As it was thought advisable by his Honor the Governor to have the following Account of my Proceedings to and from the French on Ohio, committed to Print; I think I can do no less than apologize, in some Measure, for the numberless Imperfections of it. . . .
Wednesday, October 31, 1753.
I was commissioned and appointed by the Honourable Robert Dinwiddie, Esq., Governor, &c., of Virginia, to visit and deliver a letter to the Commandant of the French forces on the Ohio, and set out on the intended Journey the same day: The next, I arrived at Fredericksburg, and engaged Mr. Jacob Vanbraam, to be my French interpreter; and proceeded with him to Alexandria, where we provided Necessaries. From thence we went to Winchester, and got Baggage, Horses, &c.; and from thence we pursued the new Road to Wills-Creek, where we arrived the 14th of November.
25th. Came to Town four or ten Frenchmen who had deserted from a Company at the Kuskuskas, which lies at the Mouth of this River. I got the following Account from them. They were sent from New-Orleans with 100 men, and 8 Canoe-Loads of Provisions to this Place; where they expected to have met the same Number of Men, from the Forts on this Side Lake Erie, to convoy them, and the Stores up, who were not arrived when they ran-off.
I enquired into the Situation of the French, on the Mississippi, their Number, and what Forts they had built. They inform'd me, That there were four small Forts between New Orleans and the Black-Islands, garrison'd with about 30 or 40 Men, and a few small Pieces in each. That at New Orleans, which is near the Mouth of the Mississippi, there are 35 Companies, of 40 Men each, with a pretty strong Fort mounting 8 Carriage Guns; and at the Black-Islands there are several Companies, and a Fort with 6 Guns. The Black-Islands are about 130 Leagues above the Mouth of the Ohio, which is about 350 above New-Orleans. They also acquainted me that there was a small palisado'd Fort on the Ohio, at the Mouth of the Obaish2 about 60 Leagues from the Mississippi. The Obaish heads near the West End of Lake Erie, and affords the Communication between the French on Mississippi and those on the Lakes. These Deserters came up from the lower Shanoah Town with one Brown, an Indian Trader, and were going to Philadelphia. . . .
We sat out about 9 o'Clock with the Half-King Jeskakake, White Thunder, and the Hunter; and traveled on the Road to Venango,3 where we arrived the 4th of December, without any Thing remarkable happening but a continued Series of bad Weather.
This is an old Indian Town, situated at the Mouth of French Creek on Ohio; and lies near N. about 60 Miles from the Loggs-Town, but more than 70 the Way we were obliged to go.
We found the French Colors hoisted at a House from which they had driven Mr. John Frazier, an English Subject. I immediately repaired to it, to know where the Commander resided. There were three Officers, one of whom, Capt. Joncaire, informed me, that he had the Command of the Ohio: But that there was a General Officer at the near Fort, where he advised me to apply for an Answer. He invited us to sup with them; and treated us with the greatest Complaisance.
The Wine, as they dosed themselves pretty plentifully with it, soon banished the Restraint which at first appeared in their Conversation; and gave a License to their Tongues to reveal their Sentiments more freely.
They told me, That it was their absolute Design to take Possession of the Ohio, and by G would do it. For that altho' they were sensible the English could raise two Men for their one; yet they knew their Motions were too slow and dilatory to prevent any Undertaking of theirs. They pretend to have an undoubted Right to the River, from a Discovery made by one La Salle4 60 Years ago; and the Rise of this Expedition is, to prevent our settling on the River or Waters of it, as they had heard of some Families moving-out in Order thereto. From the best Intelligence I could get, there have been 1,500 Men on their Side Ontario Lake: But upon the Death of the General all were recalled to about 6 or 700, who were left to garrison four Forts, 150 or there abouts in each. . . .
6th. The Half-King came to my Tent, quite sober, and insisted very much that I should stay and hear what he had to say to the French. I fain would have prevented his speaking any Thing till he came to the Commandant , but could not prevail. He told me that at this Place a Council Fire was kindled, where all their Business with these People was to be transacted; and that the Management of the Indian affairs was left solely to Monsieur Joncaire. As I was desirous of knowing the Issue of this, I agreed to stay: But sent our Horses a little way up French Creek to raft over and encamp; which I knew would make it near Night. . . .
13th. The chief Officers retired, to hold a Council of War; which gave me an Opportunity of taking the Dimensions of the Fort, and making what Observations I could.
It is situated on the South or West Fork of French Creek, near the Water; and is almost surrounded by the Creek, and a small Branch of it which forms a Kind of Island. Four Houses compose the Sides. The Bastions are made of Piles driven into the Ground, standing more than 12 Feet above it, and sharp at Top: With Port-Holes cut for Cannon, and Loop-Holes for the small Arms to fire through. There are eight 6 lb. Pieces mounted, in each Bastion; and one Piece of four Pound before the Gate. In the Bastions are a Guard-House, Chapel, Doctor's Lodging, and the Commander's private Store: Round which are laid Plat-Forms for the Cannon and Men to stand on. There are several Barracks without the Fort, for the Soldiers Dwelling; covered, some with Bark and some with Boards, made chiefly of Loggs. There are also several other Houses, such as Stables, Smiths Shop, &c.
I could get no certain Account of the Number of Men here: But according to the best Judgment I could form, there are an Hundred exclusive of Officers, of which there are many. I also gave Orders to the people who were with me, to take an exact Account of the Canoes which were hauled-up to convey their Forces down in the Spring. This they did, and told 50 of Birch Bark, and 170 of Pine; besides many others which were blocked-out, in Readiness to make. . . .
15th. The Commandant ordered a plentiful Store of Liquor, Provision, &c., to be put on Board our Canoe; and appeared to be extremely complaisant, though he was exerting every Artifice which he could invent to set our own Indians at Variance with us, to prevent their going 'till after our Departure. Presents, Rewards, and every Thing which could be suggested by him or his OfficersI can't say that ever in my Life I suffered so much Anxiety as I did in this Affair: I saw that every Stratagem which the most fruitful Brain could invent, was practised, to win the Half-King to their Interest; and that leaving him here was giving them the Opportunity they aimed at.I went to the Half-King and press'd him in the strongest Terms to go: He told me the Commandant would not discharge him 'till the Morning. I then went to the Commandant, and desired him to do their Business; and complain'd of ill Treatment: For keeping them, as they were Part of my Company, was detaining me. This he promised not to do, but to forward my Journey as much as he could. He protested he did not keep them, but was ignorant of the Cause of their Stay; though I soon found it out:He had promised them a present of Guns, &c., if they would wait 'till the morning.
Our Horses were now so weak and feeble, and the Baggage so heavy (as we were obliged to provide all the Necessaries which the Journey would require) that we doubted much their performing it; therefore myself and others (except the Drivers, who were obliged to ride) gave up our Horses for Packs, to assist along with the Baggage. I put myself in an Indian walking Dress, and continued with them three Days, till I found there was no Probability of their getting home in any reasonable Time. The Horses grew less able to travel every Day; the Cold increased very fast; and the Roads were becoming much worse by a deep Snow, continually freezing: Therefore as I was uneasy to get back, to make Report of my Proceedings to his Honour, the Governor, I determained to prosecute my Journey the nearest Way through the Woods, on Foot. . . .
Accordingly I left Mr. Vanbraam in Charge of our Baggage: with Money and Directions to Provide Necessaries from Place to Place for themselves and Horses, and to make the most convenient Dispatch in Travelling.
I took my necessary Papers; pulled off my Cloaths; and tied myself up in a Match Coat. Then with Gun in Hand and Pack at my Back, in which were my Papers and Provisions, I set-out with Mr. Gist, fitted in the same Manner, on Wednesday the 26th. . . .
The next Day we continued travelling till quite dark, and got to the River about two Miles above Shannapins. We expected to have found the River frozen, but it was not, only about 50 Yards from each Shore; The Ice I suppose had broken up above, for it was driving in vast Quantities.
There was no Way for getting over but on a Raft: Which we set about with but one poor Hatchet, and finished just after Sun-setting. This was a whole Day's Work. Then set off; But before we were Half Way over, we were jammed in the Ice, in such a Manner that we expected every Moment our Raft to sink, and ourselves to perish. I put-out my setting Pole to try to stop the Raft, that the Ice might pass by; when the Rapidity of the Stream threw it with so much Violence against the Pole, that it jerked me out into ten Feet Water: but I fortunately saved myself by catching hold of one of the Raft Logs. Notwithstanding all our Efforts we could not get the Raft to either Shore; but were obliged, as we were near an Island, to quit our Raft and make to it. . . .
On the 11th I got to Belvoir: where I stopped one Day to take necessary Rest; and then set out and arrived in Williamsburgh the 16th; when I waited upon his Honour the Governor with the Letter I had brought from the French Commandant; and to give an Account of the Success of my Proceedings. This I beg leave to do by offering the foregoing Narrative as it contains the most remarkable Occurrences which happened in my Journey.
I hope what has been said will be sufficient to make your Honour satisfied with my Conduct; for that was my Aim in undertaking the Journey, and chief Study throughout the Prosecution of it.
1From Washington's "Journal," prepared at the request of Governor Dinwiddie, of Virginia. He wrote this journal in a single day from rough notes prepared during the Journey. Only two copies of the original edition of the "Journal" are extant. It has been reprinted in "Old South Leaflets."Return to text.
2Now written Wabash.
4Washington's phrase, "made by one La Salle," sheds a curious light on the ignorance that then prevailed in America, as to the first voyage ever made by a European from the upper Mississippi to its mouth.Return to text.
THE DEFEAT OF BRADDOCK