« PreviousContinue »
the Ohio, where the Ohio Company intended to erect a fort, and he declared it to be greatly inferior, either for defence or advantages, to the position at the forks. He says, "A fort at the fork would be equally well situated on the Ohio, and have the entire command of the Monongahela, which runs from the Virginia settlement, and is extremely well designed for water carriage, as it is of a deep, still nature. Besides, a fort at the fork might be built at much less expense than at the other place. Nature has well contrived this lower place for water defence; but the hill whereon it must stand being about a quarter of a mile in length, and then descending gradually on the land side, will render it difficult and very expensive to make a sufficient fortification there. The whole flat upon the hill must be taken in, the side next the descent made extremely high, or else the hill itself cut away; otherwise, the enemy may raise batteries within that distance, without being exposed to a single shot from the fort."
Such was Washington's opinion, at the age of twenty-one, of the advantages and capabilities of a position, the importance of which soon became manifest to the French, who there, as we have already remarked, soon after erected Fort Du Quesne. The correctness of his opinion is further demonstrated by the importance attached to the fort in two wars, and by the flourishing condition of the city which now stands at the forks of the Ohio. On the 25th day after his departure from Williamsburg, Washington reached Logstown, where he was instructed to convene as many Indian chiefs as possible, and solicit a guard to the French forts. He immediately called a council of the principal sachems, to be held on the 26th. Tanacharison, or the Half-King, the principal chieftain, being absent on an embassy from the others to the French commandant, it was necessary to make this short delay in order that time might be allowed for his return. He returned on the afternoon of the 25th. This chief, thinking that the English only desired to trade with the Indians and not to dispossess them of their lands, favoured them in preference to the French, whom he saw building forts and houses, and taking forcible possession of the country. This forcible entry of the French upon their territories was deprecated by several tribes, and the Half-King was sent by them as their deputy to remonstrate with the intruders, on the injustice of their course. From this embassy he had just returned, when a private interview was solicited by Major Washington. After informing him of the nature of the business which had brought the party to his village, he de
sired the chief to relate some of the particulars of his journey to the French encampment, and of his reception there, and to give him an account of the ways and distances. He told him that "the nearest and levelest way was at that season impassable, on account of the many large miry savannas through which it passed, that he would be obliged to go by Venango, and could not get to the nearest fort in less than five or six nights' sleep, good travelling." Tanacharison said, that when he visited the fort, he had been received in a very stern manner by the late commander, (who had since died,) who asked him very abruptly, what he had come about, and what was his business. He said that he had answered in the following words:
"Fathers, I am come to tell you your own speeches; what your own mouths have declared. Fathers, you in former days set a silver basin before us, wherein there was the leg of a beaver, and desired all the nations to come and eat of it, to eat in peace and plenty, and not to be churlish to one another; and that if any person should be found to be a disturber, I here lay down by the edge of the dish a rod, which you must scourge him with; and if your father should get foolish in my old days, I desire you may use it upon me as well as others.
"Now, fathers, it is you who are the disturbers in this land, by coming and building your towns; and taking it away unknown to us, and by force.
* Washington's Journal.
"Fathers, we kindled a fire long time ago, at a place called Montreal, where we desired you to stay, and not to come and intrude upon our land. I now desire you may despatch to that place; for be it known to you, fathers, that this is our land, and not yours.
"Fathers, I desire you may hear me in civilness; if not, we must handle that rod which was laid down for the use of the obstreperous. If you had come in a peaceable manner, like our brothers, the English, we would not have been against your trading with us as they do; but to come, fathers, and build houses upon our land, and to take it by force, is what we cannot submit to.
"Fathers, both you and the English are white; we live in a country between; therefore, the land belongs to neither one nor the other. But the Great Being above allowed it to be a place of residence for us; so, fathers, I desire you to withdraw, as I have done our brothers the English; for I will keep you at arm's length. I lay this down as a trial for both, to see which will have the greatest regard to it, and that side we will stand by, and make equal sharers with us. Our brothers the English have heard this, and I come now to tell it to you; for I am not afraid to discharge you off this land."
This patriotic and heroic, though simple speech, was answered by the general. The following is the substance of his speech as reported by the Half-King to Major Washington, and published by him in his interesting journal of this expedition.
"Now, my child," the general said, "I have heard your speech; you spoke first, but it is my time to speak now. Where is my wampum that you took away, with the marks of towns in it? This wampum I do not know which you have discharged me off the land with: but you need not put yourself to the trouble of speaking, for I will not hear you. I am not afraid of flies or musquitoes, for Indians are such as those; I tell you down that river I will go, and build upon it according to my command. If the river was blocked up, I have forces sufficient to burst it open, and tread under my feet all that stand in opposition, together with their alliances; for my force is as the sand upon the sea-shore; therefore here is your wampum; I sling it at you. Child, you talk foolishly; you say this land belongs to you, but there is not the black of my nail yours. I saw that land sooner than you did, before the Shannoahs and you were at war. Lead was the man who went down and took possession of that river. It is my land and I will have it, let who will stand up for, or say against it.
I will buy and sell with the English! (mockingly.) If people will be ruled by me, they may expect kindness, but not else."
The sachems met in council on the 26th of November. Major Washington addressed them and explained the objects of his mission in the following speech:
"Brothers," said he, "I have called you together in council, by order of your brother, the governor of Virginia, to acquaint you that I am sent with all possible despatch, to visit and deliver a letter to the French commandant, of very great importance to your brothers the English, and I dare say to you their friends and allies.
“I was desired, brothers, by your brother the governor, to call upon you, the sachems of nations, to inform you of it, and ask your advice and assistance to proceed the nearest and best road to the French. You see, brothers, I have gotten thus far on my journey.
"His honour likewise desired me to apply to you for some of your young men to conduct and provide provisions for us on our way; and be a safeguard against those French Indians who have taken up the hatchet against us. I have spoken thus particularly to you, brothers, because his honour our governor treats you as good friends and allies, and holds you in great esteem. To confirm what I have said, I give you this string of wampum.'
The chiefs received the token of friendship and alliance, and after a short consultation, deputed Tanacharison to answer in the name of the whole. He said,
"Now, my brother, in regard to what my brother the governor had desired of me, I return you this answer.
"I rely upon you as a brother ought to do, as you say we are brothers, and one people. We shall put heart in hand, and speak to our fathers, the French, concerning the speech they made to me; and you may depend that we will endeavour to be your guard.
"Brother, as you have asked my advice, I hope you will be ruled by it, and stay until I can provide a company to go with you. The French speech belt is not here; I have it to go for to my hunting cabin. Likewise, the people whom I have ordered in are not yet come, and cannot until the third night from this; until which time, brother, I must beg you to stay.
"I intend to send the guard of Mingos, Shannoahs, and Delawares, that our brothers may see the love and loyalty we bear them."
The young men did not arrive on the third night, as the Indian had said, and the business being pressing, Major Washington determined to set out with what escort could be immediately furnished. Having made known his intention to the chiefs, they met at their council-house, and deputed Tanacharison and three others to attend him to the French fort. With this small escort he started on the 30th of November; and on the 4th of December reached Venango, an old Indian town, at the mouth of French Creek, on the Ohio, about sixty miles north of Logstown. This town was occupied by the French under Captain Joncaire, as an outpost. The French commandant affected to treat the young officer with great respect, though he used every means in his power to detain him. The Indians were intoxicated, and rendered incapable of attending to their business or proceeding on their journey. When that could not be kept up, Joncaire pretended that he was intrusted with the management of Indian affairs; and Tanacharison found it necessary to spend another day to hold a council and have a talk about the incursions of the French on his hunting-grounds. The council ended, as Washington knew it would, where it began, Joncaire referring the Indian to the commander at the fort. Washington, during this short delay, succeeded, however, in gaining from Captain Joncaire information of the real designs of the French in building their forts and extending their settlements along the Ohio. Professing the greatest respect and friendship for Washington, and concern for the success of his journey, Joncaire, while holding him back, pretended to use all his power and the greatest expedition to accomplish his business with the Indians and send him forward. He told him where he would find the commandant, and gave him as many directions about the route as if he were going to travel alone and without guides.
Washington succeeded with great difficulty in leaving Venango, about noon on the 7th; but in consequence of excessive rains, followed by snow, and the bad travelling through many mires and swamps, he did not reach the station of the French commandant until the 11th, forty-one days after his departure from Williamsburg.
The commandant, Legardeur de St. Pierre, received him kindly, and in two days gave him an answer to the governor's letter. During the two days spent at the fort, Washington embraced every opportunity of making himself acquainted with the defences of the place. He thus describes the fort in his journal: "It is situ