle; and in Maryland, Fredericktown, on the eastern side of the Blue Ridge, became a frontier. With the Virginia regiment, which did not yet amount to one thousand men, aided occasionally by militia, Colonel Washington was to defend a frontier of near four hundred miles in extent, and to complete a chain of forts. He repeatedly urged the necessity and propriety of abandoning fort Cumberland, which was too far in advance of the settlements, and too far north, to be useful, while it required for its defense a larger portion of his force than could be spared with a proper regard to the safety of other and more advantageous positions. The governor, however, thought the abandonment of it improper, since it was a "king's fort;" and Lord Loudoun, on being consulted, gave the same opinion.

A major problem for the commander of the Virginia troops, was the practice of desertion. The daily pay of a soldier was only eight pence, out of which two pence were stopped for his clothes. This pay was inferior to what was received in every other part of the continent and this created resentment among the troops. The remonstrances of the commanding officer, in some degree, corrected this mischief; and a full suit of regimentals was allowed to each soldier, without deducting its price from his pay.

As soon as the main body of the enemy had withdrawn from the settlements, a tour was made by Colonel Washington to the south-western frontier. There, as well as to the north, continued incursions had been made; and there too, the principal defense of the country was entrusted to an ill-regulated militia. The fatal consequences of this system are thus stated by him, in a letter to the lieutenant governor: "The inhabitants are so sensible of their danger, if left to the protection of these people, that not a man will stay at his place. This I have from their own mouths, and the principal inhabitants of Augusta county. The militia are under such bad order and discipline, that they will come and go, when and where they please, without regarding time, their officers, or the safety of the inhabitants, but consulting solely their own inclinations. There should be, according to your honor's orders, one-third of the militia of these parts on duty at a time; instead of that, scarce one-thirtieth is out. They are to be relieved every month, and they are a great part of that time marching to and from their stations; and they will not wait one day longer than the limited time, whether relieved or not, however urgent the necessity for their continuance may be." Some instances of this, and of gross misbehavior, were then enumerated; after which, he pressed the necessity of increasing the number of regulars to two thousand men.

After returning from this tour, to Winchester, he gave the Lieutenant Governor, in curious detail, a statement of the situation in which he found the country, urging, but urging in vain, arguments which will always be suggested by experience, against relying chiefly on militia for defense.

Sensible of the impracticability of defending such an extensive frontier, Colonel Washington continued to press the policy of enabling him to act on the offensive. The people of Virginia, he thought, could be protected only by entering the country of the enemy; giving him employment at home, and removing the source of all their calamities by taking possession of fort Du Quesne.

"As defensive measures," he observed in a letter to the Lieutenant Governor, "are evidently insufficient for the security and safety of the country, I hope no arguments are necessary to evince the necessity of altering them to a vigorous offensive war, in order to remove the cause." But in the event, that the assembly should still indulge their favorite scheme of protecting the inhabitants by forts along the frontiers, he presented a plan, which, in its execution, would require two thousand men—these were to be distributed in twenty-two forts, extending from the river Mayo to the Potowmac, in a line of three hundred and sixty miles. In a letter written about the same time to the speaker of the assembly, he said, "The certainty of advantage, by an offensive scheme of action, renders it, beyond any doubt, preferable to our defensive measures. Our scattered force, so separated and dispersed in weak parties, avails little to stop the secret incursions of the savages. We can only perhaps put them to flight, or frighten them to some other part of the country, which answers not the end proposed. Whereas, had we strength enough to invade their lands, we should restrain them from coming abroad, and leaving their families unprotected. We should then remove the principal cause, and have stronger probability of success; we should be free from the many alarms and murders, that now attend us; we should inspirit the hearts of our few Indian friends, and gain more esteem with them. In short, could Pennsylvania and Maryland be induced to join us in an expedition of this nature, and to petition his Excellency Lord Loudoun for a small train of artillery, with some engineers, we should then be able, in all human probability, to subdue the terror of fort Du Quesne; retrieve our character with the Indians; and restore peace to our unhappy frontiers."

His total inability to act offensively, or even to afford protection to the frontiers of Virginia, was not the only distressing circumstance to which he was exposed. The Lieutenant Governor, to whose commands he was subjected in every minute particular, and who seems to have been unequal to the difficulties of his station, frequently deranged his system by orders which could not be executed without considerable hazard and inconvenience. Colonel Washington could not always restrain his chagrin on such occasions; and, on one of them, observed in a letter to an intimate friend, who possessed great influence in the country, "whence it arises, or why, I am truly ignorant, but my strongest representations of matters relative to the peace of the frontiers are disregarded, as idle and frivolous; my propositions and measures, as partial and selfish; and all my sincerest endeavors for the service of my country, perverted to the worst purposes. My orders are dark, doubtful, and uncertain: today approved, tomorrow condemned; left to act and proceed at hazard; accountable for the consequences, and blamed without the benefit of defense. If you can think my situation capable of exciting the smallest degree of envy, or of affording the least satisfaction, the truth is yet hid from you, and you entertain notions very different from the reality of the case. However, I am determined to bear up under all these embarrassments some time longer, in the hope of better regulations under Lord Loudoun, to whom I look for the future fate of Virginia."

Not long after this letter was written, Lord Loudoun arrived in Virginia. A comprehensive statement of the situation of the colony and of the regiment in particular, was drawn up and submitted to him by Colonel Washington. In this he described the errors which had prevented the completion of his regiment, showed the insufficiency of the militia for any military purpose, and demonstrated the superiority of an offensive system over that which had been pursued.

This statement was probably presented by Colonel Washington in person, who was permitted, during the winter, to visit Lord Loudoun in Philadelphia, where that nobleman met the Governors of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and North Carolina, and the Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, in order to consult with them on the measures to be taken, in their respective Provinces, for the ensuing campaign. He was, however, disappointed in his favorite hope of being able to act offensively against the French on the Ohio. Lord Loudoun had determined to direct all his efforts against Canada, and to leave only twelve hundred men in the middle and southern colonies. Instead of receiving assistance, Virginia was required to send four hundred men to South Carolina. Not discouraged by these disappointments, Colonel Washington continued indefatigable in his endeavors to impress on Mr. Dinwiddie the importance of reviving, and properly modifying their military code, making a more effective militia law, and of increasing their number of regular troops.

So far from succeeding on the last subject, he had to witness a measure which crushed his hopes of an adequate regular force. Being unable to complete the regiment by voluntary enlistment, the assembly changed its organization, and reduced it to ten companies; each to consist of one hundred men. Yet his anxious wishes continued to be directed towards fort Du Quesne. In a letter written about this time to Colonel Stanwix, who commanded in the middle colonies, he said, "You will excuse me, sir, for saying, that I think there never was, and perhaps never again will be, so favorable an opportunity as the present for reducing fort Du Quesne. Several prisoners have made their escape from the Ohio this spring, and agree in their accounts, that there are but three hundred men left in the garrison; and I do not conceive that the French are so strong in Canada, as to reinforce this place, and defend themselves at home this campaign: surely then this is too precious an opportunity to be lost."

Washington Continues to Argue for an "Offensive" War

Mr. Pitt did not yet direct the councils of Britain; and a spirit of enterprise and heroism did not yet animate her generals. The campaign to the north was inglorious; and to the west, nothing was even attempted, which might relieve the middle colonies.

Large bodies of natives, in the service of France, once more spread desolation and murder over the whole country, west of the Blue Ridge. The regular troops were inadequate to the protection of the inhabitants; and the incompetency of the defensive system to their security became every day more apparent. "I exert every means," said Colonel Washington, in a letter to Lieutenant Governor Dinwiddie, "to protect a much distressed country; but it is a task too arduous. To think of defending a frontier of more than three hundred and fifty miles extent, as ours is, with only seven hundred men, is vain and idle; especially when that frontier lies more contiguous to the enemy than any other.

"I am, and for a long time have been, fully convinced, that if we continue to pursue a defensive plan, the country must be inevitably lost."

In another letter he said, "The raising a company of rangers, or augmenting our strength in some other manner, is so far necessary, that, without it, the remaining inhabitants of this once fertile and populous valley will scarcely be detained at their dwellings until the spring. And if there is no expedition to the westward then, nor a force more considerable than Virginia can support, posted on our frontiers; if we still adhere, for the next campaign, to our destructive defensive schemes, there will not, I dare affirm, be one soul living on this side the Blue Ridge the ensuing autumn, if we except the troops in garrison, and a few inhabitants of this town, who may shelter themselves under the protection of this fort. This I know to be the immoveable determination of all the settlers of this country." To the Speaker of the assembly he gave the same opinion; and added, "I do not know on whom these miserable undone people are to rely for protection. If the assembly are to give it to them, it is time that measures were at least concerting, and not when they ought to be going into execution, as has always been the case. If they are to seek it from the Commander-in-chief, it is time their condition was made known to him. For I can not forbear repeating again, that, while we pursue defensive measures, we pursue inevitable ruin."

It was impossible for Colonel Washington, zealous in the service of his country, and ambitious of military fame, to observe the errors committed in the conduct of the war, without censuring them. These errors were not confined to the military affairs of the colony. The Cherokee and Catawba Indians had hitherto remained faithful to the English, and it was very desirable to engage the warriors of those tribes heartily in their service; but so miserably was the intercourse with them conducted, that, though a considerable expense was incurred, not much assistance was obtained, and great disgust was excited among them. The freedom with which the Commander-in-chief of the Virginia forces censured public measures, gave offence to the Lieutenant Governor, who considered these censures as manifesting a want of respect for himself. Sometimes he coarsely termed them impertinent; and at other times, charged him with looseness in his information, and inattention to his duty. On one of these occasions, Colonel Washington thus concluded a letter of detail, "Nothing remarkable has happened, and therefore I have nothing to add. I must beg leave, however, before I conclude, to observe, in justification of my own conduct, that it is with pleasure I receive reproof when reproof is due, because no person can be readier to accuse me, than I am to acknowledge an error, when I have committed it; nor more desirous of atoning for a crime, when I am sensible of being guilty of one. But, on the other hand, it is with concern I remark, that my best endeavors lose their reward; and that my conduct, although I have uniformly studied to make it as unexceptionable as I could, does not appear to you in a favorable point of light. Otherwise, your honor would not have accused me of loose behavior, and remissness of duty, in matters where, I think, I have rather exceeded than fallen short of it. This, I think, is evidently the case in speaking of Indian affairs at all, after being instructed in very express terms, 'Not to have any concern with, or management of Indian affairs.' This has induced me to forbear mentioning the Indians in my letters to your honor of late, and to leave the misunderstanding, which you speak of, between Mr. Aikin and them, to be related by him."

In a letter, some short time after this, to the Lieutenant Governor, he said, "I do not know that I ever gave your Honor cause to suspect me of ingratitude; a crime I detest, and would most carefully avoid. If an open, disinterested behavior carries offence, I may have offended; for I have all along laid it down as a maxim, to represent facts freely and impartially, but not more so to others than to you, sir. If instances of my ungrateful behavior had been particularized, I would have answered them. But I have been long convinced that my actions and their motives have been maliciously aggravated." A request that he might be permitted to come to Williamsburg for the settlement of some accounts, which he was desirous of adjusting under the inspection of the Lieutenant Governor, who proposed to leave the province in the following November, was refused in abrupt and disobliging terms. In answer to the letter containing the refusal, Colonel Washington, after stating the immoveable disposition of the inhabitants to leave the country unless more sufficiently protected, added, "To give a more succinct account of their affairs than I could in writing, was the principal, among many other reasons, that induced me to ask leave to come down. It was not to enjoy a party of pleasure that I asked leave of absence. I have indulged with few of those, winter or summer."

Mr. Dinwiddie soon afterwards took leave of Virginia, and the government devolved on Mr. Blair, the President of the Council. Between him and the commander of the colonial troops the utmost cordiality existed.

Expedition against Fort Du Quesne.

Lord Loudoun then returned to England, and General Abercrombie succeeded to the command of the army. The department of the middle and southern provinces was committed to General Forbes, who, to the inexpressible gratification of Colonel Washington, determined to undertake an expedition against fort Du Quesne.

He urged an early campaign, but he urged it ineffectually; and, before the troops were assembled, a large body of French and Indians broke into the country, and renewed the horrors of the tomahawk and scalping-knife. The county of Augusta was ravaged and about sixty persons were murdered. The attempts made to intercept these natives were unsuccessful; and they recrossed the Alleghany, with their plunder, prisoners, and scalps.

Among other motives for an early campaign, Colonel Washington had urged the impracticability of detaining the Indians. His fears were well founded. Before a junction of the troops had been made, these natives became impatient to return to their homes; and, finding that the expedition would yet be delayed a considerable time, they left the army, with promises to rejoin it at the proper season.

In pursuance of the orders which had been received, the Virginia troops moved in detachments from Winchester to fort Cumberland, where they assembled early in July: after which, they were employed in opening a road to Raystown, where Colonel Bouquet was stationed. As the English were continually harassed by small parties of French and Indians, the general had contemplated advancing a strong detachment over the Alleghany mountains, for the purpose of giving them employment at home. By the advice of Colonel Washington this plan was relinquished. In support of his opinion, he stated the probability that a large force was collected at fort Du Quesne, and the impracticability of moving a strong detachment, without such a quantity of provisions, as would expose it to the danger of being discovered and cut to pieces. He advised to harass them with small parties, principally of Indians; and this advice was pursued.

Colonel Washington had expected that the army would march by Braddock's road: but, late in July, he had the mortification to receive a letter from Colonel Bouquet, asking an interview with him, in order to consult on opening a new road from Raystown, and requesting his opinion on that route. "I shall," says he, in answer to this letter, "most cheerfully work on any road, pursue any route, or enter upon any service, that the general or yourself may think me usefully employed in, or qualified for; and shall never have a will of my own, when a duty is required of me. But since you desire me to speak my sentiments freely, permit me to observe, that, after having conversed with all the guides, and having been informed by others acquainted with the country, I am convinced that a road, to be compared with General Braddock's, or indeed that will be fit for transportation even by pack-horses, can not be made. I own I have no predilection for the route you have in contemplation for me."

A few days after writing this letter, he had an interview with Colonel Bouquet, whom he found decided in favor of opening the new road. After their separation, Colonel Washington, with his permission, addressed to him a letter to be laid before General Forbes, then indisposed at Carlisle, in which he stated his reasons against this measure. He concluded his arguments against the new road: arguments which appear to be unanswerable, by declaring his fears that, should the attempt be made, they would be able to do nothing more than fortify some post on the other side of the Alleghany, and prepare for another campaign. This he prayed Heaven to avert.

He was equally opposed to a scheme which had been suggested of marching by the two different routes, and recommended an order of march by Braddock's road, which would bring the whole army before fort Du Quesne in thirty-four days, with a supply of provisions for eighty-six days.

In a letter of the same date addressed to Major Halket, aid of General Forbes, Colonel Washington thus expressed his forebodings of the mischiefs to be apprehended from the adoption of the proposed route. "I am just returned from a conference held with Colonel Bouquet. I find him fixed—I think I may say unalterably fixed—to lead you a new way to the Ohio, through a road, every inch of which is to be cut at this advanced season, when we have scarcely time left to tread the beaten track, universally confessed to be the best passage through the mountains.

"If Colonel Bouquet succeeds in this point with the general, all is lost! all is lost indeed! our enterprise is ruined! and we shall be stopped at the Laurel hill this winter; but not to gather laurels, except of the kind which cover the mountains. The southern Indians will turn against us, and these colonies will be desolated by such an accession to the enemy's strength. These must be the consequences of a miscarriage; and a miscarriage, the almost necessary consequence of an attempt to march the army by this route."

Colonel Washington's remonstrances and arguments were unavailing; and the new route was adopted. His extreme chagrin at this measure, and at the delays resulting from it, was expressed in anxious letters to Mr. Fauquier, then governor of Virginia, and to the speaker of the house of burgesses.

In a letter to the speaker, written while at fort Cumberland, he said: "We are still encamped here; very sickly, and dispirited at the prospect before us. That appearance of glory which we once had in view—that hope—that laudable ambition of serving our country, and meriting its applause, are now no more: all is dwindled into ease, sloth, and fatal inactivity. In a word, all is lost, if the ways of men in power, like certain ways of Providence, are not inscrutable. But we who view the actions of great men at a distance can only form conjectures agreeably to a limited perception; and, being ignorant of the comprehensive schemes which may be in contemplation, might mistake egregiously in judging of things from appearances, or by the lump. Yet every f—l will have his notions—will prattle and talk away; and why may not I? We seem then, in my opinion, to act under the guidance of an evil genius. The conduct of our leaders, if not actuated by superior orders, is tempered with something—I do not care to give a name to. Nothing now but a miracle can bring this campaign to a happy issue." He then recapitulated the arguments he had urged against attempting a new road, and added, "But I spoke unavailingly. The road was immediately begun; and since then, from one to two thousand men have constantly wrought on it. By the last accounts I have received, they had cut it to the foot of the Laurel hill, about thirty-five miles; and I suppose, by this time, fifteen hundred men have taken post about ten miles further, at a placed called Loyal Hanna, where our next fort is to be constructed.

"We have certain intelligence that the French strength at fort Du Quesne did not exceed eight hundred men, the thirteenth ultimo; including about three or four hundred Indians. See how our time has been misspent—behold how the golden opportunity is lost—perhaps, never to be regained! How is it to be accounted for? Can General Forbes have orders for this?—Impossible. Will then our injured country pass by such abuses? I hope not. Rather let a full representation of the matter go to his majesty; let him know how grossly his glory and interests, and the public money have been prostituted."

Defeat of Major Grant

Colonel Washington was soon afterwards ordered to Raystown. Major Grant had been previously detached from the advanced post at Loyal Hanna, with a select corps of eight hundred men, to reconnoitre the country about fort Du Quesne. In the night he reached a hill near the fort, and sent forward a party for the purpose of discovery. They burnt a log house, and returned. Next morning, Major Grant detached Major Lewis, of Colonel Washington's regiment, with a baggage guard, two miles into his rear; and sent an engineer, with a covering party, within full view of the fort, to take a plan of the works. In the mean time he ordered the reveillée to be beaten in different places. An action soon commenced, on which Major Lewis, leaving Captain Bullett, with about fifty Virginians to guard the baggage, advanced with the utmost celerity to support Major Grant. The English were defeated with considerable loss; and both Major Grant and Major Lewis were taken prisoners. In this action, the Virginians evidenced the spirit with which they had been trained. Out of eight officers, five were killed, a sixth wounded, and a seventh taken prisoner. Captain Bullett, who defended the baggage with great resolution, and contributed to save the remnant of the detachment, was the only officer who escaped unhurt. Of one hundred and sixty-two men, sixty-two were killed on the spot, and two wounded. This conduct reflected high honor on the commanding officer of the regiment as well as on the troops; and he received, on the occasion, the compliments of the general. The total loss was two hundred and seventy-three killed, and forty-two wounded.

It was at length determined that the main body of the army should move from Raystown; and the general called on the colonels of regiments, to submit severally to his consideration, a plan for his march. That proposed by Colonel Washington has been preserved, and appears to have been judiciously formed.

They reached the camp at Loyal Hanna, through a road indescribably bad, about the fifth of November; where, as had been predicted, a council of war determined that it was unadvisable to proceed farther this campaign. It would have been almost impossible to winter an army in that position. They must have retreated from the cold inhospitable wilderness into which they had penetrated, or have suffered immensely; perhaps have perished. Fortunately, some prisoners were taken, who informed them of the extreme distress of the fort. Deriving no support from Canada, the garrison was weak; in great want of provisions; and had been deserted by the Indians. These encouraging circumstances changed the resolution which had been taken, and determined the general to prosecute the expedition.

Fort Du Quesne Captured by the English

Colonel Washington was advanced in front; and, with immense labor, opened a way for the main body of the army. The troops moved forward with slow and painful steps until they reached fort Du Quesne, of which they took peaceable possession; the garrison having on the preceding night, after evacuating and setting it on fire, proceeded down the Ohio in boats.

To other causes than the vigour of the officer who conducted this enterprise, the capture of this important place is to be ascribed. The naval armaments of Britain had intercepted the reinforcements designed by France for her colonies; and the pressure on Canada was such as to disable the governor of that province from detaching troops to fort Du Quesne. Without the aid of these causes, the extraordinary and unaccountable delays of the campaign must have defeated its object.

The works were repaired, and the new fort received the name of the great minister, who, with unparalleled vigour and talents, then governed the nation.

After furnishing two hundred men from his regiment as a garrison for fort Pitt, Colonel Washington marched back to Winchester; whence he soon afterwards proceeded to Williamsburg, to take his seat in the General Assembly, of which he had been elected a member by the county of Frederick, while at fort Cumberland.

A cessation of Indian hostility being the consequence of expelling the French from the Ohio, Virginia was relieved from the dangers with which she had been threatened; and the object for which alone he had continued in the service, after perceiving that he should not be placed on the permanent establishment, was accomplished. His health was much impaired, and his domestic affairs required his attention.

Resignation and marriage of George Washington

Impelled by these and other motives of a private nature, he determined to withdraw from a service, which he might now quit without dishonor; and, about the close of the year, resigned his commission, as colonel of the first Virginia regiment, and commander-in-chief of all the troops raised in the colony.

The officers whom he had commanded were greatly attached to him. They manifested their esteem and their regret at parting, by a very affectionate address, [SEE A TRIBUTE TO GEORGE WASHINGTON, FROM HIS MEN] expressive of the high opinion they entertained both of his military and private character.

This opinion was not confined to the officers of his regiment. It was common to Virginia; and had been adopted by the British officers with whom he served. The duties he performed, though not splendid, were arduous; and were executed with zeal, and with judgment. The exact discipline he established in his regiment, when the temper of Virginia was extremely hostile to discipline, does credit to his military character, and the gallantry the troops displayed, whenever called into action, manifests the spirit infused into them by their commander.

The difficulties of his situation, while unable to cover the frontier from the French and Indians, who were spreading death and desolation in every quarter, were incalculably great; and no better evidence of his exertions, under these distressing circumstances, can be given, than the undiminished confidence still placed in him, by those whom he was unable to protect.

Martha WashingtonThe efforts to which he incessantly stimulated his country for the purpose of obtaining possession of the Ohio; the system for the conduct of the war which he continually recommended; the vigorous and active measures always urged upon those by whom he was commanded; manifest an ardent and enterprising mind, tempered by judgment, and quickly improved by experience.

Not long after his resignation, he was married to Mrs. Custis; a young lady to whom he had been for some time attached; and who, to a large fortune and fine person, added those amiable accomplishments which ensure domestic happiness, and fill, with silent but unceasing felicity, the quiet scenes of private life.

From THE LIFE OF GEORGE WASHINGTON, Volume II, by John Marshall, edited for style, length, graphics and content.



free web hit counter


Site Copyright 2003-2018 Son of the South.  For Questions or comments about this collection,


privacy policy

Are you Scared and Confused? Read My Snake Story, a story of hope and encouragement, to help you face your fears.