William Chambers.

Chambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) online

. (page 30 of 58)
Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 30 of 58)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

the defence of the colony ; but the manner in which the vote was
made was very displeasing to the loyal governor. ' I am sorry,' he
wrote to the Earl of Holdernesse, 'to find the colonists very much
in a republican way of thinking.'

A respectable militia force was nevertheless raised. An English-
man, Colonel Fry, was appointed to the first command, and Wash-
ington was named his second, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel.
While the governor and Colonel Fry were engaged in trying to
recruit the army by appeals to the colonists, and by holding out
bounties in land to such as would enlist, Colonel Washington, with
three small companies, was sent to occupy an outpost in the very-
line in which the French were advancing. It was destined that the
first battle in the war should be fought by him. Hearing that the
French had succeeded in obtaining possession of the British fort
at the Ohio fork, and that a party was approaching in the direction
of his post, he deemed it advisable to advance himself into the
wilderness ; and on the 27th of May 1754, meeting a party of fifty
French soldiers under the command of M. de Junonville, an action
ensued, in which Junonville and ten of his men were killed, and
twenty taken prisoners. Only one of Washington's men was killed,
and two or three wounded. As war had not yet been formally
declared, the importance of this skirmish was greatly magnified both
in France and Great Britain, and Washington did not escape blame.
In France, the death of Junonville was pronounced to be nothing
else than a murder in cold blood ; and it was even made the subject
of a heroic poem, in which Washington did not appear to advantage.
Nor does the transaction appear to have been regarded with more
favour in England, if we may believe the following passage in
Horace Walpole's Memoirs of George the Second, written not long
after the event. 'In the express which Major Washington despatched
on his preceding little victory,' says Walpole, 'he concluded with
these words : " I heard the bullets whistle, and believe me, there is
something charming in the sound." On hearing of this, the king
said sensibly : " He would not say so if he had been used to hear
many." However,' adds Walpole, ' this brave braggart learned to
blush for his rhodomontade.' A gentleman once asked Washington



whether he ever used the expression attributed to him. ' If I said
so,' replied Washington, ' it was when I was young.'

Colonel Fry dying when on his way to join the army, the command
devolved on Washington ; for although Colonel Innes, a Scotchman,
was appointed, he never assumed the office. Washington was
involved in great difficulties, owing to the complaints of the officers
and men, whom an ill-timed parsimony deprived of part of theii
pay. Doing his best, however, to preserve order among his men,
amounting now to upwards of 300 militia, and about 150 regulars
under Captain Mackay, he continued the campaign. Fearing that
a French force would advance from Fort Duquesne and overpower
him, he withdrew to the Great Meadows, nearer the inhabited parts
of the colony. Here, his men being fatigued by the labour of trans-
porting the guns and baggage, and there being a scarcity of pro-
visions, he resolved to intrench himself, and wait for reinforcements.
Accordingly, a fort was built, called Fort Necessity. Unexpectedly,
the fort was besieged by a French force amounting to nearly 900
men ; and after some resistance, Washington was obliged to capitu-
late on honourable terms, and retreat to Wills's Creek. So skilful,
however, was his conduct on this occasion, that he and his little
army received the thanks of the House of Burgesses.

Governor Dinwiddie had now conceived some scheme for organis-
ing the militia on what he considered a better footing ; but as this
scheme had the effect of reducing Washington to the rank of a
captain, and not only so, but of making him inferior in that rank
to captains bearing the king's commission, he resigned his command,
and retired from the army. ' If you think me capable of holding a
commission which has neither rank nor emolument annexed to it,'
was the answer he gave to Governor Sharpe of Maryland, who had
solicited him to remain in the army, ' you must entertain a very con-
temptible opinion of my weakness, and believe me to be more empty
than the commission itself.' He therefore passed the winter of 1754-5
in retirement. In the spring of 1755, however, General Braddock
landed in Virginia with two regiments of soldiers from Great Britain,
and Washington was prevailed on to join him as aide-de-camp,
retaining his former rank. ' I may be allowed,' he said, ' to claim
some merit, if it is considered that the sole motive which invites me
to the field is the laudable desire of serving my country, not the
gratification of any ambitious or lucrative plans.'

The unfortunate issue of Braddock's expedition is well known.
Having, by means of the vigorous exertions of Benjamin Franklin,
then postmaster-general of the provinces, been provided with 150
wagons, and the number of horses requisite to transport his cannon
and baggage a piece of gratuitous labour on Franklin's part, which
Braddock, in his letter to the English ministry, complaining of the
inactivity of the colonial authorities, speaks of as being ' the only
instance of address and integrity he had seen in the provinces '


he marched westward to attack Fort Duquesne, and finally, as he
thought, expel the French from the British territory. The march
was rough and difficult, and Braddock consulted Washington as to
the best mode of proceeding. ' I urged him,' says Washington,
' in the warmest terms I was able, to push forward, if he even did
it with a small but chosen band, with such artillery and light stores
as were necessary, leaving the heavy artillery and baggage to follow
with the rear division by slow and easy marches.' This advice
prevailed ; the army was divided into two, General Braddock leading
the advanced division of 1200 men, and Colonel Dunbar bringing
up the rest more leisurely. During the march, Washington was
seized with a violent fever, which detained him several days. When
he rejoined General Braddock on the evening of the 8th of July,
the troops were on the banks of the Monongahela, within fifteen
miles of Fort Duquesne. In approaching the fort, it was necessary
to cross the river twice, and march part of the way on the south
side. ' Early on the morning of the 9th,' writes Mr Sparks, ' all
things were in readiness, and the whole train passed through the
river a little below the mouth of the Youghiogany, and proceeded
in perfect order along the southern bank of the Monongahela.
Washington was often heard to say during his lifetime, that the most
beautiful spectacle he had ever beheld was the display of the British
troops on this eventful morning. Every man was neatly dressed
in full uniform, the soldiers were arranged in columns, and marched
in exact order, the sun gleamed from their burnished arms, the river
flowed tranquilly on their right, and the deep forest overshadowed
them with solemn grandeur on their left. Officers and men were
equally inspirited with cheering hopes and confident anticipations.'
They had just crossed the river a second time, and were ascending a
wooded acclivity on their way to the fort, when suddenly they were
attacked and thrown into confusion by two heavy discharges of
musketry from an unseen enemy. Alarmed and bewildered, the
troops did not know what to do ; they fired at random into the
woods, and huddled together in disorderly masses, shrinking from
the deadly discharges which were poured in from the right and the
left simultaneously. For three hours this unequal combat continued,
the Indians and French taking deliberate aim from the ravines in
which they were concealed, the British firing upon each other in
their confusion and desperation. The carnage was terrible : more
than half the men were either killed or wounded. Out of eighty-
six officers, six were killed and thirty-seven wounded ; and General
Braddock himself received a wound which proved mortal. During
the battle, Washington exposed himself with the most reckless
bravery, riding about in every direction, and giving the general's
orders a conspicuous mark for the enemy's bullets. ' By the all-
powerful dispensations of Providence,' he wrote in a letter to his
brother after the battle, ' I have been protected beyond all human
57 9


probability or expectations ; for I had four bullets through my coat,,
and two horses shot under me ; yet I escaped unhurt, although death
was levelling my companions on every side of me.'

The failure of this expedition was the subject of universal conver-
sation for a long time afterwards, and many were the reproaches cast
out against the memory of the ill-fated Braddock. Washington was
the only person engaged in the affair who derived honour from it.
It was proved that he had given General Braddock advice which
had been neglected; in particular, that he had insisted on the neces-
sity of sending out Indian scouts to precede the army; and it was
entirely owing to his bravery and presence of mind that the remains
of the army were enabled to cross the river and effect a retreat.
Wherever, therefore, the unfortunate battle of the Monongahela
was spoken of, Washington's name was mentioned with honour.
In the meantime, having no permanent commission in the army,
he had retired to Mount Vernon, which, by the death of his late
brother's child, had now become his own property. Here he employed
himself assiduously in fulfilling his duties as adjutant-general of
the district. The attention of the whole colony, however, was turned
to him, and he was not allowed long to live in retirement. Such
was the military ardour which had been excited in all classes by
General Braddock's defeat, that the language of war and patriotism
was even heard from the pulpit. The clergy preached sermons
stimulating the martial spirit of their congregations ; and one
sermon preached at that time became memorable afterwards. It
was in a sermon preached by the Rev. Samuel Davies before a
volunteer company, that a reference was made to Washington,
which made a deep impression then, and was often quoted afterwards
as prophetic. Speaking of the courage displayed by the Virginia
troops, the preacher used these words : ' As a remarkable instance
of this, I may point out to the public that heroic youth, Colonel
Washington, whom I cannot but hope Providence has hitherto
preserved in so signal a manner for some important service to his
country.' This was but the common feeling of the colony; and it
was in accordance with this feeling that, the legislature having
made a grant of 40,000 to be employed in fresh military prepara-
tions, Washington was requested to assume the chief command of
the Virginia forces. Before accepting this command, he made
several stipulations ; ' among others, that he should possess a voice
in choosing his officers, and that there should be a better system
of military regulations, more promptness in paying the troops, and
a thorough reform inducing activity and method in all the depart-
ments for procuring supplies.'

Elected in the autumn of 1755, Washington continued in his
command nearly three years. It is unnecessary, and it would be
tedious, to give a detailed account of all that he was engaged in
during that period. Suffice it to say, that the qualities he was


required to exercise during that time were those for which he was
all his life remarkable prudence, patience, resolution, self-denial,
and strict attention to order and method. As the tardiness and
inactivity of the colonial authorities in all matters connected with
the military service, obliged him to confine his operations to such as
were merely defensive, he had not so many opportunities of signal-
ising himself as a successful general in the field. The skill, however,
which he thus acquired in conducting a defensive war, was of vast
consequence to him afterwards. He kept his command till the
close of the campaign of 1758, when, the great object of the war
having been accomplished by the re-occupation of the Ohio, he
resigned his commission, and again retired to Mount Vernon, carry-
ing with him the good wishes of the army, and the esteem of the
whole colony.


In 1755, Washington, while on a visit to New York, had a second
slight attack of the tender passion. The object this time was a
Miss Mary Phillips, the sister of the wife of one of his most intimate
friends. Forced at length to leave New York, without making any
declaration of his affections, Miss Phillips married Captain Morris,
one of Washington's associates in Braddock's expedition. It was
not till 1758, when he had reached his twenty-seventh year, that
Washington fairly yielded to female charms. This time the object
was Mrs Martha Custis, a beautiful, accomplished, and very wealthy
young widow, with two children, between whom and herself her late
husband's property was equally divided. To this lady Washington
was married, on the 6th of January 1759.

The next fifteen years of Washington's life were spent in fulfilling
the duties of private life, which were not small, considering that they
included the managing of an extensive property, and in attending
to those other duties of a public nature which devolved upon him, in
consequence of his election as a member of the House of Burgesses
of Virginia.

Washington's estate, like every other property in Virginia, was
cultivated by negro slaves ; and, according to the feelings of the
time and place, he does not appear to have considered that the
keeping of men in a state of degrading bondage was any way
criminal or improper a circumstance which one has cause to regret
in estimating the benevolence and conscientiousness of his character.
In his diary for 1760, the following passages respecting his rural
occupations occur : ' February 5. Visited my plantations, and
found, to my great surprise, Stephens constant at work. Passing
by my carpenters that were hewing, I found that four of them viz.,
George, Tom, Mike, and young Billy, had only hewed one hundred
and twenty feet yesterday from ten o'clock. Sat down, therefore,


and observed Tom and Mike, in a less space than thirty minutes,
clear the bushes from about a poplar stock, line it ten feet long, and
hew each his side twelve inches deep. Then letting them proceed
their own way, they spent twenty-five minutes more in getting the
cross-cut saw, standing to consider what to do, sawing the stock off
in two places, putting it on the blocks for hewing it square, and
lining it. From this time till they had finished the stock entirely,
required twenty minutes more, so that in the space of one hour and
a quarter they each of them, from the stump, finished twenty feet of
hewing. From hence it appears very clear, that, allowing they work
only from sun to sun, and require two hours at breakfast, they ought
to yield each his one hundred and twenty-five feet while the days
are at their present length, and more in proportion as they increase.
While this was doing, George and Billy sawed thirty feet of plank ;
so that it appears that, making the same allowance as before (but
not for the time required in piling the stock), they ought to saw one
hundred and eighty feet of plank It is to be observed, that this
hewing and sawing, likewise, were of poplar ; what may be the
difference, therefore, between the working of this wood and others,
some future observations must make known.' March 26. ' Spent
the greatest part of the day in making a new plough of my own
invention.' March 18. 'The lightning, which had been attended
with a good deal of rain, had struck my quarter, and about ten
negroes in it ; some very badly injured, but with letting blood, they

Several interesting details of his ordinary habits as a planter are
given by his biographer, Mr Sparks. Tobacco was the staple pro-
duct of his plantations : the greater part of his produce he sent to
the London market ; but he occasionally consigned smaller quantities
to correspondents in Liverpool and Bristol. It was then the practice
of the Virginia planters to import directly from London all the
articles which they required for common use ; and accordingly,
'twice a year, Washington forwarded lists of such articles to his
agent, comprising not only the necessaries and conveniences for
household purposes ploughs, hoes, spades, scythes, and other
implements of agriculture ; saddles, bridles, and harness for his
horses but likewise every article of wearing apparel for himself and
the different members of his family, specifying the names of each,
and the ages of Mrs Washington's two children, as well as the size,
description, and quality of the various articles. In an order sent to
his tailor in London, he describes himself as "six feet high, and
proportionably made ; if anything, rather slender for a person of
that height ;" and adds, that his limbs were long. In exact measure,
his height was six feet three inches. He required the agent through
whom he sent these orders to send him, in addition to a general bill
of the whole, the original vouchers of the shopkeepers and mechanics
from whom purchases had been made. So particular was he in


these concerns, that for many years he recorded with his own hand,
in books prepared for the purpose, all the long lists of orders and
copies of the multifarious receipts from the different merchants and
tradesmen who had supplied the goods. In this way he kept a
perfect oversight of the business, ascertained the prices, could detect
any imposition, mismanagement, or carelessness, and tell when any
advantage was taken of him even in the smallest matter, of which,
when discovered, he did not fail to remind his correspondents the
next time he wrote.'

Washington, while thus intent on agricultural pursuits, did not
withdraw himself from general society. ' He was a frequent visitor
at Annapolis, the seat of government in Maryland, renowned as the
resort of the polite, wealthy, and fashionable. At Mount Vernon,
he returned the civilities he had received, and practised on a large
and generous scale the hospitality for which the southern planters
have ever been distinguished. When he was at home, a day seldom
passed without the company of friends or strangers at his house.'
During his occasional visits to Williamsburg and Annapolis, he
frequently attended the theatre ; and at home, his principal amuse-
ment was the chase. He used, at the proper season, to ' go out
three or four times a week with horses, dogs, and horns, in pursuit
of foxes, accompanied by a small party of gentlemen, either his
neighbours or visitors at Mount Vernon.'

As a landed proprietor, Washington had to take part in many
kinds of local business. His neighbours used frequently to ask his
assistance in settling disputes, or advising them in matters of import-
ance, and his sagacity and judgment in such affairs gave him a
strong and extensive influence. Being a vestryman of Truro parish,
in which he resided, parochial affairs occupied much of his attention.
The clergyman of the parish used to tell the following story of him
in his capacity as vestryman. The church being old and ruinous,
it was resolved to build a new one, and several meetings of the
parishioners were held to determine on the site. At length the
parishioners divided into two parties, one insisting that the new
church should be built on the site of the old one, the other insisting
on its being built in a more central situation. The conservatives
appeared to have the majority; and when, at a final meeting, Mr
George Mason, a friend and neighbour of Washington, and an
influential man in the colony, made an eloquent speech about not
deserting a spot hallowed by so many venerable associations, and in
which the bones of their fathers were buried, such was the effect,
that it seemed the resolution to adhere to the old site would be carried
without a dissenting voice. At this critical moment Washington
rose up, and taking from his pocket a plan of Truro parish, in which
were marked the two disputed sites, and the positions of the houses
of all the parishioners, spread it out before them, bidding them forget
Mr Mason's eloquent speech, and attend to the difference of the


distances they would have to travel in going to church, as exhibited
by the map. The result was, that the new site was agreed on.

Washington was punctual in the discharge of his duties as a
member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. It is related that when
he took his seat, the speaker, in compliance with a vote of the house,
rose up to return him the thanks of the colony for his distinguished
military services, and did so in such complimentary terms, that when
Washington rose to acknowledge the honour, he blushed, trembled,
stammered, and was unable to utter a single syllable. ' Sit down.
Mr Washington,' said the speaker; 'your modesty equals your
valour, and that surpasses any power of language that I possess.'
Washington made it a point of conscience to be present at almost
every sitting. He spoke very seldom, but attended carefully to all
the proceedings ; and when he did speak, it was with a thorough
understanding of the matter in hand, and strictly to the point. ' It
is not known,' says his biographer, ' that he ever made a set speech,
or entered info a stormy debate.' He was one of those who derive
their influence in public assemblies, not from their eloquence, but
from their sagacity and the soundness of their judgment. It was
owing to this, perhaps, that Washington's name was not so often
mentioned as those of other colonists in the early stage of the dispute
between the colonies and the mother-country. It has even been
argued from the same circumstance, that Washington's sentiments
did not at first agree with those of the leaders of the American
revolution. But the fact is, that, from the very beginning, he
belonged to the party of Henry, Randolph, and Lee, although, like
them, he long believed it possible that the rupture between England
and the colonies might be healed. He spoke in terms of decided
hostility to the Stamp Act, calling it an ' unconstitutional method of
taxation, and a direful attack on the liberties of the colonies.'

The struggle was approaching its crisis. In March 1773, Lord
Dunmore, who had succeeded Lord Botecourt as governor of Virginia,
prorogued the unmanageable House of Burgesses. A few days after
the session of 1774 had commenced, the intelligence reached the
colony of the act which the English parliament had passed, shutting
up the port of Boston. The excitement was immense, and on the
24th of May, the House of Burgesses passed an order appointing
the 1st of June (the day on which the act of the English parliament
relative to the port of Boston was to take effect) to be observed as ' a
day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer, devoutly to implore the
divine interposition to avert the heavy calamity' which seemed
impending over the colony. In consequence of this order, the house
was next day dissolved by Lord Dunmore. A large number of the
members immediately met in the Raleigh tavern, constituted them-
selves into an association, and threw out a public recommendation
to enter into a correspondence with the other provinces, for the
purpose of convening a general congress of deputies from all the


thirteen British colonies in America. This idea of a general congress
had been suggested by Franklin the previous year.

On the 1st of August 1774, deputies from the various counties of
Virginia met at Williamsburg, and constituted themselves a conven-
tion. This convention named the following seven persons as repre-
sentatives of the colony of Virginia in the congress about to be held
Peyton Randolph, Richard Lee, George Washington, Patrick
Henry, Richard Bland, Benjamin Harrison, and Edmund Pendleton.

On the 5th of September these seven persons met at Philadelphia
with the deputies appointed by eleven of the other colonies ; namely,
New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New
Jersey, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, North
Carolina, and South Carolina. Such was the celebrated first con-
tinental congress, which now assumed the direction of affairs. Their
proceedings consisted principally in drawing up humble petitions to

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 30 of 58)