George Washington Papers

From George Washington to William Fairfax, 5 May 1755

To William Fairfax

[Winchester, 5 May 1755]

To The Honble Wm Fairfax Esqr.Belvoir1
Dear Sir

I overtook the General at Frederick Town in Maryld and from thence we proceeded to this place,2 where we shall remain till the arrival of the 2d Division of the Train, (which we hear left Alexandria on Tuesday last);3 after that, we shall continue our March to Wills Creek, from whence it is imagined we shall not stir till the latter end of this Month for want of Waggons, and other conveniences to Transports our Baggage &ca over the Mount⟨n.⟩4

You will naturally conclude that to pass through Maryld (when no business object requird it) was an uncommon, & extraordinary rout for the Genl, and Colo. Dunbarr’s Regiment5 to this place; but at the same time t The reason, however, was obvious6 to say, that t Those who promoted it had rather have that the communication should be opened that way, than through Virginia; but I now believe the eyes of the General are now open, & the Imposition has too evidently appeard, for the Imposer’s to subject us to the same Inconveniences again detected—consequently the like will not happen again.7 Please to make my Compts to Colo. G:8 to whom I shall write by the next oppertunity, and excuse haste—I am Sir Yr most Obedt Servt

Go: Washington

LB (original), DLC:GW; LB, DLC:GW.

1Fairfax may have been still in Williamsburg. The spring session of the general court which he had apparently been attending in Williamsburg since 10 April ended by 7 May, but the General Assembly, of which he as a member of the council was part, met in town from 1 May to 9 July. See GW to William Fairfax, 23 April and 7 June 1755, and William Fairfax to GW, 28 June 1755.

2GW apparently rode to Frederick, Md., on 1 May and the next day crossed back over the Potomac into Virginia with Braddock and his aides at Swearingen’s ferry (now Shepherdstown, W.Va.). Braddock had been detained at Frederick since 21 April by the troublesome business of obtaining horses, wagons, and provisions for his army. He expected to engage a number of Cherokee and Catawba at Winchester for the coming campaign but was disappointed to find none there when he arrived on 3 May. Winchester in the fall of 1753 had “about sixty houses rather badly built” (“Diary of a Journey of Moravians,” in Mereness, Travels in the American Colonies description begins Newton D. Mereness, ed. Travels in the American Colonies. New York, 1916. description ends , 334). One of Braddock’s soldiers observed in Aug. 1755 that the town “is very Smalle. . . . It Consists of 4 Cross Streets and for its defence it have 4 Pieces of Cannon of twelve Poundars Placed in the Center of the town” (“The Journal of Captain Robert Cholmley’s Batman,” in Hamilton, Braddock’s Defeat description begins Charles Hamilton, ed. Braddock’s Defeat. Norman, Okla., 1959. description ends , 36). The seat of Frederick County, Winchester was laid out in 1744 but not established by the Virginia General Assembly until 1752.

3Braddock’s artillery train marched to Wills Creek in two divisions. The first left Alexandria on 27 April and reached Wills Creek on 16 May, and the second apparently departed 29 April and arrived 17 May. Both divisions crossed the Shenandoah River at Keyes’s ferry and then passed several miles to the north of Winchester by a shorter route that the army’s recent bridging of Opequon Creek at Carter’s Ford had opened. The first division crossed the Opequon bridge on 4 May and rested 5 May at Mary Ross Littler’s mills about 2 miles to the southwest. The second division should have reached Mrs. Littler’s place on 7 May, the day that Braddock and his aides set off from Winchester for Wills Creek.

4Braddock was assured before he left Alexandria that 200 wagons and 2,500 horses from Virginia and Maryland would be at Wills Creek by 10 May to move his equipment, ammunition, and provisions, as well as the artillery, across the Allegheny Mountains. He learned at Frederick, Md., that he could expect no more than about 20 wagons and 200 horses from the 2 colonies. At this point Benjamin Franklin, who was at Frederick to discuss other matters with Braddock, promised to get in Pennsylvania 150 wagons with horses and 1,500 packhorses for the army. Franklin’s fulfillment of this obligation “with great punctuality and Integrity,” Braddock wrote Sir Thomas Robinson on 5 June 1755, “is almost the only Instance of Ability and Honesty I have known in these provinces; His Waggons and Horses . . . are indeed my whole Dependance” (P.R.O., C.O. 5/46, ff. 21–24). See also GW to William Fairfax, 7 June 1755. To bring baggage and stores from Alexandria to Wills Creek, however, Braddock had to rely also on impressment of local wagons and horses along the way, a slow and tedious process. Beginning on 12 April everything was speedily moved by water from Alexandria 8 miles up the Potomac to the mouth of Rock Creek on the Maryland side of the river. More than 1 month was needed, however, to get the most essential items overland, around the several falls of the Potomac, to the mouth of Conococheague Creek about halfway from Alexandria to Wills Creek. Plans to use water transportation for the remaining distance had to be given up. Contrary to expectation, the Potomac proved not to be navigable above Conococheague at this time. Valuable time was lost in getting the supplies and equipment across the river to the Virginia road to Wills Creek, the only available route. The last convoy apparently did not arrive at Wills Creek until early June.

5Col. Thomas Dunbar (d. 1767) commanded the 48th Regiment of Foot from 29 April 1752 to 11 Nov. 1755. A veteran of more than 30 years of service in the army, he spent most of his career before taking command of the 48th Regiment in the 18th (Royal Irish) Regiment of Foot, rising to the rank of lieutenant colonel in that unit in 1745.

6GW inserted a period after “obvious” when he made his later changes.

7The idea of marching half of the army to Wills Creek through Virginia and half through Maryland apparently originated with Braddock’s quartermaster, Sir John St. Clair. In March or April St. Clair “informed the General that a new road was near completed from Winchester to Fort Cumberland [at Wills Creek], the old one being impassable, and that another was cutting from Conegogee to the same place, and that if the General approved of making two divisions of the troops and train, he might reach Will’s Creek with more ease and expedition” (“Captain Orme’s Journal,” in Sargent, Braddock Expedition, 296). Braddock did approve this scheme, principally, as he explained to Robert Napier on 19 April 1755, “for the Conveniency of Horses and Waggons, by which means I employ those of Maryland which would not be prevail’d upon to cross the Potomack” (Pargellis, Military Affairs in North America description begins Stanley Pargellis, ed. Military Affairs in North America, 1748–1765: Selected Documents from the Cumberland Papers in Windsor Castle. 1936. Reprint. Hamden, Conn., 1969. description ends , 81–84). The 48th Regiment, which was ordered to use the Maryland route while the 44th Regiment followed the Virginia one, arrived at Frederick on 17 April. Discovering that there was no road connecting Conococheague with Wills Creek, the regiment, like the baggage train which followed it, crossed the Potomac at Conococheague on 1 May to reach the Virginia road.

8George William Fairfax, colonel of the Frederick County militia, was in Williamsburg at this time attending the session of the House of Burgesses as a burgess for Frederick County.

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