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Chapter 12

SCARCITY IN THE CAMP--DEATH OF COLONEL FRY--PROMOTIONS--MACKAY AND HIS INDEPENDENT COMPANY--MAJOR MUSE--INDIAN CEREMONIALS--PUBLIC PRAYERS IN CAMP--ALARMS--INDEPENDENCE OF AN INDEPENDENT COMPANY--AFFAIRS AT THE GREAT MEADOWS--DESERTION OF THE INDIAN ALLIES--CAPITULATION OF FORT NECESSITY-- VAN BRAAM AS AN INTERPRETER--INDIAN PLUNDERERS--RETURN TO WILLIAMSBURG-- VOTE OF THANKS OF THE HOUSE OF BURGESSES--SUBSEQUENT FORTUNES OF THE HALF-KING--COMMENTS ON THE AFFAIR OF JUMONVILLE AND THE CONDUCT OF VAN BRAAM.


Scarcity began to prevail in the camp. Contracts had been made with George Croghan for flour, of which he had large quantities at his frontier establishment; for he was now trading with the army as well as with the Indians. None, however, made its appearance. There was mismanagement in the commissariat. At one time the troops were six days without flour; and even then had only a casual supply from an Ohio trader. In this time of scarcity the half-king, his fellow sachem, Scarooyadi, and thirty or forty warriors, arrived, bringing with them their wives and children--so many more hungry mouths to be supplied. Washington wrote urgently to Croghan to send forward all the flour he could furnish.

News came of the death of Colonel Fry at Wills' Creek, and that he was to be succeeded in the command of the expedition by Colonel Innes of North Carolina, who was actually at Winchester with three hundred and fifty North Carolina troops. Washington, who felt the increasing responsibilities and difficulties of his situation, rejoiced at the prospect of being under the command of an experienced officer, who had served in company with his brother Lawrence at the siege of Carthagena. The colonel, however, never came to the camp, nor did the North Carolina troops render any service in the campaign--the fortunes of which might otherwise have been very different.

By the death of Fry, the command of the regiment devolved on Washington. Finding a blank major's commission among Fry's papers, he gave it to Captain Adam Stephen, who had conducted himself with spirit. As there would necessarily be other changes, he wrote to Governor Dinwiddie in behalf of Jacob Van Braam. "He has acted as captain ever since we left Alexandria. He is an experienced officer, and worthy of the command he has enjoyed."

The palisaded fort was now completed, and was named Fort Necessity, from the pinching famine that had prevailed during its construction. The scanty force in camp was augmented to three hundred, by the arrival from Wills' Creek of the men who had been under Colonel Fry. With them came the surgeon of the regiment, Dr. James Craik, a Scotchman by birth, and one destined to become a faithful and confidential friend of Washington for the remainder of his life.

A letter from Governor Dinwiddie announced, however, that Captain Mackay would soon arrive with an independent company of one hundred men, from South Carolina.

The title of independent company had a sound ominous of trouble. Troops of the kind, raised in the colonies, under direction of the governors, were paid by the Crown, and the officers had king's commissions; such, doubtless, had Captain Mackay. "I should have been particularly obliged," writes Washington to Governor Dinwiddie, "if you had declared whether he was under my command, or independent of it. I hope he will have more sense than to insist upon any unreasonable distinction, because he and his officers have commissions from his majesty. Let him consider, though we are greatly inferior in respect to advantages of profit, yet we have the same spirit to serve our gracious king as they have, and are as ready and willing to sacrifice our lives for our country's good. And here, once more, and for the last time, I must say, that it will be a circumstance which will act upon some officers of this regiment, above all measure, to be obliged to serve upon such different terms, when their lives, their fortunes, and their operations are equally, and, I dare say, as effectually exposed as those of others, who are happy enough to have the king's commission."

On the 9th arrived Washington's early instructor in military tactics, Adjutant Muse, recently appointed a major in the regiment. He was accompanied by Montour, the Indian interpreter, now a provincial captain, and brought with him nine swivels, and a small supply of powder and ball. Fifty or sixty horses were forthwith sent to Wills' Creek, to bring on further supplies, and Mr. Gist was urged to hasten forward the artillery.

Major Muse was likewise the bearer of a belt of wampum and a speech, from Governor Dinwiddie to the half-king; with medals for the chiefs, and goods for presents among the friendly Indians, a measure which had been suggested by Washington. They were distributed with that grand ceremonial so dear to the red man. The chiefs assembled, painted and decorated in all their savage finery; Washington wore a medal sent to him by the governor for such occasions. The wampum and speech having been delivered, he advanced, and with all due solemnity, decorated the chiefs and warriors with the medals, which they were to wear in remembrance of their father the King of England.

Among the warriors thus decorated was a son of Queen Aliquippa, the savage princess whose good graces Washington had secured in the preceding year, by the present of an old watchcoat, and whose friendship was important, her town being at no great distance from the French fort. She had requested that her son might be admitted into the war councils of the camp, and receive an English name. The name of Fairfax was accordingly given to him, in the customary Indian form; the half-king being desirous of like distinction, received the name of Dinwiddie. The sachems returned the compliment in kind, by giving Washington the name of Connotaucarius; the meaning of which is not explained.

William Fairfax, Washington's paternal adviser, had recently counselled him by letter, to have public prayers in his camp; especially when there were Indian families there; this was accordingly done at the encampment in the Great Meadows, and it certainly was not one of the least striking pictures presented in this wild campaign--the youthful commander, presiding with calm seriousness over a motley assemblage of half-equipped soldiery, leathern-clad hunters and woodsmen, and painted savages with their wives and children, and uniting them all in solemn devotion by his own example and demeanor.

On the 10th there was agitation in the camp. Scouts hurried in with word, as Washington understood them, that a party of ninety Frenchmen were approaching. He instantly ordered out a hundred and fifty of his best men; put himself at their head, and leaving Major Muse with the rest, to man the fort and mount the swivels, sallied forth "in the full hope" as he afterwards wrote to Governor Dinwiddie, "of procuring him another present of French prisoners."

It was another effervescence of his youthful military ardor, and doomed to disappointment. The report of the scouts had been either exaggerated or misunderstood. The ninety Frenchmen in military array dwindled down into nine French deserters.

According to their account, the fort at the fork was completed, and named Duquesne, in honor of the Governor of Canada, It was proof against all attack, excepting with bombs, on the land side. The garrison did not exceed five hundred, but two hundred more were hourly expected, and nine hundred in the course of a fortnight.

Washington's suspicions with respect to La Force's party were justified by the report of these deserters; they had been sent out as spies, and were to show the summons if discovered or overpowered. The French commander, they added, had been blamed for sending out so small a party.

On the same day Captain Mackay arrived, with his independent company of South Carolinians. The cross-purposes which Washington had apprehended, soon manifested themselves. The captain was civil and well disposed, but full of formalities and points of etiquette. Holding a commission direct from the king, he could not bring himself to acknowledge a provincial officer as his superior. He encamped separately, kept separate guards, would not agree that Washington should assign any rallying place for his men in case of alarm, and objected to receive from him the parole and countersign, though necessary for their common safety.

Washington conducted himself with circumspection, avoiding every thing that might call up a question of command, and reasoning calmly whenever such question occurred; but he urged the governor by letter, to prescribe their relative rank and authority. "He thinks you have not a power to give commissions that will command him. If so, I can very confidently say that his absence would tend to the public advantage."

On the 11th of June, Washington resumed the laborious march for Redstone Creek. As Captain Mackay could not oblige his men to work on the road unless they were allowed a shilling sterling a day; and as Washington did not choose to pay this, nor to suffer them to march at their ease while his own faithful soldiers were laboriously employed; he left the captain and his Independent company as a guard at Fort Necessity, and undertook to complete the military road with his own men.

Accordingly, he and his Virginia troops toiled forward through the narrow defiles of the mountains, working on the road as they went. Scouts were sent out in all directions, to prevent surprise. While on the march he was continually beset by sachems, with their tedious ceremonials and speeches, all to very little purpose. Some of these chiefs were secretly in the French interest; few rendered any real assistance, and all expected presents.

At Gist's establishment, about thirteen miles from Fort Necessity, Washington received certain intelligence that ample reinforcements had arrived at Fort Duquesne, and a large force would instantly be detached against him. Coming to a halt, he began to throw up intrenchments, calling in two foraging parties, and sending word to Captain Mackay to join him with all speed. The captain and his company arrived in the evening; the foraging parties the next morning. A council of war was held, in which the idea of awaiting the enemy at this place was unanimously abandoned.

A rapid and toilsome retreat ensued. There was a deficiency of horses. Washington gave up his own to aid in transporting the military munitions, leaving his baggage to be brought on by soldiers, whom he paid liberally. The other officers followed his example. The weather was sultry; the roads were rough; provisions were scanty, and the men dispirited by hunger. The Virginian soldiers took turns to drag the swivels, but felt almost insulted by the conduct of the South Carolinians, who, piquing themselves upon their assumed privileges as "king's soldiers," sauntered along at their ease; refusing to act as pioneers, or participate in the extra labors incident to a hurried retreat.

On the 1st of July they reached the Great Meadows. Here the Virginians, exhausted by fatigue, hunger, and vexation, declared they would carry the baggage and drag the swivels no further. Contrary to his original intentions, therefore, Washington determined to halt here for the present, and fortify, sending off expresses to hasten supplies and reinforcements from Wills' Creek, where he had reason to believe that two independent companies from New York, were by this time arrived.

The retreat to the Great Meadows had not been in the least too precipitate. Captain de Villiers, a brother-in-law of Jumonville, had actually sallied forth from Fort Duquesne at the head of upwards of five hundred French, and several hundred Indians, eager to avenge the death of his relative. Arriving about dawn of day at Gist's plantation, he surrounded the works which Washington had hastily thrown up there, and fired into them. Finding them deserted, he concluded that those of whom he came in search had made good their retreat to the settlements, and it was too late to pursue them. He was on the point of returning to Fort Duquesne, when a deserter arrived, who gave word that Washington had come to a halt in the Great Meadows, where his troops were in a starving condition; for his own part, he added, hearing that the French were coming, he had deserted to them to escape starvation.

De Villiers ordered the fellow into confinement; to be rewarded if his words proved true, otherwise to be hanged. He then pushed forward for the Great Meadows.

[Footnote: Hazard's Register of Pennsylvania, vol. iv., p. 22.]

In the mean time Washington had exerted himself to enlarge and strengthen Fort Necessity, nothing of which had been done by Captain Mackay and his men, while encamped there. The fort was about a hundred feet square, protected by trenches and palisades. It stood on the margin of a small stream, nearly in the centre of the Great Meadows, which is a grassy plain, perfectly level, surrounded by wooded hills of a moderate height, and at that place about two hundred and fifty yards wide. Washington asked no assistance from the South Carolina troops, but set to work with his Virginians, animating them by word and example; sharing in the labor of felling trees, hewing off the branches, and rolling up the trunks to form a breastwork.

At this critical juncture he was deserted by his Indian allies. They were disheartened at the scanty preparations for defence against a superior force, and offended at being subjected to military command. The half-king thought he had not been sufficiently consulted, and that his advice had not been sufficiently followed; such, at least, were some of the reasons which he subsequently gave for abandoning the youthful commander on the approach of danger. The true reason was a desire to put his wife and children in a place of safety. Most of his warriors followed his example; very few, and those probably who had no families at risk, remained in the camp.

Early in the morning of the 3d, while Washington and his men were working on the fort, a sentinel came in wounded and bleeding, having been fired upon. Scouts brought word shortly afterwards that the French were in force, about four miles off. Washington drew up his men on level ground outside of the works, to await their attack. About 11 o'clock there was a firing of musketry from among trees on rising ground, but so distant as to do no harm; suspecting this to be a stratagem designed to draw his men into the woods, he ordered them to keep quiet, and refrain from firing until the foe should show themselves, and draw near.

The firing was kept up, but still under cover. He now fell back with his men into the trenches, ordering them to fire whenever they could get sight of an enemy. In this way there was skirmishing throughout the day; the French and Indians advancing as near as the covert of the woods would permit, which in the nearest place was sixty yards, but never into open sight. In the meanwhile the rain fell in torrents; the harassed and jaded troops were half drowned in their trenches, and many of their muskets were rendered unfit for use.

About eight at night the French requested a parley. Washington hesitated. It might be a stratagem to gain admittance for a spy into the fort. The request was repeated, with the addition that an officer might be sent to treat with them, under their parole for his safety. Unfortunately the Chevalier de Peyrouney, engineer of the regiment, and the only one who could speak French correctly, was wounded and disabled. Washington had to send, therefore, his ancient swordsman and interpreter, Jacob Van Braam. The captain returned twice with separate terms, in which the garrison was required to surrender; both were rejected. He returned a third time, with written articles of capitulation. They were in French. As no implements for writing were at hand, Van Braam undertook to translate them by word of mouth. A candle was brought, and held close to the paper while he read. The rain fell in torrents; it was difficult to keep the light from being extinguished. The captain rendered the capitulation, article by article, in mongrel English, while Washington and his officers stood listening, endeavoring to disentangle the meaning. One article stipulated that on surrendering the fort they should leave all their military stores, munitions, and artillery in possession of the French. This was objected to, and was readily modified.

The main articles, as Washington and his officers understood them, were, that they should be allowed to return to the settlements without molestation from French or Indians. That they should march out of the fort with the honors of war, drums beating and colors flying, and with all their effects and military stores excepting the artillery, which should be destroyed. That they should be allowed to deposit their effects in some secret place, and leave a guard to protect them until they could send horses to bring them away; their horses having been nearly all killed or lost during the action. That they should give their word of honor not to attempt any buildings or improvements on the lands of his most Christian Majesty, for the space of a year. That the prisoners taken in the skirmish of Jumonville should be restored, and until their delivery Captain Van Braam and Captain Stobo should remain with the French as hostages.

[Footnote: Horace Walpole, in a flippant notice of this capitulation, says: "The French have tied up the hands of an excellent fanfaron, a Major Washington, whom they took and engaged not to serve for one year." (Correspondence, vol. iii., p. 73.) Walpole, at this early date, seems to have considered Washington a perfect fire-eater.]

The next morning accordingly, Washington and his men marched out of their forlorn fortress with the honors of war, bearing with them their regimental colors, but leaving behind a large flag, too cumbrous to be transported. Scarcely had they begun their march, however, when, in defiance of the terms of capitulation, they were beset by a large body of Indians, allies of the French, who began plundering the baggage, and committing other irregularities. Seeing that the French did not, or could not, prevent them, and that all the baggage which could not be transported on the shoulders of his troops would fall into the hands of these savages, Washington ordered it to be destroyed, as well as the artillery, gunpowder, and other military stores. All this detained him until ten o'clock, when he set out on his melancholy march. He had not proceeded above a mile when two or three of the wounded men were reported to be missing. He immediately detached a few men back in quest of them, and continued on until three miles from Fort Necessity, where he encamped for the night, and was rejoined by the stragglers.

In this affair, out of the Virginia regiment, consisting of three hundred and five men, officers included, twelve had been killed, and forty-three wounded. The number killed and wounded in Captain Mackay's company is not known. The loss of the French and Indians is supposed to have been much greater.

In the following days' march the troops seemed jaded and disheartened; they were encumbered and delayed by the wounded; provisions were scanty, and they had seventy weary miles to accomplish before they could meet with supplies. Washington, however, encouraged them by his own steadfast and cheerful demeanor, and by sharing all their toils and privations; and at length conducted them in safety to Wills' Creek, where they found ample provisions in the military magazines. Leaving them here to recover their strength, he proceeded with Captain Mackay to Williamsburg, to make his military report to the governor.

A copy of the capitulation was subsequently laid before the Virginia House of Burgesses, with explanations. Notwithstanding the unfortunate result of the campaign, the conduct of Washington and his officers was properly appreciated, and they received a vote of thanks for their bravery, and gallant defence of their country. Three hundred pistoles (nearly eleven hundred dollars) also were voted to be distributed among the privates who had been in action.

From the vote of thanks, two officers were excepted; Major Stobo, who was charged with cowardice, and Washington's unfortunate master of fence and blundering interpreter, Jacob Van Braam, who was accused of treachery, in purposely misinterpreting the articles of capitulation.

In concluding this chapter, we will anticipate dates to record the fortunes of the half-king after his withdrawal from the camp. He and several of his warriors, with their wives and children, retreated to Aughquick, in the back part of Pennsylvania, where George Croghan had an agency, and was allowed money from time to time for the maintenance Of Indian allies. By the by, Washington, in his letter to William Fairfax, expressed himself much disappointed in Croghan and Montour, who proved, he said, to be great pretenders, and by vainly boasting of their interest with the Indians, involved the country in great calamity, causing dependence to be placed where there was none.

[Footnote: Letter to W. Fairfax, Aug. 11th, 1754.]

For, with all their boast, they never could induce above thirty fighting men to join the camp, and not more than half of those rendered any service.

As to the half-king, he expressed himself perfectly disgusted with the white man's mode of warfare. The French, he said, were cowards; the English, fools. Washington was a good man, but wanted experience: he would not take advice of the Indians and was always driving them to fight according to his own notions. For this reason he (the half-king) had carried off his wife and children to a place of safety.

After a time the chieftain fell dangerously ill, and a conjurer or "medicine man" was summoned to inquire into the cause or nature of his malady. He gave it as his opinion that the French had bewitched him, in revenge for the great blow he had struck them in the affair of Jumonville; for the Indians gave him the whole credit of that success, he having sent round the French scalps as trophies. In the opinion of the conjurer all the friends of the chieftain concurred, and on his death, which took place shortly afterwards, there was great lamentation, mingled with threats of immediate vengeance. The foregoing particulars are gathered from a letter written by John Harris, an Indian trader, to the Governor of Pennsylvania, at the request of the half-king's friend and fellow sachem, Monacatoocha, otherwise called Scarooyadi. "I humbly presume," concludes John Harris, "that his death is a very great loss, especially at this critical time."

[Footnote: Pennsylvania Archives, vol. ii., p. 178.]

NOTE.

We have been thus particular in tracing the affair of the Great Meadows, step by step, guided by the statements of Washington himself and of one of his officers, present in the engagement, because it is another of the events in the early stage of his military career, before the justice and magnanimity of his character were sufficiently established which have been subject to misrepresentation. When the articles of capitulation came to be correctly translated and published, there were passages in them derogatory to the honor of Washington and his troops, and, which, it would seem, had purposely been inserted for their humiliation by the French commander; but which, they protested, had never been rightly translated by Van Braam. For instance, in the written articles, they were made to stipulate that for the space of a year, they would not work on any establishment beyond the mountains; whereas it had been translated by Van Braam "on any establishment on the lands of the King of France" which was quite another thing, as most of the land beyond the mountains was considered by them as belonging to the British crown. There were other points, of minor importance, relative to the disposition of the artillery; but the most startling and objectionable one was that concerning the previous skirmish in the Great Meadows. This was mentioned in the written articles as l'assassinat du Sieur de Jumonville, that is to say, the murder of De Jumonville; an expression from which Washington and his officers would have revolted with scorn and indignation; and which, if truly translated, would in all probability have caused the capitulation to be sent back instantly to the French commander. On the contrary, they declared it had been translated to them by Van Braam the death of De Jumonville.

M. de Villiers, in his account of this transaction to the French government, avails himself of these passages in the capitulation to cast a slur on the conduct of Washington. He says, "We made the English consent to sign that they had assassinated my brother in his camp."--"We caused them to abandon the lands belonging to the king.--We obliged them to leave their cannon, which consisted of nine pieces, &c." He further adds: "The English, struck with panic, took to flight, and left their flag and one of their colors." We have shown that the flag left was the unwieldy one belonging to the fort; too cumbrous to be transported by troops who could not carry their own necessary baggage. The regimental colors, as honorable symbols, were scrupulously carried off by Washington, and retained by him in after years.

M. de Villiers adds another incident intended to degrade his enemy. He says, "One of my Indians took ten Englishmen, whom he brought to me, and whom I sent back by another." These, doubtless, were the men detached by Washington in quest of the wounded loiterers; and who, understanding neither French nor Indian, found a difficulty in explaining their peaceful errand. That they were captured by the Indian seems too much of a gasconade.

The public opinion at the time was that Van Braam had been suborned by De Villiers to soften the offensive articles of the capitulation in translating them, so that they should not wound the pride nor awaken the scruples of Washington and his officers, yet should stand on record against them. It is not probable that a French officer of De Villiers' rank would practise such a base perfidy, nor does the subsequent treatment experienced by Van Braam from the French corroborate the charge. It is more than probable the inaccuracy of translation originated in his ignorance of the precise weight and value of words in the two languages, neither of which was native to him, and between which he was the blundering agent of exchange.


Washington Irving