Robert Tomes.

Battles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) online

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The fleet had hardly sailed out of Brest
in gallant trim, and fairly got to sea, when
a storm arose, which wrecked many of
the vessels, and separated the rest. The
duke d Anville succeeded in reaching the
American coast in his own ship, and was
soon joined by a few of the smaller ves
sels. His sudden death, how r ever, put a
stop to all his plans ; and the command
fell, by succession, to the vice-admiral.
This commander resolved upon returning
to France, in consequence of the dimin
ished number of his vessels and their
shattered condition ; but his council-of-
war overruled him. So excited was the
vice-admiral by the opposition of his offi
cers, that he ran himself through the
body with his sword.

The aged De laJonquiere now succeed
ed, who, in spite of his nearly seventy
years, had not only advocated the bolder
policy in opposition to the vice-admiral,
but now, in command, was prepared to
carry it out with the greatest energy.
All, however, was in vain : another storm
arose, off Cape Sable, and the few vessels
that escaped returned in a damaged state,
to give testimony of the fatality which
had attended the great French expedi

The government of France, however,
was not discouraged, and soon had in
readiness another fleet to invade the Briir
ish colonies. England, early con
scious of this renewed attempt, had



[PART i.

also equipped a large naval force, by
which it was proposed to intercept the
French. Anson was made admiral of the
English fleet, and Warren, the naval hero
of Louisburg, rear-admiral.

On hearing that the French were about
to sail, the English put to sea, and await-
ed the enemy off Cape Finisterre, on the
coast of France. The two met on the
3d of May, 1746, and immediately began
battle. The French were worsted after
a severe struggle, leaving all their ships-
of-the-line in the hands of the -British,
with a large quantity of bullion, and Ad
miral de la Jonquiere, the newly-appoint
ed governor of Canada, to reward and
grace the English triumph.

There was now, with the exception of
an occasional brush between the English
and French on the frontiers, an almost
entire suspension of hostilities. The Brit
ish finally disbanded the provincial army;
and the colonists were thus prepared, in
anticipation, for the event which now oc
curred, that of the declaration of peace

by the treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle.

By this treaty, the island of Cape
Breton, with the hard-won fortress of
Louisburg, was given up to the French,
much to their satisfaction, and to the
vexation of the New-Englanders, who
considered the possession of this town as
essential to their own security. It was
true, the right of Great Britain to Nova
Scotia was acknowledged; but the French
inhabitants of that peninsula under the
advice, as was suspected, of the govern
ment of France resisted the English
claim. The treaty, therefore, was very
distasteful to New England, and natural

ly, for its best interests had been sacri
ficed by the mother-country, in her anx
iety to bring to a close a war which had
cost so much, and profited her so little.

The French, in spite of the peace, be
gan soon, not only covertly, as in Nova
Scotia, but openly, to encroach upon Eng
lish colonial rights. France had long en
tertained the grand idea of connecting
its northern possessions in Canada with
those she held on the gulf of Mexico.
Her possession of Louisiana, with its then
widely-extended boundaries, gave her the
command of the Mississippi; while her
Canadian territory, stretching from the
mouth of the St. Lawrence to the great
lakes, brought her upper dominion so
close to the Ohio, that nothing was want
ing but the mastery of that river to give
her the united power, north and south,
which she coveted.

The English colonies could not look
calmly upon this scheme, which was, if
consummated, destined, as has been in
geniously said, to catch them in a net,
that, being tightened at either end, would
inevitably bring them entirely within the
power of the French. There were claims
and counter-claims urged by France and
Great Britain to the territory watered by
the Ohio, but those of the one and the
other were equally baseless. The ques
tion was not one of disputed rights, but
of contending powers. The whole mat
ter resolved itself into this : " Who shall
be supreme in the West, France or Eng
land ?" It was of little importance that
the latter claimed unlimited territory
from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and that
the former insisted, by the right of dis-





co very and the command of the Missis
sippi, on the possession of all its tributa
ries, and the rich land west of the Alle-
ghany mountains watered by them. It
was clear, with such unbounded claims
on each side, that neither could secure
its supposed right but by an appeal to

The French first threw down the gaunt
let. The marquis du Quesne was appoint
ed governor of the French dominions in
America and was instructed to

1 l^L.

make good the widest claims of his
country, by military possession. He ac
cordingly hurried to carry the orders of
his government into effect. He organ
ized the militia of Quebec and Montreal,
find placed all the forces under his com
mand on the most effective footing. He
now sent various detachments to
the banks of the Ohio, for the pur
pose of establishing forts and securing
the command of that river, that he might
thus unite it with the Mississippi by mili
tary posts, and complete the cordon from
Canada to Louisiana. Such was the ac
tivity of Du Quesne s movements, that,
before the end of the year, he had estab
lished a line of forts from Montreal to
the Riviere aux Boeufs, now known as a
small stream, in Pennsylvania, by the
name of French creek.

The " Ohio Company" was the first to
complain of what they called an invasion
of their rights. This company was an
English association chartered some time
in the year 1749, and was composed of a
large number of native and colonial Eng
lishmen. Its purpose was to colonize,
and trade, principally for furs, with the


Indians ; and accordingly five hundred
thousand acres of land west of the Alle-
ghanies had been granted to the compa
ny. It was this extensive territory which
had been encroached upon by the French,
and the Ohio Company therefore called
upon Dinwiddie,the governor of Virginia,
to take some action toward dispossessing
the intruders. Dinwiddie, who was a pro
prietor of the company, saw at once the
necessity of interference, and sent a com
missioner to expostulate with the French
on their invasion of the rights of Virginia.
Captain William Trent, who had been
selected to perform this duty, returned
without having fulfilled it, but came back
with more alarming accounts than ever
of the French invasion.

George Washington, who was only
twenty-two years of age, was then selectr
ed by the governor of Virginia. His pro
fession as a surveyor had led him into
the uncultivated parts of the countiy,
and made him familiar with the wild life
of the savage and the borderer. He had
had also some experience as a military
disciplinarian, having served, before he
was of age, as one of the adjutant-gener
als of the province, whose duty it was to
organize and drill the militia. He was
now appointed adjutant-general and com
missioner to bear the summons of the
governor of Virginia to the French com
mander on Lake Erie, requiring him to

retire from what was claimed to be Eno -


lisli territory. The errand of Washino-
ton proved bootless, and the French con
tinued to seize and disperse the English
traders, and prepared to descend the
Ohio and take military possession, by




establishing forts at each available point
on the river.

The Ohio Company had commenced
the construction of a fortified post on the
Ohio river, at the junction of the Alle-
ghany and Monongahela. This was sup
posed to be a point that would attract
the invaders at once. It was therefore
determined by the governor of Virginia
to send a force there, to aid in the con
struction of the fort, and defend it against
every attack. Captain Trent was accord
ingly despatched at the head of a hun
dred militiamen on this service.

The youthful Washington was also
called upon again by Dinwiddie, and of
fered the chief command of the
three hundred men whom it was
proposed to enlist. Washington, how
ever, modestly declined the honor, and
gave way to a Colonel Joshua Fry, under
whom he served as lieutenant-colonel.
Washington, preceding his colonel, set
out for the fork of the Ohio on the 2d
of April, at the head of two companies,
numbering one hundred and fifty men.
Fry was to follow with the rest and the

The French at this time were in pos
session on Lake Erie, within the limits
of the present town of Erie, of a log-fort,
which had been built for several years,
and which was well protected with pick
ets, bastions, and ditch, and a strong gar
rison of soldiers. They had also taken
possession of a spot where now stands
the village of Waterford, and construct
ed a fort on the Riviere aux Bceufs, so
called from the numerous herds of buf
falo which fed upon the fertile meadows

watered by that stream, now known as
the French creek, in Pennsylvania. Far
ther on, again, toward the Ohio, they had
also lately established another fortified
post, which was called Venango. This
was situated on the Alleghany, at the
mouth of the "Riviere aux Bceufs," or
French creek. A strong garrison was
maintained during the whole winter at
the fort on the Riviere aux Bceufs, and
large additional forces were ordered to


rendezvous there the subsequent
spring. Accordingly, at this time,
some five hundred to a thousand well-
organized French-Canadian soldiers had
mustered, and prepared, under the com
mand of Monsieur de Contrecoeur, to ad
vance down the Ohio and take military
possession of its banks.

It was to meet this anticipated inva
sion that Washington was now inarching
with his one hundred and fifty men. He
found his progress obstructed by every
possible difficulty. On reaching Win
chester, he was forced, in order to obtain
the necessary horses and baggage-wag
ons, to put into effect the militia-law of
Virginia, which authorized him to take
by compulsion what could not be gotten
from the freewill of the reluctant farmers.
With all this arbitrary exercise of power,
he had to wait more than a week for only
ten horses, which was literally but a tithe
of the number demanded. At this disad
vantage, Washington was forced to con
tinue his march, over a country that was
mountainous and unsupplied with roads.
The men were obliged, in consequence
of the sorry condition of the horses im
pressed from the farmers, to put theii



shoulders constantly to the wheels of the
wagons, and assist them over the steep
passes and through the boggy soil. They
were not disheartened, however, and pro
ceeded bravely on their toilsome march,
until they reached Will s creek, now the
Cumberland river, where they found Cap
tain Trent. From him they learned that
lie had left his men under the command
of one Lieutenant Frazier, all well, and
hard at work in finishing the fort on the
Ohio. Washington was anxious to push
on ; but as Trent had failed to provide
the pack-horses expected, he was forced
to send and make another levy upon the
reluctant patriots of Winchester. As this
town was at a distance of forty miles, the
youthful colonel was obliged, much to his
dissatisfaction, to repress his impatience
to move. In the meantime, all uncer
tainty about the fate of the men at the
Ohio fork was settled by their appear
ance, on the 25th of April, at Will s creek,
loaded down with their working-tools, and
commanded by one Ensign Ward.

The cause of this unexpected arrival
was soon explained. While the men
only fifty in number, thirty-three of whom
alone were effective were busily en-
o-asred on the works of the fort, Monsieur

o O

Contrecceur suddenly made his appear
ance, at the head of a thousand men, and
well provided with artillery and other
means of attack. He had just come from
the fortified post of Venango, on the Al-
leghany, having floated his force down
that river, in sixty batteaux and three
hundred canoes. He now summoned En
sign Ward, who in the absence of Trent
and Frazier had been left in command,

to surrender, and gave him one hour in
which to give his answer. Ward was
perplexed, as in the absence of his supe
riors he hardly cared to take the respon
sibility of making any capitulation, how
ever urgent might appear its necessity.
In this dilemma, he consulted the Indian
half-king Tanacharisson, who was an ally
of the English, and happened at that time
to be in the fort. This wily old savage
suggested to Ward to plead want of au
thority, and to ask the French command
er to be polite enough to postpone the
affair for the present. The ensign fol
lowed the advice of his Indian counsel
lor; but Monsieur Contrecoeur was not
to be dissuaded from his purpose, and in
sisted more urgently than ever upon im
mediate surrender. There was no alter
native for Ward ; for what could he do,
with only thirty-three men able to bear
arms, and a half-built fort, against a thou
sand soldiers, and a whole park of artil
lery? The fort was accordingly given
up, the men being allowed to depart with
their tools. These were the visiters who
had arrived at Will s creek, and such the
story they had to tell of their adven

Washington, with his handful of men,
was sadly perplexed as to his movements.
The French greatly outnumbered him in
force, and had succeeded by liberal pres
ents in winning over to their side the
larger tribes of the Indian savages of the
wilderness. The French were, moreover
in daily expectation of receiving rein
forcements from Canada and their south
ern possessions ; and no less than six hun
dred warriors of the Chippewa and Otta-


[PART i.

\va nations were said to be making their
way to join the camp of Contrecoeur. All
that Washington could calculate upon, in
addition to his own small troop, were the
hundred and fifty men with the artillery
under Fry. These, however, might yet
be detained for a long time. As for Trent
and his men, no reliance could be put in
them. The captain himself was timid
and improvident, and his followers a set
of independent vagabonds, who, having
been enlisted as volunteers, exercised
their volition in doing nothing, and in
terfering with the general good discipline
of the troops.

Washington now called a council-of-
war, in which it was resolved to march
to Redstone creek, where the Ohio Com
pany had a post. It was proposed to pro
ceed thither, and, having encamped, to for
tify their position as best they could, un
til reinforcements should arrive, or some
expedient should suggest itself in the
course of events to extricate themselves,
or to justify action. Two Indians had
come into Washington s camp in compa
ny with Ensign Ward and his men. These
savages had been sent by Tanacharisson,
the chief of the western tribes of Indians,
who were friendly to the Virginians. The
two Indian warriors bore a speech, pledg
ing fidelity to the English, and a belt of
wampum as a symbol of friendship for
the governor. The wampum was for
warded, under the care of its Indian
bearer, to Dinwiddie ; and Washington
sent back the other Indian with a return
speech, in which he invoked the aid of
the half-king in council, and called upon
him to come down, in company with an

other sachem, and meet him at a certain
point on the road.

Washington s march began, but w r as
exceedingly toilsome and slow, as he was
obliged to make the road on which he
moved, not only for his own present pur
poses, but for the future passage of Fry s
artillery. He had sent some sixty men
in advance, several days before he set out
with the remainder of his whole force,
numbering, all told, only one hundred
and sixty. The advance party was soon
overtaken, as they had made but slow
progress in their labors. The rest of
Washington s men, on coming up, fell to
work also ; but, with all their combined
efforts, it was found that they could not
get on at the best with more than four
miles a day. It took them ten days to
reach Little Meadows, only twenty miles
from Will s creek, whence they had set
out. They, however, continued their la
borious undertaking, and labored day af
ter day, slaving (as Washington himself
describes it) through woods, rocks, and

They finally reached the river Yough-
ioney, where they were obliged to build
a bridge. While engaged in this work,
which was an affair of several days, some
friendly Indians entered the camp of
Washington. On hearing of his plan of
constructing a road over the mount
ains to Redstone creek, they remonstra
ted with him upon the impracticability
of such a work. He then, by their ad
vice, set out, in company with a guard
and an Indian guide, to try the practica
bility of the river-route. This was found,
however, so full of rocks arid shoals, and




so interrupted by rapids and falls, that it
was useless to attempt to navigate it with
boats sufficiently large for military pur
poses. Washington accordingly resolved
to continue his arduous land-route.

From day to day, as the Virginians
remained encamped on the banks of the
Youghioney, and were going on with
their work upon the bridge, Indian scouts
and white traders came in with every
variety of rumor in regard to the enemy.
Some told how the French commander
was building a strong fort at the fork of
the Ohio ; some reported that he had re
ceived large reinforcements from Canada,
and was preparing to come down the riv
er; others, however, declared that the
French were only eight hundred strong,
and that one half of them had been sent
out from the fort on a secret expedition,
the object of which was suspected to be
an attack upon the English.

This latter suspicion was confirmed by
a direct message from Tanacharisson, the
Indian chief, who said : " It is reported
that the French army is coming to meet
Major Washington. Be on your guard
against them, my brethren, for they in
tend to strike the first English they shall
see. They have been on their march two
days. I know not their number. The
half-king and the rest of the chiefs will
be with you in five days to hold a coun

This Avas information that could not
be disregarded, and Washington made
preparations to act in accordance. As
he was examining the neighborhood for
a proper position in which to entrench
his force, and to await the coming up of

the French, he heard that they had al
ready arrived within eighteen miles, and
were fording the very river upon the
banks of which the Virginians were at
that moment encamped. Washington
now decided at once upon his position,
which was at a spot called the Great
Meadows, and with which he was so
pleased, that in his journal he terms it
"a charming field for an encounter."
The space being cleared of its scattered
trees, long grass, and thick brushwood,
the Virginians were here encamped, and
protected by entrenchments. Although
scouts were sent out, who diligently
coursed the surrounding country, there
was no sign of an enemy. Washington s
men were, however, in a state of excited
expectation, and were prepared for an
attack at any moment. There were fre
quent alarms ; and on one occasion, in
the middle of the night, the sentinels
fired upon some men in the dark. Next
morning, it was discovered that six sol
diers had deserted.

All doubt now of the approach of an
enemy was removed by the arrival of an
Indian messenger, who reported that his
chief and some of his tribe had reached
the neighborhood, and were now only six
miles distant. The half-king sent word
that he had fallen in with the track of
Frenchmen, and did not doubt that they
were lurking near by, awaiting a good
chance to attack Washington and his par
ty. Washington now determined to go
at once, although it was night, to meet
his friend the half-king, and accordingly
started with forty men, and the Indian
messenger as guide, to the chief s lod^e



[PART i.

It was morning before Washington
reached the end of his journey, which, as
it was through a rough and unbroken
country, and during an unusually dark
night, with a heavy, pouring rain, was
necessarily tedious and fatiguing. The
half-king received Washington with a
warm welcome, and w r as ready to comply
at once with his plans. At his request,
Indian scouts were sent out, who soon
came back, with the report that they had
tracked the French to their encampment.

With these Indian scouts as his guides,
Washington now started with his forty
men, and accompanied by the Indian
chief Tanacbarisson and a small num
ber of his warriors. As they approached
the position of the enemy, Washington
drew up his men in single file to the
right, with himself at their head, and sent
the Indians to the left. As the object
was to take the French by surprise, the
force moved on in perfect silence, so that
their approach was not suspected until
they met face to face, within gunshot.
The French, though taken off their guard,
promptly sprang to their arms, and be
gan returning the fire of the Virginians.

Washington, at the head of his men,
had been the first to show himself from
behind the rocks and trees which con
cealed the path that led into the hollow
where the enemy was encamped. He
accordingly was exposed to the first and
hottest fire of the French ; one of his men
was killed by his side, and three wound
ed, at the first volley. There was not
much difference in the numbers of the
two opposing parties ; but the French,
taken at a disadvantage, w r ere forced to

give up the struggle, and took to their
heels. They w r ere immediately pursued
and overtaken, and about a score of pris
oners thus secured, whom Washington
had some difficulty in keeping out of the
merciless bands of his savage allies, who
w r ere eager to exercise their tomahawks
upon them for the sake of " a little blood
ying the edge of the hatchet," as the In
dian chief himself, in his broken English,
expressed it.

A young Frenchman, of the name of
Jumonville, the leader of the French par
ty, was killed at the first fire. As he was
much beloved, and was from his influen
tial connections of considerable social im
portance, his early death w r as the subject
of much expressed grief and remark. M.
do Villiers, who held a command under
De Contrecoeur, w r as the brother-in-law
of Jumonville, and, from his desire to
screen the memory of his young connec
tion, determined to give a complexion to
the affair in w T hich he was engaged that
is not at all borne out by the facts.

De Villiers and the French generally
declared that Jumonville was only sent
out as an embassador, to warn the Eng
lish from territory claimed by France ;
and that the attack upon him by Wash
ington was unjustifiable, and the fatal re
sult only deserved to be termed an assas
sination, as in fact it was termed in all
the French reports.

It might be enough for us to know that
the great and good Washington was an
actor in the affair, to denounce the French
statement as a base slander ; but we have,
in his own words, the true version of the
character of Jumonville s party, w T hich



settles the matter beyond any chance of
doubt. In his despatch to Governor Din-
vviddie, Washington says : " I doubt not
but they [the prisoners] will endeavor to
amuse you with many smooth stories, as
they did me ; but they were confuted in
them all, and, by circumstances too plain
to be denied, almost made ashamed of
their assertions.

" I have heard since they went away,
they should say, they called on us not to
fire ; but that I /mow to be fake, for I was
the first man that approached them and
the first whom they saw, and immediate
ly they ran to their arms, and fired brisk
ly till they were defeated. I fancy they
will have the assurance of asking the
privileges due to an embassy, when in
strict justice they ought to be hanged,
as spies of the worst sort"

They were spies undoubtedly, but they
may have been embassadors as well. It
seems, in fact, to have been the object of

Online LibraryRobert TomesBattles of America by sea and land. With biographies of naval and military commanders (Volume 01) → online text (page 5 of 126)