George Washington Papers

Council of War, 10 July 1756

Council of War

A Council of War, Held at Fort-Cumberland, July 10th 1756.

  • Colonel George Washington—President.
  • Lieutenant-Colonel Adam Stephen
  • Captain Thomas Cocke
  • Captain Henry Woodward
  • Captain Robert McKenzie
  • Captain Christopher Gist
  • Captain George Mercer
  • Captain William Bronaugh
  • Captain David Bell
  • Captain Henry Harrison.

The President having informed the council that the General Assembly had resolved upon building a chain of Forts for the protection of the Frontiers—To begin at Henry Enocks’s, on Great Capecapon, and extend in the most convenient line to Mayo-river the building of which forts was not to exceed two thousand pounds1—and as the fixing upon the places judiciously was a matter of great importance to the country—He desired their advice thereupon: and put the following Questions—First Whether it was advisable to begin the said chain of forts at Henry Enocks’s on great capecapon?

The council was unanimous in opinion that it was not—Because, as the Province of Maryland had abandoned their Settlements on potowmack to a great distance it left a fertile and populous district, from that down to Maidstone, at Watkins’s Ferry, exposed to incursions of the Enemy; and to which there lead several warrior paths from Raystown and Susquehannah, much frequented by the Indians.

Secondly—Which was the most convenient and central place to build on, for the protection of that District?

The council was of opinion that at, or near to Bendicks plantation above the mouth of Sleepy Creek, was the most convenient and centrical place to build a fort on for the defence of the Inhabitants on Sleepy-Creek and Back-Creek—the lower parts of Opecon and Shanandoah river.2

Thirdly: Where ought the second Fort to be built? The Council having considered the situation of the country and the Body of Inhabitants to be defended, are of opinion, that at or near to Henry Enocks’s plantation on great capecapon, is the most advisable place to build the second fort on.

It defends the inhabitants on the waters of capecapon—is contiguous to the Settlements on the heads of the waters of sleepy and back-creeks: and maintains the communication with the Forts on Patterson’s-creek, &c.

Fourthly: Are the Forts on Pattersons creek to be esteemed in the Line intended by the Assembly?

The Forts on Pattersons Creek being already built, and provided with several necessary houses—and the Country having more hard Service in view, than the small number of their forces can perform—and considering likewise that to abandon those Forts, and give up so much to the Enemy would increase their insolence, and give them a disadvantageous opinion of our strength—The council are of opinion that these forts are to be maintained, and reckoned in the chain intended by the Assembly.

Fifthly: Is it then necessary to have a fort between that at Enocks and Ashby’s?

To open a communication between the forts at Enocks’s and Ashby’s, it is necessary to clear a road leading to the South-Branch above Suttons plantation, passing near to Ross’s mill, from the best and nearest way to the fort commanded by Captain John Ashby: and as the distance will not be above twenty-two miles, it is not necessary to build between.3 But the Council are of opinion a Block-House may be found necessary to secure the passage of the River.

Sixthly—Are the Forts built by Captain Waggener upon the South-Branch to be deemed in the chain intended by the Assembly?

The Forts built by Captain Waggener have had the desired effect—The inhabitants of that fertile district, keep possession of their Farms; and seem resolved to pursue their Business under cover of them. They are therefore to be looked upon in the chain intended by the Assembly. The Council are of opinion that it will be found necessary to maintain a Block-house at Pearsalls, to secure that difficult pass, and keep the communication open.

Seventhly: Which is the next important & convenient place for building on, above the upper fort, built by Captain Waggener? Upon the main branch about twenty miles higher up, where there is a considerable body of inhabitants.

The men in that Garrison may secure that Settlement, and protect those on the heads of the waters of the South-branch, and those upon Shanandoah River.4

Eighthly: The President asking whether the Council in general were acquainted with the particular situation of the frontiers to the southward of the waters of the South-Branch?

The Council declared they were not. and thought it advisable that the completing the chain should be referred to Captain Hogg with directions to build at or about twenty or thirty miles distance, as the situation of the country requires, or Ground will permit—and to have particular regard to the body of inhabitants to be defended and the passes most frequented by the Enemy—and that Captain Hogg begin to build—observing the above considerations, to the southward of Fort Dinwiddie, extending the line towards Mayo river, as directed by the Assembly.5

Lastly—The Question being put—How many men were absolutely necessary for the defence of Fort-Cumberland against an attack with small arms?

Notwithstanding the whole number of men raised could be employed to advantage at Fort Cumberland—yet to carry on the intended work, it was necessary to draw off as many as could be possibly spared.

The Council are of opinion that one hundred and seventy privates is the smallest number that can be left for the defence of the Garrison against small arms: and that nothing more could be expected from that number than to act on the defensive, and do the Duty of the Garrison—with liquor and to suttle.6

The President then asked whether Mr Alexander Woodrow was qualified for that office; and how he had behaved since his appointment to suttle? To which the council answered unanimously, that they thought him a very proper person and well qualified; as he has hitherto behaved with the greatest exactness and conformity to the rules and orders of the Garrison—and with much modesty and gentility.7

LB, DLC:GW. GW later enclosed a copy of these minutes of the council of war in his letter to Dinwiddie, 4 Aug. 1756.

2The mouth of Sleepy Creek at the Potomac River was well to the north and east of Henry Enoch’s place on the Cacapon River. Back Creek was just to the east of Sleepy Creek. “Bendicks” may be a miscopying of “Berwick”; Thomas Berwick lived west of Sleepy Creek near the Potomac River. See GW to Robert Stewart, 22 July 1756, especially note 3.

3For earlier discussions of the feasibility of opening a road for wagons between Ashby’s fort on Patterson Creek and Ross’s mill on the South Branch, see Adam Stephen to GW, 18 Jan., GW to Stephen, 1 Feb., and GW to Dinwiddie, 2 Feb. 1756. A portion of the road from the South Branch to Enoch’s—that part between the Little Cacapon and Enoch’s—probably corresponded with the road built for Braddock’s troops in 1755. See GW to Henry Woodward, 4 May 1756, n.1.

4Earlier in the year Thomas Waggener had, at GW’s orders, built two forts on the South Branch to protect the sizable number of settlers who remained on their lands in the area. Fort Pleasant, sometimes called Waggener’s Lower Fort, was erected on the land of Henry Van Meter a short distance above the Trough. The Upper Fort was 20 miles farther up the river at Lunice (Looney’s) Creek.

5For earlier references to the decision to have Peter Hog build forts below Fort Dinwiddie in Augusta County, see GW to Dinwiddie, 25 June 1756.

6A line or two seems to have been left out by the letter-book copyist before the words “with liquors and to suttle.” The missing material probably related to the announcement in the 12 July Orders that “the Suttlers now at this place are to be informed, that they must dispose of what liquor they have on hand and that for the future the Grand Suttler will only be allowed to sell any liquour at this Garrison.”

7Alexander Wodrow was probably being considered for the office of “Grand Suttler” at Fort Cumberland. See note 6 above. He had served as a sutler at the fort since at least early in the year. On 18 Jan. 1756 Adam Stephen wrote GW that “the Gentlemen are fond of Mr Wodrow for a sutler, and I wish every Commission were as well filld.”

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