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the Western part of America on a line running from Montreal to New Orleans. To enable them to hold and occupy this country, the Frenchmen had built a chain of sixty forts. If you look on the map and pick out the cities of Montreal, Ogdensburg, Detroit, Toledo, Fort Wayne, Vincennes,
Natchez and New Orleans, which have grown up where once certain of these French forts stood, you can see what a vast tract of country France said she owned and was ready to defend, in North America.
So when the Ohio Company began to send out surveyors and roadbuilders into their lands in the West, the Frenchmen grew excited and said that the Englishmen were trying to steal their land.
They prepared to defend what they claimed to own, and made ready to build a new chain of forts, from a spot where the city of Erie now stands on Lake Erie, southward to the Ohio River.
Now Lawrence Washington had been the American
FRANCE IN POSSESSION.
manager of the Ohio Company. When, therefore, the Frenchmen began to grow warlike and Virginia talked of fighting back, Lawrence had secured from the royal governor of the colony of Virginia, whose name was Dinwiddie, an appointment for his brother George, then a boy of nineteen. This position gave George Washington charge of the militiamen who might be called upon, in the country about Mount Vernon, to fight against the French.
After Lawrence Washington's death in 1752, and while George, who had charge of his affairs, was looking after matters at the saddened home at Mount Vernon, Dinwiddie, the royal governor of Virginia, was getting ready to deal with the Frenchmen who were becoming more and more troublesome in the Ohio country. It was necessary to do something at once to stop their insolence, for they were annoying the English settlers and stirring up the Indians who had been friendly to the English. Indeed, unless something was done at once, the Frenchmen would own the whole western land.
“We must send some one into the Ohio Country to see and talk with these Frenchmen,” Governor Dinwiddie said ; “ we must find out what they mean by coming into our king's dominion, building forts on English land, interfereing with our settlers and stirring up the friendly Indians. Whom shall we send ?”
And Lord Fairfax, the wise but odd old nobleman who had been George Washington's friend, said to the Governor:
“I know just the man. You need a messenger who is young and strong and brave; one who knows the country; who is clear-headed, can deal with the Indians, and will not be afraid to tell the Frenchmen just what is right. Send George Washington."
So George Washington was appointed Commissioner to the French Posts in the Ohio Company. He was provided
with the paper that showed to all people that he was Commissioner. Then, supplied with letters to the French Commander, Major George Washington, as he was called, aged twentytwo, set out from Williamsburg, the
capital of the colony the Wilderness
of Virginia, on the
thirtieth of October, 1753. He was to undertake a perilous journey of over a thousand miles; he was to ask the Frenchmen what they meant by their fort-building and their loud talk, and to tell them, in the name of the King of England and the Governor of Virginia, to leave the Ohio Country at once.
He went to say good-by to his mother, who was living in the old house at Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock. Then he engaged an old Dutch soldier named Van Braam, from whom he had learned how to fence, to go with him and · talk French to the Frenchmen (for Washington could not speak French); he hired, also, a good guide named Christopher Gist, and a man named Davidson who could talk with the Indians in their own language; besides these, he took four frontiersmen, who knew all about traveling and camping in the forests, and could take care of the tents, the horses and the supplies. And, when all was ready, he set out from Will's Creek on the Potomac (now Cumberland in Western Maryland), on the fifteenth of November and at once pushed straight into the wilderness.
It was a hard and dangerous journey. Over the mountains and through the wilderness, across rivers and along narrow trails the young Commissioner and his men traveled westward, winning back some of the leading Indian chiefs who had gone over to the French, until, on the twelfth of December, he stood before the French commander, the Chevalier de St. Pierre, and delivered his letters.
Of course the Frenchmen refused to leave the land they claimed as their own. The French commander was very polite and pleasant to the young Virginia commissioner; but that was all. He gave Washington a letter to Governor Dinwiddie, and after staying in the French fort a few days, Washington and his men turned their faces toward home.
It was on Christmas Day that they started to return, and it was anything but a merry Christmas. The weather was very cold, the roads were terrible, the rivers were swollen and full of floating ice, the Indians were treacherous and
unfriendly. Anxious to get back as quickly as possible, Washington set out on foot, dressed like an Indian, and accompanied only by Christopher Gist, leaving the other men and the horses to come on as well as they could.
The two men had a journey filled with peril and advent