« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »
By the year 1750, however, there were well towards three millions of English upon the coast, while the French, though weaker in numbers, were pushing their enterprises far to the southward. There is no question that the French showed a shrewdness far greater than that of the English. Wherever their traders went, permanent trading posts were established, and every post, despite its harmless name, was, in fact, a fort, surrounded by palisades, pierced with loop holes and impregnable to an ordinary attack. Cannon frowned from the walls of many, and thus, under the specious pretext of protection against the Indians, the French had guarded and secured every step in advance, even to the valley of La Belle Riviere, as they had re-christened the Ohio.
The traders of the French and English colonies were beginning to meet upon the debatable ground west of the Alleghanies, and as they were, for the most part, rude and lawless men, feeling ran high between them, and personal encounters were not infrequent. It became the desire of the Virginia colony to gain a foothold in this fertile territory, and, using the settlements as a base of operations, to win control of the trade which they deemed to be theirs as a matter of right. Hence, some of the foremost men of the region, among whom were Lawrence and Augustine Washington, organized, in the year 1749, a colonization company, and obtained for it a charter in the name of the Ohio company, and a grant from the crown of five hundred thousand acres of land, west of the Alleghany mountains, and between the Monongahela and Kanawha rivers, with the right, if deemed wise, to take up a portion of the land north of the Ohio. The only conditions attached to the grant were that the company should set apart two-fifths of its land, settle one hundred families upon it within seven years, and build, equip, garrison, and maintain a fort, at its own expense, "for defense against the Indians." This explanatory clause is a little amusing, when it is considered that the ease with which the valuable grant and franchise were obtained, was accounted for by the fact that the Government was glad to substantially encourage any movement which might check the serious encroachments of the French.
In the course of the same year the Governor of Canada, doubtless apprised of the plan of the Virginians, sent Celeron de Bienville, with a force of three hundred men, on a mission, having, for its alleged object, the making of peace among the warring Indian tribes upon the Ohio. Perhaps the industrious and effective talking which he did with the chiefs, in the effort to prevail upon them to cease trading with the English, and his liberal distribution of gifts, were only incidental, but the fact that the envoy nailed to trees and buried in the earth metallic plates, bearing inscribed upon them a statement of the French claim to the Ohio valley, gives the affair an appearance of deliberation, and lays the noble Governor open to the charge of a disingenuousness, such as neither party hesitated to profit by.
The Ohio company had already imported goods suitable for its anticipated trade, prepared for sending out a colony, and offered liberal rewards to the discoverer of the best and safest road over the mountains, when came word of the visit of De Bienville and his open claim of French sovereignty. By this time Lawrence Washington was at the head of the Ohio company, and he at once determined upon taking prompt and decisive steps. The unwelcome news from the Ohio was tempered, to a degree, by the statement that De Bienville had overreached himself in posting his warning to trespassers. The Indians had become suspicious of an intention, on the part of the French, to seize their lands, and sent a messenger assuring the English of their unchanged friendship, accompanying the same with three strings of wampum as tokens of amity.
These movements on the part of the French were sufficient to arouse the colony of Virginia to the highest pitch of excitement and activity. The Governor dispatched a messenger, in the person of Christopher Gist, a hardy pioneer, to explore the lands of the Ohio company, with a view to ascertaining the fitness of various sections for cultivation; also to reconnoitre with a view to discovering the points best suited for the establishment of trading posts and forts; to conciliate the Indians by means of gifts, so that their assistance or neutrality might be relied upon, and to return with all speed with his report. After crossing the mountains, Gist fell in with George Croghan, bound upon a somewhat similar embassy from the Governor of Pennsylvania, and the two proceeded together, penetrating as far as the Indian village of Piqua, upon the site of the present town of that name. Their mission was, in the main, successful. They gained the ear of the Miami Indians, just before the arrival of a deputation of Ottawas, who came bearing overtures from the French. These were repulsed, their gifts of brandy and tobacco-dear to the Indian heart-refused, and their wampum speech belts returned. The latter act is symbolical of breaking off friendly relations, and finds its equivalent, in civilized diplomacy, in the recall of ministers. The chiefs of most of the tribes agreed to attend a council with Pennsylvania, at Logtown, an important Indian village on the Ohio, and Gist made the arduous and perilous journey homeward, arriving upon the outskirts of the settlements in May, 1750, having been engaged for more than six months. In the meantime the discomfited Ottawas' had returned from Piqua to Fort Sandusky, and the French, desiring at all hazards to prevent or render ineffective the Logtown council, sent one Captain Joncaire, a veteran in Indian diplomacy, to attend. This Joncaire did, but all his eloquence and gifts failed to move the Indians, and he returned to those who sent him with a most unsatisfactory report.
The war spirit was now thoroughly aroused on each side. The French built and armed a large vessel of war, for service on Lake Ontario, fell to strengthening their posts upon the frontier, and to building new defenses in
the Ohio valley. On the part of the colonies the preparations were not so radical, nor so wisely directed, but they were sufficiently active. They lacked the system and unity that was easy for the French to attain, but almost an impossibility with isolated, independent, and not entirely harmonious settlements. In Virginia activity was at its height, and the colony was divided into districts, each having an adjutant-general, with the rank and pay of a major, whose duty it was to superintend the recruiting, equipment, and drill of troops. To one of these places Washington,' though but nineteen years of age, was appointed, at the solicitation of his brother Lawrence. He at once entered upon the discharge of his duties with the energy and determination that marked him in every enterprise. Two of Lawrence's companions in his Spanish campaign, Adjutant Muse and Jacob Van Braam, were employed as his instructors—the former in the manual of arms and tactics; the latter in fencing and general sword exercise. Thus the quiet country house at Mt. Vernon, became a salle d armes and rang with noisy exercise from morning until night, as one or other of the professors of the art of war coached his pupil for the expected service.
Washington's study and service were soon sadly interrupted by the illness of his favorite brother, who was advised to spend the approaching winter in a warmer climate, as the only possibility of saving his life. Consequently the two went together to Barbadoes whence, after remaining some time, I awrence determined to remove and spend the remainder of the winter and the spring at Bermuda, and George returned to Virginia to escort the sick man's wife to his side. The determination that Mrs. Washington should attempt the journey was, however, altered. Lawrence remained at Bermuda until summer, when he returned to Mt. Vernon, only to die on the 26th day of July, 1752. He left a very large estate to an infant daughter, with the provision that, if she should die without issue, it was to belong to his widow for life and then pass to George. The latter was made one of the executors, and from that time, the charge of his brother's estate was added to his responsibilities. Heavy as was this blow to Washington, matters of grave importance forbade that he should indulge his grief. He was soon re-appointed adjutant-general and assigned to the northern and most important district of the colony. The duties of the place engrossed him, until still graver responsibilities were placed upon his shoulders.
A great council between the mixed tribes, that had emigrated from the northeast and settled in the Ohio valley, and the representatives of Virginia, had concluded an alliance between the people of that colony and the majority of the Indians of the region. Of the important chiefs, only the sachem of the Six Nations was absent. The principal chief of the mixed tribes, Tanacharisson, generally termed the Half King by reason of his subordination to the Iroquois confederacy, was, as he had been from the first and
always continued, faithful to the English. The Indians were very indignant at the advances made by the French in their territory, and the English, on their side, were filled with apprehension for the safety of their settlements, which had been made under the inducements held out by the Ohio company. The French had given notice that all English found trading west of the Alleghanies would be made prisoners, and their goods confiscated; and these threats had been carried into effect in several instances. Hence the Half King went to the post at Sandusky and made a personal protest against the advances of the French, and a demand for the removal of their troops and posts from his territories. His protest and he himself were received with the utmost contempt, and he was dismissed to his home, very angry and much humiliated, carrying with him the wampum speech belt which had been the symbol of his amity with the French. The English had now apparently no recourse but force. The French were evidently making an effort to connect the gulf and the lakes by a chain of posts, to set up defenses at all strategic points in the valley, and thus, while so much time was being wasted in idle diplomacy, to establish themselves beyond the danger of being ousted.
THE EXPEDITION TO FRENCH CREEK.
ET one more effort was made to come to a pacific settlement. A meg.
senger, Captain Trent, was sent to the French commander in the val. ley, to demand the withdrawal of his forces and traders from the territory of the king of England. Trent proved a coward and, finding that the French had already begun active operations, by an attack upon the friendly Indians at Piqua, returned to Virginia without having even made an attempt to fulfill his mission. This placed the Governor and the Ohio company in a quandary. For a long time no one could be found, willing to undertake the hazardous task of fulfilling Trent's abandoned mission. At last Washington volunteered and his services were eagerly accepted. He received his credentials on the 30th day of October, 1753, and set off on the same day upon his toilsome and dangerous expedition. According to his instructions he was to proceed first to Logtown, confer with the Half King and other friendly chiefs, then push his way with all despatch, accompanied by such escort of Indians as he could obtain, to the headquarters of the French commandant, deliver his written communication, receive an answer, if one were furnished within a week, then make the best of his way homeward. He was also charged to make every observation and inquiry possible without exciting suspicion, directed to ascertaining the force of the French, the number and situation of their posts, and the facilities which they might possess for a movement, by land or water, upon the English frontiers. This was no light charge for a man experienced in affairs of the kind; for one of but twenty-two years, and utterly without such experience, it seems almost absurd.
Washington proceeded at once to Logtown; the chiefs expressed themselves as devoted to the cause of their “English brothers,” said they would accompany him and return all speech belts to the French, and give him all the 'assistance in their power. He was, after the fashion of