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History of Pittsburgh and environs: from prehistoric days to the ..., Volume 1 online

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fold disadvantages. At length, however, he surrendered the fort upon capitulation, for
the performance of which he left two officers, as hostages, in the hands of the French,
and in his retreat was terribly harassed by the Indians, who plundered his baggage, and
massacred his people. This event was no sooner known in England, than the English
ambassador at Paris received directions to complain of it to the French minbtry, as an
open violation of the peace; but this representation had no effect.

Some additional facts of the careers of Christopher Gist and William
Trent are relevant. Early in life Gist removed to North Carolina. He
married Sarah Howard and they had five children, three sons, Nathaniel,
Richard and Thomas, and two daughters, Anne and Violette. Gist, with
his sons Nathaniel and Thomas, were present in the battle of the Monon-
gahela, or Braddock's defeat, as we know it. In this expedition Gist
was the chief guide of Braddock. Two Indians were persuaded to go
out on a scouting expedition towards Fort Duquesne, and Gist soon fol-
lowed them. On July 6 all three returned safely, having been within
a half mile of the fort. Their favorable reports induced Braddock to
advance. The fatal ambuscade arrange^ by Beujeau at the cost of his
life and Braddock's stubbornness that cost him his life, tell the sad story
of defeat and disaster. After Braddock's defeat the frontier was left open
to Indian raids and Gist raised a company of scouts in Virginia and
Maryland and was called "captain" henceforth. In 1756 Gist was in
North Carolina enlisting Cherokees for the English service and for a
while served as Indian agent. He died in 1759 of smallpox, but the exact
place is not known. It was in South Carolina or Georgia.

Richard Gist, his second son, was killed at the battle of King's Moun-
tain during the Revolution. Thomas remained on the North Carolina
plantation. His sister Anne remained with him until his death, when
she joined her brother Nathaniel, who had moved to Kentucky. Nathan-
iel served in the Revolution as a colonial in the Virginia line and after
the war became a Kentuckian. He died early in the nineteenth century.



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286 HISTORY OF PITTSBURGH

Nathaniel Gist was the only one of Christopher's children who married.
Biographers are silent as to Violette. She probably died young. Nathan-
iel had two sons, Henry Clay and Thomas Cecil Gist. His eldest daughter,
Sarah, married Jesse Bledsoe, who became a United States Senator from
Kentucky. In 1872 Bledsoe's grandson, B. Gratz Brown, was the cai\-
didate of the Democratic party for vice-president on the ticket with
Horace Greeley. Colonel Nathaniel Gist's second daughter became the
wife of Colonel Nathaniel Hart, a brother of Mrs. Henry Clay. The
third daughter married Dr. Boswell of Lexington, Kentucky ; the fourth,
Francis P. Blair, and they were the parents of Montgomery Blair, post-
master-general in Lincoln's first cabinet, and General Francis P. Blair,
Jr., of Civil War fame. The fifth daughter married Benjamin Gratz of
Lexington. A very interesting family life and connection.

In 1755, the year of Braddock's defeat, Trent entered again the serv-
ice of Pennsylvania and was a member of the proprietary and governor's
council. Two years later Trent is back in the service of Virginia. He
accompanied General Forbes in his successful expedition in 1758 that
gave Pittsburgh its birth. His knowledge of the country was invaluable
to Forbes. Trent remained about Fort Pitt engaged in the Indian trade
until Pontiac's siege in 1763 during the French and Indian War. His
large trading house outside the fort was destroyed by the Indians with
great loss to him. He with all his dwellers outside of the fort took
refuge within its walls. Trent was employed in military duties by
Captain Simeon Ecuyer, the commandant of the fort. At the treaty of
Fort Stanwix in 1768, Trent was one of the beneficiaries of a large tract
of land granted by the Iroquois. When the Revolutionary War began,
Trent entered the service and was commissioned a major by the Conti-
nental Congress.

Sparks in his "Life and Writings of Washington" has placed in his
second volume an extract from a journal published by the French
government. This journal relates to the exploration of the country about
the Ohio and events occurring here, and was printed in Paris in 1756.
Its title is long beginning: "Memoire Contenant le Precis des Faits,
etc." Sparks thought it of little credit, uncouth in style and faulty in
its attempts to convey the sense of the original. A translation of an
English edition reads: "A memorial containing a summary View of
Facts, with their authorities, in answer to the 'Observations' sent by
the English Ministry to the Courts of Europe; Translated from the
French, New York, printed and sold by H. Gaine, at the Printing Office
of the Bible and Crown in Hanover Square, 1757."

An introduction called "An Advertisement to the Reader," states
that there were three French volumes found in a French prize, a ship
taken and brought into the port of New York. Hence the translation
and the authenticity of these volumes cannot be doubted. They were
published by order of the French King at the royal office. Neville B.
Craig was furnished with a written copy of parts of this curious work
by Mr. Sparks, supplying missing pages in a copy possessed by Judge
James Veech, which Veech had loaned Craig. The "Memoire" contains



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THE STRUGGLE FOR A CONTINENT 287

many official and other documents relating to the questions at issue and
particularly selections from the manuscripts of Braddock and Washing-
ton captured at the battle of the Monongahela, July 9, 1755. Previous
to 1755 six years had been spent in unavailing attempts at negotiations
between England and France with the design of effecting a reconciliation
of difficulties. It seems neither party was really anxious to avoid a war,
although the French were magnanimous enough in many ways.

Hostilities commenced in time of peace and each nation charged the
other with being the aggressor. Two French vessels en route to Canada
were captured by the British admiral, Boscowen, and to justify this pro-
cedure, the British ministry sent out the "Observations." In this book
the British maintained the French had actually begun the war by their
encroachments with military forces on the Ohio. They referred to
Washington's operations as the weak and small efforts of the English.
These facts have all been reverted to in this work. To repel the charge
of the British government and to prove the British had been first to
transgress, was the object of this French "Memoire." It is obvious that
the French were well informed of British intentions. They found them
fully expressed in the documents captured with Braddock's baggage.
It is equally obvious that had they destroyed these documents much of
the history of the great events in this region in those years would have
been lost.

Craig has given us 135 pages of this matter in "The Olden Time,"
and it is a mine of wealth for historians. We find in the extracts much
relating to the Marquis du Quesne de Menneville, and much about the
"murder of Jumonville" by Washington. We find Duquesne spelled
Du Quesne when it refers to the fort and du Quesne referring to the
marquis with the title prefixed.

It is noticeable in Washington's Journal, which the French repro-
duced, the mention of Ensign Ward as "Wart" throughout, and Craig
does not correct him, but says in a footnote that Ward is meant. Wash-
ington was a phonetic speller.^*^

The exhaustive treatment of the French claims appeals to us as
scholarly and the deduction seems reasonable if we accept their premises.
They go back to the treaties of Aix-la-Chapelle and tell of the invasion
of the English traders in the French country about the Ohio. They also
tell of Celoron's expedition and the moderation of the governor, the
Count de Galissoniere, and other French authorities. One statement
puts the gist of the French claim in a few words, to wit :

The Ohio, or La Belle Riviere, as it is sometimes called, forms a natural commu-
nication between Canada and Louisiana by Lake Erie, the French being concerned
both to discover and preserve that communication, were the first that traced out the
whole course of that river, part of which was visited by M. de la Salle, a gentleman
of Normandy, in the year 1679. In 1712, the King in his Letters Patent for the settling
of Louisiana comprehended the River Wabash which empties itself into the Ohio and in
general, all the rivers that fall into the Mississippi. Since that time, the Ohio has never
been frequented by any but the French, nor did the English ever make any pretentions



i5"01den Time;" Vol. I, p. 140, et seq. 'Xife and Writings of Washington;"
Sparks, Vol. II, p. 21. See Parkman's citations also, in Vol. I, "Montcalm and Wolfe."



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288 HISTORY OF PITTSBURGH

to the lands watered by it. The Appalachian Mountains have always been looked upon
as the bounds of their colonies.

That brings us to the story of La Salle, and the evidence that he was
ever at the Forks of the Ohio is so slight that it would be rejected in
a court of justice. He was on other parts of the Ohio beyond a doubt,
hence it will not be discussed here. However, that is a long drawn-out
historical controversy and the libraries are full of books relative to La
Salle.

Concluding the story of Washington's first campaign, we may have
recourse to the remarks of Samuel Adams Drake : *Tt thus fell out that
the building of a log fort to command the Ohio had brought on actual
war. The struggle for the possession of the Great West now passed
from words to deeds. But with their unbroken chain of posts, their
depots so conveniently placed, their Indian alliances so secured by the
prestige of a first success, the French entered upon the conflict with
strong advantage."

Drake quotes Thackeray: "It was strange that in a savage forest
of Pennsylvania, a young Virginia officer should fire a shot and waken
up a war which was to last for sixty years, to cost France her American
colonies, to sever ours from us, to create the great Western Republic,
to rage over the Old World when extinguished in the New, and of all
the myriads engaged in the vast contest, to leave the prize of the greatest
fame with him who struck the first blow.*'^*



i6"Making of Ohio Valley States;" Drake, p. 58. "The Virginians;" W, M.
Thackeray, Vol. I. Harper Ed., I9i4f P* 5i-




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CHAPTER XV.
Two Famous Hostages.

The hostages given at the capitulation of Fort Necessity July 3, 1754,
became the sources of pages of history. Robert Stobo and Jacob Van
Braam, Scot and Dutchman, captains by appointment of Governor Din-
widdie in Washington's regiment of Virginia troops, voluntary or
involuntary chosen for the purpose, little thought they would be sub-
jected to hardships, privations and finally imprisonment and long suf-
fering. Ordinarily the status of a hostage is one of ease. In the camps
and garrisons of his enemy keepers he is on his honor not to reveal the
secrets unavoidably brought to his notice. His case is one of detention
only with a degree of liberty consistent with his character and standing
as a soldier. Stobo violated all the traditions of a hostage, and while his
letter-writing with a plan of Fort Duquesne and specific information of
affairs there, was more than indiscreet, it was successful, and the infor-
mation most valuable to the English. Stobo and his fellow hostage would
not have been long detained had Governor Dinwiddie adhered to the
terms of the capitulation of July 3rd and released M. la Force and the
cadets taken at the Jumonville affair in May, but Dinwiddie absolutely
refused to release them. 'La Force was too valuable to the enemy,
and must be kept or he would make trouble again. Washington knew
La Force well, and Van Braam also, and how much La Force was
missed became apparent at once to the astute Stobo when he reached
Fort Duquesne. After a short detention at the fort, and finding Dinwid-
die was determined to hold the French officers, Stobo and Van Braam
were sent to Quebec, where they enjoyed a large measure of liberty
and had a good time, though it must have been monotonous at times. In
the fortune of war, Stobo's duplicity was revealed to the French, as
will appear. Unmistakably he stood revealed as a spy, and then his
liberty was cut short. He was tried as a spy and received the usual
sentence of death, but the findings of the court that condemned him had
to be reviewed in France and approved by the proper authorities there.
Events of greater moment occupied the constant attention of the French
ministry, and the case of an obscure English officer in far-off Canada
did not require prompt action. He was in prison and could be disposed
of any time. This in time of peace, for though the peace of Aix-la-
Chapelle was still intact, both England and France were preparing for
another outbreak. Formal declaration of war did not come until a year
after Braddock's battle. We behold the anomalous state of a hostage in
time of peace condemned as a spy. No historian, however, has charac-
terized this peace as a profound peace.

The victorious French under De Villiers returned to Fort Duquesne
the way they went out, taking Stobo and Van Braam along. Stobo was
but a short time at the fort when he found opportunity to send out two
letters. He furnished timely information and an accurate plan of the fort.

Pitta.— 19



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290 HISTORY OF PITTSBURGH

He is plwlosophic and much too patriotic. From his first letter we may
quote :

When we engaged to serve our country, it was expected we were to do it with our
lives. Let them not be disappointed. Consider the good of the expedition, without the
least regard to us. For my part I would rather die a thousand deaths, to have the
pleasure of possessing this Fort one day. They are so vain of their success at the
Meadows, it is worse than death to hear them. Strike this fall as soon as possible.
Make the Indians ours. Prevent intelligence. Get the best and 'tis done. loo trusty
Indians might surprise this Fort. They have access all day, and might lodge themselves
so that they might secure the guard with tomahawks; shut the sally gate, and the Fort
is ours. None but the guard and G)ntrecoeur stay in the Fort. For God's sake com-
municate this to but few and them you can trust. Intelligence comes here unaccount-
ably. If they should know I wrote I would lose the little liberty I have. I should be
glad to hear from you. But take no notice of this in yours.

Stobo said "Springes" had been at the fort, probably meaning Shin-
giss. There is no other mention of Springes in our pre-colonial history.
It is most apparent Stobo knew the risks he was taking. The Indian
who cunningly got the letter through was a brother-in-law of Monaca-
tootha, or Scarrooady, as he is most frequently mentioned in the history
of those days. In the second letter to Dinwiddie, written the very next
day, Stobo gives this Indian's name — "Long, or Mono." The second
letter went by Delaware George. Stobo is newsy in this letter; also
fearsome. He has heard that the Half King and Monacatootha had been
killed and their families given to the Cherokees as slaves. He wishes for
peace between the Catawbas and the nations about the fort, saying the
French are much afraid of the Catawbas, and goes on to say :

You had as just a plan of the fort as time and opportunity would allow. The
French manage the Indians with the greatest artifice. I mentioned yesterday a coimcil
the Shawanese had with the French, the present they gave (wampum, ammunition, guns,
clothing, etc.), and if they made the French a speech, the bearer, who was present, will
inform you to what purport.

If yesterday's letter reaches you it will give you a particular account of most things.

The Indians have great liberty here; they go out and in when th^r please without
notice. If loo trusty Shawanese, Mingoes and Delawares were picked out they might
surprise the fort

All this you have more particular in yesterday's account. Your humble servant, etc.

La Force is greatly missed here. Let the good of the expedition be considered
preferable to our safety. Haste to strike.

A list of deserters and prisoners to the French followed. On one
of Capt. Mercer's company, John Ramsey, Stobo is severe. He says :

This man is the cause of all our misfortunes. He deserted the day before the
battle. The French got to Gist's at dawn of day, surrounding the fort, imagining we
were still there, gave a general fire. But when they found we were gone they were
determined to return with all expedition, thinking we had returned to the inhabitants —
when up comes Mr. Driscall,! told them he had deserted the day before, and the regi-
ment was still at the Meadows, in a starving condition which caused hb deserting, and
hearing they were coming, deserted to them. They confined him. Told him if true he
should be rewarded, if false hanged This I had from the English interpreters.



iCraig thinks this name a misprint for "rascal :" the sense implies that some epithet
be used. No Driscall is mentioned previously and the reference is plainly to Ramsey.
See ''Olden Time," Vol. II, p. 6i. ^History of Pittsburgh," origmal edition, p. 37,
the words "Mr. Rascair occur and so followed in the edition of 1917.



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TWO FAMOUS HOSTAGES 291

From Stobo's account it can be readily deduced that the French under
De Villiers had little fear in the taking of Washington's Fort Necessity,
which in name alone tells of his desperate condition.

Stobo also relates the fate of some of the prisoners and traders cap-
tured by the French and Indians. Some of those allotted to the Indians
were offered for sale ; "40 pistoles each." "A good ransom," commented
Stobo. A pistole was a Spanish gold coin worth 16 shillings. Some
of the wounded died and four prisoners were shot. Stobo remonstrated
several times with Contrecoeur, but to no purpose. In view of the capitu-
lation, Stobo claimed the French had no right to make them prisoners.
Contrecoeur replied they belonged to the Indians and he could not get
them from them.

The expedition was almost a year in coming to take the fort, and
then it did not accomplish the purpose for which it was sent. One
word tells the story — the name of the commander — Braddock. Stobo's
fears that ill would come to him if these letters should ever come to the
knowledge of the French were destined to be fulfilled.

Copies of the letters and Stobo's plan of Fort Duquesne had been given
to Gen. Braddock, the plan a most important requisite. All of Braddock's
baggage fell into the hands of the enemy and with it the plans and the
letters and they were published.

Stobo had made use of his non-combatant status as a hostage in
the character of a spy. Naturally the kind treatment of his captors
ceased. They were justly incensed. Previous to the battle on the
Monongahela, Stobo and Van Braam had been sent to Quebec.

From Craig's introduction to the edition of Stobo's Memoirs pub-
lished by him in Pittsburgh in 1854 these extracts are taken. They
tell their own story :

On the 3rd of July, 1754, the English garrison withdrew from the basin of the
Ohio, and then, in the eloquent language of Bancroft, "In the whole valley of the
Mississippi to its headsprings in the Allegheny, no standard floated but that of France."
Such was the condition of affairs in this region when Stobo and Van Braam were
conveyed as prisoners and hostages to Fort Duquesne, within the site of our present
city, truly the prospects of poor Stobo were then gloomy and discouraging indeed. Of
Van Braam's fidelity some doubts have perhaps unjustly been entertained. These
doubts whether well or ill foimded must always blunt the keenness of our conviction
of his feelings.

But of Stobo's feeling no doubt can exist. His whole future life, so far as we
have any knowledge of it, proves him to have been an ardent lover of his country and
a most enterprising and daring man. Cut off as he was in Fort Duquesne from all
direct intercourse with his countrymen, surrounded by Frenchmen and Indians, it could
scarcely be expected that he would be disposed to think of anything but escape. He,
however, was a man of indomitable spirit, and even while thus secluded, instead of
sinking into despondency and listless inactivity, he spent his time in writing letters
stimulating his countrymen to action and furnishing information necessary to success.

Craig is wrong in stating that Stobo was a prisoner at Fort Duquesne,
and it is plainly evident that Stobo was over-zealous — ^far too ardent
Better, indeed, had he not employed his time in stimulating his country-
men, and the time thus spent must have been brief. Craig proceeds
to say: "When the writer of this article (himself) first read those letters,



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292 HISTORY OF PITTSBURGH

he was deeply impressed with the noble, devoted, self-sacrificing spirit
manifested by him."

Craig might have added that the French were deeply impressed also
— ^but in another way ; but Craig has more to say in this particular :

The writer of this article was first struck with admiration at the lofty spirit and
disinterested patriotism exhibited in these letters. Then when he reflected upon the
information they contain, the urgent counsel to action they give, his admiration com-
bined with surprise and curiosity. Surprise at the daring of Stobo in writing such
information and trusting it in the hands of Indians who might be treacherous, or even
if faithful, might be suspected by the French and searched. Curiosity to know how in
the midst of enemies in the petty hostile fort he could find means to write such letters
and prepare a plan of the fort which would be so useful tc an attacking army. Had
he been detected in writing these letters or preparing the plan, or had Mono, or Dela-
ware George proved treacherous, and betrayed the author, his condition would have been
greatly altered for the worse.

Strong evidence would be required to convince us that such letters and a plan were
really prepared under such circumstances. In this case, however, there is no room for
doubt The letters and plans were received by Colonel Washington in due time. Copies
were sent to the Executive of Pennsylvania and subsequently also furnished to General
Braddock. After his defeat July 9, 1755, these papers fell into the hands of the enemy
and were sent to France and from thence to Quebec where Stobo was then confined, and
there placed his life in great jeopardy.

The letters are to be found in the Colonial Records (Vol. VI, p.
161, et seq.). as Craig states, and the plan in the Pennsylvania Archives,
first series. They have been placed by Craig in his "History of Pitts-
burgh" and in "The Olden Time/' to which reference will be had. To
proceed with Craig's remarks :

From the first reading of these letters the writer of this introduction was seized
with an anxious long desire to know more about the high spirited, self-sacrificing patriot
and soldier who wrote them. Never has this desire ceased to exist. From David Hume's
letter to Smollett the writer learned that Stobo had met some remarkable adventures.
What these adventures, were still tmknown until through the kindness of a friend and
the aid of Mr. James McHenry, a son of Dr. McHenry, the novelist and poet, formerly
of this city (Pittsburgh), a wordiy and enterprising merchant of Liverpool, a manu-
script copy of the Memoirs of Major Robert Stobo was obtained from the British
Museum. This is now republished in Pittsburgh, near the site of Fort Duquesne, where
Stobo was confined as a prisoner, just one hundred years ago. The letters are not given
in the "Memoirs," but copies of those letters and of the plan of the fort taken from
the records at Harrisburg are now introduced and a very few notes are also added. It
is hoped that such a notice of the man who began his eventful career here and who
displayed such a noble spirit, will not prove uninteresting.

Surely it has not. In the lapse of years the interest becomes more
keen.

Craig next reverts to the Whisky Insurrection, comparing an-
other Scotchman here, who wrote letters, with Stobo to the detriment
of the former. Plainly Hugh Henry Brackenridge is referred to, sub-
sequently (1800-1816) justice of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
Craig's closing paragraphs of his "Introduction" are :



Online LibraryAmerican Historical Society George Thornton FlemingHistory of Pittsburgh and environs: from prehistoric days to the ..., Volume 1 → online text (page 40 of 81)