To Sarah Cary Fairfax
Camp at Rays Town 25th Septr 1758
Do we still misunderstand the true meaning of each others Letters? I think it must appear so, thô I woud feign hope the contrary as I cannot speak plainer without—but I’ll say no more, and leave you to guess the rest.1
I am now furnishd with News of a very Interesting nature, I know it will affect you but as you must hear it from others I will relate it myself. The 12th past then Major Grant with a chosen Detachment of 800 Men Marchd from our advancd Post at Loyal Hannan against Fort Du quesne. On the Night of the 13th he arrivd at that place, or rather upon a Hill near to it; from whence went a Party and viewd the Works, made what observation’s they coud, and burnt a Log’d House not far from the Walls—Egg’d on rather than satisfied by this Success, Major Grant must needs Insult the Enemy next Morning by beating the Reveille in different places in view, this causd a great Body of Men to Sallie from the Fort & an obstinate Engagement to ensue, which was maintaind on Our side with the utmost efforts that bravery coud yield, till being overpower’d and quite Surrounded they were obligd to Retreat with the loss of 22 Officers killd and 278 Men besides wounded.
This is a heavy blow to our Affairs here, & a sad stroke upon my Regiment, that has lost out of 8 Officers and 168 that was in the Action, 6 of the former killd & a 7th Wounded—and 62 of the latter killd besides wounded. Among the Slain was our dear Major Lewis; this Gentleman as the other Officers also did, bravely fought while they had life, tho. wounded in different places. Your old acquaintance Captn Bullett, who is the only Officer of mine that came of untouchd, has acquird immortal honour in this Engagement by his gallant behaviour and long continuance in the field of Action. It might be thought vanity in me to praise the behaviour of my own People were I to deviate from the report of common Fame. but when you consider the loss they have sustaind, and here that every Mouth resounds their praises, you will believe me Impartial.
What was the great end proposd by this attempt, or what will be the event of its failure, I cant take upon me to determine; it appears however (from the best Accts) that the Enemy lost more Men than we did in the Engagement—Thus it is The Lives of the brave are often disposd of—but who is there that does not rather Envy, than regret a Death that gives birth to Honour & Glorious memory.2
I am extremely glad to find that Mr Fairfax has escap’d the Dangers of the Siege at Louisburg.3 Already have we experienced greater Losses than our Army Sustaind at that place, and have gaind not one obvious Advantage.4 So miserably has this Expedition been managd, that I expect after a Months further Tryal, and the loss of many more Men by the Sword, Cold, and Perhaps Famine, we shall give the Expedition over as Impracticable this Season and retire to the Inhabitants condemnd by the World, and derided by our Friend. I shoud th⟨ink⟩ my time more agreable spent believe me, in playing a part in Cato with the Company you mention, & myself doubly happy in being the Juba to such a Marcia as you must make.5
Your agreable Letter containd these words. “My Sisters & Nancy Gist who neither of them expect to be here soon after our return from Town, desire you to accept of their best Complimts &ca.” Pray, are these Ladies upon a Matrimonial Scheme? Is Miss Fairfax to be transformd into that charming Domestick—a Martin—and Miss Cary to a Fare.—What does Miss Gist turn to—A Cocke—that can’t be, we have him here.6
One thing more and then have done. you ask if I am not tird at the length of your Letter? No Madam I am not, nor never can be while the Lines are an Inch assunder to bring you in haste to the end of the Paper. You may be tird of mine by this. Adieu dear Madam, you possibly will hear something of me, or from me before we shall meet. I must beg the favour of you to make my Compliments to Colo. Cary & the Ladies with you, & believe that I am most unalterably Yr Most Obedt & Oblig’d
ALS (facsimile), in George Washington Letters from the Collection of Frederick S. Peck (Barrington, R.I., n.d.)
3. The great French bastion at Louisburg on Cape Breton Island fell to the forces of Gen. Jeffrey Amherst at the end of July 1758. At this time, William Henry Fairfax held a commission in Col. Philip Bragg’s 28th Regiment of Foot, which took part in the Cape Breton operation.
4. GW is here referring to Grant’s losses in the engagement near Fort Duquesne on the fourteenth.
5. Joseph Addison’s Cato, a tragedy in five acts written in blank verse and first performed at Drury Lane in 1713, was greatly admired in Britain’s American colonies before the Revolution. Marcia was the daughter of Cato, and Juba was the Prince of Numidia who had to hide his unacceptable love for Marcia. Marcia and Juba have two scenes together in the play. In the first (act 1, scene 5) Marcia sends Juba to war against Caesar, and in the second (act 4, scene 3) Marcia, believing Juba to be dead, declares her love for him in his hearing. In the first of these scenes, Juba at one point says:
O Marcia, let me hope thy kind Concerns
And gentle Wishes follow me to Battle!
The Thought will give new Vigour to my Arms,
Add Strength and Weight to my descending Sword,
And drive it in a Tempest on the Foe.
And he ends his final speech in the second of these scenes with this couplet:
Juba will never at his Fate repine;
Let Cæsar have the World, if Marcia’s mine.
The quotation is taken from a 1750 edition printed in London.
6. As it happened, Hannah Fairfax (1742–1804) married, in 1764, GW’s first cousin Warner Washington (1722–1790), not Lord Fairfax’s nephew Thomas Bryan Martin. Elizabeth Cary did become a Fairfax when she married Bryan Fairfax the next year. Nancy Gist did not marry Capt. Thomas Cocke of GW’s regiment or anyone else, but in 1759 after the death of her father, Christopher Gist, she left Belvoir where she had been living with the Fairfaxes and went to live with one of her brothers.