George Washington Papers

Minutes of a Council of War, 28 June 1754

Minutes of a Council of War

At a Council of War held at Mr Gists Ju⟨ne⟩ 28th 1754

After the Junction with our own Detachmt and the Independent Company To Consider what was most prudent & necessary ⟨to⟩ be done in the present Situation of Affairs: It was Unanimously Resolved that it was Absolutly necessary to Return to our Fort at the meadows & Wait there untill Supply’d with a Stock of provisions Sufficient to serve us for some months.1

The Reasons for so doing were very Weighty:

Monacattocha a man of Sense and Experience & a gre⟨at⟩ friend to the English Had left the French Fort only two days before & Had Seen the Reinforcemt arrive & heard them declare their Resolution to march and Attack the English with 800 of their own men & 400 Indians.2

There was a Reinforcemt hourly expected, we learned from French Deserters.3

We knew that two off our men had deserted to them and Acquaintd The Enemy of our Starving Condition and our Numbrs & Situation.

We had wanted meat & Bread for Six days already, and were still uncertain when any would Arrive. We had only about 25 head of Live Cattle the most of them Milch Cows to depend upon for 400 men, and about one quart of Salt to Use with our Meat, or preserve it. The Enemy being thrice our Number & knowing our Cir[c]umstances would not give us a Chance to fight them, but Strive to starve us out by intercepting our Convoys. The Live Cattle were Uncertain ⟨&⟩ the Enemy strove to Block us up. If the Enemy were so Void of knowledge in Military affairs as to Risk a Battle; we must give a Total defeat to thrice our Number, Otherwise be Cut to pieces by so prodigious a Number of their Indians in our Retreat, who are the best people in the World to improve a Victory and at the best lose all our Warlike Stores & Swivles. Compelld by these Reasons it was Unanimously Resolvd to Decamp directly, and to have our Swivles drawn By the men by Reason of the Scarcity of horses.

Besides The In⟨di⟩ans declar’d that they would have leave us, unless we Returnd to ⟨the⟩ Meadows. The distance Betwixt that & Mr Gist’s house, is thirteen miles of hilly Road form’d Naturally for Ambushes. The French could not so Easily Support themselves at the Meadow as at Gists by the reason of distance to Carry the Stores & provisions & their want of horses to do it. They Can come within five miles of Gist’s house by water, Thirteen miles further of bad Road was a great Obstruction to them & gave us an Opportunity of Obtaining intilligence, and Securing our Convoys. While we lay at Gist’s house, They might pass us unobserv’d by a different Road from Red Stone that Lay about nine miles from us: But at the Meadows, both Roads are United, and the Bearing of the Mountains makes it difficult for an Enemy to Come Near or pass us without Receiving advice of it. From all these Considerations this Resolves Signed by4

D, DLC:GW. in handwriting of Adam Stephen.

For background to this document, see John Carlyle to GW, 17 June 1754, source note.

1Capt. Andrew Lewis’s party had already left Gist’s Settlement and was probably some distance away when GW received Monacatoocha’s report of the reinforcements to Fort Duquesne. GW immediately sent word to Lewis and to Capt. William Polson, who was “out on Detachments,” to return to Gist’s. James Mackay was requested to bring up the South Carolina Independent Company from Great Meadows (Maryland Gazette [Annapolis], 29 Aug. 1754). GW apparently originally intended to erect a stockade at Gist’s, but his Indian allies were close to panic at the rumors of the French approach. Although there were other reasons for the retreat to Great Meadows, as is apparent from the minutes of the Council of War, it was evident that if GW hoped to hold the Indians he must agree to return to Fort Necessity.

2In Adam Stephen’s account of the events surrounding the surrender at Fort Necessity the numbers are given as “300 White Men and the same Number of Indians” (Maryland Gazette [Annapolis], 29 Aug. 1754). In Stephen’s manuscript autobiography he stated: “Intelligence Was brought us that 700 men had arrivd at Fort du Quesne from Canada . . . and that in two days 1200 French & Indians were to March to Attak us” (PPL: Benjamin Rush Papers). According to Joseph Coulon de Villiers’s journal the party that left Fort Duquesne numbered 500 French and 11 Indians (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 , 97).

3For the French deserters, see GW to Dinwiddie, 10 June 1754, n. 14.

4In the Maryland Gazette (Annapolis), 29 Aug. 1754, Stephen stated that after this Council of War the troops at Gist’s Settlement began their retreat to Great Meadows “carrying all public Stores with us.” See “The Capitulation of Fort Necessity,” 3 July 1754. There is some discrepancy between GW’s dating of the Council of War and Stephen’s. See Freeman, Washington description begins Douglas Southall Freeman. George Washington: A Biography. 7 vols. New York, 1948–57. description ends , 1:396.

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