George Washington Papers

From George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie, 10 October 1756

To Robert Dinwiddie

[Halifax, 10 October 1756]

To The Honble Robert Dinwiddie, Esquire; Governor of Virginia.
Honble Sir,

This day, within five miles of the Carolina line, as I was proceeding to the southermost Fort in Halifax;1 I met Major Lewis on his return from the Cherokees, with seven men, and three women only of that nation. The causes of this unhappy disappointment, I have desired him to communicate, that your Honor may take measures accordingly. This account is sent by Express, to give the earliest notice, while the Assembly are sitting.2 I shall defer giving a particular detail of my remarks and observations on the situation of our Frontiers, until I return to Winchester, as I expect by that time to be more intimately acquainted with the unhappy circumstances of the people: Yet I shall not omit mentioning some occurrences which have happened in my Tour to this place. I wrote your Honor from Winchester, that I should set out the next day for Augusta;3 I accordingly did with Captain McNeil; and hearing at the Courthouse, that the Indians still continue their depredations [(]although not so openly as at first)—I applied to Colonel Stewart, then present, to raise a party of the militia, and said I would head them, and march to Jackson’s River, to try to scour the woods, and if possible fall in with the Enemy. He gave me very little encouragement to expect any men, yet desired I would wait 4 days, until monday, and he would use his endeavours to collect a body: until Tuesday I waited, and only 9 men appeared. This being too inconsiderable a number to expose to a triumphant enemy; I was advised to apply to Colonel Buchanan for men, between whom and Colo: Stewart there was contention about command.4 As Col. Buchanan lived at Luneys ferry, on James River, 60 miles along the road to Vass’s, on Roanoak, where Captain Hogg was building a fort; to which place I did intend, if I could have got men to range along the Frontiers with me. I set out immediately for his house, attended by Captain Preston; who was kind enough to conduct me along, and acquainted the Colonel with the motives that brought me thither. He told me with very great concern, it was not in his power to raise men; for that three days before, some of the militia in a fort, about 15 miles above his house, at the head of Cattawba, commanded by one Colonel Nash, was attacked by the Indians which occasioned all that Settlement to break up totally, even to the ferry at Luneys:5 That he had ordered three companies to repair thither, to march against the enemy, and not one man came, except a Captain, Lieutenant, &c. and 7 or 8 men from Bedford. Finding then that it was impossible to get a party to range and scour the frontiers, it remained only to proceed without men to see the situation of the Forts, or to return back again: the latter I was loth to do, as I had got this far; and was anxious to see what posture of defence they were in. I therefore determined to come forward, at least to Vass’s; and accordingly set out in company with Colonel Buchanan, who being desirous that I might see and relate their unhappy circumstances, undertook to accompany me. We got safe to Vass’s, where Captain Hogg, with only 18 of his company, were building a fort which must employ him ’til Christmas, without more assistance. One Captain Hunt from Lunenburg, was there with 30 men; but none of them wou’d strike a stroke, unless I would engage to see them paid 40 lb’s. Tobacco per day, which is provided by act of Assembly for militia Carpenters.6 This I certainly could not do; as your Honor (who I thought had ordered them purposely out for this Duty) had given no directions in the affair. Whatever expectations your Honor may have had from the militia assistance; I am told they never lent a hand, save a few, that first came out with Captain Hoy;7 who he has paid after the same rates with our men, at 6d. per diem. Vass’s place is a pass of very great importance, being a very great inroad of the enemy, and secure, if it was strongly garrisoned. All Bedford, and the greatest part of this County, notwithstanding they have built three forts here, and one of them, if no more, erected in my opinion in a very out-of-the-way place—This they call Fort Trial.8 From Vass’s I came off with a Servant and a Guide, to visit the range of forts in this county; and in less than two hours after, two men were killed along the same road; as will appear by Captain McNiel’s letter, which I have just received, & herewith send, to let your Honor see by the account of Captain Hunts behaviour what dependance may be put in the militia.9 The Inhabitants are so sensible of their danger, if left to the protection of these people, that not a man will stay at his place—This I have from their own mouths, and the principal persons of Augusta-County. The militia are under such bad order and discipline, that they will go and come when and where they please; without regarding time, their officers, or the safety of the Inhabitants; but consulting solely their own inclinations. There shou’d be, according to your Honors orders, one-third of the militia of these parts, now on Duty at once; instead of that, I believe scarce 1/13 th is out. They are to be relieved every month—they are more than that time marching to & from their stations, and will not wait one day longer than the limited time, whether they are relieved or not, let the necessity for it be never so urgent. An instance of this happened in my presence about 4 days ago, in the case of Captain Daniel from Albemarle; who was entreated by Colonel Buchanan to stay, at the time he was gathering, or attempting to gather men, upon that alarm of the Catawba Settlement, before mentioned—but his month was out, and go he must and did: nay I believe I may venture to say, that whether his month had been out or not, this wou’d have induced him to go: for this Gentlemen went away from Vass’s, because he thought it was a dangerous post, giving that for his reason—and left Captain Hogg with 18 men, exposed to the insults of the enemy.10 Perhaps it may be thought I am partial in my relation, and reflect unjustly; I really do not, Sir; I scorn to make unjust remarks on the behaviour of the militia, as much as I despise and contemn the persons who detract from mine, and the character of the Regiment. Were it not that I consulted the good of the public, and thought these Garrisons merited redress I should not think it worth my mention—I only want to make the Country sensible, how ardently I have studied to promote her cause; & wish very sincerely my Successor may fill my place, more to their satisfaction in every respect than I have been able to do. I mentioned in my last to your Honor, that I did not think a less number than 2,000 men wou’d be sufficient to defend our extensive and much exposed Frontiers, from the ravages of the enemy—I have not had one reason yet to alter my opinion, but many to strengthen and confirm it. and I flatter myself the Country will, when they know my determinations, be convinced that I have no sinister views, no vain motives of commanding a number of men—that urge me to recommend this number to your Honor; but that it proceeds from the knowledge I have acquired of the country, people, &c. to be defended.

Your Honor I hope will give directions about laying in provisions on our southern frontiers; it is not in my power to do it, as I know not what Troops can or will be put there; for the Regiment is at present too weak to allow any men to march from the Quarter on which they are now stationed.11 I set out this day on my return to the Fort, on the head of Catawba, where Colonel Buchanan promised to meet me with a party to conduct me along our Frontiers, up Jackson’s-River to Fort-Dinwiddie, and higher if needful. If he does not meet me, I shall immediately proceed to Winchester, as it will be impossible to do any thing without men. If your Honor thinks proper to advance the pay of the militia, in order to engage them to work, please to acquaint Captain Hogg therewith, and send him money for that purpose: and were there more men ordered to cover his party, and assist in the work, it wou’d be highly advisable; for he lies greatly exposed. Major Lewis is extremely unwell—This Express is refered to your Honor for pay—I have not money to do it. I am hurried a good deal; but have given a plain account of all those several matters, mentioned in the foregoing Sheet. I am &c.



1This was Capt. Samuel Harris’s fort on the Mayo River. See GW’s Proposal for Frontier Forts, enclosed in GW to Dinwiddie, 9 Nov. 1756.

2For Andrew Lewis’s sojourn in the Cherokee country to build a fort and recruit warriors, see Dinwiddie to GW, 23 April 1756, n.6, and 20 Aug. 1756, n.1.

3GW wrote to Dinwiddie from Winchester on 9 Nov. 1756 giving further details of his journey. It was on 28 Sept. that GW wrote Dinwiddie of his planned departure.

4John Buchanan (d. 1769), partner and son-in-law of the late Augusta county lieutenant James Patton, had led a company of rangers on the ill-fated Sandy Creek expedition earlier in the year. David Stewart (died c.1758), who had served as commissary in the Sandy Creek expedition, was a cousin of the influential Augusta pioneer John Lewis and his son Maj. Andrew Lewis. Thus the two contenders for the chief military command in the county were representatives of its two powerful opposing factions. Dinwiddie had already chosen to treat Col. John Buchanan and not Col. David Stewart (misspelled “Stwewart”) as chief militia officer in Augusta County. He wrote Peter Hog on 23 Aug. 1756: “I have recommended Colo. Buchanan to him [Clement Read] for Augusta Coty. I have a bad Opinion of Colo. Stewarts Conduct, & before he receives any Mony, I shall make a Strict Scrutiny into his Demands, & think it must go through Buchanan’s Hands” (ViHi: Dinwiddie Papers). See also Dinwiddie to Buchanan, 1 Nov. 1756, in Brock, Dinwiddie Papers description begins R. Alonzo Brock, ed. The Official Records of Robert Dinwiddie, Lieutenant-Governor of the Colony of Virginia, 1751–1758. 2 vols. Richmond, 1883–84. description ends , 2:530–31.

5Looney’s (Luney’s) ferry crossed the James River at the present town of Buchanan, near the mouth of Looney’s Mill Creek (now Looney Creek). Col. John Buchanan had just recently moved to this area. The ferry, formerly belonging to James Patton, was on the main Indian road from the south to Philadelphia.

William Preston (1729–1783), another participant in the Sandy Creek campaign, was the nephew and close associate of James Patton. At various times during the French and Indian War, Preston was given a commission by the governor to raise men for a ranger company to serve on the frontier. He was serving under one of these commissions, dated July 1755, when he built the fort on Catawba Creek variously called the Catawba fort, Preston’s fort, and Fort William. He completed the fort in the early fall of 1755, a few weeks after James Patton’s slaying and Braddock’s defeat. This fort covered the well-settled Catawba Valley and one of the principal Indian roads through the mountains.

In June 1757 a committee of the House of Burgesses declared that an “Account of Col. John Nash, for the Pay of a Company of Militia of Prince-Edward County, amounting to £.207 18. is just” (JHB 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 , 1752–1755, 1756–1758, 484).

6Captain Hunt may be Memican Hunt, who in 1759 “gave a treat on Behalf of Mr Read to a Company of Militia he formerly had commanded” (JHB 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 , 1758–1761, 83). Lunenburg, formed in 1746, was one of the frontier counties that lay south and east of Augusta.

“An act for amending an act, intituled, An act for making provision against invasions and insurrections,” passed in August 1755, provided for the payment of 40 pounds of tobacco per day for all carpenters or other artificers (6 Hening description begins William Waller Hening, ed. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619. 13 vols. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends 544–50). However, a more recent act entitled: “An Act for amending the several acts, for making provision against invasions and insurrections” was passed in the spring of 1756 putting the compensation at 3 shillings per day (7 Hening description begins William Waller Hening, ed. The Statutes at Large; Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia, from the First Session of the Legislature, in the Year 1619. 13 vols. 1819–23. Reprint. Charlottesville, Va., 1969. description ends 26–33). The disgruntled militiamen had evidently not heard of the recent change in the law.

7The name is clearly “Hoy” on the manuscript, but this is almost certainly an error by the letter-book copyist for “Hog.”

8Bedford and Halifax counties were both formed from Lunenburg County in 1753 and 1752, respectively. Both counties lie to the south of Augusta County. The three forts in Halifax were built by Capt. Nathaniel Terry who held a commission dated 13 Aug. 1755 to raise a company of rangers in Lunenburg County. According to GW, Terry himself was in command of the fort on Blackwater River; a Captain Galloway commanded Fort Trial on Smith River (often mislabeled Irvine River on early maps); and Capt. Samuel Harris held the most southern in the chain of forts located on Mayo River. Since there were two Calloway brothers, William and Richard, who were captains in the Bedford County militia and a third Calloway brother, Thomas, who was a captain in the Halifax militia, “Galloway” was possibly GW’s or his copyist’s misspelling of Calloway.

9The Preston Register description begins “A Register of the Persons who have been either Killed, Wounded or taken Prisoners by the Enemy in Augusta County, as also of such as have made their Escape.” William Preston Papers in Draper Collection, Wisconsin Historical Society. description ends reports John Robinson killed and John Walker captured, both on 12 Oct. near Vause’s fort.

10James Daniel (died c.1761) of the Albemarle County militia lived a few miles below Scottsville on the James River.

11Except for Capt. Peter Hog’s 1st company, the companies of the Virginia Regiment were stationed at Fort Cumberland or in Frederick and Hampshire counties.

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