George Washington Papers

To George Washington from Adam Stephen, 25 September 1755

From Adam Stephen

Fort Cumberland [Md.] Sept. 25th 1755


Sunday about 9 O’Clock two Indians took a fuzee from a Boy within musket Shot of the Sentry in the Bottom as you pass Will’s Creek1—They took hold of him and asked him to go along—why they did not kill him I cannot Say, but upon his refusing they gave him a Couple of Blows with their Fist—And upon his retiring a little, they Shot two Arrows into him, the wounds are but slight—He Roard out murder, & the Savages Ran.

I sent out a party under Lt Stuart to intercept them, and about twelve, Burris came in wounded.2 They took him about a mile below the Fort where the Old Path enters the waggon Road, and carried him to the Top of Wills Creek mountain, crossing Potomack above the New Store, and going Steight to the Gape.3 They there discovered our Party and were only 300 yards behind them—Burris encouragd by the Sight of our men, while the Two Frenchmen and 5 Indians were Sculking, Sprung off—an Indian pursud him and coming up Sides with him threw the Tomhawk and woundd him Notwithstanding, Burris was lucky enough to Escape. Lt Stewart Saw nothing of the Enemy; Burris was oblig’d to take another Course. He learned from the Indian who Could Speak Shanase, That there were Parties all round us, & We have discoverd Numerous Tracts, in Several places.

I have no men to Spare to Send in pursuit of them—I have advisd the Inhabitants to be on their guard, and have mov’d into the Fort leaving the Tents Standing for Shew, as we believe them daily looking at us. They have taken a Man belonging to Capt. Dagworthis4 Company, who would not venture to Run with Burris, and another Man who was Batman to Doct. Craik when he was Out. By this means, they will get perfect Intelligence of our Situation, and Weakness. The Indian was very inquisitive at Burris about our numbers—We ply the Work from Dawn to twilight, and for all that the dispatch not equal to my Wishes. I fire a morning Gun, and Rouses Officers and Men by the Break of Day, who all repair to their Posts and wait untill it is light enough to Call the Rolls.

No Soldier or Servant is allow’d to Stragle or be Absent, and No gun fird within hearing of the Camp. A Serjt Command is Sent a Couple of miles Round reconnoitring every morning. It Sits heavy upon me, to be obligd to let the Enemy pass under our Noses without ever puting them in bodily fear.

This increases their Insolence, and adds to the Contemptible Opinion The Indians have of Us.

If we may Credit the Indians, Every One that Our people has Conversd with, declares that the French design an Attack on Fort Cumberland. The Conduct of the Enemy at this time Seems to be, to obtain Intelligence, more than Scalps; and not knowing how far off, a Considerable Body of them was; I Sent down for the Light-Horse,5 and applyd to My Lord Fairfax for Militia, untill we are in a better posture of Defence. I am with respect Sir, Your most obt huble Servt

Adam Stephen


1A fuzee is a light musket or firelock.

2Thomas Burris, who had served in George Mercer’s company during the Fort Necessity campaign, was probably the man who was reported by the Maryland Gazette (Annapolis) as “dangerously wounded by a Tomahawk in the Head, [but] is likely to recover” (2 Oct. 1755). He later was to exasperate GW by some sharp practices in horse-dealing. See GW to Adam Stephen, 6 Sept. 1756. He is probably the Thomas Burrus who in 1757 was paid £10 by the Virginia House of Burgesses as a “Recompence for the Loss of his Arm in the Service of his Country” (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 , 478). By 1758 a Thomas Burris, or Bhurras, was acting as a messenger or courier between the frontier forts, Alexandria, and Mount Vernon (General Ledger A description begins General Ledger A, 1750–1772. Library of Congress, George Washington Papers, Series 5, Financial Papers. description ends , folio 22, DLC:GW; John Carlyle to GW, 1 Sept. 1758, Humphrey Knight to GW, 2 Sept. 1758, and Charles Smith to GW, 7, 18 Sept., 12 Oct. 1758).

3The Indians appear to have taken the old path over Wills Mountain, through Sandy Gap, rather than the more level road through The Narrows. See GW’s Memorandum, 30 May–11 June 1755, n.5.

4Capt. John Dagworthy (d. 1784) was commander of the Maryland troops who, with a company of Virginians and some North Carolina troops, had been left behind by Colonel Dunbar to defend Fort Cumberland after the Braddock defeat. He was the son of John Dagworthy, Sr. (d. 1756), a substantial citizen of Hunterton County, N.J., but the younger Dagworthy was living in Maryland by the mid–1750s. After challenging Lt. Col. Adam Stephen’s authority at Fort Cumberland in 1755 and 1756, Dagworthy assumed command of the fort when the Virginians withdrew from it in the spring of 1757. During the Revolution, he acted as brigadier general of the Sussex County, Del., militia.

5On 23 Sept. Capt. Robert Stewart’s troop of light horse was stationed at Winchester.

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