IN THE WILDERNESS.
Extending from the Rappahannock to the Potomac, and stretching away beyond the Blue Ridge far into the Alleghany Mountains, there lay at this time an immense tract of forest land, broken only here and there by a little clearing, in the midst of which stood the rude log-cabin of some hardy backwoodsman. This large body of land—the largest, indeed, ever owned by any one man in Virginia—was the property of a great English nobleman named Lord Fairfax, an old bachelor of eccentric habits and strange opinions, but of a highly cultivated understanding, and, when it so pleased him, of polite and elegant address. His stature was lofty,—far above that of the common run of men. He was a keen sportsman, had a fund of whimsical humor, and, in his odd way, showed himself possessed of a kindly and generous heart; sometimes making a tenant or poor friend the present of a large farm, without requiring any thing in return but a haunch of venison or a fat wild turkey for his next Christmas dinner.
Having heard that settlements were being made in the most fertile valleys of his wild domain, he had lately come over from the mother-country to inquire into the matter, and make suitable provision against any future encroachments of the kind upon his rights. He now beheld his forest possessions for the first time; and so charmed was he with the wild beauty of the scenery, and so won over by enticing visions of fishing and hunting, conjured up by the sight of the waving woods and running streams, that he resolved to leave his native land for ever, and take up his abiding-place for the rest of his days amid those leafy solitudes. Accordingly, he betook himself, with all his negro servants (numbering one hundred and fifty), and a few white dependants, to the beautiful Valley of the Shenandoah, lying between the Blue Ridge and the Alleghany Mountains; where he soon cleared a large plantation, and built thereon a house, to which he gave the name of Greenway Court.
From that time forward, this became his fixed abode; but, as he had more land than a thousand men could put to any good use, he was quite willing to dispose of all, except what lay for a few miles immediately around Greenway Court, at reasonable rates, to such honest persons as were willing to buy it and make it their future home. But, in order that no misunderstanding might arise hereafter between the parties concerned with respect to the boundary-line and number of acres bought and sold, it was necessary, in the first place, to have the land surveyed, and divided into lots of convenient sizes for farms.
Now, you must know that, old Lord Fairfax was a distant relative of Mrs. Lawrence Washington, and had, as a natural consequence, often met our George at Mount Vernon; and so struck was he with the manly bearing, high character, good sense, and mathematical skill, of the fair-haired, blue-eyed youth, that he offered him, young as he was, the place of surveyor of all his vast lands. Being the son of a widowed mother, and earnestly desirous of aiding her all in his power, and earning for himself an honest independence, George was but too happy to accept of the offer; and the necessary arrangements were soon made. Having provided himself with all things needful for the new enterprise,—such as a horse, a rifle, a blanket, and a steel chain and compass,—he set out, at the head of a small party of hunters and backwoodsmen, upon this his first considerable field of labor, early in the spring of 1748, just one month from the completion of his sixteenth year.
They were soon, in the depths of the wilderness, miles beyond the most distant frontier settlements. The snows of winter that still lingered on the mountains, warmed by the softer airs of early spring, had melted so rapidly of late as to swell the forest streams to a degree that rendered their fording often difficult, and even sometimes dangerous. Now and then, coming to a stream which had overflowed its banks, the little party would be obliged to construct a raft of logs, roughly lashed together with grape-vines, upon which they could push to the opposite side, without getting their baggage wet, and, at the same time, compel their horses to swim along behind. Their way was often obstructed by the trunks and branches of fallen trees, thickets tangled and dense and thorny, huge and rugged rocks, and treacherous swamps, covered with long, green grass, into which the horses, stepping unawares, would suddenly plunge up to the saddle-girths in water and mire.
For some time, they lodged in wigwams or huts, rudely framed of poles, and covered with the bark of trees; which served the purpose well enough when the weather was dry and still, but were often beaten down and overturned by the winds and rains when their shelter was most needed. After two or three of these rickety shanties had been tumbled about their heads, to the no small risk of life or limb, they wisely concluded to abandon them, and sleep in the open air, with the twinkling stars above them, the gray old trees around them, and the damp, cold ground beneath them, with nothing between but their good blankets, and the dead, dry leaves of autumn heaped together; and lucky was he who got the place nearest the fire, or could put the mossy trunk of a fallen tree between him and the biting blast, or, better still, could boast a bearskin for his bed. A little before sunset, they would halt for the night in some sheltered spot, convenient to a running stream; where, turning their horses loose to graze till morning, they would build a cheerful fire of the dry brushwood close at hand, and prepare their evening meal, which they would eat with a keenness of appetite known only to the tired and hungry hunter. Each man was his own cook; their food consisting chiefly of venison and wild turkey their rifles procured them, and fish drawn from the neighboring brook, which they would broil on the glowing coals, fastened to a forked stick instead of a spit, and then eat it from a maple chip, instead of a dish. If the season permitted them to add to this a hatful of berries that grew on the sunny side of the hill, or acorns from the mountain-oak, or nuts from the hickory-tree, or, more delicious still, plums, persimmons, and pawpaws, that grew in the more open parts of the woods, they made of it a dainty feast indeed.
Now and then, in the course of this rambling life in the wilderness, they met with roving bands of skin-clad Indians, either as warriors out upon the war-path against some distant tribe, or as hunters roaming the forest in quest of game. One evening, late, as our little party of surveyors were about to encamp for the night, they spied through the trees the glimmering light of a large fire on the top of a far-off hill. Curious to know who, besides themselves, could be in that lonely place, they determined to go thither before stopping; and, guided by the light, reached ere long the spot, where they found a small squad of Indian hunters, resting themselves after the fatigues of the day's chase. They seemed to be in high good humor, as if the hunt had gone well with them that day; and, being in this mood, extended a true Indian welcome to the new-comers; setting before them, with open-handed hospitality, heaps of parched corn, and their choicest bits of venison, wild turkey, bear's meat, and fish. Supper ended, the pipe of peace and good-will passed from mouth to mouth, as a pledge that all should go on well between them; after which the Indians, for the further entertainment of their white guests, and as a more marked manner of showing their respect, set about preparing themselves for a war-dance.
In the first place, they cleared the ground around the fire of chunks and brushwood, and other obstructions that might hinder the free play of their feet and legs in the performance. Then the two musicians began to put in order and tune their instruments: that is to say, one of them filled a camp-kettle half full of water, over which he tightly stretched a raw-hide, and, tapping it twice or thrice with a stick, drew forth a hollow, smothered sound therefrom, by way of giving to those not in the secret a hint that this was to be their drum; while the other made a rattle by putting a few bullets or pebbles into a hard, dry gourd of monstrous size, to the handle of which he fastened a horse's tail, not so much to improve its tone perhaps, as to give it a more finished appearance.
These simple preparations soon completed, a tall warrior, grimly painted as if for battle, advanced a few paces into the circle, and, squatting upon his haunches, fixed his eyes for several moments with a hard, stony look upon nothing whatever, till the first tap of the drum and the first jerk of the rattle, when he suddenly leaped up, with a deafening yell that made the old woods ring again, and began capering about in the most astonishing manner, causing such a commotion among the dry leaves and dead twigs as made it appear that a little whirlwind had all at once been let loose among them. Another soon followed, and got up a similar sensation among the dry leaves and dead twigs on his own private account; while a third, springing into the circle, did the same; and so on, until at last the whole party were hot in the dance. Some brandished their scalping-knives, some flourished their tomahawks, some waved aloft the scalps of their enemies taken in battle; all yelling the while, and all making horrible faces. And warmer and warmer they waxed in the dance, and round and round they went; now up in the air, now down on the ground; jumping and kicking, yelping and barking, spinning and whirling, yelling and howling, like a pack of hobgoblins and imps on a spree. The hollow woods gave back the barbarous din in a thousand obstreperous echoes; and afar off, from the depths of the lonely forest glens, might have been heard, had not the attention of the spectators been otherwise engaged, the answering howl of the hungry wolves.
After some time spent in this outlandish amusement, without any previous notice whatever, plump down they sat, and, in a minute, were smoking their pipes with as much gravity and composure as if they had just come in from a gentle promenade with their wives and children along the banks of a smooth and tranquil river. It was a sight, once seen, never to be forgotten. At first, George and his friends had looked on with open-eyed amazement; but, before the dance was ended, the whole scene appeared to them so comical, that they had need of all their self-control to keep a sober countenance, so as not to give offence to their savage entertainers.
THE YOUNG SURVEYOR.
It was a glorious region of stately woods, fertile valleys, clear running streams, and lofty mountains, where our young surveyor, with the exception of the winter months, spent the next three years of his life. At first, not being accustomed to such severe privations and exposure, it had gone rather hard with him: but he soon became inured to them; and it was, no doubt, to this rough experience in the wilderness, that he owed, in large measure, his uncommon vigor and activity of body, and that firm reliance on the resources of his own mind, which enabled him to endure and overcome those hardships, trials, and difficulties which beset him throughout the greater portion of his after-life. This severe training was also of another advantage to him, in making him perfectly familiar with all that region, in whose dark retreats and rugged wilds he learned, a few years later, his first hard lessons in the art of war.
With all its privations, it was a life he loved to lead; for it afforded him the means of an independent support: and a happy boy was he, when first he wrote his mother that he was earning from fifteen to twenty dollars for every day he worked. Besides this, the beauty and grandeur of Nature's works, everywhere visible around him, awakened in him feelings of the truest delight; and he would sometimes spend the better part of a summer's day in admiring the tall and stately trees, whose spreading branches were his only shelter from the dews of heaven, and heat of noonday. At night, after supper, when his companions would be talking over the adventures of the day just past, or laughing boisterously at some broad joke repeated for the hundredth time, or would be joining their voices in the chorus of some rude woodland song, our young surveyor would be sitting a little apart on the trunk of a fallen tree, pencil and paper before him, calculating with a grave countenance, and by the ruddy light of a blazing pine-knot, the results of the day's labor. With no other companionship than that of the wild Indians he fell in with from time to time, and the rude, unlettered hunters around him, he must needs turn for society to the thoughts that stirred within his own mind. Often would he withdraw himself from the noisy mirth of his companions, and, climbing to some lofty mountain-top, spend hours and hours rapt in the contemplation of the wild and varied region, smiling in life and beauty far, far beneath him. At such times, we can imagine his countenance lit up with a sacred joy, and his soul rising in praise and thanksgiving to the great Father, who, in love and wisdom, made this glorious world for the good and happiness of all that dwell therein.
Now and then, for the sake of a refreshing change, he would leave the wilderness behind him, with all its toils and dangers, and betake him to Greenway Court, the woodland home of old Lord Fairfax, with whom he had become a great favorite, and was ever a welcome guest. Here he would spend a few weeks in the most agreeable manner you can well imagine; for the old lord, being a man of some learning and extensive reading, had collected, in the course of a long life, a large library of the best and rarest books, from which, during these three years, George derived great pleasure and much valuable information. Besides this, a keener fox-hunter than this odd old bachelor was not to be found in all the Old Dominion; and, for the full enjoyment of this sport, he always kept a pack of hounds of the purest English blood. At the first peep of dawn, the cheerful notes of the hunter's horn, and the deep-mouthed baying of the fox-hounds, filling the neighboring woods with their lively din, would call our young surveyor from his slumbers to come and join in the sports of the morning. Waiting for no second summons, he would be up and out in a trice, and mounted by the side of the merry old lord; when, at a signal wound on the bugle, the whole party would dash away, pell-mell, helter-skelter, over the hills and through the woods, up the hills and down them again, across the brooks and along the winding river; hunters and horses hard on the heels of the hounds, hounds hard on the heels of poor Renard, and poor Renard cutting, cutting away for dear life.
During the three years thus employed, George made his home at Mount Vernon, it being nearer and more convenient to his field of labor; but, as often as his business would permit, he would go on a visit to his mother at the old homestead on the Rappahannock, whither, as I should have told you before now, his father had removed when he was but three or four years old. These were precious opportunities, ever improved by him, of extending to her that aid in the management of her family affairs, which to receive from him was her greatest pleasure, as well as his truest delight to give.
About this time, he formed a habit of writing down in a diary or day-book such facts and observations as seemed to him worthy of note, by which means he would be enabled to fix firmly in his mind whatever might prove of use to him at a future day. This is a most excellent habit; and I would earnestly advise all young persons, desirous of increasing their stock of knowledge, to form it as soon as they begin the study of grammar and can write a good round hand. The following is a specimen of this diary, written by him at the age of sixteen, as you will see by the date therein given:—
"March 13th, 1748.—Rode to his lordship's (Lord Fairfax's) quarter. About four miles higher up the Shenandoah, we went through most beautiful groves of sugar-trees, and spent the better part of the day in admiring the trees and richness of the land.
"14th.—We sent our baggage to Capt. Hite's, near Fredericktown; and went ourselves down the river about sixteen miles (the land exceedingly rich all the way, producing abundance of grain, hemp, and tobacco), in order to lay off some land on Cole's Marsh and Long Marsh.
"15th.—Worked hard till night, and then returned. After supper, we were lighted into a room; and I, not being so good a woodsman as the rest, stripped myself very orderly, and went into the bed, as they called it; when, to my surprise, I found it to be nothing but a little straw matted together, without sheet or any thing else, but only one threadbare blanket, with double its weight of vermin, I was glad to get up and put on my clothes, and lie as my companions did. Had we not been very tired, I am sure we should not have slept much that night. I made a promise to sleep so no more; choosing rather to sleep in the open air, before a fire.
"18th.—We travelled to Thomas Berwick's on the Potomac, where we found the river exceedingly high, by reason of the great rains that had fallen among the Alleghanies. They told us it would not be fordable for several days; it being now six feet higher than usual, and rising. We agreed to stay till Monday. We this day called to see the famed Warm Springs. We camped out in the field this night.
"20th.—Finding the river not much abated, we in the evening swam our horses over to the Maryland side.
"21st.—We went over in a canoe, and travelled up the Maryland side all day, in a continued rain, to Col. Cresap's, over against the mouth of the South Branch, about forty miles from the place of starting in the morning, and over the worst road, I believe, that ever was trod by man or beast."
In this diary, he also entered such items as these,—the number of acres of each lot of land surveyed, the quality of the soil, the growth of plants and trees, the height of the hills, the extent of the valleys, and the length, breadth, and course of the streams. From the items thus collected, he would draw the materials for the reports it was his duty to submit, from time to time, for examination, to his patron or employer; and such was the clearness, brevity, and exactness displayed therein, and such the industry, skill, and fidelity with which he performed his toilsome and difficult task, that the generous old lord not only rewarded him handsomely for his services, but continued to cherish for him through life a truly fatherly affection.
In after-years, Washington was wont to turn with peculiar fondness to this period of his life, as perhaps affording the only leisure he had ever known for sentimental musings, and the indulgence of what fancy he may have had in those bright visions of future happiness, fame, or enterprise; to which all men are more or less given during the immature years of youth. This, to my mind, is to be easily enough accounted for, if we but ascribe it to a certain little circumstance; concerning which, as it exercised no small influence on his mind at the time, I will now tell you all that is known, and, it may be, more than ever can be known with possible certainty.
From a letter written by him at the age of fifteen, and also from some sad and plaintive verses of his own composition found in his copy-book, we learn that the boy, who should grow to become the greatest man that ever made this glorious world of ours more glorious with his wise precepts and virtuous example, was at this time a victim of the tender passion called love, of which most of you little folks as yet know nothing but the four letters that spell the word.
The object of this early attachment was a damsel, of whom nothing certain is known, as her name, from the fact of its never being repeated above a whisper, has not come down to our day, but who was called by him in his confidential correspondence the Lowland Beauty. As he had none of that self-assurance which lads of his age are apt to mistake for pluck or spirit, he never ventured to make known the secret of this passion to the object thereof; and it is probable, that we, even at the big end of a hundred years, are wiser as to this tender passage of his life than was ever the young lady herself. Not having the courage to declare the sentiments that warmed his breast, he wisely resolved to banish them from his mind altogether; and this, I will venture to say, was one reason why he so readily accepted of old Lord Fairfax's offer, and was willing for so long a time to make his abiding-place in the wilderness. But it was months, and even years, before he could get the better of his weakness, if such it could be justly called; for a wilderness, let me tell you (and I hope the hint will not be lost on my little friends), is the last place in the world, that a man, or a boy either, should take to, as the readiest means of ridding himself of such troublesome feelings. No wonder, then, that our young surveyor was grave and thoughtful beyond his years; and that the lonely forest, with its ever-changing beauties and wild seclusion, viewed through the bewitched eyes of love, should have had greater charms for him than the noisy, bustling haunts of men. That you may have a more distinct idea of the appearance of Washington at the time of which we are speaking, your Uncle Juvinell will conjure up, from the lingering lights and shadows of his dull old fancy, a little picture, to be gilded anew by your bright young fancies, and hung up in that loftiest chamber of your memory which you are wont to adorn with your portraits of the good and great men and women who have blessed the earth, and of whom we love so much to read and hear.
It is a summer morning, and the eastern mountains fling their shadows long and huge across the lonesome valleys. Our little party of surveyors, having spent the night on the summits of one of the less lofty peaks of the Blue Ridge, are slowly descending its shrubby skies to the more densely wooded parts of the wilderness below, of whose waste fertility many a broad tract have they yet to explore, and many a mile of boundary-line have chain and compass yet to measure and determine. Still lingering on the summit far above, as loath to quit the contemplation of the splendid prospect seen from thence, stands a tall youth of eighteen, with his right arm thrown across his horse's neck, and his left hand grasping his compass-staff. He is clad in a buckskin hunting-shirt, with leggins and moccasons of the same material,—the simple garb of a backwoodsman, and one that well becomes him now, as in perfect keeping with the wildness of the surrounding scenery; while in his broad leathern belt are stuck his long hunting-knife and Indian tomahawk. In stature he is much above most youths of the same age: he is of a handsome and robust form, with high and strong but smooth features, light-brown hair, large blue eyes,—not brilliant, but beaming with a clear and steady light, as if a soul looked through them that knew no taint of vice or meanness,—and a countenance all glorious with a truth and courage, modest gentleness, and manly self-reliance; and as he thus lingers on that lonely mountain-height, glorified as it were with the fresh pure light of the newly risen sun, with head uncovered and looks reverent, he seems in holy communion with his Maker, to whom, in the tender, guileless years of childhood, a pious mother taught him to kneel, morning and evening, in prayer, thanksgiving, and adoration.
Anon, his morning devotions ended, he turns to take, ere following his companions down the mountain, another view of the varied panorama spread out far beneath him, the chief feature of which is a valley, surpassing in beauty and fertility any that that summer's sun will shine on ere reaching his golden gateway in the west. Through this valley, glimmering, half seen, half hid among the waving woods, runs a river, with many a graceful bend, so beautiful, that, in the far-away years of the past, some long-forgotten tribe of Indians called it Shenandoah, or Shining Daughter of the Stars; a name that still lingers like a sweet echo among the mountains. And as the eyes of the young surveyor slowly range the wide prospect from point to point, and take in miles and miles of beauty at a single stretch of view, there is a look in them as if he would recall some pleasing dream of the night, which he would now fain bring forth, though but a dream, to refine and elevate the thoughts wherewith his mind must needs be occupied throughout the day. He is familiar with every feature of the landscape before him: he knows each shady dell and sunny hill, and every grassy slope and winding stream; for there he has made his home this many a day. He has seen it all a thousand times, and each time with renewed delight. But now it has a glory not all its own, nor borrowed from the morning sun, but from the first warm light of youthful love that burns in his heart for his Lowland Beauty.
FIRST MILITARY APPOINTMENT.
About this time, the Indians inhabiting that vast region extending from the Ohio River to the great lakes of the north, secretly encouraged and aided by the French, began to show signs of hostility, and threatened the western borders of Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New York, with all the dismal horrors of their bloody and wasting warfare. The alarm spread rapidly from the frontier even to the Atlantic coast, till the whole country was awakened to the sense of the impending danger.
To put the Province of Virginia in a better posture of defence, the governor thereof, Robert Dinwiddie, besides other measures, divided it into four grand military districts. Over each of these he placed what is called an adjutant-general, whose duty it was to organize and train the militia, instruct the officers in matters touching the art and science of war, to review the different companies when on parade, and to inspect their arms and accoutrements, and see that they were kept ready for use at a moment's warning.
The energy, fidelity, and soundness of judgment, that young Washington had lately shown while acting as surveyor, had won for him a name in the colony; and, becoming known to Governor Dinwiddie, he was appointed by that gentleman adjutant-general of the Northern district; receiving along with his commission the rank of major, which entitled him to the salary of seven hundred and fifty dollars a year. You have already seen what great delight he took in martial exercises when a school-boy; and, now that he was to become a soldier in the true sense of the term, you will not be surprised to learn that this appointment was altogether agreeable to his present taste and inclinations. To show his deep sense of the honor done him, and the trust and confidence reposed in him, he determined to perform his work well and faithfully as far as in him lay.
The better to qualify himself for the duties of his office, he placed himself under the instruction of his brother Lawrence, and other officers living in that part of the province, who had served under Admiral Vernon during the late Spanish war. These gentlemen, besides giving him the benefit of their experience and observation, placed in his hands the best works on military science then in use; from which he learned the various modes of training militia, the different manoeuvres of an army on the field of battle, and their management while on the line of march, together with the most approved plans of building forts, throwing up intrenchments and redoubts, and the construction of other works of defence, whether of wood or earth or stone. At the same time, he also made himself acquainted with the handling and design of many weapons and engines of war; and under the instruction of Capt. Van Braam, a Dutch fencing-master, he became very skilful in the use of the sword. Thus Mount Vernon, from being the quiet mansion of a country gentleman, was now, in a manner, converted into a military school; and the youth, who but a few years before, as he strolled among its verdant retreats, had, in honor of his Lowland Beauty, made his first and only attempt of putting his thoughts and feelings in verse, was, at the early age of nineteen, called upon to discharge those stern duties which men of age and experience alone are generally thought able to perform. The district allotted to Major Washington (for so we must now call him) consisted of several large counties, each of which the duties of his office obliged him to visit from time to time; and such was the energy and spirit he carried into his work, and such ability did he display, and such was the manliness and dignified courtesy with which he deported himself on all occasions, that he soon completely won the confidence and affections of both officers and men, who were inspired by his example to still greater zeal and patriotism in the service of their country.
But these labors, so agreeable to one of his age and ardent spirit, were now interrupted for several months. His brother Lawrence, who had always been of a delicate constitution, was now thought to be in the last stages of consumption, and was advised by his physicians to betake himself to the West Indies, where he might yet, perhaps, find some relief in the warmer suns and milder airs of those beautiful islands. As he would have need of cheerful company and gentle and careful nursing, he took with him his favorite brother George; and, embarking from Alexandria, was soon out upon the shining billows of the deep-blue sea, in quest of that health he was never again to find. Their place of destination was the charming little Island of Barbadoes, where, after a somewhat stormy voyage, they arrived in safety.
While here, Major Washington had an attack of small-pox, which handled him rather severely; and for some time he was thought to be in a dangerous condition. But in a few weeks, by dint of careful nursing, joined to the natural vigor of his constitution, he got the better of this frightful malady; and, when he was completely restored, not a disfiguring trace of it remained.
During his sojourn here, he still continued his habit of writing down in a journal whatever of importance or interest came under his observation; in which, among other items, we find such as the following,—the speed of the ship in which they sailed; the direction of the winds; some account of a storm that overtook them on their voyage; the cities, ships, forts, and military strength of the Island of Barbadoes; its products; manners and customs of the people, and the laws and government under which they lived. By this means, contributing as it did to habits of close and accurate observation, he impressed the more strongly upon his memory such facts as might prove of use to him at a future day.
Our two Virginians, during the three or four months of their stay on the island, were treated with much courtesy and hospitality by the inhabitants. But neither the genial climate of the region, nor the kindly hospitality of the people, was enough to restore that health and strength to the invalid for which he had come so far and hoped so long.
Feeling that his end was drawing nigh, Lawrence Washington resolved to hasten home, that he might have the melancholy satisfaction of spending his last moments in the midst of his family and friends. He had scarcely returned to Mount Vernon, and bid a fond farewell to the loved ones there, when the angel of death summoned him to take another and a longer voyage, in quest of immortality, to be found in the islands of the blest, that smile in never-fading beauty on the bosom of the eternal sea.
Thus, at the early age of thirty-four, died Lawrence Washington, one of the most amiable and accomplished gentlemen of his day. He left behind him an affectionate wife, a sweet little daughter, a devoted brother, and many a loving friend, to mourn his loss. In his will, he bequeathed his fine estate of Mount Vernon and all else that he possessed to his brother George; on condition, however, that his wife should have the use of it during her lifetime, and that his daughter should die without children to inherit it. The daughter did not reach the years of maidenhood; and, the mother surviving but a few years, George was left in the undivided possession of a large and handsome property; and, in a worldly point of view, his fortune was really already made. But, for all that, he long and deeply mourned the death of this much loved and valued brother, who had been to him father and friend ever since that first great sorrow of his childhood, when he became a widow's son and a widow's blessing.
And thus, my little children, I have told you the story of this great and good man's life from his years of infancy up to those of early manhood. I have dwelt at greater length upon this period of his life than perhaps any other historian, and have told you some things that you might look for elsewhere in vain. In my treatment of this part of the subject, it has been my chief aim and earnest desire to impress upon your opening minds this one great truth,—that, if you would be good and wise in your manhood, you must begin, now in early youth, to put forth all your powers, and use all the means within your reach, to store your mind with useful knowledge, and direct your thoughts and actions in the ways of truth and virtue, industry and sobriety. The boy Washington did all this; and, ere we have done, you shall see the glorious results of such a good beginning. Be like him in your youth,—patient and diligent, loving and dutiful, truthful and prayerful; that you may be like him in the fulness of years,—esteemed and beloved, happy and good, useful and wise.
When Uncle Juvinell had finished this part of his story, he paused, and with a beaming face looked round upon his little circle of listeners. Two or three of the youngest had long since fallen asleep; and Master Ned, having heard the story of the little hatchet, had stolen quietly away to the cabin, just to see how "black daddy" was getting along with his sled. Having waited till it was finished, he had, for his own private amusement, taken it to a nice hillside, and was now coasting on it all alone by the light of a good-humored, dish-faced moon. The other children had listened with great interest and attention to the story, and were still sitting with their eyes bent earnestly on the fire, whose great bright eye had by this time grown a little red, and was winking in a slow and sleepy way, as if it were saying, "Well done, Uncle Juvinell,—very well done indeed. I have been listening very attentively, and quite approve of all you have said, especially all that about the wooden-legged schoolmaster, the little hatchet, the sorrel horse, the Indian war-dance, and the Lowland Beauty, not to mention those wise maxims and wholesome moral precepts you brought in so aptly. All of it is very fine and very good, and just to my liking. But I am thinking it is high bed-time for these little folks."
Uncle Juvinell was much gratified to see how deeply interested the children were in what he had been telling them; and in a little while he called upon them to let him know how they all liked it. Laura said that it was very nice; Ella, that it was charming; Daniel, that it was quite as interesting as Plutarch's Lives; Willie, that it was even more so than "Robinson Crusoe;" and Bryce, that it was very good, but he would have liked it better had Uncle Juvinell told them more about the Indians. Just then, Master Charlie awoke from a comfortable nap of an hour or two, having dropped asleep shortly after the sorrel horse dropped dead; and, to make believe that he had been as wide awake as a weasel from the very start, began asking such a string of questions as seemed likely to have no end. After a droll jumbling of Washington with Jack the Giant-killer, old Lord Fairfax with Bluebeard, poor old Hobby, the wooden-legged schoolmaster, with the Roving Red Robber, he at last so far got the better of his sleepy senses as to know what he would be driving at; when he said, "Uncle Juvinell, did his father let him keep his little hatchet after he had cut the cherry-tree?"
"History, my little nephew," replied his uncle with a sober countenance, "does not inform us whether he did or not; but you may be quite sure that he did, well knowing that a little boy who would choose rather to take a whipping than tell a lie, or suffer another to be punished for an offence he had himself committed, would never be guilty the second time of doing that wherein he had once been forbidden."
"What became of black Jerry after he turned a somerset in the snow, and went rolling over and over down the hill?" Charlie went on.
"Jerry, I am happy to say," replied his uncle, "was so won over by the kindness and noble self-devotion of his brave little master, that he made up his mind to mend his ways from that very moment; and in a short time, from having been the worst, became the best behaved negroling to be found on either side of the Rappahannock, for more than a hundred miles up and down."
"What is a negroling?" inquired Master Charlie, as if bent on sifting this matter to the very bottom.
"A negroling," replied Uncle Juvinell with a smile, "is to a full-grown negro what a gosling is to a full-grown goose. Now, can you tell me what it is?"
"A gosling negro, I suppose," was Charlie's answer; and then he asked, "Did old Hobby go on teaching school after little George left him?"
"Of course he did," answered his uncle; "but, you may depend upon it, he never took another scholar as far as the single rule of three." Then, winking slyly at two or three of the older children, he continued: "This worthy schoolmaster lived to the good old age of ninety-nine; when, feeling that his earthly pilgrimage was drawing to a close, he for the last time hung up his big cocked hat on the accustomed peg, and for the last time unscrewed his wooden, leg, and set it in its accustomed corner; then, like a good Christian, laid him down to die in peace, giving thanks to Heaven with his last breath that it had fallen to his lot to teach the great George Washington his A B C's and the multiplication-table."
This made Master Charlie look very grave and thoughtful, so that he asked no more questions for the rest of the night.
Then Daniel, the young historian, who, having his mind occupied with more weighty matters, had been listening with some impatience while the above confab was going on, begged that his uncle would tell him what was meant by a midshipman's warrant.
"In the first place, Dannie," said Uncle Juvinell, "for the benefit of the rest of the children, who are not so well informed upon such matters as yourself, we must see what a midshipman is. The lowest officer in the navy, but still several degrees removed from a common sailor, is a midshipman, who enters a man-of-war as a kind of pupil to study the art of navigation, and to acquaint himself with other matters connected with the seafaring life. A man-of-war, you must know, is the largest vessel, or ship of war, belonging to a nation; while all the ships fitted out at the public expense, together with the officers and seamen concerned in their keeping and management, make up what is called a navy. By navigation, we are to understand the art by which sailors are taught to conduct ships from one point to another. Now, a warrant is a writing that gives some one the right to do a thing or to enjoy it. Thus you see a midshipman's warrant would have given young Washington the right to go on board a man-of-war, where, as a kind of pupil, he would have learned the art of navigation, the management of ships, and many other things necessary to make a good sailor. The knowledge thus acquired, and the training to which he must needs have been subjected, would have fitted him in time to become an officer of the navy, such as a lieutenant or a captain, and, it may be, even an admiral."
"And what is an admiral?" inquired Willie.
"An admiral," replied Uncle Juvinell, "is the highest officer of the navy; he is to the armies of the sea what a general is to the armies of the land, and commands a squadron, or fleet, which, you must know, is a large number of armed ships, moving and acting in concert together."
"Does he fight with a sword?" inquired Bryce, who, it must be borne in mind, was the military young gentleman, who carried a wooden sword of his own.
"It is unusual," replied his uncle, "for either an admiral or a general to fight in person; it being their duty to put their armies in order of battle, and afterwards, during the fight, to control the movements of the different regiments or divisions by orders carried by aides to the officers under their command."
"You told us, uncle," said Willie, "that Washington received, along with the commission of adjutant-general, the rank of major. Now, what are we to understand by this?"
"A commission," replied his uncle, "is a writing, giving some one the right or authority to perform the duties of some office, and receive the pay and honors arising from the same. The duties of an adjutant-general you have already seen; and the commission received by young Washington to perform those duties made him equal in rank, not to a general, but to a major."
"I know you told us, uncle," said Ella, "what is meant by surveying; but I don't think that I clearly understand it yet."
"I will refer you to your brother Dannie," said Uncle Juvinell; "for he is looking very wise, as if somebody knew a thing or two, and could, were he but called upon, greatly enlighten somebody else. Out with it, Dannie, and let us have it."
"Surveying teaches the measurement of land," Dannie made haste to answer; "and a surveyor is one who measures land with the help of a long chain and compass and other instruments. Now, George Washington, for example"—
"That will do, Daniel," said his uncle, interrupting him: "you have made it as clear as daylight already; and I dare say your sister understands you perfectly, without the help of any example."
"Oh, I like to have forgotten one thing!" cried Willie. "Tell us what is meant by line of march, manoeuvres on the battle-field, throwing up intrenchments, and the like."
To these points, Uncle Juvinell made answer: "An army, my nephew, is said to be on the line of march when it is moving from one place to another. A manoeuvre is an evolution or a movement of an army, designed to mislead or deceive an enemy, or in some way to gain the advantage of him. An intrenchment is a breastwork or wall, with a trench or ditch running along the outside. The breastwork, being formed of the earth thrown up from the trench, serves as a protection against the shots of an enemy. The trench being quite as deep as the breastwork is high, renders it very difficult and dangerous for the works to be taken by storm; for the enemy must first descend into the ditch before he can reach and scale the wall,—an attempt always attended with the greatest peril to those who make it; for they who defend the works, fighting on top of the walls, have greatly the advantage of those beneath. Sometimes intrenchments run in straight or crooked lines, and sometimes enclose an irregular square or circle; and any piece of ground, or body of men, thus enclosed or fortified, is said to be intrenched."
"What a pity it is we can never know the name of the Lowland Beauty!" remarked Miss Laura regretfully; for she was getting to be quite old enough to be somewhat interested in matters of this kind.
"The name the young surveyor gave her," said Uncle Juvinell, "lends an interest to this part of his life, which a knowledge of her true name might never have awakened. Besides this, my dear niece, if you but be attentive to what I shall relate hereafter, you will learn many things touching the life and character of his mother Mary and his wife Martha far more worthy of your remembrance."
The clock struck ten; the fire burned low, and a heavy lid of ashes hid its great red eye. And now Uncle Juvinell bethought him that it must indeed be high bed-time for the little folks; and in conclusion he said, "Now, my dear children, I want you to bear well in mind what I have told you to-night, that you may be the better prepared for what I shall tell you to-morrow evening. And hereafter I would have you write down on your slates, while I go on with my story, whatever you may find difficult and shall wish to have more fully explained at the end of each evening's lesson. And now let us sing our evening hymn, and part for the night."
With that they joined their voices, as was their wont, in a sweet hymn of praise and thanks to the great Father of us all,—the little folks carrying the treble, while Uncle Juvinell managed the bass. This duly done, they came one by one, and kissed their dear old uncle a loving good-night; then crept to their happy beds to dream till morning of wooden-legged schoolmasters, little hatchets, wild rides on fiery untamed horses that were always sorrel, of life in the lonely wilderness, rambles without end up and down the mountains, and of skin-clad Indiana leaping and whirling in the war-dance.
And now, said Uncle Juvinell, I see you are all agog, slate and pencil in hand, ready to jot down any question that may chance to pop into your busy young brains, to be asked and answered, for our further enlightenment, at the end of our evening lesson. So, without more ado, we will begin.
But, before trudging on further in our delightful journey, we must pause a moment, and turning square round, with our faces towards the long-ago years of the past, take a bird's-eye view of the early history of our country, that we may know exactly where we are when we come to find ourselves in the outskirts of that long and bloody struggle between the two great nations of England and France, commonly called the Seven Years' War, and sometimes the Old French War. Now, although this would not be as entertaining to your lively fancies as an Arabian tale or an Indian legend, yet you will by and by see very plainly that we could not have skipped it, without losing the sense of a great deal that follows; for it was during this war that our Washington first experienced the trials and hardships of a soldier's life, and displayed that courage, prudence, and ability, which in the end proved the salvation and glory of his native country.
In the first place, you must know, my dear children, that this beautiful land of ours, where now dwell the freest and happiest people the blessed sun ever shone upon, was, only a few hundred years ago, all a vast unbroken wilderness; a place where no one but savage Indians found a home, whose chief amusement was to fight and kill and scalp each other; and whose chief occupation was to hunt wild beasts and birds, upon whose flesh they fed, and with whose hairy skins and horns and claws and feathers they clothed and decked themselves. Where in the leafy summer-time may now be heard the merry plough-boy whistling "Yankee Doodle" over the waving corn, the wild Indian once wrestled with the surly bear, or met his ancient enemy in deadly fight. Nibbling sheep and grazing cattle now range the grassy hills and valleys where he was wont to give chase to the timid deer, or lie in wait for the monstrous buffalo. Huge steamers ply up and down our mighty rivers where he once paddled his little canoe. Splendid cities have risen, as if at the rubbing of Aladdin's enchanted lamp, where in the depths of the forest he once kindled the great council-fire, and met the neighboring tribes in the Big Talk. The very schoolhouse, where you little folks are now tripping so lightly along the flowery path of knowledge, may perhaps stand on the selfsame shady slope, where, of a long summer evening, he would sit at the door of his bark-built wigwam, smoking his long pipe, and watching his naked red children with a more fatherly smile than you can well imagine in one so fierce, as with many a hoop and yelp they played at "hide-and-seek" among the gray old trees and pawpaw thickets. On yonder hill-top, where we at this moment can see the windows of the house of God shining and glancing in the moonlight, he may have stood, with his face to the rising or setting sun, in mute worship before the Great Spirit.
But the stronger and wiser white man came; and, at his terrible approach, the red man, with all his wild remembrances, passed away, like an echo in the woods, or the shadow of an April cloud over the hills and valleys; and the place that once knew him shall know him no more for ever.
And yet it might have been far otherwise with him and with us, had not a certain Christopher Columbus chanced to light upon this Western World of ours, as he came hap-hazard across the wide Atlantic, where ship had never sailed before, in quest of a shorter passage to Asia.
By this great discovery, it was proved to the entire satisfaction of all who are in the least interested in the matter, that this earth upon which we live, instead of being long and flat, with sides and ends and corners like a great rough slab, was round, and hollow inside, like an India-rubber ball, and went rolling through empty space, round and round the sun, year after year, continually.
Of this bold and skilful sailor, the most renowned that ever lived, I should like to tell you many things; but, as we set out to give our chief attention to the story of Washington, we must deny ourselves this pleasure until the holidays of some merry Christmas yet to come, when your Uncle Juvinell, if he still keeps his memory fresh and green, will relate to you many wonderful things in the life of this great voyager, Columbus.
Up to this time, all the nations of Christendom had for ages upon ages been sunk in a lazy doze of ignorance and superstition. But, when tidings of the great discovery reached their drowsy ears, they were roused in a marvellous manner; and many of the richest and most powerful forthwith determined to secure, each to itself, a portion of the new-found region, by planting colonies; or, in other words, by making settlements therein.
For this purpose, they sent out fleets of ships across the Atlantic to these distant shores, laden with multitudes of men, who brought with them all manner of tools and implements wherewith to clear away the forests, till the soil, and build forts and cities, and arms to defend themselves against the attacks of the war-like savages. Thus, for example, Spain colonized Mexico; France, Canada; and England, that strip of the North-American continent, lying between the Alleghany Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean, now known as the eastern coast of the United States.
At first, the new-comers were received and treated with much kindness and hospitality by the natives: but it was not long before they discovered that they were likely to be robbed of their homes and hunting-grounds; when rage and jealousy took possession of their hearts, and from that time forward they never let slip an opportunity of doing all the mischief in their power to the hated intruders. Then began that long train of bloody wars between the two races, which have never ceased except with defeat or ruin of the weaker red man, and bringing him nearer and nearer to the day when he must either forsake his savage life, or cease to have an existence altogether.
Now, this may appear very unjust and wrong to my little friends; and, to some extent, it really was: but, in those days, might made right; or, in other words, the strong ruled the weak. And yet we are bound to believe that all this, in the long-run, has worked, and is still working, to the greatest good of the greatest number: for, had it been otherwise, all this beautiful land, now the home of a Christian and happy people, would have remained the dismal wilderness we have described it; answering no good end, as far as concerns the spread of truth and knowledge, and the cultivation of those useful arts which make a nation prosperous in peace, and strong in war.
Notwithstanding their troubles with the Indians, the hardships and privations to which the first settlers of a wild country are always exposed, and the shameful neglect with which they were treated by the mother-countries, the French and English colonies went on growing and thriving in a way that was wonderful to behold. At the end of a hundred and fifty years, or thereabouts, they had so grown in strength and increased in numbers, and had so widened their boundaries, that at last the continent, vast as it is, seemed too narrow to hold them both; and they began throwing up their elbows for more room, in a manner that would have been thought quite uncivil in a private individual at a dinner table or in a stage-coach.
Whereupon there arose a hot dispute between the kings of France and England as to whom belonged all that immense region stretching from the Alleghanies to the Mississippi, in the one direction; and, in the other, from the Ohio to the Great Lakes of the North.
The French claimed it by the right of discovery: by which they meant, that a certain Father Marquette had, nearly a hundred years before, discovered the Mississippi during his wanderings as a missionary among the Indians of the Far West. They pretended, that, as this pious man had paddled a little canoe up and down this splendid river a few hundred miles, his royal master, the King of France, was thereby entitled to all the lands watered by it, and the ten thousand streams that empty into it.
The English, on the other hand, claimed it by the right of purchase; having, as they said, bought it at a fair price of the Six Nations, a powerful league or union of several Indian tribes inhabiting the region round about the great lake's Erie and Ontario. What right the Six Nations had to it, is impossible to say. They claimed it, however, by the doubtful right of conquest; there being a tradition among them, that their ancestors, many generations before, had overrun the country, and subdued its inhabitants.
Now, the poor Indians who occupied the land in question were very indignant indeed when they heard that they and theirs had been sold to the white strangers by their red enemies, the Six Nations, whom they regarded as a flock of meddlesome crows, that were always dipping their ravenous bills into matters that did not in the least concern them; and their simple heads were sorely perplexed and puzzled, that two great kings, dwelling in far-distant countries, thousands of miles away beyond the mighty ocean, should, in the midst of uncounted riches, fall to wrangling with each other over a bit of wilderness land that neither of them had ever set eyes or foot on, and to which they had no more right than the Grand Caliph of Bagdad, or that terrible Tartar, Kublah Khan.
"Of all this land," said they, "there is not the black of a man's thumb-nail that the Six Nations can call their own. It is ours. More than a thousand moons before the pale-face came over the Big Water in his white-winged canoes, the Great Spirit gave it to our forefathers; and they handed it down, to be our inheritance as long as the old hills tell of their green graves. In its streams have we fished, in its woods have we hunted, in its sunny places have we built our wigwams, and in its dark and secret places have we fought and scalped and burnt our sworn enemies, without let or hinderance, time out of mind. Now, if the English claim all on this side of the Ohio, and the French claim all on this side of the Big Lakes, then what they claim is one and the same country,—the country whereon we dwell. Surely our white brothers must be dreaming. It is our hearts' desire, that our brothers, the English, keep on their side of the Ohio, and till the ground, and grow rich in corn; also that our brothers, the French, keep on their side of the lakes, and hunt in the woods, and grow rich in skins and furs. But you must both quit pressing upon us, lest our ribs be squeezed in and our breath be squeezed out, and we cease to have a place among men. We hold you both at arm's-length; and whoever pays good heed to the words we have spoken, by him will we stand, and with him make common cause against the other."
But to these just complaints of the poor Indian the French and English gave no more heed than if they who uttered them were so many whip-poor-wills crying in the woods. So they fell to wrangling in a more unreasonable manner than ever. Finally, to mend the matter (that is to say, make things worse), the French, coming up the Mississippi from the South, and down from the Great Lakes of the North, began erecting a chain of forts upon the disputed territory, to overawe the inhabitants thereof, and force the English to keep within the Alleghanies and the Atlantic. As a matter of course, the English regarded this as an insult to their dignity, and resolved to chastise the French for their impudence. And this it was that brought about that long and bloody struggle, the Old French War.
Thus, my dear children, do great and wise nations, professing to follow the humane teachings of the man-loving, God-fearing Jesus, often show no more truth and justice and honesty in their dealings with one another than if they were as ignorant of the Ten Commandments as the most benighted heathens, to whom even the name of Moses was never spoken. Yet, from your looks, I see that you are wondering within yourselves what all this rigmarole about England, France, the Six Nations, and disputed territories, can have to do with George Washington. Had you held a tight rein on your impatience a little while longer, you would have found out all about it, without the inconvenience of wondering; and hereafter, my little folks, rest assured that your Uncle Juvinell never ventures upon any thing without having all his eyes and wits about him, and that what he may tell you shall always prove instructive, although it may now and then—with no fault of his, however—seem to you somewhat dry and tedious.
"BIG TALK" WITH "WHITE THUNDER."
But we are a little fast. In order to bring ourselves square again with our story, we must take one step backward, and begin afresh.
When tidings of these trespasses of the French reached the ears of Robert Dinwiddie, then Governor of Virginia, all his Scotch blood boiled within him, and he began forthwith casting in his mind what might be done to check or chastise such audacious proceedings.
Cooling down a little, however, he thought it would be better, before throwing his stones, to try what virtue might be found in grass. By which you are to understand, that he determined to write a letter to the French general, then stationed in a little fort near Lake Erie, inquiring by what authority these encroachments were made on the dominions of his royal master, the King of England; and demanding that they, the French, should abandon their forts, and withdraw their troops from the disputed territory, without delay, or else abide the consequences. He was well aware, that, to insure any thing like success in a mission so difficult and perilous, the person intrusted with it must needs be robust of body, stout of heart, clear of head; one inured to the hardships of a backwoods life, well acquainted with the habits and customs of the Indians, and withal a man of intelligence, polite address, and the strictest integrity of character. But one such man was to be found among ten thousand; and this was George Washington, who answered to the description in every particular, and was therefore chosen to perform this perilous undertaking, although he had not yet completed his twenty-second year.
Accordingly, having received from Governor Dinwiddie written instructions how to act when come into the enemy's country, Major Washington set out the next morning from Williamsburg, then the capital of Virginia, and made his way at once to Winchester, at that time a frontier settlement of the province, lying on the very edge of the wilderness. Here he spent several days in procuring supplies for the expedition, and raising a small party of hunters and pioneers to guard and bear him company. After some delay, he succeeded in procuring the services of seven men. Four of these were hardy backwoodsmen of experience, whose business it was to take care of the baggage and keep the party supplied with game. Mr. Davidson was to go along as Indian interpreter, and Mr. Gist as guide. A bolder and more enterprising pioneer than this Gist, by the by, was not to be found in all the Western wilds; and he is supposed by some historians to have been the first white man that ever brought down an elk or a buffalo in that paradise of hunters, green Kentucky. In addition to these, Washington took with him as French interpreter his old Dutch fencing-master, Capt. Van Braam. The worthy captain, however, seems to have been a far more expert master of sword-play than of the languages; for the jargon he was pleased to call an interpretation was often such a medley of half-learned English, half-remembered French, and half-forgotten Dutch, that they who listened would be nearly as much perplexed to see what he would be driving at, as if he were sputtering Cherokee into their ears.
All things being at last in readiness, the gallant little party, headed by our young Virginian, turned their faces towards the great North-west; and, plunging into the wilderness, were soon beyond all traces of civilized man. The autumn was far advanced. The travelling was rendered toilsome, and even dangerous, by the heavy rains of this season, and early snows that had already fallen on the mountains, which had changed the little rills into rushing torrents, and the low bottom-lands into deep and miry swamps. Much delayed by these and the like hinderances, Washington, upon reaching the banks of the Monongahela, deemed it best to send two of the backwoodsmen with the baggage in canoes down this river to its mouth, where, uniting its waters with those of the Allegheny, it helped to form the great Ohio. Promising to meet them at this point, he and the rest of the party pushed thitherward by land on horseback. Reaching the Forks of the Ohio two days before the canoe-men, he spent the time in exploring the woods and hills and streams around, and was much struck with the advantages the place held out as a site for a military post. This, together with other items meriting attention that happened to him or occurred to his mind during the expedition, he carefully noted down in a journal which he kept, to be laid, in the form of a report, before Gov. Dinwiddie, upon his return. The following year, as a convincing proof to his countrymen how entirely they might rely on his foresight and judgment in such matters, French officers of skill and experience chose this very spot to be the site of Fort Duquesne, afterwards so famous in the border history of our country. Near the close of the war, this post fell into the hands of the English, who changed its name to that of Fort Pitt; which in time gave rise to the busy, thriving, noisy, dingy, fine young town of Pittsburg, a smoky-looking picture of which you may see any time you choose to consult your geography.
Instead of pushing on directly to the Lakes, Major Washington turned a little aside from his course, and went down the Ohio about twenty miles, to an Indian village called Logstown. Here, as had been previously arranged, he met a few sachems or chiefs of some of the Western tribes, to kindle a council-fire and have a Big Talk. He was received with much hospitality and courtesy by a stately old chief, whose Indian name you would not care to hear, as it would give Master Charlie's nut-crackers the jaw-ache to pronounce it. Among the English, however, as he was the head of a league or union of several tribes, he usually went by the name of the Half King. After the pipe had passed with all due gravity from mouth to mouth, and every warrior, chief, and white man present had taken a whiff or two, in sign that all was good-will and peace between them, Washington arose, and addressed the Half King in a short speech, somewhat after the following manner:—
"Your brother, the Governor of Virginia, has sent me with a letter to the big French captain, near Lake Erie. What is written therein deeply concerns you and your people as well as us. It was his desire, therefore, that you share with us the toils and dangers of this expedition, by sending some of your young men along with us, to guide us through the wilderness where there is no path, and be our safeguard against the wiles of cunning and evil-minded men we may chance to meet by the way. This he will look upon as a still further proof of the love and friendship you bear your brothers, the English. As a pledge of his faith in all this, and as a token of his love for his red brother, he sends this belt of wampum."
Mr. Davidson having interpreted this speech, the Half King for some moments after sat smoking in profound silence, as if turning over in his mind what he had just heard, or as if waiting, according to Indian notions of etiquette on such occasions, to assure himself that the speaker had made an end of his say. He then arose, and spoke to the following effect:—
"I have heard the words of my young white brother, and they are true. I have heard the request of my brother the Governor of Virginia, and it is reasonable. At present, however, my young men are abroad in the forest, hunting game to provide against the wants of the coming winter, that our wives and children starve not when we are out upon the war-path. At the third setting of the sun from this time, they will be coming in; when I will not only send some of them with my young white brother, but will myself bear him company. For he must know that we have ceased to look upon the French as our friends. They have trespassed upon our soil; they have spoken words of insult and mockery to our oldest sachems. For this cause have my people resolved to return them the speech-belt they gave us at the Big Talk we had last winter at Montreal. It is that I may defy the big French captain to his teeth, and fling his speech-belt in his face, that I now go with my young brother, the Long Knife."
On the third day, as had been promised, the young men came in from hunting; from among whom the Half King chose eight or ten to serve as an additional escort to Major Washington during the expedition. Among these was a warrior of great distinction, who went by the tremendous name of White Thunder, and was keeper of the speech-belt. Now, you must know, that in Indian politics, when two tribes exchange speech-belts, it is understood to be an expression of peace and good-will between them; while to return or throw them away is the same as a declaration of war, or at least to be taken as a hint that all friendly intercourse between them is at an end. The "keeper of the speech-belt" was, therefore, a kind of "secretary of state" among these simple people.
Thus re-enforced by his red allies, Washington, who had grown somewhat impatient under this delay, gladly turned his face once more towards the Great Lakes. All this time, the rain had continued to fall with scarcely an hour's intermission. The streams and low meadow-lands were so flooded in consequence, that they were often obliged to wander many a weary mile over rugged highlands and through tangled forests, without finding themselves any nearer their journey's end. Now and then, coming to some muddy, swollen stream, in order to gain the opposite side without getting their baggage wet, they must needs cross over on rafts rudely constructed of logs and grape-vines, and make their horses swim along behind them. It was near the middle of December, before the little party, jaded and travel-stained, reached their destination.
Major Washington was received with true soldierly courtesy by the French general, to whom he at once delivered Gov. Dinwiddie's letter. A few days being requested for a due consideration of its contents, as well as the answer to be returned, he spent the time, as he had been instructed, in gaining all the information he could, without exciting suspicion, touching the designs of the French in the North-west,—to what extent they had won over the several Indian tribes to their interest; the number of troops they had brought into the territory; and the number, strength, and situation of the forts they had built. The fort where the French general then had his headquarters stood on the banks of a little river called French Creek, in which Washington observed lying, and bade his men count, a large number of canoes, to be used early in the following spring for transporting men and military stores down the Ohio. All the hints and items thus gathered he carefully noted down in his journal, to be laid, as I have told you already, in the form of a report, before Gov. Dinwiddie, upon his return.
Being wary and watchful, he was not long in discovering that the French were tampering with his Indian allies; tempting them, by the gayest of presents, the fairest of promises, and the hottest of firewater, to break faith with the English, and join their cause. These underhand dealings gave Washington much uneasiness of mind; and he complained to the French general, yet in a firm and dignified manner, of the unfair advantage thus taken of the besetting weakness of these poor people.
Of course, the wily old Frenchman denied all knowledge of the matter; although we are bound to believe, that, as these tricks and intrigues were going on under his very nose, he must certainly have winked at, if he did not openly encourage them.
It is true that the Indians were by no means too nice to enrich themselves with French presents, and get drunk on French whiskey; yet, for all that, they turned a deaf ear to French promises, and, keeping their faith unbroken, remained as true as hickory to their friends the English. Even the Half King, stately and commanding as he was in council, yielded to the pleasing temptation along with the rest; and, for the greater part of the time, lay beastly drunk about the fort. When at last he came to his sober senses, he was not a little chopfallen upon being somewhat sternly reminded by Major Washington of the business that had brought him thither, the recollection of which he had seemingly drowned in his enemy's whiskey. Whereupon, as if to show that all his threats and promises had been made in good faith, he went forthwith to the French general, and delivered the grave oration he had composed for the occasion; at the same time returning the speech-belt White Thunder had brought, as a sign that all friendly relations between the French and his people were at an end.
At last, having received the answer to Gov. Dinwiddie's letter, and looked into matters and things about him as far as he could with prudence, Major Washington was now anxious to be away from the place where he had already been detained too long. During his stay, however, he had been treated with the greatest respect and courtesy by the accomplished Frenchman, who presented him, upon his departure, with a large canoe laden with a liberal supply of liquors and provisions, that lasted him and his men until they reached the Ohio.
To spare the horses as much as possible, Washington had sent them, with two or three of the men, by land to Venango, a fort about fifteen miles below; whither he now set out to follow them by water. The navigation of this little river, owing to its shallows and the masses of floating ice that here and there blocked up its channel, was difficult and toilsome in the extreme. Oftentimes, to prevent their frail canoes from being dashed to pieces against the rocks, would they be compelled to get out into the cold water for half an hour at a time, and guide them with their hands down the whirling and rapid current, and now and then even to carry them and their loads by land around some foaming cataract to the smoother water below. After an irksome little voyage, they reached Venango, fully satisfied that to go further by water was quite out of the question.
CHRISTMAS IN THE WILDERNESS.
Here, at Venango, Major Washington, much to his regret, was compelled to part company with the Half King and his other red allies. White Thunder, keeper of the speech-belt, had been so seriously injured in their passage down, as to be, for the present, quite unable to travel; and the rest would not think of leaving him, but needs must tarry there until their friend should be well enough to be brought in a canoe down the Alleghany.
Remounting their horses, our little party once more took their weary way through the wilderness. It was now the 22d of December. The weather was bitter cold; the snow fell thick and fast, and froze as it fell; and the bleak winds moaned drearily among the naked trees. The forest streams were frozen from bank to bank, yet often too thin to bear the weight of the horses; which rendered their crossing painful and hazardous indeed. To add to the discomfort of our travellers, the horses, from poor and scanty fare, had become too weak to be able longer to carry their allotted burdens. Moved with compassion at their pitiable plight, Washington dismounted from his fine saddle-horse, and loaded his with a part of the baggage; choosing rather to toil along on foot, than to take his ease at the expense of pain even to these poor brutes. His humane example was promptly followed by the rest of the party; and only the two men kept the saddle to whom was intrusted the care of the baggage.
You can well imagine, that a Christmas spent in this wild waste of leafless woods and snowy hills was any thing but a merry one to these poor fellows, so far away from their homes, which, at that moment, they knew to be so bright and cheerful with the mirth and laughter of "old men and babes, and loving friends, and youths, and maidens gay." And yet I dare say, that, even there, they greeted each other on that blessed morning with a brighter smile than usual, and called to their remembrance, that on that morn a babe was born, who, in the fulness of years, has grown to be the light and love and glory of the earth.
Seeing that the half-famished beasts were growing weaker and weaker day by day, and that he would be too long in reaching his journey's end if he governed his speed by theirs, Washington left Capt. Van Braam in command of the party, and pushed forward with no other company than Mr. Gist. Armed with their trusty rifles, and clad in the light dress of the Indians, with no extra covering for the night but their watch-coats, and with no other baggage but a small portmanteau containing their food and Major Washington's important papers, they now made rapid headway, and soon left their friends far behind. The next day, they came upon an Indian village called Murdering Town; a name of evil omen, given it, perhaps, from its having been the scene of some bloody Indian massacre. What befell them here, I will tell you, as nearly as I can remember, in Mr. Gist's own words:—
"We rose early in the morning, and set out at seven o'clock, and got to Murdering Town, on the south-east fork of Beaver Creek. Here we met with an Indian whom I thought I had seen at Joncaire's, at Venango, when on our journey up to the French fort. This fellow called me by my Indian name, and pretended to be glad to see me. He asked us several questions; as, how we came to travel on foot, when we left Venango, where we parted with our horses, and when they would be there. Major Washington insisted on travelling by the nearest way to the forks of the Alleghany. We asked the Indian if he could go with us, and show us the nearest way. The Indian seemed very glad and ready to go with us; upon which we set out, and the Indian took the Major's pack. We travelled very brisk for eight or ten miles; when the Major's feet grew sore, and he very weary, and the Indian steered too much north-eastwardly. The Major desired to encamp; upon which the Indian asked to carry his gun, but he refused; and then the Indian grew churlish, and pressed us to keep on, telling us there were Ottawa Indians in those woods, and they would scalp us if we lay out; but go to his cabin, and we would be safe.
"I thought very ill of the fellow, but did not care to let the Major know I mistrusted him. But he soon mistrusted him as much as I did. The Indian said he could hear a gun from his cabin, and steered us northwardly. We grew uneasy, and then he said two whoops might be heard from his cabin. We went two miles further. Then the Major said he would stay at the next water, and we desired the Indian to stop at the next water; but, before we came to the water, we came to a clear meadow. It was very light, and snow was on the ground. The Indian made a stop, and turned about. The Major saw him point his gun towards us, and he fired. Said the Major,—
"'Are you shot?'
"'No,' said I.
"Upon which the Indian ran forward to a big standing white oak, and began loading his gun; but we were soon with him. I would have killed him; but the Major would not suffer me. We let him charge his gun. We found he put in a ball: then we took care of him. Either the Major or I always stood by the guns. We made him make a fire for us by a little run, as if we intended to sleep there. I said to the Major,—
"'As you will not have him killed, we must get him away, and then we must travel all night.'
"Upon which I said to the Indian,—
"'I suppose you were lost, and fired your gun?'
"He said he knew the way to his cabin: it was but a little distance.
"'Well,' said I, 'do you go home, and, as we are tired, we will follow your track in the morning; and here is a cake of bread for you, and you must give us meat in the morning.'
"He was glad to get away. I followed him, and listened until he was fairly out of the way; and then we went about half a mile, when we made a fire, set our compass, fixed our course, and travelled all night. In the morning, we were on the head of Piny Creek."
Thus you see, my dear children, from this adventure, upon what slight accidents sometimes hang the destinies, not only of individuals, but even of great nations; for had not this treacherous Indian missed his aim, and that too, in all likelihood, for the first time in a twelvemonth, it had never been our blessed privilege to know and love and reverence such a man as Washington; and that, instead of being the free-born, independent people that he made us, we might have been at this very moment throwing up our hats and wasting our precious breath in shouts of "Long life to Queen Victoria!"
All that day they walked on, weary and foot-sore, through the deep snow, without a trace of living man to enliven their solitary way. The cold gray of a winter's evening was deepening the shadows of the forest when they came to the banks of the Alleghany; and here a new disappointment awaited them. They had all along cheered themselves with the prospect of crossing this river on the ice: but they found it frozen for about fifty yards only from either bank; while the rest of the ice, broken into huge cakes, went floating swiftly down the main channel, crushing and grinding together, and filling the hollow woods around with doleful noises.
With heavy hearts they kindled their camp-fire, and cooked and ate their frugal supper; then, making themselves as comfortable as the piercing winds would allow, they lay down on their snowy beds to sleep, hopeful that the morrow would bring them better luck. Morning dawned, and yet brought with it no brighter prospect. Would you know what they did in this grievous state? Listen while I read Major Washington's own account of it, as we find it written in his journal:—
"There was no way for getting over but on a raft; which we set about, with but one poor hatchet, and finished just after sun-setting. This was a whole day's work. We next got it launched; then went on board of it, and set off. But, before we were half way over, we were jammed in the ice, in such a manner that we expected every moment our raft to sink, and ourselves to perish. I put out my setting-pole to try and stop the raft, that the ice might pass by; when the rapidity of the stream threw it with so much violence against the pole, that it jerked me out into ten feet of water: but I fortunately saved myself by catching hold of one of the raft-logs. Notwithstanding all our efforts, we could not get to either shore, but were obliged, as we were near an island, to quit our raft, and make to it. The cold was so extremely severe, that Mr. Gist had all his fingers, and some of his toes, frozen; and the water was shut up so hard, that we found no difficulty in getting off the island, on the ice, in the morning, and went to Mr. Frazier's."
Here, for a space, they stopped to rest and refresh themselves after the fatigue and exposure they had just undergone; and here, among other items of interest, they heard that Queen Aliquippa, an Indian princess, had been deeply offended that the young Long Knife had passed by her royal shanty, the month before, without calling to pay his compliments. Major Washington, well knowing that to humor their peculiar whims and fancies was the best mode of securing the good-will and friendship of these people, hastened at once to present himself before her copper majesty, and make what amends he could for his breach of etiquette. The present of a bottle of rum (over which, queen that she was, she smacked her lips), and of his old watch-coat, that would so handsomely set off her buckskin leggins, softened her ire completely, and made her, from that time forward, the stanch friend and ally of the English.
Travelling on a few miles further, they came to Mr. Gist's house, on the banks of the Monongahela, where Washington bought a horse to bear him to his journey's end, and parted with his trusty guide. He was now entirely alone; and a wide stretch of woods and mountains, swamps and frozen streams, still lay between him and the cheerful homes to whose comforts he had been so long a stranger. Now and then, the loneliness of the way would be for a moment enlivened by the sight of some sturdy backwoodsman, axe or rifle on shoulder, pushing westward, with his wife and children and dogs and household trumpery, to find a home in some still more distant part of the wilderness. It was midwinter, when, after having been absent eleven weeks on his perilous mission, our young Virginian, looking more like a wild Indian than the civil and Christian gentleman that he really was, rode into the town of Williamsburg, nor halted until he had alighted and hitched his horse in front of the governor's house.
WASHINGTON'S FIRST BATTLE.
Upon his arrival, Major Washington hastened at once to lay before Gov. Dinwiddie, and the Virginia Legislature then in session, the French general's letter, and the journal he had kept during the expedition.
In his letter, the French general spoke in high and flattering terms of the character and talents of young Washington; but, in language most decided and unmistakable, refused to withdraw his troops from the disputed territory, or cease building forts therein, as had been demanded of him, unless so ordered by his royal master, the King of France, to whose wishes only he owed respect and obedience. From the tenor of this letter, it was plainly enough to be seen (what might, in fact, have been seen before), that the French were not in the least inclined to give up, at the mere asking, all that they had been at so much pains and expense at gaining. It therefore followed, that as the title to this bit of forest land could not be written with the pen, on fair paper, in letters of Christian ink, it must needs be written with the sword, on the fair earth, in letters of Christian blood. By this, the little folks are to understand their Uncle Juvinell to mean that war alone could settle the question between them. And this unreasonable behavior, on the part of two great nations, has already, I doubt not, brought to your minds the story of two huge giants, who, chancing to meet one night, fell into a long and stormy dispute with each other about the possession of a fair bit of meadow-land they had happened to spy out at the same moment, where it lay in the lower horn of the moon; and who finally, like the silly monsters that they were, began belaboring each other with their heavy malls, as if the last hope of beating a little reason in were to beat a few brains out.
To drive and keep back the French and their Indian allies, Gov. Dinwiddie made a call on the Virginia militia, and wrote to the governors of some of the neighboring provinces, urging them, for their common defence, to do the same. To strengthen their borders, and give security to their frontier settlers, a small party of pioneers and carpenters were sent to build a fort at the Forks of the Ohio, as Washington had recommended in his journal. This journal, by the way, throwing, as it did, so much new light on the designs of the French in America, was thought worthy of publication, not only throughout the Colonies, but also in the mother-country. The good sense, skill, address, and courage shown by the young Virginian throughout the late expedition, had drawn upon him the eyes of his countrymen; and, from that time forward, he became the hope and promise of his native land. As a proof of this high regard, he was offered the command of the regiment to be raised: which, however, he refused to accept; for his modesty told him that he was too young and inexperienced to be intrusted with a matter of such moment to his country. To Col. Fry, an officer of some note in the province, the command of the regiment was therefore given; under whom he was quite willing to accept the post of lieutenant-colonel.
Notwithstanding the pressing danger that threatened all alike, the people were shamefully slow in answering the summons to arms. Washington had felt confident, that, at the very first tap of the drum, squads upon squads of active, sturdy, well-fed, well-clothed young farmers, moved by the same spirit with himself, would come flocking to his standard with their trusty rifles, powder-horns, and hunting-pouches, ready and eager to do their country service. Instead of this, however, there gathered, about him a rabble of ragamuffins and worthless fellows, who had spent their lives in tramping up and down the country, without settled homes or occupations.
Some were without hats and shoes; some had coats, and no shirts; some had shirts, and no coats; and all were without arms, or any keen desire to use them if they had them. All this disgusted and disheartened our youthful colonel not a little; for he was young, and had yet to learn that it is of just such stuff that the beginnings of armies are always made. The slender pay of a soldier was not enough to tempt the thriving yeomanry to leave their rich acres and snug firesides to undergo the hardships and dangers of a camp life; as if, by failing to answer their country's call, and fighting in its defence, they were not running a still greater risk of losing all they had.
To encourage the young men of the province to come forward, Gov. Dinwiddie caused it to be proclaimed, that two hundred thousand acres of the very best land on the head-waters of the Ohio should be divided between those that should enlist and serve during the war. This splendid offer had, in some small measure, the effect desired; so that, in a short time, something like an army was cobbled together, with which, poor and scantily provided as it was, they at last resolved to take the field.
Col. Washington, in command of the main body, was ordered to go on in advance, and cut a military road through the wilderness, in the direction of the new fort at the Forks of the Ohio, by way of the Monongahela; while Col. Fry was to remain behind with the rest of the troops, to bring up the cannon and heavy stores when the road should be opened. When the pioneers had cut their way about twenty miles beyond the frontier town of Winchester, there came a rumor, that the men who had been sent to build the fort at the Forks of the Ohio had all been surprised and captured by the French. In a few days, all doubts as to the truth of this report were set at rest by the men themselves, who came walking leisurely into camp, with their spades and axes on their shoulders, to every appearance quite well and comfortable.
For several days, they said, they had been working away on the fort quite merrily; when, early one morning, they were much surprised to see one thousand Frenchmen, in sixty bateaux, or boats, and three hundred canoes, with six pieces of cannon, dropping quietly down the Alleghany. The leader of this gallant little force summoned the fort to surrender in the short space of an hour, or else they would find their unfinished timber-work tumbling about their heads in a way that would not be altogether agreeable. No one with even half his wits about him would have for a moment thought of defending an unfinished fort with axes, spades, and augers, against a force of twenty times their number, backed by cannon and grape-shot. These men had all their wits about them, and, to prove it, gave up the fort without further parley; when the French captain marched in, and took formal possession of the wooden pen in the name of his most Christian majesty, the King of France; after which, with that gayety and good-humor so often to be observed among the French people, he invited the young ensign—who, in the absence of the captain, had been left in the command of the fort for that day—to dine and drink a glass of wine with him. He then suffered them all to depart in peace with his good wishes, and with their spades, carpenter's tools, and axes on their shoulders.
Col. Washington was deeply mortified at this intelligence; but, like the manly man that he was, he put a bright face on the matter, and, to keep up the spirits of his men, resolved to push on with the road with more vigor than ever. And a tremendous undertaking this was, I assure you. The tallest of trees were to be felled, the hugest of rocks to be split and removed, the deepest of swamps to be filled, and the swiftest of mountain torrents bridged over. With such hinderances, you will not wonder that they made but four miles a day. Now and then, the soldiers would be obliged to put their shoulders to the wheel, and help the poor half-famished horses with their heavy wagons up some rough and rocky steep. Thus over the gloomy mountains, and down the rugged defiles, and through a dark and lonely valley since called the Shades of Death, they forced their toilsome way. At last, after many weary days, they reached the banks of the Youghiogeny,—a romantic little river that went tumbling down the green hills in many a foaming waterfall; then, like a frolicsome school-boy nearing school, put on a demure and sober face, and quietly emptied itself into the more tranquil Monongahela. Here, to give his worn-out men and horses some repose after their severe and unceasing labors, Washington ordered a halt.
Being told by some friendly Indians that the baggage could be carried down this stream by water, he set out early one morning in a canoe, with four or five white men, and an Indian for a guide, to see for himself what truth there might be in this report. When they had rowed about ten miles, their Indian guide, after sulking for a little while, laid his oar across the canoe, and refused to go further. At first, this behavior appeared to them a little queer; but they were not long in discovering that it was only a way the cunning red rascal had of higgling to get more pay for his services. After some pretty sharp bargaining, Col. Washington promised to give him his old watch-coat and a ruffled shirt if he would go on; upon which, without more ado, he picked up his oar, and for the rest of the trip steered away blithely enough. You can well imagine what an uncommon swell this savage dandy, with his bare red legs, must have cut, a few days after, in his civilized finery, among the copper-cheeked belles of the woods. By the time they had rowed twenty miles further, Washington was satisfied, that, owing to the rocks and rapids, a passage down this river in the shallow canoes of the Indians was next to impossible.
Returning to camp, he soon afterwards received word from his old friend and ally, the Half King, that a party of French had been seen coming from the direction of Fort Duquesne, who were in all likelihood, by that time, somewhere in his close neighborhood. Upon hearing this, Washington deemed it prudent to fall back a few miles to the Great Meadows, a beautiful little plain, situated in the midst of woods and hills, and divided by a rivulet. Here he threw up strong intrenchments, cleared away the undergrowth, and prepared what he called "a charming field for an encounter." Shortly after, Mr. Gist, whom you well remember, came into camp, from his home on the Monongahela, with the tidings, that a party of French had been at his house on the day before, whom, from their appearance, he believed to be spies. Washington sent out some of his men on wagon-horses to beat the woods; who came in about dusk, without having, however, discovered any traces of the enemy. About nine o'clock that same night, an Indian runner came from the Half King with word, that some of his hunters had late that evening seen the tracks of two Frenchmen not five miles distant; and that, if Col. Washington would join him with some of his men, they would set out early in the morning in quest of the lurking foe.
Taking with him about forty men, and leaving the rest to guard the intrenchments, Washington set out forthwith for the Indian camp. Their way led them through tall and thick woods, that were then in the full leaf of early summer. As if to deepen their gloom, the sky was overcast with the blackest of clouds, from which the rain poured down in torrents; and the night, of course, was as dark as dark could be. No wonder, then, that they were continually losing their path, which was but a deer-track, and none of the plainest, even in broad daylight. When any one discovered that he had lost himself, he would shout, and set himself right again by the answering shouts of his comrades who might be so lucky as to be in the path at that moment. After blundering about all night through marshy thickets, slipping upon slimy rocks, and scrambling over the oozy trunks of fallen trees, they reached the Indian camp at daybreak in a somewhat moist and bedabbled plight, as you may well imagine. The Half King seemed overjoyed at seeing his young white brother once more; and, with true Indian hospitality, set before him and his men the best his camp afforded. After breakfasting heartily on bear's meat, venison, and parched corn, they all set out together, much refreshed, to seek what game might be in the wind. The Half King led the way to the spot where the two tracks had been seen the evening before; and, having found them, told two of his sharp-eyed hunters to follow the trail until they could bring some tidings of the feet that had made them. Like hounds on the scent of a fox, they started off at a long trot; only pausing now and then to look more closely at the leaves, to make sure they were right, and not on a cold scent. In a short time, they came back with word that they had spied twenty-five or thirty French and Canadians encamped in a low, narrow bottom, between high and steep hills, who looked as if they were desirous of concealment. Whereupon Washington proposed that the two parties should divide, and, stealing upon the enemy from opposite directions, surprise and capture him, if possible, without the shedding of blood. To this the Half King agreed; and, parting, they moved off in profound silence, each on their separate way.
A sudden turn of the hollow, down which they had been making their way for several minutes, brought Washington and his party, ere they were well aware, in full view of the enemy. Some were cooking their morning's meal, some were preparing their arms for the day's excursion, some were lounging, and all were merry. But, seeing as soon as seen, they ran with all speed to their guns, that were leaned against the trees hard by, and, without more ado, began firing in so brisk and earnest a manner, that left the Virginians no choice but to return it, which they did with spirit. About the same time, the Half King and his warriors came down to the bottom of the hill on the opposite side of the hollow, and, screening themselves behind a bit of rising ground, joined the music of their rifles with the rest. For about fifteen minutes, the skirmish was kept up with great spirit on both sides; when the French, having lost ten of their number (among whom was their leader, Capt. de Jumonville), surrendered, and yielded up their arms. Washington had one man shot dead at his side, and three men wounded; but his Indian allies, protected as they were by the rising ground, came off without the loss of a single feather or porcupine-quill. Unluckily, in the heat of the encounter, a swift-footed Canadian, better, no doubt, at dodging than shooting, managed to make his escape, and carried the news to Fort Duquesne.