George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Joshua Fry, 23 May 1754

To Joshua Fry

[Great Crossing of the Youghiogheny, Pa.]
23 May, 1754


This day I returned from my discoveries down the Youghiogany, which, I am sorry to say, can never be made navigable.1 We traced the watercourse near thirty miles, with the full expectation of succeeding in the much desired aim; but, at length, we came to a fall, which continued rough, rocky, and scarcely passable, for two miles, and then fell, within the space of fifty yards, nearly forty feet perpendicular.

As I apprehended there would be difficulty in these waters, I sent the soldiers forward upon the road, when I left the camp, which was as soon as they could cross; therefore, no time has been lost; but the roads are so exceedingly bad, that we proceed very slow.

By concurring intelligence, which we received from the Indians, the French are not above seven or eight hundred strong, and by a late account we are informed, that one half of them were detached in the night, without even the Indians’ knowledge, on some secret expedition; but the truth of this, though it is affirmed by an Indian lately from their fort, I cannot yet vouch for, nor tell where they are bound.2

I would recommend, in the strongest terms possible, your writing to the Governor for some of the treaty goods, or any others suitable for the Indians. Nothing can be done without them. All the Indians that come expect presents. The French take this method, which proves very acceptable; besides, if you want one or more to conduct a party, to discover the country, to hunt, or for any particular service, they must be bought; their friendship is not so warm, as to prompt them to these services gratis; and that, I believe, every person, who is acquainted with the nature of Indians, knows. The Indian, that accompanied me down the river, would go no further than the Forks, about ten miles, till I promised him a ruffled shirt, which I must take from my own, and a watch-coat.3 He said the French always had Indians to show them the woods, because they paid well for so doing; and this may be laid down as a standing maxim amongst them. I think were the goods sent out, and delivered occasionally, as you see cause, that four or five hundred pounds’ worth would do more good, than as many thousands given at a treaty.

I hope I may be excused for offering my opinions so freely, for I can aver we shall get no intelligence, or other services from them, unless we have goods to apply to these uses. I am, &c.

Sparks, Writings of Washington description begins Jared Sparks, ed. The Writings of George Washington; Being His Correspondence, Addresses, Messages, and Other Papers, Official and Private, Selected and Published from the Original Manuscripts. 12 vols. Boston, 1833–37. description ends , 2:21–24.

1GW left camp at the Great Crossing on 20 May. His journal account of the 3–day exploration of the Youghiogheny is in Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 1:190–91.

2This Indian may have been the spy dispatched to Fort Duquesne by Adam Stephen while on his reconnaissance expedition for GW. See GW to Dinwiddie, first letter, 18 May 1754, n.4. Reluctant to return to GW without any report on French activities, Stephen “pitched upon a person that in five days brought him the most Satisfactory & Accurate Acct of every thing at Fort Du Quesne. . . . Stephens was amazed at so great an Accuracy, & it immediatly enterd into his head; that the fellow had got five pounds of him, for the Scout, and that probably he had Recvd as much of the French for informing them of his Strength & Situation—This occasiond as quick a Return to Meet Washington as possible” (PPL: Benjamin Rush Papers). Additional information on the French fort came from two Indians who arrived in camp on 17 May (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 1:188).

3A watchcoat is a military overcoat. In the original document the word may have been matchcoat, a coat worn by the Indians; originally composed of skins, it was later made to the same pattern in fabric.

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