George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Adam Stephen, 18 November 1755

To Adam Stephen

Fredericksburg Novr 18th 1755.


I came to this place on Sunday last and intended to proceed immediately up, but receiving your’s,1 and other Letters contradicting the reports lately transmitted, determined me to go to Alexandria where I shall wait a few days in hopes of receiving the express from General Shirley, who the Govornor sent to for Commission’s for the Field Officer’s.2

I beg that you will be particularly careful in seeing that strict Order is observd among our Soldiers, as that is the Life of Military discipline—We now have it in our Power to enforce obedience, and obedience will be expected from us, the Men being subject to death as in the Military Law:3 The Country4 have also offer’d a reward to all who will apprehend deserters, and a severe punishment upon those that shall entertain, or suffer them to pass; also upon any constable who refuses to convey them to their Quarter’s,5 or suffer’s them to Escape after such deserter is committed to their custody: these things, with the Articles of War, and a proper exhortation I would have you immediately read to the Men; and see that it is frequently done hereafter. I must desire that you will use all possible mean’s to facilitate the Salting our Provisions; and to give the Commissary such assistance of Men &ca as he shall reasonably require: The Governor approves of the Committee’s resolve, in not allowing either the Maryland or Carolina Company’s to be supported out of our Provision’s this you are desird to make them acquainted with, and in case either of the Companys should be discharged to use your utmost endeavour’s to enlist so many of their Men as you can. Lieutt McManus has leave to go to carolina if he desires it. The Assembly wou’d make no alteration in the Militia Law,6 nor woud the Govornor order them to be draughted to compleat our Regiment; so that the slow method of Recruitg is likely to be our only means to raize the Men. I think, coud a brisk Officer and two or three Sergeants be sent among the Militia station’d on the So. Branch, they would have a probable chance of engaging many, as some seemd Inclinable in Winchester to enlist7—Doctr Craik is expected round to Alexandria in a Vessel with Medicines, and other Stores for the Regiment; so soon as he arrives I shall take care to dispatch him to you.8

The Colos. Bird and Randolph are appointed Commissioners, and will set out very shortly with a present &ca to the Country of the Cherokees in order to engage them to our Interest9—We have advices that the King return’d to London from Hanover on the 26th of September, that War was Proclaimed the 29th, and that we have already taken 5 of their Men of War and 120 Sail of Merchen⟨t⟩ Men—a bold stroke by Jove—a glorious beginning—and I hope presages our future Sucess—The Man of War mention’d in my last is not yet arrivd thô hourly expected; it is said (tho. I can’t believe it the King not being arrivd when this ship left England) that she has Commission’s for us: another Ship of War was said to be dispatch’d to America immediately upon the declaration so that I have Sanguine expectation’s we soon shall receive them if they are not already on their way.10 I am encouragd to hope this as all the Publick Prints, private Letters, and Gentlemen from England say; that the behaviour of the Virginia Troops is greatly extold, and meets with public praises in all the Coffee Houses in London. Yea they exceed the bound of probability (which I am sorry for) by saying in the London Magazine for August, that 800 Virginians maintaind an unequal fight against 1600 French and Indians for three hour’s after the Regular’s fled. The Generals conduct is much condemn’d and the acct further says—it is not to be wonderd that those Regiments shoud act so scandalously here when their behaviour reflected such dishonour on their Country at the Battle of PrestonPan’s.11 I am Sir Yr most Hble Servt

Go: Washington

By return of the express that brings this, I desire to have a return of the Troops with any occurrances & the News that may have happend.

ALS, DLC: Adam Stephen Papers; LB, DLC:GW. GW’s letter-book copy of the letter ends with the first sentence of the third paragraph, beginning “The Colonels Bird and Randolph.” Otherwise, there are no material differences between the two copies; the two relatively significant differences are noted in notes 4 and 5 below.

2The day after GW’s arrival in Williamsburg on 3 Nov. with renewed protests about Marylander John Dagworthy’s using his disputed royal commission as captain to set “up a Right to Comd over the Field Officers in the Pay of this Domn,” Dinwiddie wrote William Shirley to urge that he “grant a Brevate Como. of Colo. to Geo. Washington Esqr, & of Lt Colo. to Mr Adam Stephens & one for Major to Mr Andrew Lewis” (ViHi: Dinwiddie Papers). For more on Captain Dagworthy’s status, see Stephen to GW, 4 Oct. 1755, and especially note 6.

3GW began insisting as early as 20 Aug. 1754 to Dinwiddie that discipline in the Virginia Regiment suffered because Virginia’s military forces were subject to regulations like those of the colony’s militia rather than regulations patterned after the code that governed the British army. GW’s letter of 8 Oct. 1755, expanded upon in his letter of 11 Oct., confirmed for Dinwiddie the urgency of the matter; and when he called the assembly into session on 27 Oct. he demanded legislation to tighten military discipline and suppress desertion. Shortly before ending the session and dissolving the assembly on 8 Nov., Dinwiddie signed an act which provided that court-martials composed of nine regimental officers could impose the death sentence on men in the regiment found guilty of mutiny, desertion, and disobedience. The act also included other provisions to deal with desertions. It was entitled “An Act to amend an act, intituled, An Act for amending an act, intituled, An Act for making provision against invasions and insurrections” (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 559–64). See also Dinwiddie to GW, 18 Oct. 1755.

4“Country” is changed to “Assembly” in the letter book.

5In the letter book “their Quarter’s” becomes “the Company or Troop to which they belong.”

6Although Dinwiddie in his message to the House of Burgesses on 27 Oct. referred to the militia law as being “deficient,” he made no proposal for its amendment (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 , 319–20).

7Stephen’s letter to GW of 4 Oct. telling of the measures he had taken in the wake of the Indian raids indicates that only Capt. William Vance of the Frederick County militia had come up. Soon thereafter, however, drafts of militia from Fairfax and Prince William were on their way to the South Branch of the Potomac, where the “late murders” had taken place (Maryland Gazette [Annapolis], 6 Nov. 1755), and by 18 Oct. more than 250 militiamen from these two counties and Culpeper had arrived in Winchester on their way to the South Branch. Two months later, on 22 Dec., Lt. John Campbell of the Virginia Regiment “returnd from Recruiting on the Branch—without the least Success” (Stephen to GW, 23 Dec. 1755).

9Dinwiddie’s commission to Col. William Byrd III and Col. Peter Randolph, members of the provincial council, to go as “Commissioners to the Catawba and Cherokee Natns of Indians” with “full Power & Authority to conclude & settle a firm Treaty of Peace and Friendship” was dated 23 Dec. 1755 (ViHi: Dinwiddie Papers); but they did not leave for nearly 2 months and did not return until about 10 May 1756.

10He was misinformed in his “advices” and doomed to disappointment in his “expectation’s.” The H.M.S. Seaford arrived on 20 Nov., having stopped in Boston en route.

11This reference to the British troops at the Battle of Prestonpans came not from the London Magazine but from the August issue of the Gentleman’s Magazine (London). The account in the magazine of the fight between the Virginians and the French and Indians, however, does not correspond exactly with the information given here, nor does it put any blame on General Braddock for the defeat.

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