Abbildungen der Seite

Ohio Company, would have seen that the conditions on the frontier rendered war inevitable, and he accordingly made ready for the future by preparing his brother for the career of a soldier, so far as it could be done. He brought to Mount Vernon two old companions-in-arms of the Carthagena time, Adjutant Muse, a Virginian, and Jacob Van Braam, a Dutch soldier of fortune. The former instructed Washington in the art of war, tactics, and the manual of arms, the latter in fencing and the sword exercise. At the same time Lawrence Washington procured for his brother, then only nineteen years of age, an appointment as one of the adjutants-general of Virginia, with the rank of major. To all this the young surveyor took kindly enough so far as we can tell, but his military avocations were interrupted by his voyage to Barbadoes, by the illness and death of his brother, and by the cares and responsibilities thereby thrust upon him. Meantime the French aggressions had continued, and French soldiers and traders were working their way up from the South and down from the North, bullying and cajoling the Indians by turns, taking possession of the Ohio country, and selecting places as they went for that chain of forts which was to hem in and slowly strangle the English settlements. Governor Dinwiddie had sent a commissioner to remonstrate against these encroach. ments, but his envoy had stopped a hundred and fifty miles short of the French posts, alarmed by the troublous condition of things, and by the defeat and slaughter which the Frenchmen had already inflicted upon the Indians. Some more vigorous person was evidently needed to go through the form of warning France not to trespass on the English wilderness and thereupon Governor Dinwiddie selected for the task George Washington, recently reappointed adjutant-general of the northern division, and major in the Virginian forces. He was a young man for such an undertaking, not yet twenty-two, but clearly of good reputation. It is plain enough that Lord Fairfax and others had said to the governor, “Here is the very man for you; young, daring, and adventurous, but yet sober-minded and responsible, who only lacks opportunity to show the stuff that is in him.” Thus, then, in October, 1753, Washington set forth with Van Braam, and various servants and horses, accompanied by the boldest of Virginian frontiersmen, Christopher Gist. He wrote a report in the form of a journal, which was sent to England and much read at the time as part of the news of the day, and which has an equal although different interest now. It is a succinct, clear, and sober narrative. The little party was formed at Will's Creek, and thence through woods and over swollen rivers made its way to Logstown. Here they spent some days among the Indians, whose leaders Washington got within his grasp after much speech-making; and here, too, he met some French deserters from the South, and drew from them all the knowledge they possessed of New Orleans and the military expeditions from that region. From Logstown he pushed on, accompanied by his Indian chiefs, to Venango, on the Ohio, the first French outpost. The French officers asked him to sup with them. The wine flowed freely, the tongues of the hosts were loosened, and the young Virginian, temperate and hard-headed, listened to all the conversation, and noted down mentally much that was interesting and valuable. The next morning the Indian chiefs, prudently kept in the background, appeared, and a struggle ensued between the talkative, clever Frenchmen and the quiet, persistent Virginian, over the possession of these important savages. Finally Washington got off, carrying his chiefs with him, and made his way seventy miles further to the fort on French Creek. Here he delivered the governor's letter, and while M. de St. Pierre wrote a vague and polite answer, he sketched the fort and informed himself in regard to the military condition of the post. Then came another struggle over the Indians, and finally Washington got off with them once more, and worked his way back to Venango. Another struggle for the savages followed, rum being always the principal factor in the negotiation, and at last the chiefs determined to stay behind. Nevertheless, the work had been well done, and the important Half-King remained true to the English cause.

Leaving his horses, Washington and Gist then took to the woods on foot. The French Indians lay in wait for them and tried to murder them, and Gist, like a true frontiersman, was for shooting the scoundrel whom they captured. But Washington stayed his hand, and they gave the savage the slip and pressed on. It was the middle of December and cold and stormy. In crossing a river, Washington fell from the raft into deep water, amid the floating ice, but fought his way out, and he and his companion passed the night on an island, with their clothes frozen upon them. So through peril and privation, and various dangers, stopping in the midst of it all to win another savage potentate, they reached the edge of the settlements and thence went on to Williamsburg, where great praise and glory were awarded to the youthful envoy, the hero of the hour in the little Virginia capital.

It is worth while to pause over this expedition a moment and to consider attentively this journal which recounts it, for there are very few incidents or documents which tell us more of Washington. He was not yet twenty-two when he faced this first grave responsibility, and he did his work absolutely well. Cool courage, of course, he showed, but also patience and wisdom in handling the Indians, a clear sense that the crafty and well-trained Frenchmen could not blind, and a strong faculty for dealing with men, always a rare and precious gift. As in the little Barbadoes diary, so also in this journal, we see, and far more strongly, the penetration ans' perception that nothing could escape, and which set down all things essential and let the “huddling silver, little worth,” go by. The clearness, terseness, and entire sufficiency of the narrative are obvious and lie on the surface; but we find also another quality of the man which is one of the most marked features in his character, and one which we must dwell upon again and again, as we follow the story of his life. Here it is that we learn directly for the first time that Washington was a profoundly silent man. The gospel of silence has been preached in these latter days by Carlyle, with the fervor of a seer and prophet, and the world owes him a debt for the historical discredit which he has brought upon the man of words as compared with the man of deeds. Carlyle brushed Washington aside as “a bloodless Cromwell,” a phrase to which we must revert later on other grounds, and, as has already been said, failed utterly to see that he was the most supremely silent of the great men of action that the world can show. Like Cromwell and Frederic, Washington wrote countless letters, made many speeches, and was agreeable in conversation. But this was all in the way of business, and a man may be profoundly silent and yet talk a great deal. Silence in the fine and true sense is neither mere holding of the tongue nor an incapacity of expression. The greatly silent man is he who is not given to words for their own sake, and who never talks about himself. Both Cromwell, greatest of Englishmen, and

« ZurückWeiter »