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From George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie, 29 May 1754

To Robert Dinwiddie

From our Camp at the Great Meadows [Pa.]
29th of May 1754

Honble Sir

To answer your Honour’s Letter of the 25th by Mr Birney1—I shall begin with assuring you, that nothing was farther from my intention than to recede, thô I then pressd and still desire that my Services may be voluntary rather than on the present Pay—I am much concernd that your Honour should seem to charge me with ingratitude for your generous, and my undeserved favours, for I assure you Honble Sir, nothing is a greater stranger to my Breast, or a Sin that my Soul more abhor’s than that black and detestable one Ingratitude. I retain a true Sense of your kindnesses, and want nothing but oppertunity to give testimony of my willingness to oblige as far as my Life or fortune will extend.

I cou’d not object to the Pay before I knew it. I dare say your Honour remembers the first Estimation allowd a Lieutt Colo. 15/ and Majr 12/6 which I then complaind very much off; till your Honour assurd me that we were to be furnish’d with proper necessary’s and offerd that as a reason why the pay was Less than British:2 after this when you were so kind to preferr me to the Comn I now have, and at the same time acquainted me that I was to have but 12/6—This, with some other Reason’s induced me to acquaint Colo. Fairfax with my intention of Resigning, which he must well remember as it happd at Belhaven;3 and was there that he disswaded me from it and promised to represent the trifling pay to your Honour, who would endeavour (as I at the same time told him that the Speaker4 thought the Officr’s pay too small) to have it enlarg’d.

As to the Number’s that applied for Commission’s and to whom we were preffer’d; I believe, had those Gentlemen been as knowing of this Country, and as Sensible of the difficulties that would attend a Campaign here as I then was—I concive your Honour wd not have been so troublesomly sollicited as you were; yet, I do not offer this as a reason for quitting the Service. for my own part I can answer, I have a Constitution hardy enough to encounter and undergo the most severe tryals, and I flatter myself resolution to Face what any Man durst, as shall be prov’d when it comes to the Test, which I believe we are upon the Border’s off.

There is nothing Sir (I believe) more certain than that the Officer’s on the Canada Expedition had British pay allowd, whilst they were in the Service,5 Lieutt Wag[gene]r Captn Trent, and several other’s whom I have conversed with on tht Head, and were engagd in it, affirm it for truth: therefore Honble Sir, as this can’t be allow’d; suffer me to serve a Volunteer which I assure you will be the next reward to British pay, for As my Services, so far as I have knowledge will equal those of the best Officer, I make it a point of Honr to serve for less and accept a medium.

Nevertheless, I have communicated your Honour’s Sentiments to them; and as far as I could put on the Hipocrite, set forth the advantages that may accrue, and advis’d them to accept the Terms, as a refusal might reflect dishonour upon their Character; leaving it to the World to assign what reason’s they please for quitting the Service—I am very sensible of the pernicious consequenc⟨e⟩ that will attend their resigning, as they have by this gain’d some experience of the Military Art, have a tolerable knowledge of the Country, being sent most of them out at different times with partys: and now are accustom’d to the hardships and fatiegue of Living as we do, which I believe were it truely stated, wd prevent your Honour from many troublesome Sollicitations from others for Comn⟨s⟩[.] This last motive, has, and will induce me to do what I can to reconcile matter’s; thô I really believe there is some tht will not remain long witht an alteration.

They have promis’d to consider of it, and give your Honour an answer. I was not ignorant of the allowe which Colo. Fry has for his Table,6 but being a dependt there myself deprives me of the pleasure of inviting an Officer or Friend, which to me wd be more agreeable than the Nick Nacks I shall meet with there.

And here I cannot forbear answering one thing more in your Honrs Letter on this head; which (too) is more fully express’d in a paragraph of Colo. Fairfax’s to me as follows “If on the British Establishment Officer’s are allowd more Pay, the Regimentals they are oblig’d annually to furnish, their necessary Table and other Incidents being considerd, little or no savings will be their Portion”7—I believe it is well known we have been at the expence of Regimentals (and it is still better known, that Regimentals, and every other necessary that we were under an indispensable necessity of purchasing for this Expedition, were not to be bought for less Virga curr[enc]y, than British Officer’s cd get for sterling money;8 which they ought to have been, to put us upon a parity in this respect, then Colo. Fairfax observes that their Table and other Incident charges prevents them frm saving much: if they dont save much, they have the enjoyment of their Pay which we neither have in one sense nor the other: We are debarr’d the pleasure of good Living, which Sir (I dare say with me you will concur) to one who has always been used to it; must go somewhat hard to be confin’d to a little salt provision and Water: and do duty, hard, laborious duty that is almost inconsistent with that of a Soldier, and yet have the same Reductions as if we were allowd luxuriously: My Pay accordg to the British Establisht & common exchange is near 22/ pr Day, in the R[oo]m of that the Committee (for I can’t in the least imagine yr Hr had any h[an]d in it) has provided 12/6 so long as the Service requires me, whereas, one half of the other is ascertain’d to the British Officer’s forever: now if we shd be fortunate enough to drive the French from Ohio—as far as your Honour wd please have them sent to—in any short time, our Pay will not be sufficient to discharge our first expences.

I would not have your Honour imagine from this, that I have said all these things to have the Pay encreas’d—but to justify myself, and shew your Honour that our complaints are not frivolous, but are founded upon strict Reason: for my own part, it is a matter almost indefferent whether I serve for full pay, or as a generous Volunteer; indeed, did my circumstances corrispond with my Inclination, I shd not hesitate a moment to prefer the Latter: for the motives that lead me here were pure and Noble I had no view of acquisition but that of Honour, by serving faithfully my King and Country.

As your Honour has recommended Mr Willis you may depend I shall with pleasure do all that I can for him.

But above all Sir, you may depend I shall take all possible means of procureing intelligence, and guarding against surprises, and be assur’d nothing but very unequal number’s shall engage me to submit or Retreat.

Now Sir, as I have answer’d your Honour’s Letter I shall beg leave to acqt you with what has happen’d since I wrote by Mr Gist;9 I then acquainted you that I had detach’d a party of 75 Men to meet with 50 of the French who we had Intelligence were upon their March towards us to Reconnoitre &ca[.] Abt 9 Oclock the same Night, I receivd an express from the Half King who was Incampd with several of His People abt 6 Miles of, that he had seen the Tract of two French Men xing the Road and believ’d the whole body were lying not far off, as he had an acct of that number passing Mr Gist—I set out with 40 Men before 10, and was from that time till near Sun rise before we reach’d the Indian’s Camp, havg Marched in small path, & heavy Rain, and a Night as Dark as it is possible to concieve—we were frequently tumbling one over another, and often so lost that 15 or 20 Minutes search would not find the path again.

When we came to the Half King I council’d with him, and got his assent to go hand in hand and strike the French. accordingly, himself, Monacatoocha, and a few other Indians set out with us, and when we came to the place where the Tracts were, the Half King sent Two Indians to follow their Tract and discover their lodgment which they did abt half a mile from the Road in a very obscure place surrounded with Rocks.10 I thereupon in conjuction with the Half King & Monacatoocha, formd a disposion to attack them on all sides, which we accordingly did and after an Engagement of abt 15 Minutes we killd 10, wounded one and took 21 Prisoner’s,11 amongst those that were killd was Monsieur De Jumonville the Commander, Principl Officers taken is Monsieur Druillong and Monsr Laforc, who your Honour has often heard me speak of as a bold Enterprising Man, and a person of gt subtilty and cunning with these are two Cadets—These Officers pretend they were coming on an Embassy, but the absurdity of this pretext is too glaring as your Honour will see by the Instructions and summons inclos’d:12 There Instructions were to reconnoitre the Country, Roads, Creeks &ca to Potomack; which they were abt to do, These Enterpriseing Men were purposely choose out to get intelligence, which they were to send Back by some brisk dispatches with mention of the Day that they were to serve the Summon’s; which could be through no other view, than to get sufficient Reinforcements to fall upon us imediately after. This with several other Reasons induc’d all the Officers to beleive firmly that they were sent as spys rather than any thing else, and has occasiond my sending them as prisoners, tho they expected (or at least had some faint hope of being continued as ambassadors) They finding where we were Incamp’d, instead of coming up in a Publick manner sought out one of the most secret Retirements; fitter for a Deserter than an Ambassador to incamp in—s[t]ayd there two or 3 days sent Spies to Reconnoitre our Camp as we are told, tho they deny it—Their whole Body movd back near 2 Miles, sent off two runnors to acquaint Contracoeur with our Strength, and where we were Incamp’d &ca now 36 Men wd almost have been a Retinue for a Princely Ambassador, instead of Petit, why did they, if there design’s were open stay so long within 5 Miles of us witht delivering his Ambassy, or acquainting me with it; his waiting cd be with no other design than to get Detachts to enforce the Summons as soon as it was given, they had no occasion to send out Spy’s; for the Name of Ambassador is Sacred among all Nations; but it was by the Tract of these Spy’s they were discoverd, and we got Intilligence of them—They wd not have retird two Miles back witht delivering the Summons and sought a sculking place (which to do them justice was done with gt Judgment) but for some especial Reason: Besides The Summon’s is so insolent, & savour’s so much of Gascoigny that if two Men only had come openly to deliver it.13 It was too great Indulgence to have sent them back.

The Sense of the Half King on this Subject is, that they have bad Hearts, and that this is a mere pretence, they never designd to have come to us but in a hostile manner, and if we were so foolish as to let them go again, he never would assist us in taking another of them[.]14 Besides, looseing La Force I really think wd tend more to our disservice than 50 other Men, as he is a person whose active Spirit, leads him into all parlys, and brought him acquainted with all parts, add to this a perfect use of the Indian Tongue, and gt influence with the Indian He Ingenuously enough confessd that as soon as he saw the commission & Instructions that he believd and then said he expected some such tendency tho he pretends to say he does not believe the Commander had any other but a good design.

In this Engagement we had only one Man killd, and two or three wounded, among which was Lieutt Waggener slightly—a most miraculous escape, as Our Right Wing was much exposd to their Fire and receivd it all.

The Half King receiv’d your Honour’s speech very kind: but desird me to inform you that he could not leave his People at this time, thinking them in great Danger15—He is now gone to the xing for their Familys to bring to our Camp & desird I wd send some Men and Horses to assist them up; which I have accordingly done—sent 30 Men & upwards of 20 Horses. He say’s if your Honr has any thing to say you may communicate by me &ca; and that if you have a present for them it may be kept to another occasion, after sending up some things for their imediate use, He has declar’d to send these Frenchmens Scalps with a Hatchet to all the Nations of Indian’s in union with them, and did that very day give a Hatchet and a large Belt of Wampum to a Delaware Man to carry to Shingiss:16 he promis’d me to send down the River for all the Mingo’s & Shawnesse to our camp, where I expect him to Morrow with 30 or 40 Men with their wives & Children, to confirm what he has said here, he has sent your Honour a String of Wampum.

As these Runnors went of to the Fort on Sunday last, I shall expect every hour to be attackd and by unequal number’s, which I must withstand if there is 5 to 1 or else I fear the Consequence will be we shall loose the Indians if we suffer ourselves to be drove Back, I dispatchd an express imediately to Colo. Fry with this Intelligence desiring him to send me Reinforcements with all imaginable dispatch.17

Your Honour may depend I will not be surprizd, let them come what hour they will—and this is as much as I can promise—but my best endeavour’s shall not be wanting to deserve more, I doubt not but if you hear I am beaten, but you will at the same hear that we have done our duty in fighting as long there was a possibility of hope.

I have sent Lieutt West18 accompanied with Mr Sprilldorph19 & a Guard of 20 Men to conduct the Prisoners in, and I believe the Officer’s have acquainted him what answer to return yr Honour.

Monsiur La-Force, and Monsieur Druillong beg to be recommend to your Honour’s Notice, and I have promis’d they will meet with all the favour that’s due to Imprison’d Officer’s: I have shew’d all the respect I cou’d to them here, and have given some necessary cloathing by which I have disfurnish’d myself, for having brought no more than two or three Shirts from Wills Ck that we might be light I was ill provided to furnish them I am Yr Honour’s most Obt Hble Servt

Go: Washington

NB I have neither seen nor heard any particular acct of the Twigtwees since I came on these Water’s, we have already began a Palisadod Fort and hope to have it up tomorrow I must beg leave to acqt yr honr tht Captn Vanbraam & Monsr Peyrouney has behav’d extreamely well since they came out—& I hope will meet wth yr Honrs favr.20

ALS, ViHi.

1Thomas Burney, an Indian trader and blacksmith, rode express for the British. He may be the same Thomas Burney who enlisted as a private in GW’s regiment on 28 Mar. 1754 and was killed in 1755 at Braddock’s defeat.

2For the amounts paid various ranks in the expedition’s complement, see GW to Dinwiddie, 9 May 1754, n.6.

3Belhaven was an early name for Alexandria.

4John Robinson was the speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses from 1738 to 1765 and treasurer of the colony from 1738 until his death in 1766. At this time he was a member of the assembly’s committee authorizing expenditures for the regiment.

7This quotation is probably taken from the letter, not found, written by William Fairfax to GW, which GW received on 26 May and in which Fairfax responded to complaints made to him by GW earlier in the month in another letter, also not found. See GW to Dinwiddie, 27 May 1754, n.2, and his second letter, 18 May 1754, n.2.

8“Regimentals” were the uniforms for the men of the regiment. During 1754 the rate of exchange, Virginia on London, was £120–30 Virginia currency to £100 sterling.

10This rocky glen, since named Jumonville’s Rocks, lay near the trail to the Forks, just beyond Laurel Hill, and about midway between Great Meadows and Gist’s Settlement.

11For another account by GW of this engagement, see his Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 1:194–99.

12Joseph Coulon de Villiers, sieur de Jumonville (1718–1754), a 16–year veteran of the French army in America, held the rank of ensign and in 1754 was assigned to Fort Duquesne. Ordered by the sieur de Contrecoeur to carry a “summons” to the English to vacate the Ohio country, he left the fort on 23 May in command of approximately 35 men. Among his officers was Pierre Jacques Drouillon (Druillon), sieur de Macé (b. 1725), also an ensign, who returned to Canada after he was freed and became a lieutenant in the French army in 1759. For La Force, see William Trent to GW, 19 Feb. 1754, n.5. The two cadets were named de Boucherville and Dusablé. The controversy concerning GW’s engagement with Jumonville has persisted until recent times. The French claimed that Jumonville’s role was that of ambassador and that while on a peaceful mission, similar to GW’s own mission to the French commandant a few months before, he and his party were ambushed by the Virginia troops. Contrecoeur recounted what was to become the French version of the affair in a letter to Duquesne, 2 June 1754: “I expected Mr. de Jumonville, within four Days; the Indians have just now informed me, that that Party is taken and defeated; they were Eight in Number, one whereof was Mr. de Jumonville. One of that Party, Monceau by Name, a Canadian, made his Escape, and tells us that they had built themselves Cabbins, in a low Bottom, where they sheltered themselves, as it rained hard. About seven o’Clock the next Morning, they saw themselves surrounded by the English on one Side and the Indians on the Other. The English gave them two Volleys, but the Indians did not fire. Mr. de Jumonville, by his Interpreter, told them to desist, that he had something to tell them. Upon which they ceased firing. Then Mr. de Jumonville ordered the Summons which I had sent them to retire, to be read. . . . The aforesaid Monceau, saw all our Frenchmen coming up close to Mr. de Jumonville, whilst they were reading the Summons, so that they were all in Platoons, between the English and the Indians, during which Time, said Monceau made the best of his Way to us, partly by Land through the Woods, and partly along the River Monaungahela, in a small Canoe. This is all, Sir, I could learn from said Monceau. The Misfortune is, that our People were surprized; the English had incircled them, and came upon them unseen. . . . The Indians who were present when the Thing was done, say, that Mr. de Jumonville was killed by a Musket-Shot in the Head, whilst they were reading the Summons; and that the English would afterwards have killed all our Men, had not the Indians who were present, by rushing in between them and the English, prevented their Design” (Memorial Containing a Summary View of Facts description begins [Jacob Nicolas Moreau]. A Memorial Containing a Summary View of Facts, with Their Authorities. In Answer to the Observations Sent by the English Ministry to the Courts of Europe. Translated from the French. New York, 1757. description ends , 69).

13A copy of the summons, 23 May 1754, signed by Contrecoeur and addressed to the commander of any English troops that Jumonville might find in the lands claimed by the French is in P.R.O., C.O. 5/1328, f. 119. A copy of Contrecoeur’s instructions to Jumonville, 23 May 1754, is in P.R.O., C.O. 5/1328, f. 118.

14The role of the Indians in the engagement remains obscure. An eyewitness on the French side claimed the Indians did not fire and the French casualties were the result of British volleys (see note 12). Similarly in his diary GW stated that “we killed Mr. de Jumonville . . . as also nine others. . . . The Indians scalped the Dead” (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 1:195). In a letter to the Board of Trade of 18 June 1754, however, Dinwiddie wrote that “this little Skirmish was by the Half-King & their Indians, we were as auxiliaries to them, as my Orders to the Commander of our Forces [were] to be on the Defensive” (P.R.O., C.O. 5/1328, ff. 117, 120). John Shaw, a veteran of the surrender at Fort Necessity, claimed that Jumonville was killed with a tomahawk by the Half-King who then scalped the French commander (McDowell, S.C. Indian Affairs description begins William L. McDowell, Jr., ed. Documents relating to Indian Affairs. 2 vols. Columbia, S.C., 1958-70. In Colonial Records of South Carolina, 2d ser., vols. 2–3. description ends , 4). That the Indians may have been responsible for at least some of the French deaths is suggested by the fact that the French force which marched out of Fort Duquesne on 28 June in pursuit of the English found when they reached the site of the skirmish that a number of bodies had been left unburied, a custom often adopted by Indians hoping to discourage their enemies (“Journal of M. de Villiers,” Memorial Containing a Summary View of Facts description begins [Jacob Nicolas Moreau]. A Memorial Containing a Summary View of Facts, with Their Authorities. In Answer to the Observations Sent by the English Ministry to the Courts of Europe. Translated from the French. New York, 1757. description ends , 99).

15For Dinwiddie’s speech to the Half-King, see GW to Dinwiddie, first letter of 18 May 1754, n.5.

16Shingas was a Delaware chief whom GW had encountered on his journey to the French commandant. See Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 1:132. In the early 1750s he supported the British, but after going over to the French probably in late 1754, he became the scourge of English settlements along the Pennsylvania frontier. In 1754 he was living in the vicinity of McKee’s Rocks in Allegheny County, Pa.

18John West, Jr. (d. 1777), was a surveyor for Fairfax County. The date of his commission as the fourth lieutenant in the Virginia Regiment was 27 Feb. 1754. He resigned his commission in late summer following this campaign. He was the son of Hugh West (1705–1754).

19Carolus Gustavus de Spiltdorf, whom GW referred to as a “Swedish Gentleman, who was a Volunteer” (Diaries description begins Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds. The Diaries of George Washington. 6 vols. Charlottesville, Va., 1976–79. description ends , 1:175), was made an ensign on 21 July and promoted to lieutenant on 29 Oct. 1754. He was killed with Braddock’s forces at the Battle of the Monongahela, 9 July 1755.

20William La Péronie, a Frenchman with military experience, came to Virginia about 1750. His name is variously spelled, even, apparently, by La Péronie himself. See for example, his letter to GW, 5 Sept. 1754. After he was wounded in the engagement at Fort Necessity, Dinwiddie made him adjutant of the regiment on GW’s recommendation (GW to Dinwiddie, 10 June 1754). La Péronie was killed at Braddock’s defeat in 1755.

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