The Life of George Washington: Service in the French and Indian war

It was deemed desirable, before taking any more active measures, to send a messenger to the commander of the French forces on the Ohio and demand his authority for invading the territory of Virginia, and with what designs he was there. Governor Dinwiddie selected for this important mission George Washington, then but twenty-one years of age, yet already holding a commission of major in the Virginia militia, and a man of note in the colony. In addition to his ostensible mission, he was instructed to learn all he could in regard to the disposition of the Indians, the number of French troops in the country, and what reinforcements were expected, with all possible information as to the location, strength, and garrisons of the French forts. Provided with credentials from the governor, he set out from Williamsburg on October 31, 1753. His journey, which was in great part through a wilderness, mainly mountainous, covered a distance of five hundred and sixty miles. Reaching Will's Creek, beyond Winchester, he induced Mr. Gist, an experienced woodsman, to accompany him as guide. The party that there left the extreme limit of civilization and plunged into the primeval forest consisted of eight persons. The season proved severe, and the mountains difficult to cross, but they at length reached the Ohio at the point of junction of its two affluents. The military advantages of this place were perceived by Major Washington, and he advised the erection of the fortification which was soon begun there, and which was destined to prove famous in the coming war. Twenty miles farther, at Logstown, he called together some of the Indian chiefs, with whom he sought to make an alliance, and whom he asked for an escort. In neither was he fully successful, only four Indians accompanying him. A journey of one hundred and twenty miles farther took him to the station of the French commandant, at a fort situated on French Creek, about fifteen miles south of Lake Erie. The journey had occupied forty-one days. He was received with great politeness by M. de St.-Pierre, the commandant, and delivered his letters, which expressed surprise at the French encroachments, demanded their authority, and urged a speedy and peaceful departure. While the French officers were in consultation, Washington took the opportunity to inspect the fort thoroughly. Finally he received the answer that the French were there by authority and could not retire, and that the message should have been sent to the governor of Canada.

The return of the party proved a difficult one. They proceeded by canoe to the French post of Venango, at the mouth of French Creek, on the Ohio. Here their horses proved so emaciated as to be fit only to carry the provisions and baggage, and the party determined to proceed on foot. After three days more the horses grew so feeble that Major Washington and Mr. Gist left the rest of the party, and started alone through the woods by a more direct route. They had some exciting adventures, and in crossing the Alleghany, which was full of drifting ice, they narrowly escaped drowning. They managed to escape from their raft to an island, and reached the opposite shore the next morning; but Mr. Gist's hands and feet were frozen by the intense cold, and the night was one of extreme suffering. Washington finally reached Williamsburg on January 16, after an absence of eleven weeks.

As the intentions of the French were now evident, no time was lost in preparing for energetic action. Efforts to raise a colonial army were at once made, but Virginia had mainly to depend upon herself, the other colonies taking little interest in the matter. At length, in April, 1754, Washington, now colonel, set out with two companies of recruits, and reached Will's Creek on the 20th.

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