To William Fairfax
[Mount Vernon, 23 April 1755]
To The Honble Wm Fairfax Esqr.
I cannot think of quitting Fairfax2 without embracing this last oppertunity of bidding you farewell.
I this day set out for Wills Creek, where I expect to meet the
Genl,3 and to stay—I fear too long, as our March must be regulated by the slow movements of the Train, which I am sorry to say,
I think, will be tedious in advancing—very tedeous indeed—a nswerable to the expectation I have long conceivd , tho’ few believ’d.4
Alexandria has been honourd with 5 Governours in Consultation5—A
happy presage I hope, not only of the success of th is Expedition, but for our little Town ; for surely, such honours must have arisen from the Commodious, and pleasant situation of th is place, the best constitutional qualitys for Popularity, and encrease of a (now) flourishing Trade.
I have had the Honour to be introduced to the Governours; and of being well receiv’d by them all; especially Mr Shirley, whose Character and appearance has perfectly charmd me, as I think every word, and
every Action discovers something of the fine Gentn, and great Politician.6 I heartily wish such unanimity amongst us, as appeard to Reign between him and his Assembly; when they, to expidate the Business, and forward his journey here , sat till eleven, and twelve o’clock at Night s.7
It will be needless as I know your punctuality requires no
repetition’s , to remind you of an Affair abt which I wrote sometime ago—therefore, I shall only beg my compliments to Mr Nicholas and his Lady,8 and to all Friends who think me worthy of their enquirys. I am Dear Sir Yr most Obedient Servt
LB (original), DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW.
1. William Fairfax was probably attending the spring session of the general court which had begun in Williamsburg on 10 April. Fairfax was a member of the governor’s council, and the general court was composed of the council with the governor acting as presiding officer.
2. Fairfax County.
3. GW’s departure may have been delayed until the next day. See GW to Augustine Washington, 14 May 1755. John Alton, his white body servant, accompanied him on this journey, and John Augustine Washington apparently went with them as far as the Bullskin plantation, which, with Mount Vernon, GW now entrusted to his care. Most of Braddock’s troops began marching toward Wills Creek between 9 and 12 April, some through Virginia and some through Maryland. The general set out from Alexandria for Wills Creek by way of Frederick, Md., on 20 April.
4. The artillery train sent from England for Braddock’s army consisted of four 12–pound cannon, six 6–pound cannon, four 8–inch howitzers, and fifteen Coehorn mortars plus a large quantity of shot, shells, powder, and auxiliary equipment. Convinced that it would be necessary to lay siege to Fort Duquesne, Braddock wished to take not only this whole train to the Monongahela River but four more 12–pounders and extra ammunition borrowed from one of Commodore Keppel’s warships. Keppel, although cheerfully cooperating with Braddock in this matter, expressed “very strong doubts” to the Admiralty in a letter of 14 Mar. 1755. He feared “that these additional Guns to the Train, will prove so heavy that they will meet with great, and perhaps unsurmountable, difficulties in getting them over the Mountains” (Bonner-Smith, Barrington Papers description begins D. Bonner-Smith, ed. The Barrington Papers. 2 vols. London, 1937–41. description ends , 1:118–19, n.1). To assist the artillerymen, Keppel assigned 3 midshipmen and 30 seamen experienced in using block and tackle to Braddock for as long as he should need them. Braddock’s more immediate concern, however, was finding the wagons, horses, and forage needed to move the artillery out of Alexandria. “I have met with infinite Difficulties in providing Carriages &c for the Train,” he wrote to Robert Napier on 19 April, the day before he left Alexandria, “nor am I as yet quite reliev’d from one, a great part still continuing here which has delay’d me for some time; I shall get them dispatch’d tomorrow or the next day” (Pargellis, Military Affairs in North America description begins Stanley Pargellis, ed. Military Affairs in North America, 1748–1765: Selected Documents from the Cumberland Papers in Windsor Castle. 1936. Reprint. Hamden, Conn., 1969. description ends , 81–84). The main body of the train did not begin leaving Alexandria until 8 days later, a severe disappointment to Braddock who had hoped to march from Wills Creek by the end of April and reach Fort Duquesne before the French could reinforce it. Keppel’s 12–pounders were apparently left behind, but the detachment of seamen stayed with the army.
5. Governors Shirley, De Lancey, and Morris arrived at Annapolis 11 and 12 April 1755 and on the afternoon of 12 April set out for Alexandria with Governor Sharpe to join General Braddock, Commodore Keppel, and Lieutenant Governor Dinwiddie for their delayed conference. See GW to Robert Orme, 2 April 1755. Discussions apparently began the next day. By 17 April when the visiting governors left town on their return journeys home, they had agreed on concerted attacks against four major areas of French encroachment, all “to be executed as near as might be about the same time” (William Shirley to Sir Thomas Robinson, 20 June 1755, in Lincoln, Shirley Correspondence description begins Charles Henry Lincoln, ed. Correspondence of William Shirley: Governor of Massachusetts and Military Commander in America, 1731-1760. 2 vols. New York, 1912. description ends , 2:195–205). Plans previously developed by Shirley for attacking French forts in Nova Scotia and at Crown Point, N.Y., were approved. Braddock asked the Massachusetts governor to lead his and Pepperrell’s regiments against Niagara, which Shirley “express’d the greatest Readiness” to do (Braddock to Robert Napier, 19 April 1755, in Pargellis, Military Affairs in North America description begins Stanley Pargellis, ed. Military Affairs in North America, 1748–1765: Selected Documents from the Cumberland Papers in Windsor Castle. 1936. Reprint. Hamden, Conn., 1969. description ends , 81–84). Braddock was to attack Fort Duquesne with his troops, and if successful in driving the French from the Ohio Valley, he was to join Shirley at Niagara. It was also agreed that Col. William Johnson of New York, who accompanied the northern governors to Alexandria, should be entrusted with the important task of courting the favor of the Six Nations and their allies. Johnson was also to be given command of the Crown Point expedition. These plans, which corresponded closely to the king’s instructions, pleased Braddock. He was discouraged to learn, however, that none of the governors had been able to persuade their assemblies to join in establishing a common military fund, as the ministry desired, or to appropriate more than modest sums for the support of his operations. Although the governors promised to try again, they held out little hope for success until the king’s ministers found “some Method of compelling them [the assemblies] to do it, and of assessing the several Governments in Proportion to their respective abilities their Shares of the whole Money.” Braddock resigned himself to drawing more heavily than anticipated on the contingency fund that his superiors in London had provided him (Council minutes, 14 April 1755, in Pa. Arch., Col. Rec. description begins Colonial Records of Pennsylvania. 16 vols. Harrisburg, 1840–53. description ends , 6:365–68).
6. The Massachusetts governor also made a favorable impression on Braddock, who wrote Sir Thomas Robinson on 19 April 1755, “I have the greatest opinion of his Integrity and Zeal for His Majesty’s Service” (P.R.O., C.O. 5/46, ff. 19–27). Overlooked apparently was Shirley’s lack of military experience in the field.
7. The Massachusetts General Court met according to Governor Shirley’s call on 25 Mar. 1755. It passed several measures needed to complete his arrangements for the Crown Point and Nova Scotia expeditions before adjourning on 29 Mar. Shirley, who delayed his departure from Boston until this important business was accomplished, began his journey south the next day.
8. Robert Carter Nicholas (1729–1780), like GW, became one of the leaders of the Revolutionary generation in Virginia. He was at this time a young lawyer in Williamsburg. His wife since 1751, Anne Cary Nicholas, was the sister of Sally Fairfax to whom GW was so strongly drawn and who was William Fairfax’s daughter-in-law. No letter from GW to Fairfax more recent than that of 11 Aug. 1754 has been found.