George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Adam Stephen, 1 August 1756

From Adam Stephen

Fort Cumberland [Md.] August 1st 1756


It appears to me that the Works unanimously agreed to here in Consequence of the Assemblys Resolution cannot be Carried on untill more of the Draughts come up; The present disposion will never answer.

Mr Milner cannot afford an Escort to Capt. McKenzie, He divided, cannot furnish one as far as Ensign Thompson’s. At Sellars plantation are XVIII f. f. D. I have wrote to Capt. Waggener to send the men belonging to this garrison, but Imagine he has been prevented by parties of the Enemys about1—I have omitted sending a monthly return in case of Accident;2 we want thirty of our Complemt & have Nineteen Sick. These Circumstances considered, makes it appear to me preposterous, to build in so many different places when we cannot keep the Communication open, nor maintain to advantage the Works already raisd.

The resolve to build the Chain, has certainly been Consequent to a Resolution of the House determining a Certain number of men, but as that has unhappily fail’d; The other must of Course; and cannot be Expected. It was upon a Supposition of the Draughts arrival, or of the Continuance of the Militia on the Frontiers, that I gave my Opinion relating to erecting Forts.3 The Militia has brought disgrace upon our Arms and are in a great measu[re] useless, but could have defended a Fort, whilst the Regimt or Rangers, went in pursuit of the Enemy.

Unless such a body of men are kept together at any of the Forts as can spare a Detachmt to cope with any party of the Enemy we cannot Protect the Inhabitants, nor Answer the end intended by raising Troops. Such Petty Divisions Invite the Enemy to watch and hang about, well knowing that after weakening them by picking up some straglers, they have a chance for reducing the Whole.

They show themselves by way of Bravado at the Small garrisons as they pass & repass to destroy the Inhabitants, and as this insulting Behaviour escapes with impunity, it increases their insolence and demonstrates that Forts without a Sufficient number of men to defend them & Scour the Country about, are a useless Burthen to the province; whereas were there a Body of men in them, from which a Detachmt could be Constantly out, we would take off a number of the Enemy, & it would be impossible for them to get below us with impunity, to Annoy the Inhabitants. We are entirely out of Rum, Wine & several medicines, a List of which I have desird Mr Johnston to send to Docr Craik, which I beg you’ll please to order up as soon as possible.4 I have been obligd to send Mr Feint to Ashbys where five men are ill of a fever that prevails there. Parties of the Enemy are Constantly about, one of about 20 Encamp’d latly within half a mile of The Fort; near the place where the Picket of the Left was posted last year. I have the honour to be, Sir, your most Obt huble Servant

Adam Stephen


1Nathaniel Milner was the ensign in Robert Spotswood’s company, one of the companies GW ordered down on 12 July from Fort Cumberland to join Thomas Waggener on the South Branch. Robert McKenzie and his company were at Cocks’s fort on Patterson Creek. McKenzie was for the moment under orders (13 July 1756) to escort “all Waggons, Expresses, &c.” between Ashby’s fort, which was downstream from Cocks’s on the road to Fort Cumberland, and Job Pearsal’s place, which was on the South Branch along the road to Winchester from Cocks’s fort. Nathaniel Thompson was in Capt. Henry Harrison’s company at Fort Cumberland; he may have been stationed with a detachment near the fort in the direction of Ashby’s. Charles Sellers’s plantation on Patterson Creek near the Potomac was the site of Ashby’s fort. For a clue to what Stephen was driving at here, see his letter to GW of 25 July 1756 in which he complained that the detachment of militia at Ashby’s fort “absolutely refusd to Escort the Express” to Fort Cumberland. On 5 Aug. GW decided that David Bell’s company and McKenzie’s company should divide the responsibility for providing escorts to and from Fort Cumberland and Joseph Edwards’s place on the Cacapon River. See GW to Robert McKenzie, 5 Aug. 1756.

2The entire letter seems to have been written with an eye to the possibility of its being intercepted, which may be the reason for the cryptic “XVIII f. f. D.” For GW’s reference to exchanges of letters between him and Stephen designed to mislead the enemy, see GW to Dinwiddie, 27 April 1756, n.4.

3It may be that Stephen expressed his support of the plan to build a chain of forts in a letter to GW which has not been found, but it seems more likely that Stephen was referring to a conversation that he held with GW during GW’s stay at Fort Cumberland, c.5–15 July 1756.

4Mr. Johnston was probably Robert Johnston (d. 1763), a volunteer, or cadet, in the Virginia Regiment, who later served as a surgeon in William Byrd’s 2d Virginia Regiment. He became a lieutenant in the 1st Virginia Regiment before its dissolution in 1762.

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