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then at war with France and Spain, was, on the interference of his mother, for the present, suspended, and for ever diverted from the sea-service. She lived to see him acquire higher honours than he ever could have obtained as a naval officer; nor did she depart this life, until he was elevated to the first offices, both civil and military, in the gift of the American people. She was, nevertheless, from the influence of long established habits, so far from being favourable to the revolution, that she often regretted the side which her son had taken in the controversy between her king and her country
In the minority of George Washington, the means of edu cation in America were scanty: his was, therefore, very
little extended beyond what is common, except in mathematics. Knowledge of this kind contributes more perhaps than any other, to strengthen the mind. In this case, it was doubly useful; for, in the early part of his life, it laid the foundation of his fortune, by qualifying him for the office of a practical surveyor, at a time when good land was of easy attainment; and its intimate connexion with the military art, enabled him, at a later period, to judge more correctly of the proper means of defending his country, when he was called upon to preside over its armies.
Of the first nineteen years of George Washington's life, little is known. His talents being more solid than showy, were not sufficiently developed for public notice, by the comparatively unimportant events of that early period. His cotemporaries have generally reported, that, in his youth, he was grave, silent, and thoughtful; diligent and methodical in business, dignified in his appearance, and strictly honourable in all his deportment; but they have not been able to gratify the public curiosity with any striking anecdotes.His patrimonial estate was small, but was managed with prudence, and increased by industry. In the gayest period of his life, he was a stranger to dissipation and riot. That he had established a solid reputation, even in his juve nile years, may be fairly presumed from the following circumstances. At the age of nineteen, he was appointed one of the adjutants generaliof Virginia, with the rank of major. When he was only twenty one, he was employed by the government of his native colony, in an enterprise which required the prudence of age, as well as the vigour of youth
The French, as the first European discoverers of the Migsissippi, claimed all that immense region, the waters of which run into that river. In pursuance of this claim, in the year 1753, they took possession of a tract of country, supposed to be within the chartered limits of Virginia, and were proceeding to erect a chain of posts from the lakes of Canada to the river Ohio, in subserviency to their grand scheme of connecting Canada with Louisiana, and limiting the English colonies to the east of the Alleghany mountains.Mr. Dinwiddie, then lieutenant-governor of Virginia, despatched Washington with a letter to the French commandant on the Ohio, remonstrating against the prosecution of these designs, as hostile to the rights of his Britannic majesty. The young envoy was also instructed to penetrate the designs of the French, to conciliate the affection of the native tribes, and to procure useful intelligence. In the discharge of this trust, he commenced his journey from Williamsburg the day on which he was commissioned, and arrived on the 14th November at Will's Creek, then the extreme frontier settlement of the English. Having there engaged guides to conduct him over the Alleghany mountains, he pursued his course through a vast extent of unexplored wilderness, amidst rains and snows, and over rivers of very difficult
passage, and amongst tribes of Indians, several of whom, from previous attentions of the French, were hostile to the English. When his horses were disabled, he proceeded on foot, with a gun in his hand, and a pack on his back. He observed every thing with the eye of a soldier, and particularly designated the forks of the Monongahela and Alleghany rivers, the spot where Fort Duquesne was afterwards built, and where Pittsburg now stands, as an advantageous position for a fortress. Here, he secured the affections of some neighbouring Indians, and engaged them to accompany him. With them, he ascended the Alleghany River and French Creek, to a fort on the river Le Boeuf, one of its western branches. He there found Mons. Le Gardeur de St. Pierre, the commandant on the Ohio, and delivered to him Mr. Dinwiddie's letter, and, having received his answer, he set out on his return, and reached Williamsburg on the seventyeighth day after he had received his appointment. The patience and firmness displayed on this occasion by Washington, added to his judicious treatment of the Indians, both merited and obtained a large share of applause. A journal of the whole was published, and inspired the public with high ideas of the energies, both of his body and his mind.
The French were too intent on their favourite project of extending their empire in America, to be diverted from it by the remonstrances of a colonial governor.
The answer brought by Washington, was such as induced the assembly of Virginia to raise a regiment of ee hundred men, to de. fend their frontiers, and maintain the right claimed in behalf of Great Britain over the disputed territory. Of this, Mr. Fry, a gentleman supposed to be well acquainted with the western country, was appointed colonel, and George Washington lieutenant-colonel. The latter advanced with two companies of this regiment, early in April, as far as the Great Meadows ; where he was informed, by some friendly Indians, that the French were erecting fortifications in the fork between the Alleghany and Monongahela rivers; and also, that a detachment was on its march from that place towards the Great Meadows. War had not yet been formally declared between France and England ; but, as neither was disposed to recede from their claim to the lands on the Ohio, it was deemed inevitable, and on the point of commencing. Several circumstances were supposed to indicate a hostile intention on the part of the advancing French detachment. Washington, under the guidance of some friendly Indians, in a dark rainy night, surprised their encampment, and, after firing once, rushed in, and surrounded them.
The commanding officer, M. Jumonville, was killed, one person escaped, and all the rest immediately surrendered. Soon after this affair, Colonel Fry died, and the command of the regiment devolved upon Washington, who speedily collected the whole at the Great Meadows.--Two independent companies of regulars, one from New York, and one from South Carolina, shortly afterwards arrived at the same place. Colonel Washington was now at the head of nearly four
A stockade, afterwards called Fort Necessity, was erected at the Great Meadows; in which, a small force was left; and the main body advanced, with a view of dislodging the French from Fort Duquesne, which they had recently erected, at the confluence of the Alleghany and Monongahela rivers. They had not proceeded more than thirteen miles, when they were informed, by friendly Indians
“ That the French, as numerous as pigeons in the woods, were advancing in a hostile manner towards the English settlements, and also, that Fort Duquesne had been recently and strongly reinforced.”
Amongst those who brought this information, was a very trusty chief, who had left the fort only two days before, where he had seen a considerable reinforcement arrive, and had heard the intention declared of marching immediately to attack the English, with a corps composed of eight hundred French, and four hundred Indians. This intelligence was corroborated, by the information already received from deserters, who had arrived only a few days before, and had assured them, that a reinforcement was expected. The troops had been without bread for six days, and had only a very small supply of flesh-meat. The enemy could approach within five miles of their position by water, and might either pass them by a road leading through the country, at some distance from them, so as to cut off all supplies, and starve them into a surrender, or fight them, with a superiority of three to one.
In this critical situation, a council of war unanimously recommended a retreat to the Great Meadows, which was effected without delay, and every exertion made to render Fort Necessity tenable. Before the works designed for that purpose were completed, Mons. de Villier, with a considerable force, attacked the fort. The assailants were covered by trees and high grass. The Americans received them with great resolution, and fought, some within the stockade, and others in the surrounding ditch, which was nearly filled with mud and water. Washington continued the whole day on the outside of the fort, and conducted the defence with the greatest cool ness and intrepidity.--The engagement lasted from ten in the morning until night, when the French commander de manded a parley, and offered terms of capitulation. His first and second proposals were rejected, and Washington would accept of nothing short of the following honourable terms, which were mutually agreed upon in the course of the night—" The fort to be surrendered, on condition that the garrison should march out with the honours of war, and be permitted to retain their arms and baggage, and to march unmolested into the inhabited parts of Virginia.”
The capitulation, being in French, a language not under
stood by Colonel Washington, or any of his party, and drawn up in the night, under circumstances n i admitting delay, contains an expression, which, at the time, vas untruly translated by the interpreter, (a Dutchman, little acquainted with the English tongue) advantage of which has been since taken, by the enemies of the American coromandei, to imply an admission, on his part, that the French officer, killed in the action preceding the attack upon the fort, was assassinated.
An account of the transaction was published by de Villier, which drew from Colonel Washington a letter to a friend, completely disproving a calumny, which, though entirely discredited at the time, was revived at a subsequent period, when circumstances, well understood, at the date of the transaction, might be supposed to have been forgotten.
The whole loss sustained by the Americans in this affair, was not ascertained. The killed and wounded of the Virginia regiment, amounted to fifty-eight; but the loss of the two independent companies, is not known. It was conjectured, that, on the part of the enemy, the killed and wounded were about two hundred.
Notwithstanding the stipulation, that the troops should be unmolested on their march, heavy complaints were made, of their being plundered and otherwise inal-treated by the Indians. The cause of their complaints was perhaps unavoidable ; for it was always found extremely difficult to secure, on the part of those troublesome allies and formidable enemies, an observance of engagements.
The legislature of Virginia, impressed with a high sense of the bravery and good conduct of their troops, though compelled to surrender the fort, voted their thanks to Colonel Washington, and the officers under his command ; and they also gave three hundred pistoles to be distributed amongst the soldiers engaged in this action, but made no arrangements for renewing offensive operations in the remainder of the year 1754. When the season for action was over, the regiment was reduced to independent companies, and Washington resigned his command.
The controversy about the Ohio lands, which began in Virginia, was entered into very seriously by Great Britain ; and two British regiments were sent to America, to support the claims of his Britannic Majesty. They arrived early in