Account by George Washington and James Mackay of the Capitulation of Fort Necessity
Williamsburg 19 July 1754
The third of this Instant July, about 9 o’Clock, we received Intelligence that the French, having been reinforced with 700 Recruits, had left Monongehela, and were in full March with 900 Men to attack us. Upon this, as our Numbers were so unequal, (our whole Force not exceeding 300)1 we prepared for our Defence in the best Manner we could, by throwing up a small Intrenchment, which we had not Time to perfect, before our Centinel gave Notice, about Eleven o’Clock, of their Approach, by firing his Piece, which he did at the Enemy, and as we learned afterwards killed three of their Men, on which they began to fire upon us, at about 600 Yards Distance, but without any Effect: We immediately called all our Men to their Arms, and drew up in Order before our Trenches; but as we looked upon this distant Fire of the Enemy only as an Artifice to intimidate, or draw our Fire from us, we waited their nearer Approach before we returned their Salute. They then advanced in a very irregular Manner to another Point of Woods, about 60 Yards off, and from thence made a second Discharge; upon which, finding they had no Intention of attacking us in the open Field, we retired into our Trenches, and still reserved our Fire; as we expected from their great Superiority of Numbers, that they would endeavour to force our Trenches; but finding they did not seem to intend this neither, the Colonel gave Orders to fire, which was done with great Alacrity and Undauntedness.2 We continued this unequal Fight, with an Enemy sheltered behind the Trees, ourselves without Shelter, in Trenches full of Water, in a settled Rain, and the Enemy galling us on all Sides incessantly from the Woods, till 8 o’Clock at Night, when the French called to Parley:3 From the great Improbability that such a vastly superior Force, and possessed of such an Advantage, would offer a Parley first, we suspected a Deceit, and therefore refused to consent that they should come among us; on which they desired us to send an Officer to them, and engaged their Parole for his Safety; we then sent Capt. Van Braam, and Mr. Peyronee, to receive their Proposals,4 which they did, and about Midnight we agreed that each Side should retire without Molestation, they back to their Fort at Monongehela, and we to Wills’s Creek: That we should march away with all the Honours of War, and with all our Stores, Effects and Baggage.5 Accordingly the next Morning, with our Drums beating and our Colours flying, we began our March in good Order, with our Stores, &c. in Convoy; but we were interrupted by the Arrival of a Reinforcement of 100 Indians among the French, who were hardly restrained from attacking us, and did us considerable Damage by pilfering our Baggage.6 We then proceeded, but soon found it necessary to leave our Baggage and Stores; the great Scarcity of our Provisions obliged us to use the utmost Expedition, and having neither Waggons nor Horses to transport them. The Enemy had deprived us of all our Creatures; by killing, in the Beginning of the Engagement, our Horses, Cattle, and every living Thing they could, even to the very Dogs. The Number of the Killed on our Side was thirty, and seventy wounded; among the former was Lieutenant Mercier, of Captain Maccay’s independant Company; a Gentleman of true military Worth, and whose Bravery would not permit him to retire, though dangerously wounded, till a second Shot disabled him, and a third put an End to his Life, as he was carrying to the Surgeon.7 Our Men behaved with singular Intrepidity, and we determined not to ask for Quarter, but with our Bayonets screw’d, to sell our Lives as dearly as possibly we could. From the Numbers of the Enemy, and our Situation, we could not hope for Victory; and from the Character of those we had to encounter, we expected no Mercy, but on Terms that we positively resolved not to submit to.
The Number killed and wounded of the Enemy is uncertain, but by the Information given by some Dutch in their Service to their Countrymen in ours, we learn that it amounted to above three hundred;8 and we are induced to believe it must be very considerable, by their being busy all Night in burying their Dead, and yet many remained the next Day; and their Wounded we know was considerable, by one of our Men, who had been made Prisoner by them after signing the Articles, and who, on his Return told us, that he saw great Numbers much wounded and carried off upon Litters.
We were also told by some of their Indians after the Action, that the French had an Officer of distinguishable Rank killed.9 Some considerable Blow they must have received, to induce them to call first for a Parley, knowing, as they perfectly did, the Circumstances we were in.
Virginia Gazette (Williamsburg), 19 July 1754. The newspaper account is preceded by the following paragraph: “On Wednesday [17 July] last arrived in Town, Colonel George Washington and Captain James Maccay, who gave the following Account to his Honour the Governor, of the late Action between them and the French, at the Great Meadows in the Western Parts of this Dominion.”
1. The morning return of the Virginia Regiment for 1 July 1754 showed 259 men and officers present and fit for duty, 3 absent, 1 sick, and a lieutenant with 26 men “on Command” (DLC:GW). On 1 Aug. Captain Mackay’s company totaled 98 men (DLC:GW). According to Stephen’s autobiography, the men “fit for duty under Command of Col. Washington amounted to 284” (PPL: Rush Papers).
2. According to Landon Carter’s diary, GW’s strategy at this point was circumvented by “the Cowardice of his next Officer,” Lt. Col. George Muse, for “instead of bringing up the 2d division to make the Attack with the first, he marched them or rather frightened them back into the trenches, so that the Colo. at the head of the Carolina Independent Company was greatly exposed to the French Fire and were forced to retire to the same trenches, where they were galled on All sides by 1,100 French and Indians who never came to an Open ground but fired from behind trees” (Greene, Landon Carter Diary description begins Jack P. Greene, ed. The Diary of Colonel Landon Carter of Sabine Hall, 1752–1778. 2 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1965. description ends , 1:110–12). Muse was specifically omitted from the list of officers thanked by the House of Burgesses for participation in the Fort Necessity campaign (JHB, 1752–1755, 1756–1758 description begins H. R. McIlwaine and John Pendleton Kennedy, eds. Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia. 13 vols. Richmond, 1905–15. description ends , 198).
3. There are several contemporary accounts of the battle. Volunteer John Shaw of the Virginia Regiment reported that as the French approached the for the English “were drawn up before the French but did not fire, the French still keeping at a Distance. They then turned of to a Point of Wood that lay very near our Men upon which our Men went into their little Intrenchments upon which the French made a general Discharge, but our Men having kept up their Fire their Indians were thereby encouraged to advance out of the Wood, and show themselves pritty near where our Men lay. Upon which Col. Washington gave the Word to fire which was accordingly done and many of the Indians were killed, our People having two swivel Guns which were discharged at the same Time. After this neither French nor Indians appeared any more but kept behind Trees firing at our Men the best part of the Day, as our People did at them. . . . The French were at that Time so near that many of our People were wounded” by bullets striking the fort (McDowell, S.C. Indian Affairs description begins William L. McDowell, Jr., ed. Documents relating to Indian Affairs. 2 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1958-70. In Colonial Records of South Carolina, 2d ser., vols. 2–3. description ends , 5). Col. James Wood of Winchester left the following account: “June 16. Sund. Colo. Washington contrary to the advice of the half King marched from Fort Necessity with the Virga Companys intended to the Mouth of Red Stone Creek from thence to attack the F. Fort. Capt. McCay with the Carolina Independt Company remained at F. Necess. marched to Guess’s house Eleven mingos from the F. Fort who pretended to be friends. were there or came to them also the half King and King Shingus with Eight Delawares Field officers and Indians Sat in Council 3 days the Captains not permitted to be at the Council Lewis was detached with a Lieut. an Ensign two Corporals and 54 men Ordered to Clear a Road from Guess’s House to the mouth of Red Stone Polson detached with 26 men to go to the Dunchars [Dunkers] Ordered to Build Canoes and to bring Corn down Monangala to the mouth of Red Stone. Escub⟨ap⟩ was heard to say how glorious it would be to take the F.F. without the assistance of Cap. McCay. remained with Washington. abt 130 men. Monagototha arrived Informed Washington that he with 60 Indians were marching to him and were Stopt by the French and retained in the F.F. that the French were reinforced with 700 men and intended immediately to attack them that he made his Escape in the night. on this they got together all the Rails on Guss’s pla⟨ ⟩ and made a Hog pen fort surrounded with standing Trees and Commanding ground Sent to call in the parties and for Capt. MacCays Comp. he marched all night and Joined them. a Council of War called the Captains admited for the first time. agreed to Retreat to Fort neces. the men obliged to haul the great Guns Saturday arrived at F. Necessity. Monday and Tuesday imployed in geting Logs to enlarge the fort Wed. morn. 3 July about 9 oClock, an Indian arrived informed them the French and Indians were within 4 miles. in the greatest Confusion fell to diging Trenches[.] abt 11. We drew up on the parade saw the French and Indians coming down a hill We marched to take possession of a Point of Woods Muse called to halt the French would take possession of Our Fort and Trenches ran back in the utmost Confusion happy he that could get into the Fort first The french Firing at 600 yds dist. got possession of the Trees and Commanding ground in a Semi Circle. kept a Constant firing till dark then beat a Parley” (Notebook of James Wood, 1749–1757, ViWnHi). Adam Stephen’s two accounts agree substantially with Shaw’s, although there are minor discrepancies (PPL: Benjamin Rush Papers; Maryland Gazette [Annapolis], 29 Aug. 1754). Dinwiddie’s report to the Board of Trade, 24 July 1754, is based on GW’s and Mackay’s report and corresponds to the account in the Virginia Gazette (Brock, Dinwiddie Papers description begins R. Alonzo Brock, ed. The Official Records of Robert Dinwiddie, Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony of Virginia, 1751–1758. 2 vols. Richmond, 1883–84. description ends , 1:239–43). Villiers described in his journal the French attack on the fort: “As we had no Knowledge of the Place, we presented our Flank to the Fort, when they began to fire upon us; and almost at the same Time, I perceived the English on the Right, in order of Battle, and coming towards us. The Indians, as well as ourselves, set up a great Cry, and advanced towards them; but they did not give us Time to fire upon them, before they sheltered themselves in an Intrenchment, which was adjoining to their Fort: After which, we aimed to invest the Fort, which was advantageously enough situated in a Meadow, within a Musket Shot from the Woods. We drew as near them as possible, that we might not expose his Majesty’s Subjects to no Purpose. The Fire was very brisk on both Sides, and I chose that Place which seemed to me the most proper, in Case we should be exposed to a Sally. We fired so smartly, as to put out (if I may use the Expression) the Fire of their Cannon with our Musket-Shot. Towards Six at Night, the Fire of the Enemy increased with more Vigour than ever, and lasted until Eight. We briskly returned their Fire. We took particular Care to secure our Posts, to keep the English fast up in their Fort all Night; and after having fixed ourselves in the best Position we could, we let the English know, that if they would speak to us, we would stop firing” (“The Journal of M. de Villiers,” Memorial Containing a Summary View of Facts description begins [Jacob Nicolas Moreau]. 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, 1757. description ends , 99–100). Additional details are included in the version of Villiers’s journal in Papiers Contrecoeur description begins Fernand Grenier, ed. Papiers Contrecœur et autres documents concernant le conflit anglo-français sur l’Ohio de 1745 à 1756. Quebec, 1952. description ends , 196–202.
4. La Péronie was severely wounded either while on the parlay or shortly thereafter, leaving Van Braam with the responsibility for translating the terms of surrender. See Document II. Villiers described in his journal the circumstances under which the terms of surrender were offered by the French: “They accepted the Proposal. There came a Captain to the Place where I was: I sent M. le Mercier to receive him, and I went to the Meadow, where I told him, that as we were not at War, we were very willing to save them from the Cruelties to which they exposed themselves, on Account of the Indians; but if they were stubborn, we would take away from them all Hopes of escaping; that we consented to be favourable to them at present, as we were come only to revenge my Brother’s Assassination, and to oblige them to quit the Lands of the King our Master; and we agreed to grant them the Capitulation. . . . We considered, that nothing could be more advantageous than this Capitulation, as it was not proper to make Prisoners in a Time of Peace. We made the English consent to sign, that they had assassinated my Brother in his own Camp. We had Hostages for the Security of the French who were in their Power; we made them abandon the King’s Country; we obliged them to leave us their Cannon, consisting of nine Pieces; we destroyed all their Horses and Cattle, and made them to sign, that the Favour we granted them, was only to prove, how desirous we were to use them as Friends. That very Night the Articles of Capitulation were signed, and the two Hostages I had demanded, were brought to my Camp” (“The Journal of M. de Villiers,” Memorial Containing a Summary View of Facts description begins [Jacob Nicolas Moreau]. 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, 1757. description ends , 100–101).
5. As Adam Stephen pointed out, GW had little option but to surrender, and the fact that the French were willing to offer terms was “no disagreeable News to us, who had received no Intelligence of the Approach of our Convoys or Reinforcements, and who had only a Couple of Bags of Flour and a little Bacon left for the Support of 300 Men.” Most of the arms were out of order, and the powder was wet from exposure to the incessant rain. “But what was still worse, it was no sooner dark, than one half of our Men got drunk” (Maryland Gazette, 29 Aug. 1754). The men had broken into the fort’s liquor supply. According to GW’s later testimony on the capitulation of the fort to the French, he “absolutely refused their first and second proposals and would consent to capitulate on no other terms than such as we obtained.” See Document III. This indicates that at least some verbal negotiation took place before the written version of the capitulation, carried by Van Braam, was delivered to the British lines. For the articles of capitulation, see Document II. On the first visit to the French lines, Van Braam and La Péronie were apparently informed that the French were to be reinforced by the next morning with 400 Indians who were about 12 miles away and that if the fort had not capitulated by that time it would not then be possible for the French to grant quarter (McDowell, S.C. Indian Affairs description begins William L. McDowell, Jr., ed. Documents relating to Indian Affairs. 2 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1958-70. In Colonial Records of South Carolina, 2d ser., vols. 2–3. description ends , 5).
6. The baggage was not removed without incident. Adam Stephen noted with some braggadocio that while he was ordering his men for the march out of the fort, his servant warned him that “a Frenchman has Carried off your Cloaths—Stephens looking Round, observed the Corner of his Port Manteau on a frenchman shoulder, he running into the Crowd—Stephens pursued & over took him seizd the port manteau, kickd the fellows back side & Returnd. Upon seeing this two french officers, observed to Stephens that [he] had struck the Man & behave[d] so, they could not be answerable for the Capitulation. Stephen damnd the Capitulation, & swore they had Broke it already.” The French officers asked the powder-blackened Stephen if he was an officer, whereupon the major opened his portmanteau and put on a “flaming suit of lacd Regimentals.” The French officers then suggested that the British should have demanded hostages as well as giving them—“they were very desirous of going to Virginia, as they understood there were a great many Belles Mademmoiselle there” (PPL: Rush Papers).
7. Peter Mercier of South Carolina was commissioned a lieutenant in an independent company in 1747.
8. GW’s inflated estimates of the French casualties were echoed by other British sources. Villiers stated in his journal, however, that his losses amounted to 2 men killed, 17 seriously wounded, and a “number so slightly wounded, as to have no Occasion for the Surgeon” (“The Journal of M. de Villiers,” Memorial Containing a Summary View of Facts description begins [Jacob Nicolas Moreau]. 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, 1757. description ends , 101).
9. Villiers’s journal does not mention such a loss.