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Commencement of the Seven Years' War.
Canada, since the year 1608, when the first permanent settlement was made, had been in the undisputed possession of the French. Both the French and English claimed the lands in the Western Continent, by the right
of prior discovery, and possession or settlement, without any regard to the right of the native inhabitants. The claims founded on discovery and actual occupation had hitherto covered but a small portion of the continent, and the European nations, by the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle, adjusted, in a superficial manner, the distribution of North America between the three dominant powers, England, France, and Spain. This agreement was very imperfect, however, inasmuch as the colonies of these three powers occupied but a narrow band along the Atlantic coast; and though their
charters claimed the whole country from sea to sea, yet as they were entirely unacquainted with those vast regions, it was not improbable that they would soon be again involved in new difficulties respecting boundaries.
In 1673, a party of French from Canada discovered the upper waters of the Mississippi River, at the spot at which it is joined by the Wisconsin; and sailing down it as far as the Arkansas, they decided from its course that it emptied into the Gulf of Mexico. They then returned by land to Canada. On this discovery, the French nation based its right to the great Mississippi Valley. Having sailed down the river, they claimed all the lands watered by its tributaries. They afterwards took possession of the country lying near the mouth of the river, and about the year 1722, a small colony was planted at New Orleans. In ten or twelve years their settlements in Louisiana increased and began to extend up the Mississippi. Thus the French possessed two considerable colonies, one of them north, and the other south, of the English possessions. Their settlers from Canada approaching the Ohio River, and those of Louisiana manifesting a disposition to occupy the Valley of the Mississippi, the project was formed of connecting these two colonies by means of a chain of forts, running along the Ohio, and down the Mississippi. This plan interfered with the chartered rights of the English, extending from sea to sea, and would have confined them to the eastern side of the Alleghany Mountains. The Indians, too, who had hitherto been friendly to the English settlers of Virginia, becoming alarmed for their safety, began to side with their nearer neighbours, and by them they were soon instigated to make depredations on their former friends.
Already had the French, by the erection of a strong fort at Crown Point, secured the command of Lake Champlain, and a connected chain of posts was maintained from Quebec, up the St. Lawrence, and along the great lakes; until at last they approached the Ohio, and entered on the territory which had been actually granted, by charter, to the colony of Virginia. The English traders were warned not to enter the country claimed by the French to trade with the Indians. A few, disregarding the warning, were captured and carried as prisoners to Presque Isle, on Lake Erie, where the French were then erecting a strong fort. This was done, too, when the two nations were at peace with each other. A. D. 1753.
HE Indians, instigated it is supposed by French emissaries, commenced their savage warfare. The great valley of the Shenandoah was then but thinly peopled. The farmers who had ventured so far from the civilized world seemed to be careless about the society
of their species, and took up their posi
tions out of sight of even the smoke from their neighbours' chimneys. These isolated families often suffered from the incursions of the savages, who spared neither age nor sex, but committed their wanton cruelty on the persons of all alike, often wreaking their fiendish hatred on the unoffending and lifeless body after the soul had been released from sufferings too horrible to be narrated. The near approach of their old enemies, the French, and the ascendency which they were known to possess over the wild savages of the forest, naturally filled these desolate families with fear. They called upon the governor for aid. Governor Dinwiddie had already despatched a messenger over the mountains, with presents for the Indians, and instructions to ascertain their temper and designs, and, if possible, to find out the intentions of the French. He, however, became alarmed at the tales told him by the Indians, to whom he delivered his presents, and returned without effecting his object.
Orders now arrived from the British ministry, for the Governor of Virginia to build two forts near the Ohio River, to prevent the encroachments of the French, and to hold the Indians in check. But the orders arrived too late. The French had already taken possession of the territory bordering on the Ohio.
Thus commenced the Seven Years' War in America, called, by the provincial soldiers who were engaged in it, the Old French War. It was destined to develope the military talents and energies of Washington, and to transfer the possession of Canada and the other northern provinces of America, from France to Great Britain.
The French having taken possession of the country and built forts in different places on the Ohio, Governor Dinwiddie, in obedience to the orders of the British ministry, determined to assert the right of his king, as well as that of the province of Virginia, to the stations thus occupied, and if possible effect their dislodg
For this purpose, he deemed it advisable, at first, to de
spatch an envoy to the French commandant, ordering him to retire from the territories of the British. This service was one of great delicacy, and full of danger and difficulty. "The envoy would be under the necessity of passing through an extensive and almost unexplored wilderness, intersected with rugged mountains and considerable rivers, and inhabited by fierce savages, who were either hostile to the English or of doubtful attachment."*
Such were the difficulties and dangers of the service that not one of the many aids and immediate attendants on the governor offered to undertake it, and Dinwiddie began to fear that it would be necessary to abandon the project.
N this crisis Washington, then only twenty-one years of age, volunteered his services. This was not done at the instigation of ambition: the service was dangerous, and no honour would accrue on its successful issue. He did it not from poverty, nor from the want of employment; we have seen him actively and usefully engaged, and in possession of a competent fortune. But at the voice of his country he cheerfully resigned the ease and comforts of home, to enter on a journey in the depth of winter, through a savage wilderness which exposed him to the severest fatigue and privation, and the most imminent dangers. The acceptance of the office, therefore, can only be regarded as an act of devoted patriotism.
The governor, a kind-hearted old Scotsman, thankfully accepted the offer of Washington's services, saying, at the same time, that if he conducted himself to his satisfaction and that of the council, he would have no cause to repent having undertaken the service.
On the 30th of October, he received his commission and instructions from the governor, together with a letter to the French commander, inquiring into his designs and the authority by which he had dared to invade the dominions of the King of England, and ordering him forthwith to evacuate the territory of Virginia. Besides delivering this message, his instructions required him to obtain information of the position, force, and designs of the French through the aid of the friendly Indians on the borders.
With these instructions and a passport, Washington commenced his journey on the 31st of October, 1753. He was accompanied by John Davidson, as Indian interpreter, and Jacob Van Braam, his old fencing-master, as French interpreter. Passing through Fredericksburg, Alexandria, and Winchester, they arrived on the
14th of November at Wills' Creek, beyond which no road extended, and where it was necessary to hire a guide. For this purpose, the services of Mr. Gist were secured. This person was eminently qualified for the post thus given to him, for having made a settlement between the northwestern ridge of the Alleghanies and the Monongahela River, he had often traversed the country between his settlement and the Ohio, and was well acquainted with the habits of the Indians in the neighbourhood through which their route lay.* Four other men were here added to the little expedition, to act as attendants, and take charge of the horses and baggage. Their names were Currin, McQuire, Steward and Jenkins, the two former being Indian traders. The number of the party being thus increased to eight, they proceeded on their way. They now entered on the great western wilderness, through which it was necessary to follow Indian trails or direct their course by the compass. Excessive rains, aided by the melting of the snows with which the tops of the mountains were already covered, had so swelled the streams which crossed their course, as to render their journey one of continued labour and difficulty.
On the 22d they arrived at the settlement of Mr. Frazier, an Indian trader on the Monongahela River, about ten miles from the forks of the Ohio. The streams being impassable except by swimming the horses, or on rafts, they were obliged to borrow a canoe from the trader, and to send Currin and Steward down the Monongahela with the baggage, to meet the rest of the party at the forks. Washington, arriving at that place before the canoe, spent some time in viewing the rivers and land in the fork, which he thought extremely well situated for a fort, as it had the absolute command of both rivers. He thus speaks of the spot where the French soon after erected Fort Du Quesne, and where the great manufacturing city of Pittsburg has since sprung up so rapidly. The words are taken from his journal, published by the order of the governor on his return from the expedition. "The land at the point is twenty or twenty-five feet above the common surface of the water; and a considerable bottom of flat, well-timbered land all around it, very convenient for building. The rivers are each a quarter of a mile or more across, and run here very nearly at right angles, Alleghany bearing northeast, and Monongahela south-east. The former of these is very rapid, running water, the other deep and still, without any perceptible fall." The next day he examined a spot about two miles down Sparks.