To John Stanwix
Mount Vernon 4th March 1758
My dear Collo.
Your favours of the 13th Jany and 24th Ulto with part of a Letter from Lord Loudoun was this day deliverd me;1 in the latter you condescend to ask my opinion of Major Smith: Is not his Plan a sufficient testimony of his Abilities? Can there be a better Index to the Man than his scheme for reducing the Enemy on Ohio? and his expeditious March of 1000 Men to Detroit? surely he intended to provide them first with Wings, to facilitate their Passage over so Mountainous & extensive a Country; else whence comes this Flight?
As I am unacquainted with the Navigation of those Rivers he purposes to traverse, so consequently, I cannot be a Competent judge of the Plausability of his Scheme; but the distance is so great, and that thrô an Enemy’s Country, (for we have too much Reason to believe the Indians on Ohio are Enemies to Us) that I must look upon it as a Romantick whim that may subsist in Theory, but must fail in practice; for if we are strong enough to attempt the Reduction of the Ohio what necessity is there for Our making such a Compass about, and leaving Fort Duquesne behind Us which is the Scource from whence proceeds all our Ills—and if we are too weak to attempt this place, what have we to expect by leaving it in Our Rear but absolute Destruction; while the French have the Indians at Command.
These Sir are my Sentiments on Major Smiths Plan—and in regard to the Person, if I have been rightly informd in the matter, he actually had a Commission to Command a Ranging Company and obtaind that Commission by making promises he never coud Comply with. He was judged by those better acquainted with him than I, to be quite unfit to Command even a Company; and lost the Blockhouse by suffering his Men to go from, and return to him at pleasure; which the Indians remarking, made their advantage of, and attack’d his Works when he was left in it with a very few Men, and unable to defend it—It is nevertheless agreed on all hands that he made a gallant defence, but I never heard of any Capitulation that was granted him.2
I have never had the pleasure of seeing Major Smith but have been favourd with a Letter from him wherein he politely professes some concern at hearing of my Indisposition, and not meeting with me at Winchester; but desires at the same time that I will attend him at his House in Augusta—about 200 Miles from this! or in Williamsburg by the 20th Instt when I suppose he intends to Honr me with his Orders.
I have never been able to return to my Command since I wrote to you last3—my disorder at times returning obstinately upon me in spight of the efforts of all the Esculapion Tribe I have yet had an oppertunity of trying—At times I have been reducd to great extremity, and have now some Reason to apprehend an approaching Decay being visited with several Symptoms of that Disorder4—I am under a strict Regimen, and shall set of to morrow for Williamsburg to receive the Advice of the best Physicians.5 My Constitution I believe has receivd great Injury, and as nothing can retrieve it but the greatest care, & most circumspect Conduct—As I now see no prospect of preferment in a Military Life—and as I despair of rendering that immediate Service which this Colony may require of the Person Commanding their Troops, I have some thoughts of quitting my Command & retiring from all Publick Business, leaving my Post to be filld by others more Capable of the Task; and who may perhaps, have their Endeavours crownd with better success than mine has been.6 Wherever I go, or whatever becomes of me I shall always feel the sincerest, & most affecte regard for you—and am Dr Sir Yr most Obedt & Obligd Hble Servt
ALS, CSmH; LB, DLC:GW; Copy, Scottish Record Office. A comparison of the text of the letter as printed here with the letter-book copy as printed in Fitzpatrick, Writings of Washington description begins John C. Fitzpatrick, ed. The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources, 1745–1799. 39 vols. Washington, D.C., 1931–44. description ends , 2:165–67, reveals something of the nature and extent of the changes that GW made for his copyist in the lost letter books. See the preface to volume 1 of Papers, Colonial Series description begins W. W. Abbot et al., eds. The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series. 10 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1983–95. description ends .
3. There seems to be no evidence that GW had written to Stanwix after writing the missing letter to which Stanwix refers in his letter of 13 Jan. 1758.
4. When Robert Stewart wrote Dinwiddie on 9 Nov. 1757 about GW’s illness he said that GW had suffered for three months with “a Bloudy Flux,” or dysentery. Consumption was sometimes called “Decay,” the sense in which GW appears to be using the word here.
5. Among the physicians GW consulted between January and March 1758 were Dr. John Sutherland of Fredericksburg, Dr. John Amson of Williamsburg, and a Dr. Brooke, probably Richard Brooke (1716–1783) of Prince Georges County, Md., a close friend of George William Fairfax (Ledger A description begins Manuscript Ledger Book 1, 1750-72, in George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends , 37–38).
6. GW left Mount Vernon on 5 Mar. and traveled by stages to Williamsburg, where on or about 18 Mar. Dr. John Amson assured him that he was on the mend. Shortly thereafter word arrived in the capital that Virginia troops would soon be used in a campaign to be led by Brig. Gen. John Forbes (see 21 Mar. 1758, Exec. Journals of Virginia Council description begins H. R. McIlwaine et al., eds. Executive Journals of the Council of Colonial Virginia. 6 vols. Richmond, 1925–66. description ends , 6:83–84). Whether or not it was news of the upcoming campaign that led GW to give up any thoughts of immediately resigning his commission, the young colonel was back in Mount Vernon by 1 April and on his way to Winchester to resume command of the Virginia Regiment by 2 April. Both on his way to and from Williamsburg, GW stopped at the White House in New Kent County, the residence of the young and wealthy widow Martha Dandridge Custis whom GW married in January 1759. GW records on 16 Mar. and 25 April having given Mrs. Custis’s servants 30 shillings (Ledger A description begins Manuscript Ledger Book 1, 1750-72, in George Washington Papers, Library of Congress. description ends , 38).