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Chapter 31

EXPEDITION OF WASHINGTON TO THE OHIO, IN BEHALF OF SOLDIERS' CLAIMS-- UNEASY STATE OF THE FRONTIER--VISIT TO FORT PITT--GEORGE CROGHAN--HIS MISHAPS DURING PONTIAC'S WAR--WASHINGTON DESCENDS THE OHIO--SCENES AND ADVENTURES ALONG THE RIVER--INDIAN HUNTING CAMP--INTERVIEW WITH AN OLD SACHEM AT THE MOUTH OF THE KANAWHA--RETURN--CLAIMS OF STOBO AND VAN BRAAM--LETTER TO COLONEL GEORGE MUSE.


In the midst of these popular turmoils, Washington was induced, by public as well as private considerations, to make another expedition to the Ohio. He was one of the Virginia Board of Commissioners, appointed, at the close of the late war, to settle the military accounts of the colony. Among the claims which came before the board, were those of the officers and soldiers who had engaged to serve until peace, under the proclamation of Governor Dinwiddie, holding forth a bounty of two hundred thousand acres of land, to be apportioned among them according to rank. Those claims were yet unsatisfied, for governments, like individuals, are slow to pay off in peaceful times the debts incurred while in the fighting mood. Washington became the champion of those claims, and an opportunity now presented itself for their liquidation. The Six Nations, by a treaty in 1768, had ceded to the British crown, in consideration of a sum of money, all the lands possessed by them south of the Ohio. Land offices would soon be opened for the sale of them. Squatters and speculators were already preparing to swarm in, set up their marks on the choicest spots, and establish what were called pre-emption rights. Washington determined at once to visit the lands thus ceded; affix his mark on such tracts as he should select, and apply for a grant from government in behalf of the "soldier's claim."

The expedition would be attended with some degree of danger. The frontier was yet in an uneasy state. It is true some time had elapsed since the war of Pontiac, but some of the Indian tribes were almost ready to resume the hatchet. The Delawares, Shawnees, and Mingoes, complained that the Six Nations had not given them their full share of the consideration money of the late sale, and they talked of exacting the deficiency from the white men who came to settle in what had been their hunting-grounds. Traders, squatters, and other adventurers into the wilderness, were occasionally murdered, and further troubles were apprehended.

Washington had for a companion in this expedition his friend and neighbor, Dr. Craik, and it was with strong community of feeling they looked forward peaceably to revisit the scenes of their military experience. They set out on the 5th of October with three negro attendants, two belonging to Washington, and one to the doctor. The whole party was mounted, and there was a led horse for the baggage.

After twelve days' travelling they arrived at Fort Pitt (late Fort Duquesne). It was garrisoned by two companies of royal Irish, commanded by a Captain Edmonson. A hamlet of about twenty log-houses, inhabited by Indian traders, had sprung up within three hundred yards of the fort, and was called "the town." It was the embryo city of Pittsburg, now so populous. At one of the houses, a tolerable frontier inn, they took up their quarters; but during their brief sojourn, they were entertained with great hospitality at the fort.

Here at dinner Washington met his old acquaintance, George Croghan, who had figured in so many capacities and experienced so many vicissitudes on the frontier. He was now Colonel Croghan, deputy-agent to Sir William Johnson, and had his residence--or seat, as Washington terms it--on the banks of the Allegany River, about four miles from the fort.

Croghan had experienced troubles and dangers during the Pontiac war, both from white man and savage. At one time, while he was convoying presents from Sir William to the Delawares and Shawnees, his caravan was set upon and plundered by a band of backwoodsmen of Pennsylvania--men resembling Indians in garb and habits, and fully as lawless. At another time, when encamped at the mouth of the Wabash with some of his Indian allies, a band of Kickapoos, supposing the latter to be Cherokees, their deadly enemies, rushed forth from the woods with horrid yells, shot down several of his companions, and wounded himself. It must be added, that no white men could have made more ample apologies than did the Kickapoos, when they discovered that they had fired upon friends.

Another of Croghan's perils was from the redoubtable Pontiac himself. That chieftain had heard of his being on a mission to win off, by dint of presents, the other sachems of the conspiracy, and declared, significantly, that he had a large kettle boiling in which he intended to seethe the ambassador. It was fortunate for Croghan that he did not meet with the formidable chieftain while in this exasperated mood. He subsequently encountered him when Pontiac's spirits were broken by reverses. They smoked the pipe of peace together, and the colonel claimed the credit of having, by his diplomacy, persuaded the sachem to bury the hatchet.

On the day following the repast at the fort, Washington visited Croghan at his abode on the Allegany River, where he found several of the chiefs of the Six Nations assembled. One of them, the White Mingo by name, made him a speech, accompanied, as usual, by a belt of wampum. Some of his companions, he said, remembered to have seen him in 1753, when he came on his embassy to the French commander; most of them had heard of him. They had now come to welcome him to their country. They wished the people of Virginia to consider them as friends and brothers, linked together in one chain, and requested him to inform the governor of their desire to live in peace and harmony with the white men. As to certain unhappy differences which had taken place between them on the frontiers, they were all made up, and, they hoped, forgotten.

Washington accepted the "speech-belt," and made a suitable reply, assuring the chiefs that nothing was more desired by the people of Virginia than to live with them on terms of the strictest friendship.

At Pittsburg the travellers left their horses, and embarked in a large canoe, to make a voyage down the Ohio as far as the Great Kanawha. Colonel Croghan engaged two Indians for their service, and an interpreter named John Nicholson. The colonel and some of the officers of the garrison accompanied them as far as Logstown, the scene of Washington's early diplomacy, and his first interview with the half-king. Here they breakfasted together; after which they separated, the colonel and his companions cheering the voyagers from the shore, as the canoe was borne off by the current of the beautiful Ohio.

It was now the hunting season, when the Indians leave their towns, set off with their families, and lead a roving life in cabins and hunting-camps along the river; shifting from place to place, as game abounds or decreases, and often extending their migrations two or three hundred miles down the stream. The women were as dexterous as the men in the management of the canoe, but were generally engaged in the domestic labors of the lodge while their husbands were abroad hunting.

Washington's propensities as a sportsman had here full play. Deer were continually to be seen coming down to the water's edge to drink, or browsing along the shore; there were innumerable flocks of wild turkeys, and streaming flights of ducks and geese; so that as the voyagers floated along, they were enabled to load their canoe with game. At night they encamped on the river bank, lit their fire and made a sumptuous hunter's repast. Washington always relished this wild-wood life; and the present had that spice of danger in it, which has a peculiar charm for adventurous minds. The great object of his expedition, however, is evinced in his constant notes on the features and character of the country; the quality of the soil as indicated by the nature of the trees, and the level tracts fitted for settlements.

About seventy-five miles below Pittsburg the voyagers landed at a Mingo town, which they found in a stir of warlike preparation--sixty of the warriors being about to set off on a foray into the Cherokee country against the Catawbas.

Here the voyagers were brought to a pause by a report that two white men, traders, had been murdered about thirty-eight miles further down the river. Reports of the kind were not to be treated lightly. Indian faith was uncertain along the frontier, and white men were often shot down in the wilderness for plunder or revenge. On the following day the report moderated. Only one man was said to have been killed, and that not by Indians; so Washington determined to continue forward until he could obtain correct information in the matter.

On the 24th, about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the voyagers arrived at Captema Creek, at the mouth of which the trader was said to have been killed. As all was quiet and no one to be seen, they agreed to encamp, while Nicholson the interpreter, and one of the Indians, repaired to a village a few miles up the creek to inquire about the murder. They found but two old women at the village. The men were all absent, hunting. The interpreter returned to camp in the evening, bringing the truth of the murderous tale. A trader had fallen a victim to his temerity, having been drowned in attempting, in company with another, to swim his horse across the Ohio.

Two days more of voyaging brought them to an Indian hunting camp, near the mouth of the Muskingum. Here it was necessary to land and make a ceremonious visit, for the chief of the hunting party was Kiashuta, a Seneca sachem, the head of the river tribes. He was noted to have been among the first to raise the hatchet in Pontiac's conspiracy, and almost equally vindictive with that potent warrior. As Washington approached the chieftain, he recognized him for one of the Indians who had accompanied him on his mission to the French in 1753.

Kiashuta retained a perfect recollection of the youthful ambassador, though seventeen years had matured him into thoughtful manhood. With hunter's hospitality he gave him a quarter of a fine buffalo just slain, but insisted that they should encamp together for the night; and in order not to retard him, moved with his own party to a good camping place some distance down the river. Here they had long talks and council-fires over night and in the morning, with all the "tedious ceremony," says Washington, "which the Indians observe in their counsellings and speeches." Kiashuta had heard of what had passed between Washington and the "White Mingo," and other sachems, at Colonel Croghan's, and was eager to express his own desire for peace and friendship with Virginia, and fair dealings with her traders; all which Washington promised to report faithfully to the governor. It was not until a late hour in the morning that he was enabled to bring these conferences to a close, and pursue his voyage.

At the mouth of the Great Kanawha the voyagers encamped for a day or two to examine the lands in the neighborhood, and Washington set up his mark upon such as he intended to claim on behalf of the soldiers' grant. It was a fine sporting country, having small lakes or grassy ponds abounding with water-fowl, such as ducks, geese, and swans. Flocks of turkeys, as usual; and, for larger game, deer and buffalo; so that their camp abounded with provisions.

Here Washington was visited by an old sachem, who approached him with great reverence, at the head of several of his tribe, and addressed him through Nicholson, the interpreter. He had heard, he said, of his being in that part of the country, and had come from a great distance to see him. On further discourse, the sachem made known that he was one of the warriors in the service of the French, who lay in ambush on the banks of the Monongahela and wrought such havoc in Braddock's army. He declared that he and his young men had singled out Washington, as he made himself conspicuous riding about the field of battle with the general's orders, and had fired at him repeatedly, but without success; whence they had concluded that he was under the protection of the Great Spirit, had a charmed life, and could not be slain in battle.

At the Great Kanawha Washington's expedition down the Ohio terminated; having visited all the points he wished to examine. His return to Fort Pitt, and thence homeward, affords no incident worthy of note. The whole expedition, however, was one of that hardy and adventurous kind, mingled with practical purposes, in which he delighted. This winter voyage down the Ohio in a canoe, with the doctor for a companion and two Indians for crew, through regions yet insecure from the capricious hostility of prowling savages, is not one of the least striking of his frontier "experiences." The hazardous nature of it was made apparent shortly afterwards by another outbreak of the Ohio tribes; one of its bloodiest actions took place on the very banks of the Great Kanawha, in which Colonel Lewis and a number of brave Virginians lost their lives.

NOTE.

In the final adjustment of claims under Governor Dinwiddie's proclamation, Washington, acting on behalf of the officers and soldiers, obtained grants for the lands he had marked out in the course of his visit to the Ohio. Fifteen thousand acres were awarded to a field-officer, nine thousand to a captain, six thousand to a subaltern, and so on. Among the claims which he entered were those of Stobo and Van Braam, the hostages in the capitulation at the Great Meadows. After many vicissitudes they were now in London, and nine thousand acres were awarded to each of them. Their domains were ultimately purchased by Washington through his London agent.

Another claimant was Colonel George Muse, Washington's early instructor in military science. His claim was admitted with difficulty, for he stood accused of having acted the part of a poltroon in the campaign, and Washington seems to have considered the charge well founded. Still he appears to have been dissatisfied with the share of land assigned him, and to have written to Washington somewhat rudely on the subject. His letter is not extant, but we subjoin Washington's reply almost entire, as a specimen of the caustic pen he could wield under a mingled emotion of scorn and indignation.

"Sir,--Your impertinent letter was delivered to me yesterday. As I am not accustomed to receive such from any man, nor would have taken the same language from you personally, without letting you feel some marks of my resentment, I advise you to be cautious in writing me a second of the same tenor; for though I understand you were drunk when you did it, yet give me leave to tell you that drunkenness is no excuse for rudeness. But for your stupidity and sottishness you might have known, by attending to the public gazette, that you had your full quantity of ten thousand acres of land allowed you; that is, nine thousand and seventy-three acres in the great tract, and the remainder in the small tract.

"But suppose you had really fallen short, do you think your superlative merit entitles you to greater indulgence than others? Or, if it did, that I was to make it good to you, when it was at the option of the governor and council to allow but five hundred acres in the whole, if they had been so inclined? If either of these should happen to be your opinion, I am very well convinced that you will be singular in it; and all my concern is that I ever engaged myself in behalf of so ungrateful and dirty a fellow as you are."

N.B.--The above is from the letter as it exists in the archives of the Department of State at Washington. It differs in two or three particulars from that published among Washington's writings.


Washington Irving