George Washington Papers
Documents filtered by: Recipient="Washington, George"
sorted by: date (ascending)

To George Washington from Robert Dinwiddie, January 1754

From Robert Dinwiddie

[Williamsburg, January 1754]

Editorial Note The reports that GW made to Dinwiddie upon his return from his mission to the French commandant reinforced the governor’s conviction that no time was to be lost in taking action against French encroachment on the Ohio. Dinwiddie had held a British vessel, the Speedwell, in port pending GW’s return from the Ohio and at once notified Holderness and the Board of Trade that the earlier reports of French infiltration had been confirmed. “Mr Washington had my Orders to make what Observations he cou’d on his Journey, & to take a Plan of their Fort, . . . He assures me that they have begun another Fort at the Mouth of the Creek, which he thinks will be finish’d by the Month of March. There were in the Fort where the Commander resided, about 300 regular Forces; & nine hundred more were gone to Winter Quarters (in order to save their Provisions) to some Forts on Lake Erie &ca but that they were to return by the Month of March; then they fully determin’d with all the Forces they cou’d collect, which he understood wou’d be fifteen hundred regulars, besides Indians, to go down the River Ohio, & propose building many other Forts, & that their chief residence wou’d be at the Logstown; & that they had near three hundred Canoes to transport their Soldiers, Provisions & Ammunition &ca.”1

On 21 Jan. Dinwiddie presented the unaccommodating reply of the French commandant to the council, which advised the governor as an emergency measure to recruit 100 men from Frederick and Augusta counties to be placed under GW’s command and proceed immediately to the frontier. In addition, Capt. William Trent was to be ordered to raise “what Traders and other Men he can to annoy the Enemy”2; presumably Trent’s recruiting activities would net another 100 men. The House of Burgesses, prorogued until the last Thursday in April 1754, should be called into immediate session.3 Dinwiddie’s most pressing need was for the money and supplies that only the burgesses could provide, but in the meantime he ordered Trent to the Forks of the Ohio to superintend the construction of a fort on the site4 and appointed John Carlyle commissary of provisions and stores with headquarters at Alexandria.5 The ordnance promised to Dinwiddie by Holderness in Aug. 1753 finally arrived in the colony and included 30 cannon and 80 barrels of powder, as well as other stores. Dinwiddie had hoped to use the cannon to protect the new fort at the Forks of the Ohio, but he wrote to the Board of Trade, 29 Jan. 1754, that “the guns are much too large to be transported so great a distance by land, and in bad roads. However, I shall make a tryal of ten; if we can get them carried to the fort they will be very serviceable.”6

By the time the burgesses convened, Dinwiddie had already written to the governors of nearby states asking for cooperation in opposing the French. As he informed the burgesses, “their Eyes are fix’d on your Proceedings, and I hope you will engage them, by a laudable Example, to contribute sufficiently for the common Cause.”7 The response of the other colonies to Dinwiddie’s appeals was disappointing. Although Gov. James Hamilton of Pennsylvania supported Dinwiddie, the Pennsylvania Assembly, largely Quaker and influenced by the uncertainty of Pennsylvania’s claims in the Ohio country, refused repeatedly to vote funds for defense. Maryland governor Horatio Sharpe wrote Dinwiddie that the assembly “had come to a resolution that the Exigencies of Affairs was not such as required any Aid or Support from them.” The North Carolina Assembly did grant a supply of £12,000 for defense, and South Carolina promised to contribute proportionately to the other colonies.8

On 14 Feb. 1754 the Virginia House of Burgesses met to consider Dinwiddie’s reports and on 22 Feb. passed an act authorizing £10,000 for the defense of the frontier. As Dinwiddie observed, the sum was secured “with great Applicatn: many Argum’ts: & with much difficulty.”9 Much of Dinwiddie’s difficulty in persuading the House of Burgesses to vote adequate sums for defense arose out of the governor’s disputes with the legislature over domestic matters, most recently the conflict over the pistole fee. However, some of the problems stemmed from a suspicion widely held not only in Virginia but in other colonies as well that the proposed military expeditions were designed to further the interests of the Ohio Company of which Dinwiddie was an ardent supporter. As GW later wrote, his report of French military activity on the Ohio “was yet thought a Fiction; and Scheme to promote the Interest of a private Company (by many Gentlemen that had a share in Government) . . . . These unfavourable Surmises caus’d great delays in raiseing the first Men and Money.”10

Although Dinwiddie had been ordered by the crown to raise the militia, the situation was complicated by uncertainty as to whether the land around the Fork belonged to Virginia or to Pennsylvania. Since the militia law implied that militia could not be employed outside the boundaries of the colony, Dinwiddie encountered increasing opposition in the counties to conscripting troops and to the recruiting effort. As a result he was forced to rely on volunteers rather than regularly conscripted militia, but, as he observed to Lord Holderness, “I think 300 Men rais’d voluntarily will do more Service than 800 Men of the Militia forc’d on the Service.”11 With the £10,000 voted by the burgesses Dinwiddie began the process of raising 6 companies of volunteers of 50 men each. By mid-March he had appointed officers to begin recruiting and hoped to have a force of 300 troops at Alexandria by 20 Mar. to escort guns and supplies to the Forks of the Ohio. On 19 Feb. 1754, in order to encourage enlistment, Dinwiddie issued a proclamation promising grants of land to volunteers who completed a tour of duty.12

After GW’s arrival in Williamsburg in January, Dinwiddie placed him on active pay as a captain, although as adjutant he still held the rank of major attached to that post.13

[Williamsburg, January 1754]

Instructs. to be observ’d by Majr Geo. Washington on the Expeditn to the Ohio

MAJR GEO. WASHINGTON

You are forthwith to repair to the Coty of Frederick, & there to take under Yr Comd 50 Men of the Militia, who will be deliver’d to You by the Comdr of the sd Coty pursuant to my Orders14—You are to send Yr Lieut. at the same Time to the Coty of Augusta, to receive 50 Men from the Comdr of that Coty as I have order’d, & with them he is to join You at Alexandria to which Place You are to proceed, as soon as You have recd the Men in Frederick15—Having recd this Detachmt You are to train & dicipline them in the best Manner You can, & for all Necessaries You are to apply YrSelf to Mr Jno. Carlisle at Alexa. who has my Orders to supply You—Having all Things in readiness, You are to use all Expedition in proceeding to the Fork of Ohio, with the Men under Yr Comd & there You are to finish & compleat in the best Manner, & as soon as You possibly can the Fort which I expect is there already begun by the Ohio Compa. You are to act on the Difensive, but in Case any Attempts are made to obstruct the Works or interrupt our Settlemts by any Persons whatsoever, You are to restrain all such Offenders, & in Case of resistance to make Prisoners of or kill & destroy them. For the rest You are to conduct Yrself as the Circumsts. of the Service shall require, & to act as You shall find best for the Furtherence of His M[ajest]y’s Service, & the Good of His Domn.

Wishing You Health & Success I bid You Farewell.

LB, ViHi: Dinwiddie Papers. Dinwiddie’s instructions to GW are undated but were probably written after the council meeting of 21 Jan. 1754 and before 29 Jan., the date of the next letter entered in Dinwiddie’s letter book. For background to this document, see the editorial note to Commission from Robert Dinwiddie, 30 Oct. 1753.

1Dinwiddie to the Board of Trade, 29 Jan. 1754 (P.R.O., C.O. 5/1328, ff. 43–44).

2For the French commandant’s reply to Dinwiddie, see Commission from Robert Dinwiddie, 30 Oct. 1753, n.6. William Trent (1715–1787) of Lancaster, Pa., had already been an Indian trader and land speculator on the Pennsylvania frontier. He participated in the aborted 1746 campaign against Canada, acted frequently as an Indian agent for the Pennsylvania legislature, and in the 1740s formed a business partnership with George Croghan. In the early 1750s, as an agent for the Ohio Company, Trent constructed storehouses and a fort on the frontier. As early as Aug. 1753 William Fairfax had suggested that Trent be commissioned to raise “a Body of Rangers” to give British traders and friendly Indians some sense of security, but the council held back, awaiting instructions from England (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 , 5:440).

3Exec. 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 , 5:460.

4Dinwiddie to Trent, Jan. 1754 (ViHi: Dinwiddie Papers). Trent was ordered to raise his allotment of 100 men in Augusta County, “and in the exterior Settlemts of this Domn.” For much of the time in the early 1750s Trent was acting as an agent for both the colony and the Ohio Company.

5John Carlyle (1720–1780) of Dumfrieshire, Scot., was an Alexandria merchant and a member of the Ohio Company. In 1747 he married Sarah Fairfax (1730–1761), daughter of Col. William Fairfax of Belvoir and sister-in-law of Lawrence Washington. Dinwiddie commissioned Carlyle on 26 Jan. 1754 and the next day instructed him to “procure a sufficient Quty of Flower, Bread, Beef & Pork, for 500 Men for six or eight Months. . . . You must take care to have a Sufficiency for Majr W: & Ct. T: that there may be no Delay to their prosecuting the Orders they have from me” (ViHi: Dinwiddie Papers). Carlyle wrote to his brother in April 1754 that “My pay [as commissary] will be very considerable I rank at Captain & have 8/ per day & Comisn for what I purchase & pay the Army I am in hopes it may turn out 500£ per ann. & am allowed three deputys of my own choosing. The post is attended with great trouble & fatigue & care, tho little risque & the profit makes up for the fatigue.” By July, however, he had found the post to be “the most troublesome one Ive had” (Carlyle to George Carlyle, 18 April, 3 July 1754, ViAlCH).

6P.R.O., C.O. 5/1328, ff. 97–100. See Commission from Robert Dinwiddie, 30 Oct. 1753, n.4; 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 , 176.

7JHB, 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 , 176.

8Exec. 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 , 5:464–65; 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 , 1:61–71.

9JHB, 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 , 183; Dinwiddie to Holderness, 12 Mar. 1754 (ViHi: Dinwiddie Papers). “An Act for the encouragement and protection of the settlers upon the waters of the Mississippi” empowered the treasurer of the colony “to borrow a sum of money, not exceeding ten thousand pounds, or so much thereof as shall be found necessary, and expedient, at an interest of six per centum” and named a committee to direct how the money should be spent (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 417–20).

11Dinwiddie to Holderness, 12 Mar. 1754 (ViHi: Dinwiddie Papers). Dinwiddie had some difficulty in finding experienced officers. As he wrote to Holderness, the fact that the colony had “never had any regular Troops in Indept Compas establish’d here, makes me much in want of proper Officers.”

12For the militia law, see “an Act, for the better Regulation of the Militia,” passed in 1738 and amended in 1748 and 1753 (5 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 16–23; 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 112–18, 350). See also Dinwiddie to Holderness, 12 Mar. 1754, and Dinwiddie to Halifax, 12 Mar. 1754 (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 , 1:93–98, 100–101). Dinwiddie’s proclamation of 19 Feb. provided “that over & above their Pay, two hundred thousand Acres of His Majesty the king of Great Britain’s Lands, on the East Side of the River Ohio, within this Dominion (100,000 Acres whereof to be contiguous to the said Fort, & the other 100,000 Acres to be on or near the River Ohio), shall be laid off and granted to such Persons, who by their voluntary Engagement & good Behaviour in the said Service shall deserve the same” (P.R.O., C.O. 5/1348, f. 168).

13An entry in GW’s accounts states: “1754, February 24th, to pay as captain, from January 15th, at 8s. per day” (Ford, Writings of Washington description begins Worthington Chauncey Ford, ed. The Writings of George Washington. 14 vols. New York, 1889–93. description ends , 1:44).

14Lord Fairfax was county lieutenant of Frederick County and hence the commander of the Frederick militia. From 1738 to 1754 Frederick County was the more northern of Virginia’s two frontier counties, extending west and northwest from the Blue Ridge Mountains. Later in 1754 the county was cut off at the Cacapon Mountains and the new northern frontier county of Hampshire was formed. Dinwiddie had requested Fairfax to “direct the Militia of Frederick to be drawn out, & fifty Men to be inlisted for that Service” (Jan. 1754, ViHi: Dinwiddie Papers).

15Apparently GW was allowed to name two junior officers to assist him: James Towers was commissioned ensign and Jacob Van Braam, who was sent to Augusta, was made lieutenant (A Roll of Officers and Soldiers . . . before the Battle of the Meadows, 30 April 1771, DLC:GW). James Patton (1692–1755), a leading land speculator and entrepreneur of Augusta County, emigrated from Ireland to Virginia in 1738. In 1752 Dinwiddie appointed him county lieutenant for Augusta, which had been created out of the frontier county of Orange in 1738. Patton was killed by a party of Shawnee in the summer of 1755. For Dinwiddie’s instructions to Patton, see 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 , 1:50–51.

Index Entries