Abbildungen der Seite

irritating difficulties. He reached Will's Creek three weeks later; and then his real troubles began. Captain Trent, the timid and halting envoy, who had failed to reach the French, had been sent out by the wise authorities to build a fort at the junction of the Alleghany and Monongahela, on the admirable site selected by the keen eye of Washington. There Trent left his men and returned to Will's Creek, where Washington found him, but without the pack-horses that he had promised to provide. Presently news came that the French in overwhelming numbers had swept down upon Trent's little party, captured their fort, and sent them packing back to Virginia. Washington took this to be war, and determined at once to march against the enemy. Having impressed from the inhabitants, who were not bubbling over with patriotism, some horses and wagons, he set out on his toilsome march across the mountains. It was a wild and desolate region, and progress was extremely slow. By May 9th he was at the Little Meadows, twenty miles from his startingplace; by the 18th at the Youghiogany River, which he explored and found unnavigable. He was therefore forced to take up his weary march again for the Monongahela, and by the 27th he was at the Great Meadows, a few miles further on. The extreme danger of his position does not seem to have occurred to him, but he was harassed and angered by the conduct of the assembly. He wrote to Governor Dinwiddie that he had no idea of giving up his commission. "But," he continued, "let me serve voluntarily; then I will, with the greatest pleasure in life, devote my services to the expedition, without any other reward than the satisfaction of serving my country; but to be slaving dangerously for the shadow of pay, through woods, rocks, mountains, — I would rather prefer the great toil of a daily laborer, and dig for a maintenance, provided I were reduced to the necessity, than serve upon such ignoble terms; for I really do not see why the lives of his Majesty's subjects in Virginia should be of less value than those in other parts of his American dominions, especially when it is well known that we must undergo double their hardship." Here we have a high-spirited, high-tempered young gentleman, with a contempt for shams that it is pleasant to see, and evidently endowed also with a fine taste for fighting and not too much patience. Indignant letters written in vigorous language were, however, of little avail, and Washington prepared to shift for himself as best he might. His Indian allies brought him news that the French were on the march and had thrown out scouting parties. Picking out a place in the Great Meadows for a fort, "a charming field for an encounter," he in his turn sent out a scouting party, and then on fresh intelligence from the Indians set forth himself with forty men to find the enemy. After a toilsome march they discovered their foes in camp. The French, surprised and surrounded, sprang to arms, the Virginians fired, there was a sharp exchange of shots, and all was over. Ten of the French were killed and twenty-one were taken prisoners, only one of the party escaping to carry back the news. This little skirmish made a prodigious noise in its day, and was much heralded in France. The French declared that Jumonville, the leader, who fell at the first fire, was foully assassinated, and that he and his party were ambassadors and sacred characters. Paris rang with this fresh instance of British perfidy, and a M. Thomas celebrated the luckless Jumonville in a solemn epic poem in four books. French historians, relying on the account of the Canadian who escaped, adopted the same tone, and at a later day mourned over this black spot on Washington's character. The French view was simple nonsense. Jumonville and his party, as the papers found on Jumonville showed, were out on a spying and scouting expedition. They were seeking to surprise the English when the English surprised them, with the usual backwoods result. The affair has a dramatic interest because it was the first blood shed in a great struggle, and was the beginning of a series of world-wide wars and social and political convulsions, which terminated more than half a century later on the plains of Waterloo. It gave immortality to an obscure French officer by linking his name with that of his opponent, and brought Washington for the moment before the eyes of the world, which little dreamed that this Virginian colonel was destined to be one of the principal figures in the great revolutionary drama to which the war then beginning was but the prologue. Washington, well satisfied with his exploit, retraced his steps, and having sent his prisoners back to Virginia, proceeded to consider his situation. It was not a very cheerful prospect. Contrecceur, with the main body of the French and Indians, was moving down from the Monongahela a thousand strong. This of course was to have been anticipated, and it does not seem to have in the least damped Washington's spirits. His blood was up, his fighting temper thoroughly roused, and he prepared to push on. Colonel Fry had died meanwhile, leaving Washington in command; but his troops came forward, and also not long after a useless "independent" company from South Carolina. Thus reinforced Washington advanced painfully some thirteen miles, and then receiving sure intelligence of the approach of the French in great force fell back with difficulty to the Great Meadows, where he was obliged by the exhausted condition of his men to stop. He at once resumed work on Fort Necessity, and made ready for a desperate defence, for the French were on his heels, and on July 3d appeared at the Meadows. Washington offered battle outside the fort, and this being declined withdrew to his trenches, and skirmishing went on all day. When night fell it was apparent that the end had come. The men were starved aad worn-out. TheU muskets in many cases were rendered useless by the rain, and their ammunition was spent. The Indians had deserted, and the foe outnumbered them four to one. When the French therefore offered a parley, Washington was forced reluctantly to accept. The French had no stomach for the fight, apparently, and allowed the English to go with their arms, exacting nothing but a pledge that for a year they would not come to the Ohio. So ended Washington's first campaign. His friend the Half-King, the celebrated Seneca chief, Thanacarishon, who prudently departed on the arrival of the French, has left us a candid opinion of Washington and his opponents. "The colonel," he said, "was a good-natured man, but had no experience; he took upon him to command the Indians as his slaves, and would have them every day upon the scout and to attack the enemy by themselves, but would by no means take advice from the Indians. He lay in one place from one full moon to the other, without making any fortifications, except that little thing on the meadow; whereas, had he taken advice, and built such fortifications as I advised him, he might easily have beat off the French. But the French in the engagement acted like cowards, and the English like fools." i

There is a deal of truth in this opinion. The

1 Enquiry into the Causes of the Alienation of the Delaware and Shawanee Indians, etc. London, 1759. By Charles Thomson, afterwards Secretary of Congress.

« ZurückWeiter »