George Washington Papers

From George Washington to William Cocks and John Ashby, 10 October 1755

To William Cocks and John Ashby

Editorial Note

[10 October 1755]

In the summer of 1755, during Braddock’s expedition and after his defeat, Governor Dinwiddie issued a number of commissions for raising companies of rangers to patrol the Virginia frontier and offer some protection to its inhabitants. The ranger companies came under the command of GW in early September when he became colonel of the newly formed Virginia Regiment. These companies were never a part of the regiment itself, however, and they were disbanded in the summer of 1756. The first of the ranger companies authorized by Dinwiddie were those in Frederick and Hampshire counties. In late June while Braddock’s march to Fort Duquesne was underway, Thomas Bryan Martin and Lord Fairfax wrote Dinwiddie that Indians had killed several families in those two counties. After assuring himself of the assembly’s support, Dinwiddie sent up to Lord Fairfax officers’ commissions for two companies of rangers of 50 men each to be raised and to serve in Frederick and Hampshire.1 The assembly promptly voted £2,000 for the support of the rangers with the assumption that there would be three companies of rangers, one in Hampshire and two below in Augusta. Dinwiddie explained that he had already sent commissions to Martin and Fairfax to raise two companies in Hampshire and Frederick, the area of greatest danger. He would, however, instruct Col. James Patton, county lieutenant, to raise another company in Augusta, “where Captain [Andrew] Lewis now is, with Fifty Men of our Forces,” and put the company under the command of “old Capt. Smith.”2 Patton was murdered on 31 July on his return home; and in Augusta, after reconvening the assembly in the wake of Braddock’s defeat, Dinwiddie issued commissions for at least four new companies of rangers on the frontier: on 11 Aug. to John Smith for a company in Augusta in addition to “the Coy comanded by Capt. Preston”; to Nathaniel Terry on 13 Aug. for a company in Lunenburg County; to Samuel Overton on 14 Aug. for one in Hanover County, and on 20 Aug. to John Phelps for one in Bedford County.3 Exactly how many companies of rangers had in fact been raised by the time GW took command of all the Virginia forces at the beginning of September is uncertain;4 but in the days before GW took over, Dinwiddie more than once referred to his six companies of rangers, four (or five) in Augusta and two “ordered” in Hampshire and Frederick.5 Of the 24 rangers that Cocks listed as being in his company in mid-October, 9 had joined by 1 Sept., and Ashby reported that he recruited 6 of his 33 men in August and the remainder in September and October.

[Winchester, 10 October 1755]

To Captains Cocke6 and Ashby:7 of the two Companies of Rangers.

I received an Express as I was going to Williamsburgh, informing me of the Ravages committed by the Indians on the Back Inhabitants: upon which I rode post to this place, after ordering the Recruits from Fredericksburgh, Alexandria, &c. to Repair here, where I expect them every moment.8 So that I doubt not you will be encouraged by this to make a Stand, in case you are attacked or Besieged; as I hope very quickly to Relieve you, and make the Savages and French (who are no better) pay for their Presumption.

I have hired the Bearer to go to you in order to receive a particular account of your Situation, wants, &c. and I must desire you will be very explicit in reciting the Number, and Design of the Enemy.9

If their numbers are not large, from many concurring accounts, you ought to send out Parties to stop their progress, which the Timidity of the Inhabitants has been the cause of.

If it should so happen, that you are obliged to quit your Fort for want of Provisions, &c.

You are hereby positively ordered, to Retreat no farther than Joseph Edwards in Cacapehon:10 where you will be joined by other Parties as fast as they can be collected—I shall only add, that I wish you Success, and expect to hear you have; and will Behave consistently with your Character, as Relief is so near at hand. I am &c.



1See Dinwiddie to Lord Fairfax, and to Thomas Bryan Martin, both 4 July 1755, in 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 , 2:83–85; and Dinwiddie to Lord Fairfax, 14 Aug. 1755, ibid., 155–56.

2See entries for 7, 8 July 1755, 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 , 291, 292; 6 Hening description begins William Waller Hening, ed. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619. 13 vols. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends 465–66; Dinwiddie to Lord Fairfax, 10 Sept. 1754, in 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 , 1:313; Dinwiddie to Patton, 8 July 1755, ViHi: Dinwiddie Papers.

3Dinwiddie to Andrew Lewis, to John Smith, and to John Buchanan, all 11 Aug. 1755, ViHi: Dinwiddie Papers; Commission and Instructions for Terry, for Overton, and for Phelps, ibid.

4It is known that Captain Ashby had not yet succeeded in raising his in mid-August (Dinwiddie to Lord Fairfax, 14 Aug. 1755, ibid.).

5See for examples Dinwiddie to Sir Thomas Robinson, 20 Aug. 1755, to Robert Hunter Morris, 25 Aug. 1755, and to James Innes, 26 Aug. 1755, in 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 , 2:162–63, 164, 169–72, 172–74, 176–77.

6On 18 Sept. 1754 Dinwiddie instructed William Cocks of Winchester to provide goods for Indian presents and subsequently proposed that Cocks be the commissary’s deputy to secure provisions and wagons at Winchester for Braddock’s expedition. Cocks became captain of the 1st company of rangers at Winchester in July 1755. Shortly before GW arrived on 14 Sept. for his first visit to Winchester after taking command of the Virginia Regiment, Cocks left town with his rangers, who then numbered nine or more, to patrol the area around the headwaters of Patterson Creek above the South Branch of the Potomac. When GW issued these orders on 10 Oct., Captain Cocks was at the Middle Branch with his rangers to protect the terrified inhabitants there. See William Cocks’s company rolls, 21 Oct. 1755, and his journal, 8 Sept.—20 Oct. 1755, both in DLC:GW.

7John Ashby (1707–1789) and his rangers seem to have been in the vicinity of Patterson Creek when the Indians struck on 1 Oct. Until the rangers disbanded in the summer of 1756, both Ashby and Cocks continued to operate with their men between the South Branch of the Potomac and Fort Cumberland, Md., manning small forts on Patterson Creek, going on patrols, and escorting wagons to and from Cumberland. Ashby’s company of rangers was the second of those in Frederick and Hampshire counties for which Lord Fairfax issued Dinwiddie’s commissions of early July 1755. Ashby initially had little success in recruiting, but by 2 Oct. he had enlisted at least 28 rangers. There is no evidence that Ashby entered the Virginia Regiment after losing his ranger company, but he did participate in the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774 when he was well past the age of 60. For a full identification of John Ashby, see GW’s Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 1:6–7.

8For such orders, see particularly GW to Andrew Lewis and GW to Thomas Waggener, 8 Oct. 1755.

9GW got a letter from Captain Ashby on 13 Oct. reporting that the Indians “are gone off” (GW to Dinwiddie, 11–14 Oct. 1755). Ashby’s letter has not been found.

10Joseph Edwards (died c.1782), one of the earliest settlers in what is now Hampshire County, patented a 400–acre tract lying on both sides of the Cacapon River (Great Cacapon River), a tributary of the Potomac. By about 1748 he had built a strongly fortified house that served as a refuge for his neighbors during times of Indian unrest. By 1756 Edwards’s house, often called Edwards’s fort, served as one of the outposts for the Virginia troops guarding the frontier.

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