George Washington Papers

III., 1757


To ——



I am really sorry, that I have it not in my power to answer your request in a more satisfactory manner. If you had favored me with the journal a few days sooner, I would have examined it carefully, and endeavoured to point out such errors as might conduce to your use, my advantage, and the public satisfaction; but now it is out of my power.

I had no time to make any remarks upon that piece, which is called my journal.1 The enclosed are observations on the French notes. They are of no use to me separated, nor will they, I believe, be of any to you; yet I send them unconnected and incoherent as they were taken, for I have no opportunity to correct them.

In regard to the journal, I can only observe in general, that I kept no regular one during that expedition; rough minutes of occurrences I certainly took, and find them as certainly and strangely metamorphosed; some parts left out, which I remember were entered, and many things added that never were thought of; the names of men and things egregiously miscalled; and the whole of what I saw Englished is very incorrect and nonsensical; yet, I will not pretend to say that the little body, who brought it to me, has not made a literal translation, and a good one.

Short as my time is, I cannot help remarking on Villiers’ account of the battle of, and transactions at, the Meadows, as it is very extraordinary, and not less erroneous than inconsistent. He says the French received the first fire. It is well known, that we received it at six hundred paces’ distance. He also says, our fears obliged us to retreat in a most disorderly manner after the capitulation. How is this consistent with his other account? He acknowledges, that we sustained the attack warmly from ten in the morning until dark, and that he called first to parley, which strongly indicates that we were not totally absorbed in fear. If the gentleman in his account had adhered to the truth, he must have confessed, that we looked upon his offer to parley as an artifice to get into and examine our trenches and refused on this account, until they desired an officer might be sent to them, and gave their parole for his safe return. He might also, if he had been as great a lover of the truth as he was of vainglory, have said, that we absolutely refused their first and second proposals, and would consent to capitulate on no other terms than such as we obtained. That we were wilfully, or ignorently, deceived by our interpreter in regard to the word assassination, I do aver, and will to my dying moment; so will every officer that was present. The interpreter was a Dutchman, little acquainted with the English tongue, therefore might not advert to the tone and meaning of the word in English; but, whatever his motives were for so doing, certain it is, he called it the death, or the loss, of the Sieur Jumonville. So we received and so we understood it, until, to our great surprise and mortification, we found it otherwise in a literal translation.2

That we left our baggage and horses at the Meadows is certain; that there was not even a possibility to bring them away is equally certain, as we had every horse belonging to the camp killed or taken away during the action; so that it was impracticable to bring any thing off, that our shoulders were not able to bear; and to wait there was impossible, for we had scarce three days’ provisions, and were seventy miles from a supply; yet, to say we came off precipitately is absolutely false; notwithstanding they did, contrary to articles, suffer their Indians to pillage our baggage, and commit all kinds of irregularity, we were with them until ten o’clock the next day; we destroyed our powder and other stores, nay, even our private baggage, to prevent its falling into their hands, as we could not bring it off. When we had got about a mile from the place of action, we missed two or three of the wounded, and sent a party back to bring them up; this is the party he speaks of. We brought them all safe off, and encamped within three miles of the Meadows. These are circumstances, I think, that make it evidently clear, that we were not very apprehensive of danger. The colors he speaks of as left were a large flag of immense size and weight; our regimental colors were brought off and are now in my possession. Their gasconades, and boasted clemency, must appear in the most ludicrous light to every considerate person, who reads Villiers’ journal; such preparations for an attack, such vigour and intrepidity as he pretends to have conducted his march with, such revenge as by his own account appeared in his attack, considered, it will hardly be thought that compassion was his motive for calling a parley. But to sum up the whole, Mr. Villiers pays himself no great compliment in saying, we were struck with a panic when matters were adjusted. We surely could not be afraid without cause, and if we had cause after capitulation, it was a reflection upon himself.3

I do not doubt, but your good nature will excuse the badness of my paper, and the incoherence of my writing; think you see me in a public house in a crowd, surrounded with noise, and you hit my case. You do me particular honor in offering your friendship; I wish I may be so happy as always to merit it, and deserve your correspondence, which I should be glad to cultivate.

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 , 2:463–65. The original manuscript of this letter has not been located, and the Sparks version is undated and unaddressed. It is possible that GW wrote the letter to the historian William Smith (1727–1803) of Philadelphia. Internal evidence also suggests that GW wrote the letter in March or April 1757 after James Chattin announced in the Pennsylvania Gazette (Philadelphia) on 3 Mar. 1757 his intention to publish a translation of the French Mémoire described in note 1. On 10 Nov. 1757 Smith wrote GW: “I have not been unmindful of the Papers you sent relating to the French Memorial, & you would have seen proper use made ⟨of⟩ them before now, if they had not been designed to be inter⟨mutilated⟩ in the general History of the present war” (DLC:GW).

1The manuscript for GW’s journal of the 1754 campaign was among the papers lost by GW at the surrender of Fort Necessity. In 1756 the French government published it as document VIII in a pamphlet entitled Mémoire contenant le précis des faits, avec leurs pièces justificatives pour servir de réponse aux observations envoyées par les ministres d’Angleterre, dans les cours de l’Europe. For a detailed discussion of GW’s journal, see the editorial note to his diary, 31 Mar.–27 June 1754 (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 1:162–73). Most of the statements to which GW takes exception in this letter are contained in “The Journal of M. de Villiers,” which appears as document IX in the Mémoire. See also Document I above, nn.3, 4, for quotations from this journal.

2See note 4 to editorial note above. Van Braam was widely censured in Virginia for his role in translating the articles of capitulation. Landon Carter claimed “that Rascal Vanbraam . . . a poor juggling Servant” had deliberately mistranslated the articles, and Van Braam was omitted from the list of officers thanked by the House of Burgesses for their part in the Fort Necessity campaign. If Van Braam did indeed inaccurately translate the articles of capitulation to the colonial officers, it was hardly done deliberately. The Virginians obviously overestimated Van Braam’s competency in English. When he was questioned by French officials in Montreal in Oct. 1756, Van Braam requested that the interrogation be conducted in French which he understood “mieux que la langue anglaise” (Archives de Quebec). Anger in Virginia subsided during Van Braam’s years in captivity, and upon his return Van Braam received 9,000 acres of land as an officer in the Virginia Regiment as well as a commission in the Royal American Regiment.

3Villiers wrote in his journal that “at Break of Day, I sent a Detachment to take Possession of the Fort; the Garrison filed off, and the Number of their Dead and Wounded, moved me to Pity, notwithstanding my Resentment for their having in such a Manner, taken away my Brother’s Life. The Indians, who had obeyed my Orders in every Thing, claimed a Right to the Plunder; but I opposed it: However, the English being frightened, fled and left their Tents, and one of their Colours. I demolished their Fort, and M. le Mercier ordered their Cannon to be broken; as also the one granted by Capitulation, the English not being able to carry it away. I hastened my Departure, after having bursted the Casks wherein was their Liquor, to prevent the Disorders which would have certainly happened” (“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).

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