Memorials were addressed to the lords, spiritual and temporal, and remonstrances to the House of Commons, against taxation for revenue, as destructive to the liberties of the colonists; and against the act suspending the legislative power of the province of New York, as menacing the welfare of the colonies in general.
Nothing, however, produced a more powerful effect upon the public sensibilities throughout the country, than certain military demonstrations at Boston. In consequence of repeated collisions between the people of that place and the commissioners of customs, two regiments were held in readiness at Halifax to embark for Boston in the ships of Commodore Hood whenever Governor Bernard, or the general, should give the word, "Had this force been landed in Boston six months ago," writes the commodore, "I am perfectly persuaded no address or remonstrances would have been sent from the other colonies, and that all would have been tolerably quiet and orderly at this time throughout America." [Footnote: Grenville Papers, vol. iv., p. 362.]
Tidings reached Boston that these troops were embarked and that they were coming to overawe the people. What was to be done? The General Court had been dissolved, and the governor refused to convene it without the royal command. A convention, therefore, from various towns met at Boston, on the 22d of September, to devise measures for the public safety; but disclaiming all pretensions to legislative powers. While the convention was yet in session (September 28th), the two regiments arrived, with seven armed vessels. "I am very confident," writes Commodore Hood from Halifax, "the spirited measures now pursuing will soon effect order in America."
On the contrary, these "spirited measures" added, fuel to the fire they were intended to quench. It was resolved in a town meeting that the king had no right to send troops thither without the consent of the Assembly; that Great Britain had broken the original compact, and that, therefore, the king's officers had no longer any business there. [Footnote: Whately to Grenville. Gren. Papers, vol. iv., p. 389.]
The "selectmen" accordingly refused to find quarters for the soldiers in the town; the council refused to find barracks for them, lest it should be construed into a compliance with the disputed clause of the mutiny act. Some of the troops, therefore, which had tents, were encamped on the common; others, by the governor's orders, were quartered in the state-house, and others in Faneuil Hall, to the great indignation of the public, who were grievously scandalized at seeing field-pieces planted in front of the state-house; sentinels stationed at the doors, challenging every one who passed; and, above all, at having the sacred quiet of the Sabbath disturbed by drum and fife, and other military music.
CHEERFUL LIFE AT MOUNT VERNON—WASHINGTON AND GEORGE MASON—CORRESPONDENCE CONCERNING THE NON-IMPORTATION AGREEMENT—FEELING TOWARD ENGLAND—OPENING OF THE LEGISLATIVE SESSION—SEMI-REGAL STATE OF LORD BOTETOURT—HIGH-TONED PROCEEDINGS OF THE HOUSE—SYMPATHY WITH NEW ENGLAND—DISSOLVED BY LORD BOTETOURT—WASHINGTON AND THE ARTICLES OF ASSOCIATION.
Throughout these public agitations, Washington endeavored to preserve his equanimity. Removed from the heated throngs of cities, his diary denotes a cheerful and healthful life at Mount Vernon, devoted to those rural occupations in which he delighted, and varied occasionally by his favorite field sports. Sometimes he is duck-shooting on the Potomac. Repeatedly we find note of his being out at sunrise with the hounds, in company with old Lord Fairfax, Bryan Fairfax, and others; and ending the day's sport by a dinner at Mount Vernon, or Belvoir.
Still he was too true a patriot not to sympathize in the struggle for colonial rights which now agitated the whole country, and we find him gradually carried more and more into the current of political affairs.
A letter written on the 5th of April, 1769, to his friend, George Mason, shows the important stand he was disposed to take. In the previous year, the merchants and traders of Boston, Salem, Connecticut, and New York, had agreed to suspend for a time the importation of all articles subject to taxation. Similar resolutions had recently been adopted by the merchants of Philadelphia. Washington's letter is emphatic in support of the measure. "At a time," writes he, "when our lordly masters in Great Britain will be satisfied with nothing less, than the deprivation of American freedom, it seems highly necessary that something should be done to avert the stroke, and maintain the liberty which we have derived from our ancestors. But the manner of doing it, to answer the purpose effectually, is the point in question. That no man should scruple, or hesitate a moment in defence of so valuable a blessing, is clearly my opinion; yet arms should be the last resource—the dernier ressort. We have already, it is said, proved the inefficacy of addresses to the throne, and remonstrances to Parliament. How far their attention to our rights and interests is to be awakened, or alarmed, by starving their trade and manufactures, remains to be tried.
"The northern colonies, it appears, are endeavoring to adopt this scheme. In my opinion, it is a good one, and must be attended with salutary effects, provided it can be carried pretty generally into execution. ... That there will be a difficulty attending it every where from clashing interests, and selfish, designing men, ever attentive to their own gain, and watchful of every turn that can assist their lucrative views, cannot be denied, and in the tobacco colonies, where the trade is so diffused, and in a manner wholly conducted by factors for their principals at home, these difficulties are certainly enhanced, but I think not insurmountably increased, if the gentlemen in their several counties will be at some pains to explain matters to the people, and stimulate them to cordial agreements to purchase none but certain enumerated articles out of any of the stores, after a definite period, and neither import, nor purchase any themselves. ... I can see but one class of people, the merchants excepted, who will not, or ought not, to wish well to the scheme,—namely, they who live genteelly and hospitably on clear estates. Such as these, were they not to consider the valuable object in view, and the good of others, might think it hard to be curtailed in their living and enjoyments."
This was precisely the class to which Washington belonged; but he was ready and willing to make the sacrifices required. "I think the scheme a good one," added he, "and that it ought to be tried here, with such alterations as our circumstances render absolutely necessary."
Mason, in his reply, concurred with him in opinion. "Our all is at stake," said he, "and the little conveniences and comforts of life, when set in competition with our liberty, ought to be rejected, not with reluctance, but with pleasure. Yet it is plain that, in the tobacco colonies, we cannot at present confine our importations within such narrow bounds as the northern colonies. A plan of this kind, to be practicable, must be adapted to our circumstances; for, if not steadily executed, it had better have remained unattempted. We may retrench all manner of superfluities, finery of all descriptions, and confine ourselves to linens, woollens, &c., not exceeding a certain price. It is amazing how much this practice, if adopted in all the colonies, would lessen the American imports, and distress the various trades and manufactures of Great Britain. This would awaken their attention. They would see, they would feel, the oppressions we groan under, and exert themselves to procure us redress. This, once obtained, we should no longer discontinue our importations, confining ourselves still not to import any article that should hereafter be taxed by act of Parliament for raising a revenue in America; for, however singular I may be in the opinion, I am thoroughly convinced, that, justice and harmony happily restored, it is not the interest of these colonies to refuse British manufactures. Our supplying our mother country with gross materials, and taking her manufactures in return, is the true chain of connection between us. These are the bands which, if not broken by oppression, must long hold us together, by maintaining a constant reciprocation of interests."
The latter part of the above quotation shows the spirit which actuated Washington and the friends of his confidence; as yet there was no thought nor desire of alienation from the mother country, but only a fixed determination to be placed on an equality of rights and privileges with her other children.
A single word in the passage cited from Washington's letter, evinces the chord which still vibrated in the American bosom: he incidentally speaks of England as home. It was the familiar term with which she was usually indicated by those of English descent; and the writer of these pages remembers when the endearing phrase still lingered on Anglo-American lips even after the Revolution. How easy would it have been before that era for the mother country to have rallied back the affections of her colonial children, by a proper attention to their complaints! They asked for nothing but what they were entitled to, and what she had taught them to prize as their dearest inheritance. The spirit of liberty which they manifested had been derived from her own precept and example.
The result of the correspondence between Washington and Mason was the draft by the latter of a plan of association, the members of which were to pledge themselves not to import or use any articles of British merchandise or manufacture subject to duty. This paper Washington was to submit to the consideration of the House of Burgesses, at the approaching session in the month of May.
The Legislature of Virginia opened on this occasion with a brilliant pageant. While military force was arrayed to overawe the republican Puritans of the east, it was thought to dazzle the aristocratical descendants of the cavaliers by the reflex of regal splendor. Lord Botetourt, one of the king's lords of the bedchamber, had recently come out as governor of the province. Junius described him as "a cringing, bowing, fawning, sword-bearing courtier." Horace Walpole predicted that he would turn the heads of the Virginians in one way or other. "If his graces do not captivate them he will enrage them to fury; for I take all his douceur to be enamelled on iron." [Footnote: Grenville papers, iv., note to p. 330.] The words of political satirists and court wits, however, are always to be taken with great distrust. However his lordship may have bowed in presence of royalty, he elsewhere conducted himself with dignity, and won general favor by his endearing manners. He certainly showed promptness of spirit in his reply to the king on being informed of his appointment. "When will you be ready to go?" asked George III. "To-night, sir."
He had come out, however, with a wrong idea of the Americans. They had been represented to him as factious, immoral, and prone to sedition; but vain and luxurious, and easily captivated by parade and splendor. The latter foibles were aimed at in his appointment and fitting out. It was supposed that his titled rank would have its effect. Then to prepare him for occasions of ceremony, a coach of state was presented to him by the king. He was allowed, moreover, the quantity of plate usually given to ambassadors, whereupon the joke was circulated that he was going "plenipo to the Cherokees." [Footnote: Whately to Geo. Grenville. Grenville papers.]
His opening of the session was in the style of the royal opening of Parliament. He proceeded in due parade from his dwelling to the capitol, in his state coach, drawn by six milk-white horses. Having delivered his speech according to royal form, he returned home with the same pomp and circumstance.
The time had gone by, however, for such display to have the anticipated effect. The Virginian legislators penetrated the intention of this pompous ceremonial, and regarded it with a depreciating smile. Sterner matters occupied their thoughts; they had come prepared to battle for their rights, and their proceedings soon showed Lord Botetourt how much he had mistaken them. Spirited resolutions were passed, denouncing the recent act of Parliament imposing taxes; the power to do which, on the inhabitants of this colony, "was legally and constitutionally vested in the House of Burgesses, with consent of the council and of the king, or of his governor, for the time being." Copies of these resolutions were ordered to be forwarded by the speaker to the Legislatures of the other colonies, with a request for their concurrence.
Other proceedings of the Burgesses showed their sympathy with their fellow-patriots of New England. A joint address of both Houses of Parliament had recently been made to the king, assuring him of their support in any further measures for the due execution of the laws in Massachusetts, and beseeching him that all persons charged with treason, or misprision of treason, committed within that colony since the 30th of December, 1767, might be sent to Great Britain for trial.
As Massachusetts had no General Assembly at this time, having been dissolved by government, the Legislature of Virginia generously took up the cause. An address to the king was resolved on, stating, that all trials for treason, or misprision of treason, or for any crime whatever committed by any person residing in a colony, ought to be in and before his majesty's courts within said colony; and beseeching the king to avert from his loyal subjects those dangers and miseries which would ensue from seizing and carrying beyond sea any person residing in America suspected of any crime whatever, thereby depriving them of the inestimable privilege of being tried by a jury from the vicinage, as well as the liberty of producing witnesses on such trial.
Disdaining any further application to Parliament, the House ordered the speaker to transmit this address to the colonies' agent in England, with directions to cause it to be presented to the king, and afterwards to be printed and published in the English papers.
Lord Botetourt was astonished and dismayed when he heard of these high-toned proceedings. Repairing to the capitol on the following day at noon, he summoned the speaker and members to the council chamber, and addressed them in the following words: "Mr. Speaker, and gentlemen of the House of Burgesses, I have heard of your resolves, and augur ill of their effects. You have made it my duty to dissolve you, and you are dissolved accordingly."
The spirit conjured up by the late decrees of Parliament was not so easily allayed. The Burgesses adjourned to a private house. Peyton Randolph, their late speaker, was elected moderator. Washington now brought forward a draft of the articles of association, concerted between him and George Mason. They formed the groundwork of an instrument signed by all present, pledging themselves neither to import, nor use any goods, merchandise, or manufactures taxed by Parliament to raise a revenue in America. This instrument was sent throughout the country for signature, and the scheme of non-importation, hitherto confined to a few northern colonies, was soon universally adopted. For his own part, Washington adhered to it rigorously throughout the year. The articles proscribed by it were never to be seen in his house, and his agent in London was enjoined to ship nothing for him while subject to taxation.
The popular ferment in Virginia was gradually allayed by the amiable and conciliatory conduct of Lord Botetourt. His lordship soon became aware of the erroneous notions with which he had entered upon office. His semi-royal equipage and state were laid aside. He examined into public grievances; became a strenuous advocate for the repeal of taxes; and, authorized by his despatches from the ministry, assured the public that such repeal would speedily take place. His assurance was received with implicit faith, and for a while Virginia was quieted.
HOOD AT BOSTON—THE GENERAL COURT REFUSES TO DO BUSINESS UNDER MILITARY SWAY—RESISTS THE BILLETING ACT—EFFECT OF THE NON-IMPORTATION ASSOCIATION—LORD NORTH PREMIER—DUTIES REVOKED EXCEPT ON TEA—THE BOSTON MASSACRE—DISUSE OF TEA—CONCILIATORY CONDUCT OF LORD BOTETOURT—HIS DEATH.
"The worst is past, and the spirit of sedition broken," writes Hood to Grenville, early in the spring of 1769. [Footnote: Grenville Papers, vol. iii.] When the commodore wrote this, his ships were in the harbor, and troops occupied the town, and he flattered himself that at length turbulent Boston was quelled. But it only awaited its time to be seditious according to rule; there was always an irresistible "method in its madness."
In the month of May, the General Court, hitherto prorogued, met according to charter. A committee immediately waited on the governor, stating it was impossible to do business with dignity and freedom while the town was invested by sea and land, and a military guard was stationed at the state-house, with cannon pointed at the door; and they requested the governor, as his majesty's representative, to have such forces removed out of the port and gates of the city during the session of the Assembly.
The governor replied that he had no authority over either the ships or troops. The court persisted in refusing to transact business while so circumstanced, and the governor was obliged to transfer the session to Cambridge. There he addressed a message to that body in July, requiring funds for the payment of the troops, and quarters for their accommodation. The Assembly, after ample discussion of past grievances, resolved, that the establishment of a standing army in the colony in a time of peace was an invasion of natural rights; that a standing army was not known as a part of the British constitution, and that the sending an armed force to aid the civil authority was unprecedented, and highly dangerous to the people.
After waiting some days without receiving an answer to his message, the governor sent to know whether the Assembly would, or would not, make provision for the troops. In their reply, they followed the example of the Legislature of New York, in commenting on the mutiny, or billeting act, and ended by declining to furnish funds for the purposes specified, "being incompatible with their own honor and interest, and their duty to their constituents." They were in consequence again prorogued, to meet in Boston on the 10th of January.
So stood affairs in Massachusetts. In the mean time, the non-importation associations, being generally observed throughout the colonies, produced the effect on British commerce which Washington had anticipated, and Parliament was incessantly importuned by petitions from British merchants, imploring its intervention to save them from ruin.
Early in 1770, an important change took place in the British cabinet. The Duke of Grafton suddenly resigned, and the reins of government passed into the hands of Lord North. He was a man of limited capacity, but a favorite of the king, and subservient to his narrow colonial policy. His administration, so eventful to America, commenced with an error. In the month of March, an act was passed, revoking all the duties laid in 1767, excepting that on tea. This single tax was continued, as he observed, "to maintain the parliamentary right of taxation,"—the very right which was the grand object of contest. In this, however, he was in fact yielding, against his better judgment, to the stubborn tenacity of the king.
He endeavored to reconcile the opposition, and perhaps himself, to the measure, by plausible reasoning. An impost of threepence on the pound could never, he alleged, be opposed by the colonists, unless they were determined to rebel against Great Britain. Besides, a duty on that article, payable in England, and amounting to nearly one shilling on the pound, was taken off on its exportation to America, so that the inhabitants of the colonies saved ninepence on the pound.
Here was the stumbling-block at the threshold of Lord North's administration. In vain the members of the opposition urged that this single exception, while it would produce no revenue, would keep alive the whole cause of contention; that so long as a single external duty was enforced, the colonies would consider their rights invaded, and would remain unappeased. Lord North was not to be convinced; or rather, he knew the royal will was inflexible, and he complied with its behests. "The properest time to exert our right of taxation," said he, "is when the right is refused. To temporize is to yield; and the authority of the mother country, if it is now unsupported, will be relinquished for ever: a total repeal cannot be thought of, till America is prostrate at our feet." [Footnote: Holmes's Amer. Annals, vol. ii., p. 173.]
On the very day in which this ominous bill was passed in Parliament, a sinister occurrence took place in Boston. Some of the young men of the place insulted the military while under arms; the latter resented it; the young men, after a scuffle, were put to flight, and pursued. The alarm bells rang,—a mob assembled; the custom-house was threatened; the troops, in protecting it, were assailed with clubs and stones, and obliged to use their fire-arms, before the tumult could be quelled. Four of the populace were killed, and several wounded. The troops were now removed from the town, which remained in the highest state of exasperation; and this untoward occurrence received the opprobrious, and somewhat extravagant name of "the Boston massacre."
The colonists, as a matter of convenience, resumed the consumption of those articles on which the duties had been repealed; but continued, on principle, the rigorous disuse of tea, excepting such as had been smuggled in. New England was particularly earnest in the matter; many of the inhabitants, in the spirit of their Puritan progenitors, made a covenant to drink no more of the forbidden beverage, until the duty on tea should be repealed.
In Virginia the public discontents, which had been allayed by the conciliatory conduct of Lord Botetourt, and by his assurances, made on the strength of letters received from the ministry, that the grievances complained of would be speedily redressed, now broke out with more violence than ever. The Virginians spurned the mock-remedy which left the real cause of complaint untouched. His lordship also felt deeply wounded by the disingenuousness of ministers which had led him into such a predicament, and wrote home demanding his discharge. Before it arrived, an attack of bilious fever, acting upon a delicate and sensitive frame, enfeebled by anxiety and chagrin, laid him in his grave. He left behind him a name endeared to the Virginians by his amiable manners, his liberal patronage of the arts, and, above all, by his zealous intercession for their rights. Washington himself testifies that he was inclined "to render every just and reasonable service to the people whom he governed." A statue to his memory was decreed by the House of Burgesses, to be erected in the area of the capitol. It is still to be seen, though in a mutilated condition, in Williamsburg, the old seat of government, and a county in Virginia continues to bear his honored name.
EXPEDITION OF WASHINGTON TO THE OHIO, IN BEHALF OF SOLDIERS' CLAIMS— UNEASY STATE OF THE FRONTIER—VISIT TO FORT PITT—GEORGE CROGHAN—HIS MISHAPS DURING PONTIAC'S WAR—WASHINGTON DESCENDS THE OHIO—SCENES AND ADVENTURES ALONG THE RIVER—INDIAN HUNTING CAMP—INTERVIEW WITH AN OLD SACHEM AT THE MOUTH OF THE KANAWHA—RETURN—CLAIMS OF STOBO AND VAN BRAAM—LETTER TO COLONEL GEORGE MUSE.
In the midst of these popular turmoils, Washington was induced, by public as well as private considerations, to make another expedition to the Ohio. He was one of the Virginia Board of Commissioners, appointed, at the close of the late war, to settle the military accounts of the colony. Among the claims which came before the board, were those of the officers and soldiers who had engaged to serve until peace, under the proclamation of Governor Dinwiddie, holding forth a bounty of two hundred thousand acres of land, to be apportioned among them according to rank. Those claims were yet unsatisfied, for governments, like individuals, are slow to pay off in peaceful times the debts incurred while in the fighting mood. Washington became the champion of those claims, and an opportunity now presented itself for their liquidation. The Six Nations, by a treaty in 1768, had ceded to the British crown, in consideration of a sum of money, all the lands possessed by them south of the Ohio. Land offices would soon be opened for the sale of them. Squatters and speculators were already preparing to swarm in, set up their marks on the choicest spots, and establish what were called pre-emption rights. Washington determined at once to visit the lands thus ceded; affix his mark on such tracts as he should select, and apply for a grant from government in behalf of the "soldier's claim."
The expedition would be attended with some degree of danger. The frontier was yet in an uneasy state. It is true some time had elapsed since the war of Pontiac, but some of the Indian tribes were almost ready to resume the hatchet. The Delawares, Shawnees, and Mingoes, complained that the Six Nations had not given them their full share of the consideration money of the late sale, and they talked of exacting the deficiency from the white men who came to settle in what had been their hunting-grounds. Traders, squatters, and other adventurers into the wilderness, were occasionally murdered, and further troubles were apprehended.
Washington had for a companion in this expedition his friend and neighbor, Dr. Craik, and it was with strong community of feeling they looked forward peaceably to revisit the scenes of their military experience. They set out on the 5th of October with three negro attendants, two belonging to Washington, and one to the doctor. The whole party was mounted, and there was a led horse for the baggage.
After twelve days' travelling they arrived at Fort Pitt (late Fort Duquesne). It was garrisoned by two companies of royal Irish, commanded by a Captain Edmonson. A hamlet of about twenty log-houses, inhabited by Indian traders, had sprung up within three hundred yards of the fort, and was called "the town." It was the embryo city of Pittsburg, now so populous. At one of the houses, a tolerable frontier inn, they took up their quarters; but during their brief sojourn, they were entertained with great hospitality at the fort.
Here at dinner Washington met his old acquaintance, George Croghan, who had figured in so many capacities and experienced so many vicissitudes on the frontier. He was now Colonel Croghan, deputy-agent to Sir William Johnson, and had his residence—or seat, as Washington terms it—on the banks of the Allegany River, about four miles from the fort.
Croghan had experienced troubles and dangers during the Pontiac war, both from white man and savage. At one time, while he was convoying presents from Sir William to the Delawares and Shawnees, his caravan was set upon and plundered by a band of backwoodsmen of Pennsylvania—men resembling Indians in garb and habits, and fully as lawless. At another time, when encamped at the mouth of the Wabash with some of his Indian allies, a band of Kickapoos, supposing the latter to be Cherokees, their deadly enemies, rushed forth from the woods with horrid yells, shot down several of his companions, and wounded himself. It must be added, that no white men could have made more ample apologies than did the Kickapoos, when they discovered that they had fired upon friends.
Another of Croghan's perils was from the redoubtable Pontiac himself. That chieftain had heard of his being on a mission to win off, by dint of presents, the other sachems of the conspiracy, and declared, significantly, that he had a large kettle boiling in which he intended to seethe the ambassador. It was fortunate for Croghan that he did not meet with the formidable chieftain while in this exasperated mood. He subsequently encountered him when Pontiac's spirits were broken by reverses. They smoked the pipe of peace together, and the colonel claimed the credit of having, by his diplomacy, persuaded the sachem to bury the hatchet.
On the day following the repast at the fort, Washington visited Croghan at his abode on the Allegany River, where he found several of the chiefs of the Six Nations assembled. One of them, the White Mingo by name, made him a speech, accompanied, as usual, by a belt of wampum. Some of his companions, he said, remembered to have seen him in 1753, when he came on his embassy to the French commander; most of them had heard of him. They had now come to welcome him to their country. They wished the people of Virginia to consider them as friends and brothers, linked together in one chain, and requested him to inform the governor of their desire to live in peace and harmony with the white men. As to certain unhappy differences which had taken place between them on the frontiers, they were all made up, and, they hoped, forgotten.
Washington accepted the "speech-belt," and made a suitable reply, assuring the chiefs that nothing was more desired by the people of Virginia than to live with them on terms of the strictest friendship.
At Pittsburg the travellers left their horses, and embarked in a large canoe, to make a voyage down the Ohio as far as the Great Kanawha. Colonel Croghan engaged two Indians for their service, and an interpreter named John Nicholson. The colonel and some of the officers of the garrison accompanied them as far as Logstown, the scene of Washington's early diplomacy, and his first interview with the half-king. Here they breakfasted together; after which they separated, the colonel and his companions cheering the voyagers from the shore, as the canoe was borne off by the current of the beautiful Ohio.
It was now the hunting season, when the Indians leave their towns, set off with their families, and lead a roving life in cabins and hunting-camps along the river; shifting from place to place, as game abounds or decreases, and often extending their migrations two or three hundred miles down the stream. The women were as dexterous as the men in the management of the canoe, but were generally engaged in the domestic labors of the lodge while their husbands were abroad hunting.
Washington's propensities as a sportsman had here full play. Deer were continually to be seen coming down to the water's edge to drink, or browsing along the shore; there were innumerable flocks of wild turkeys, and streaming flights of ducks and geese; so that as the voyagers floated along, they were enabled to load their canoe with game. At night they encamped on the river bank, lit their fire and made a sumptuous hunter's repast. Washington always relished this wild-wood life; and the present had that spice of danger in it, which has a peculiar charm for adventurous minds. The great object of his expedition, however, is evinced in his constant notes on the features and character of the country; the quality of the soil as indicated by the nature of the trees, and the level tracts fitted for settlements.
About seventy-five miles below Pittsburg the voyagers landed at a Mingo town, which they found in a stir of warlike preparation—sixty of the warriors being about to set off on a foray into the Cherokee country against the Catawbas.
Here the voyagers were brought to a pause by a report that two white men, traders, had been murdered about thirty-eight miles further down the river. Reports of the kind were not to be treated lightly. Indian faith was uncertain along the frontier, and white men were often shot down in the wilderness for plunder or revenge. On the following day the report moderated. Only one man was said to have been killed, and that not by Indians; so Washington determined to continue forward until he could obtain correct information in the matter.
On the 24th, about 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the voyagers arrived at Captema Creek, at the mouth of which the trader was said to have been killed. As all was quiet and no one to be seen, they agreed to encamp, while Nicholson the interpreter, and one of the Indians, repaired to a village a few miles up the creek to inquire about the murder. They found but two old women at the village. The men were all absent, hunting. The interpreter returned to camp in the evening, bringing the truth of the murderous tale. A trader had fallen a victim to his temerity, having been drowned in attempting, in company with another, to swim his horse across the Ohio.
Two days more of voyaging brought them to an Indian hunting camp, near the mouth of the Muskingum. Here it was necessary to land and make a ceremonious visit, for the chief of the hunting party was Kiashuta, a Seneca sachem, the head of the river tribes. He was noted to have been among the first to raise the hatchet in Pontiac's conspiracy, and almost equally vindictive with that potent warrior. As Washington approached the chieftain, he recognized him for one of the Indians who had accompanied him on his mission to the French in 1753.
Kiashuta retained a perfect recollection of the youthful ambassador, though seventeen years had matured him into thoughtful manhood. With hunter's hospitality he gave him a quarter of a fine buffalo just slain, but insisted that they should encamp together for the night; and in order not to retard him, moved with his own party to a good camping place some distance down the river. Here they had long talks and council-fires over night and in the morning, with all the "tedious ceremony," says Washington, "which the Indians observe in their counsellings and speeches." Kiashuta had heard of what had passed between Washington and the "White Mingo," and other sachems, at Colonel Croghan's, and was eager to express his own desire for peace and friendship with Virginia, and fair dealings with her traders; all which Washington promised to report faithfully to the governor. It was not until a late hour in the morning that he was enabled to bring these conferences to a close, and pursue his voyage.
At the mouth of the Great Kanawha the voyagers encamped for a day or two to examine the lands in the neighborhood, and Washington set up his mark upon such as he intended to claim on behalf of the soldiers' grant. It was a fine sporting country, having small lakes or grassy ponds abounding with water-fowl, such as ducks, geese, and swans. Flocks of turkeys, as usual; and, for larger game, deer and buffalo; so that their camp abounded with provisions.
Here Washington was visited by an old sachem, who approached him with great reverence, at the head of several of his tribe, and addressed him through Nicholson, the interpreter. He had heard, he said, of his being in that part of the country, and had come from a great distance to see him. On further discourse, the sachem made known that he was one of the warriors in the service of the French, who lay in ambush on the banks of the Monongahela and wrought such havoc in Braddock's army. He declared that he and his young men had singled out Washington, as he made himself conspicuous riding about the field of battle with the general's orders, and had fired at him repeatedly, but without success; whence they had concluded that he was under the protection of the Great Spirit, had a charmed life, and could not be slain in battle.
At the Great Kanawha Washington's expedition down the Ohio terminated; having visited all the points he wished to examine. His return to Fort Pitt, and thence homeward, affords no incident worthy of note. The whole expedition, however, was one of that hardy and adventurous kind, mingled with practical purposes, in which he delighted. This winter voyage down the Ohio in a canoe, with the doctor for a companion and two Indians for crew, through regions yet insecure from the capricious hostility of prowling savages, is not one of the least striking of his frontier "experiences." The hazardous nature of it was made apparent shortly afterwards by another outbreak of the Ohio tribes; one of its bloodiest actions took place on the very banks of the Great Kanawha, in which Colonel Lewis and a number of brave Virginians lost their lives.
In the final adjustment of claims under Governor Dinwiddie's proclamation, Washington, acting on behalf of the officers and soldiers, obtained grants for the lands he had marked out in the course of his visit to the Ohio. Fifteen thousand acres were awarded to a field-officer, nine thousand to a captain, six thousand to a subaltern, and so on. Among the claims which he entered were those of Stobo and Van Braam, the hostages in the capitulation at the Great Meadows. After many vicissitudes they were now in London, and nine thousand acres were awarded to each of them. Their domains were ultimately purchased by Washington through his London agent.
Another claimant was Colonel George Muse, Washington's early instructor in military science. His claim was admitted with difficulty, for he stood accused of having acted the part of a poltroon in the campaign, and Washington seems to have considered the charge well founded. Still he appears to have been dissatisfied with the share of land assigned him, and to have written to Washington somewhat rudely on the subject. His letter is not extant, but we subjoin Washington's reply almost entire, as a specimen of the caustic pen he could wield under a mingled emotion of scorn and indignation.
"Sir,—Your impertinent letter was delivered to me yesterday. As I am not accustomed to receive such from any man, nor would have taken the same language from you personally, without letting you feel some marks of my resentment, I advise you to be cautious in writing me a second of the same tenor; for though I understand you were drunk when you did it, yet give me leave to tell you that drunkenness is no excuse for rudeness. But for your stupidity and sottishness you might have known, by attending to the public gazette, that you had your full quantity of ten thousand acres of land allowed you; that is, nine thousand and seventy-three acres in the great tract, and the remainder in the small tract.
"But suppose you had really fallen short, do you think your superlative merit entitles you to greater indulgence than others? Or, if it did, that I was to make it good to you, when it was at the option of the governor and council to allow but five hundred acres in the whole, if they had been so inclined? If either of these should happen to be your opinion, I am very well convinced that you will be singular in it; and all my concern is that I ever engaged myself in behalf of so ungrateful and dirty a fellow as you are."
N.B.—The above is from the letter as it exists in the archives of the Department of State at Washington. It differs in two or three particulars from that published among Washington's writings.
LORD DUNMORE GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA—PIQUES THE PRIDE OF THE VIRGINIANS— OPPOSITION OF THE ASSEMBLY—CORRESPONDING COMMITTEES—DEATH OF MISS CUSTIS—WASHINGTON'S GUARDIANSHIP OF JOHN PARKE CUSTIS—HIS OPINIONS AS TO PREMATURE TRAVEL AND PREMATURE MARRIAGE.
The discontents of Virginia, which had been partially soothed by the amiable administration of Lord Botetourt, were irritated anew under his successor, the Earl of Dunmore. This nobleman had for a short time held the government of New York. When appointed to that of Virginia, he lingered for several months at his former post. In the mean time, he sent his military secretary, Captain Foy, to attend to the despatch of business until his arrival; awarding to him a salary and fees to be paid by the colony.
The pride of the Virginians was piqued at his lingering at New York, as if he preferred its gayety and luxury to the comparative quiet and simplicity of Williamsburg. Their pride was still more piqued on his arrival, by what they considered haughtiness on his part. The spirit of the "Ancient Dominion" was roused, and his lordship experienced opposition at his very outset.
The first measure of the Assembly, at its opening, was to demand by what right he had awarded a salary and fees to his secretary without consulting it; and to question whether it was authorized by the crown.
His lordship had the good policy to rescind the unauthorized act, and in so doing mitigated the ire of the Assembly; but he lost no time in proroguing a body, which, from various symptoms, appeared to be too independent, and disposed to be untractable.
He continued to prorogue it from time to time, seeking in the interim to conciliate the Virginians, and soothe their irritated pride. At length, after repeated prorogations, he was compelled by circumstances to convene it on the 1st of March, 1773.
Washington was prompt in his attendance on the occasion; and foremost among the patriotic members, who eagerly availed themselves of this long wished for opportunity to legislate upon the general affairs of the colonies. One of their most important measures was the appointment of a committee of eleven persons, "whose business it should be to obtain the most clear and authentic intelligence of all such acts and resolutions of the British Parliament, or proceedings of administration, as may relate to or affect the British colonies, and to maintain with their sister colonies a correspondence and communication."
The plan thus proposed by their "noble, patriotic sister colony of Virginia," [Footnote: Boston Town Records.] was promptly adopted by the people of Massachusetts, and soon met with general concurrence. These corresponding committees, in effect, became the executive power of the patriot party, producing the happiest concert of design and action throughout the colonies.
Notwithstanding the decided part taken by Washington in the popular movement, very friendly relations existed between him and Lord Dunmore. The latter appreciated his character, and sought to avail himself of his experience in the affairs of the province. It was even concerted that Washington should accompany his lordship on an extensive tour, which the latter intended to make in the course of the summer along the western frontier. A melancholy circumstance occurred to defeat this arrangement.
We have spoken of Washington's paternal conduct towards the two children of Mrs. Washington. The daughter, Miss Custis, had long been an object of extreme solicitude. She was of a fragile constitution, and for some time past had been in very declining health. Early in the present summer, symptoms indicated a rapid change for the worse. Washington was absent from home at the time. On his return to Mount Vernon, he found her in the last stage of consumption.
Though not a man given to bursts of sensibility, he is said on the present occasion to have evinced the deepest affliction; kneeling by her bedside, and pouring out earnest prayers for her recovery. She expired on the 19th of June, in the seventeenth year of her age. This, of course, put an end to Washington's intention of accompanying Lord Dunmore to the frontier; he remained at home to console Mrs. Washington in her affliction,—furnishing his lordship, however, with travelling hints and directions, and recommending proper guides. And here we will take occasion to give a few brief particulars of domestic affairs at Mount Vernon.
For a long time previous to the death of Miss Custis, her mother, despairing of her recovery, had centred her hopes in her son, John Parke Custis. This rendered Washington's guardianship of him a delicate and difficult task. He was lively, susceptible, and impulsive; had an independent fortune in his own right, and an indulgent mother, ever ready to plead in his behalf against wholesome discipline. He had been placed under the care and instruction of an Episcopal clergyman at Annapolis, but was occasionally at home, mounting his horse, and taking a part, while yet a boy, in the fox-hunts at Mount Vernon. His education had consequently been irregular and imperfect, and not such as Washington would have enforced had he possessed over him the absolute authority of a father. Shortly after the return of the latter from his tour to the Ohio, he was concerned to find that there was an idea entertained of sending the lad abroad, though but little more than sixteen years of age, to travel under the care of his clerical tutor. Through his judicious interference, the travelling scheme was postponed, and it was resolved to give the young gentleman's mind the benefit of a little preparatory home culture.
Little more than a year elapsed before the sallying impulses of the youth had taken a new direction. He was in love; what was more, he was engaged to the object of his passion, and on the high road to matrimony.
Washington now opposed himself to premature marriage as he had done to premature travel. A correspondence ensued between him and the young lady's father, Benedict Calvert, Esq. The match was a satisfactory one to all parties, but it was agreed, that it was expedient for the youth to pass a year or two previously at college. Washington accordingly accompanied him to New York, and placed him under the care of the Rev. Dr. Cooper, president of King's (now Columbia) College, to pursue his studies in that institution. All this occurred before the death of his sister. Within a year after that melancholy event, he became impatient for a union with the object of his choice. His mother, now more indulgent than ever to this, her only child, yielded her consent, and Washington no longer made opposition.
"It has been against my wishes," writes the latter to President Cooper, "that he should quit college in order that he may soon enter into a new scene of life, which I think he would be much fitter for some years hence than now. But having his own inclination, the desires of his mother, and the acquiescence of almost all his relatives to encounter, I did not care, as he is the last of the family, to push my opposition too far; I have, therefore, submitted to a kind of necessity."
The marriage was celebrated on the 3d of February, 1774, before the bridegroom was twenty-one years of age.
We are induced to subjoin extracts of two letters from Washington relative to young Custis. The first gives his objections to premature travel; the second to premature matrimony. Both are worthy of consideration in this country, where our young people have such a general disposition to "go ahead."
To the reverend Jonathan Boucher (the tutor of young Custis).
... "I cannot help giving it as my opinion, that his education, however advanced it may be for a youth of his age, is by no means ripe enough for a travelling tour; not that I think his becoming a mere scholar is a desirable education for a gentleman, but I conceive a knowledge of books is the basis upon which all other knowledge is to be built, and in travelling he is to become acquainted with men and things, rather than books. At present, however well versed he may be in the principles of the Latin language (which is not to be wondered at, as he began the study of it as soon as he could speak), he is unacquainted with several of the classic authors that might be useful to him. He is ignorant of Greek, the advantages of learning which I do not pretend to judge of; and he knows nothing of French, which is absolutely necessary to him as a traveller. He has little or no acquaintance with arithmetic, and is totally ignorant of the mathematics—than which, at least, so much of them as relates to surveying, nothing can be more essentially necessary to any man possessed of a large landed estate, the bounds of some part or other of which are always in controversy. Now whether he has time between this and next spring to acquire a sufficient knowledge of these studies, I leave you to judge; as, also, whether a boy of seventeen years old (which will be his age next November), can have any just notions of the end and design of travelling. I have already given it as my opinion that it would be precipitating this event, unless he were to go immediately to the university for a couple of years; in which case he could see nothing of America; which might be a disadvantage to him, as it is to be expected that every man, who travels with a view of observing the laws and customs of other countries, should be able to give some description of the situation and government of his own."
The following are extracts from the letter to Benedict Calvert, Esq., the young lady's father:
"I write to you on a subject of importance, and of no small embarrassment to me; My son-in-law and ward, Mr. Custis, has, as I have been informed, paid his addresses to your second daughter; and having made some progress in her affections, has solicited her in marriage. How far a union of this sort may be agreeable to you, you best can tell; but I should think myself wanting in candor, were I not to confess that Miss Nelly's amiable qualities are acknowledged on all hands, and that an alliance with your family will be pleasing to his.
"This acknowledgment being made, you must permit me to add, sir, that at this, or in any short time, his youth, inexperience, and unripened education are, and will be, insuperable obstacles, in my opinion, to the completion of the marriage. As his guardian, I conceive it my indispensable duty to endeavor to carry him through a regular course of education (many branches of which, I am sorry to say, he is totally deficient in), and to guide his youth to a more advanced age, before an event, on which his own peace and the happiness of another are to depend, takes place. ... If the affection which they have avowed for each other is fixed upon a solid basis, it will receive no diminution in the course of two or three years; in which time he may prosecute his studies, and thereby render himself more deserving of the lady, and useful to society. If, unfortunately, as they are both young, there should be an abatement of affection on either side, or both, it had better precede than follow marriage.
"Delivering my sentiments thus freely, will not, I hope, lead you into a belief that I am desirous of breaking off the match. To postpone it is all I have in view; for I shall recommend to the young gentleman, with the warmth that becomes a man of honor, to consider himself as much engaged to your daughter, as if the indissoluble knot were tied; and as the surest means of effecting this, to apply himself closely to his studies, by which he will, in a great measure, avoid those little flirtations with other young ladies, that may, by dividing the attention, contribute not a little to divide the affection."
LORD NORTH'S BILL FAVORING THE EXPORTATION OF TEAS—SHIPS FREIGHTED WITH TEA TO THE COLONIES—SENT BACK FROM SOME OF THE PORTS—TEA DESTROYED AT BOSTON—PASSAGE OF THE BOSTON PORT BILL—SESSION OF THE HOUSE OF BURGESSES—SPLENDID OPENING—BURST OF INDIGNATION AT THE PORT BILL—HOUSE DISSOLVED—RESOLUTIONS AT THE RALEIGH TAVERN—PROJECT OF A GENERAL CONGRESS—WASHINGTON AND LORD DUNMORE—THE PORT BILL GOES INTO EFFECT—GENERAL GAGE AT BOSTON—LEAGUE AND COVENANT.
The general covenant throughout the colonies against the use of taxed tea, had operated disastrously against the interests of the East India Company, and produced an immense accumulation of the proscribed article in their warehouses. To remedy this, Lord North brought in a bill (1773), by which the company were allowed to export their teas from England to any part whatever, without paying export duty. This, by enabling them to offer their teas at a low price in the colonies would, he supposed, tempt the Americans to purchase large quantities, thus relieving the company, and at the same time benefiting the revenue by the impost duty. Confiding in the wisdom of this policy, the company disgorged their warehouses, freighted several ships with tea, and sent them to various parts of the colonies. This brought matters to a crisis. One sentiment, one determination, pervaded the whole continent. Taxation was to receive its definitive blow. Whoever submitted to it was an enemy to his country. From New York and Philadelphia the ships were sent back, unladen, to London. In Charleston the tea was unloaded, and stored away in cellars and other places, where it perished. At Boston the action was still more decisive. The ships anchored in the harbor. Some small parcels of tea were brought on shore, but the sale of them was prohibited. The captains of the ships, seeing the desperate state of the case, would have made sail back for England, but they could not obtain the consent of the consignees, a clearance at the custom-house, or a passport from the governor to clear the fort. It was evident, the tea was to be forced upon the people of Boston, and the principle of taxation established.
To settle the matter completely, and prove that, on a point of principle, they were not to be trifled with, a number of the inhabitants, disguised as Indians, boarded the ships in the night (18th December), broke open all the chests of tea, and emptied the contents into the sea. This was no rash and intemperate proceeding of a mob, but the well-considered, though resolute act of sober, respectable citizens, men of reflection, but determination. The whole was done calmly, and in perfect order; after which the actors in the scene dispersed without tumult, and returned quietly to their homes.
The general opposition of the colonies to the principle of taxation had given great annoyance to government, but this individual act concentrated all its wrath upon Boston. A bill was forthwith passed in Parliament (commonly called the Boston port bill), by which all lading and unlading of goods, wares, and merchandise, were to cease in that town and harbor, on and after the 4th of June, and the officers of the customs to be transferred to Salem.
Another law, passed soon after, altered the charter of the province, decreeing that all counsellors, judges, and magistrates, should be appointed by the crown, and hold office during the royal pleasure.
This was followed by a third, intended for the suppression of riots; and providing that any person indicted for murder, or other capital offence, committed in aiding the magistracy, might be sent by the governor to some other colony, or to Great Britain, for trial.
Such was the bolt of Parliamentary wrath fulminated against the devoted town of Boston. Before it fell there was a session in May, of the Virginia House of Burgesses. The social position of Lord Dunmore had been strengthened in the province by the arrival of his lady, and a numerous family of sons and daughters. The old Virginia aristocracy had vied with each other in hospitable attentions to the family. A court circle had sprung up. Regulations had been drawn up by a herald, and published officially, determining the rank and precedence of civil and military officers, and their wives. The aristocracy of the Ancient Dominion was furbishing up its former splendor. Carriages and four rolled into the streets of Williamsburg, with horses handsomely caparisoned, bringing the wealthy planters and their families to the seat of government.
Washington arrived in Williamsburg on the 16th, and dined with the governor on the day of his arrival, having a distinguished position in the court circle, and being still on terms of intimacy with his lordship. The House of Burgesses was opened in form, and one of its first measures was an address of congratulation to the governor, on the arrival of his lady. It was followed up by an agreement among the members to give her ladyship a splendid ball, on the 27th of the month.
All things were going on smoothly and smilingly, when a letter, received through the corresponding committee, brought intelligence of the vindictive measure of Parliament, by which the port of Boston was to be closed on the approaching 1st of June.
The letter was read in the House of Burgesses, and produced a general burst of indignation. All other business was thrown aside, and this became the sole subject of discussion. A protest against this and other recent acts of Parliament was entered upon the journal of the House, and a resolution was adopted, on the 24th of May, setting apart the 1st of June as a day of fasting, prayer, and humiliation; in which the divine interposition was to be implored, to avert the heavy calamity threatening destruction to their rights, and all the evils of civil war; and to give the people one heart and one mind in firmly opposing every injury to American liberties.
On the following morning, while the Burgesses were engaged in animated debate, they were summoned to attend Lord Dunmore in the council chamber, where he made them the following laconic speech: "Mr. Speaker, and Gentlemen of the House of Burgesses: I have in my hand a paper, published by order of your House, conceived in such terms, as reflect highly upon his majesty, and the Parliament of Great Britain, which makes it necessary for me to dissolve you, and you are dissolved accordingly."
As on a former occasion, the Assembly, though dissolved, was not dispersed. The members adjourned to the long room of the old Raleigh tavern, and passed resolutions, denouncing the Boston port bill as a most dangerous attempt to destroy the constitutional liberty and rights of all North America; recommending their countrymen to desist from the use, not merely of tea, but of all kinds of East Indian commodities: pronouncing an attack on one of the colonies, to enforce arbitrary taxes, an attack on all; and ordering the committee of correspondence to communicate with the other corresponding committees, on the expediency of appointing deputies from the several colonies of British America, to meet annually in GENERAL CONGRESS, at such place as might be deemed expedient, to deliberate on such measures as the united interests of the colonies might require.
This was the first recommendation of a General Congress by any public assembly, though it had been previously proposed in town meetings at New York and Boston. A resolution to the same effect was passed in the Assembly of Massachusetts before it was aware of the proceedings of the Virginia Legislature. The measure recommended met with prompt and general concurrence throughout the colonies, and the fifth day of September next ensuing was fixed upon for the meeting of the first Congress, which was to be held at Philadelphia.
Notwithstanding Lord Dunmore's abrupt dissolution of the House of Burgesses, the members still continued on courteous terms with him, and the ball which they had decreed early in the session in honor of Lady Dunmore, was celebrated on the 27th with unwavering gallantry.
As to Washington, widely as he differed from Lord Dunmore on important points of policy, his intimacy with him remained uninterrupted. By memorandums in his diary it appears that he dined and passed the evening at his lordship's on the 25th, the very day of the meeting at the Raleigh tavern. That he rode out with him to his farm, and breakfasted there with him on the 26th, and on the evening of the 27th attended the ball given to her ladyship. Such was the well-bred decorum that seemed to quiet the turbulence of popular excitement, without checking the full and firm expression of popular opinion.
On the 29th, two days after the ball, letters arrived from Boston giving the proceedings of a town meeting, recommending that a general league should be formed throughout the colonies suspending all trade with Great Britain. But twenty-five members of the late House of Burgesses, including Washington, were at that time remaining in Williamsburg. They held a meeting on the following day, at which Peyton Randolph presided as moderator. After some discussion it was determined to issue a printed circular, bearing their signatures, and calling a meeting of all the members of the late House of Burgesses, on the 1st of August, to take into consideration this measure of a general league. The circular recommended them, also, to collect, in the mean time, the sense of their respective counties.
Washington was still at Williamsburg on the 1st of June, the day when the port bill was to be enforced at Boston. It was ushered in by the tolling of bells, and observed by all true patriots as a day of fasting and humiliation. Washington notes in his diary that he fasted rigidly, and attended the services appointed in the church. Still his friendly intercourse with the Dunmore family was continued during the remainder of his sojourn in Williamsburg, where he was detained by business until the 20th, when he set out on his return to Mount Vernon.
In the mean time the Boston port bill had been carried into effect. On the 1st of June the harbor of Boston was closed at noon, and all business ceased. The two other parliamentary acts altering the charter of Massachusetts were to be enforced. No public meetings, excepting the annual town meetings in March and May, were to be held without permission of the governor.
General Thomas Gage had recently been appointed to the military command of Massachusetts, and the carrying out of these offensive acts. He was the same officer who, as lieutenant-colonel, had led the advance guard on the field of Braddock's defeat. Fortune had since gone well with him. Rising in the service, he had been governor of Montreal, and had succeeded Amherst in the command of the British forces on this continent. He was linked to the country also by domestic ties, having married into one of the most respectable families of New Jersey. In the various situations in which he had hitherto been placed he had won esteem, and rendered himself popular. Not much was expected from him in his present post by those who knew him well. William Smith, the historian, speaking of him to Adams, "Gage," said he, "was a good-natured, peaceable, sociable man while here (in New York), but altogether unfit for a governor of Massachusetts. He will lose all the character he has acquired as a man, a gentleman, and a general, and dwindle down into a mere scribbling governor—a mere Bernard or Hutchinson."
With all Gage's experience in America, he had formed a most erroneous opinion of the character of the people. "The Americans," said he to the king, "will be lions only as long as the English are lambs;" and he engaged, with five regiments, to keep Boston quiet!
The manner in which his attempts to enforce the recent acts of Parliament were resented, showed how egregiously he was in error. At the suggestion of the Assembly, a paper was circulated through the province by the committee of correspondence, entitled "a solemn league and covenant," the subscribers to which bound themselves to break off all intercourse with Great Britain from the 1st of August, until the colony should be restored to the enjoyment of its chartered rights; and to renounce all dealings with those who should refuse to enter into this compact.
The very title of league and covenant had an ominous sound, and startled General Gage. He issued a proclamation, denouncing it as illegal and traitorous. Furthermore, he encamped a force of infantry and artillery on Boston Common, as if prepared to enact the lion. An alarm spread through the adjacent country. "Boston is to be blockaded! Boston is to be reduced to obedience by force or famine!" The spirit of the yeomanry was aroused. They sent in word to the inhabitants promising to come to their aid if necessary; and urging them to stand fast to the faith. Affairs were coming to a crisis. It was predicted that the new acts of Parliament would bring on "a most important and decisive trial."
WASHINGTON CHAIRMAN OF A POLITICAL MEETING—CORRESPONDENCE WITH BRYAN FAIRFAX—PATRIOTIC RESOLUTIONS—WASHINGTON'S OPINIONS ON PUBLIC AFFAIRS—NON-IMPORTATION SCHEME—CONVENTION AT WILLIAMSBURG—WASHINGTON APPOINTED A DELEGATE TO THE GENERAL CONGRESS—LETTER FROM BRYAN FAIRFAX—PERPLEXITIES OF GENERAL GAGE AT BOSTON.
Shortly after Washington's return to Mount Vernon, in the latter part of June, he presided as moderator at a meeting of the inhabitants of Fairfax County, wherein, after the recent acts of Parliament had been discussed, a committee was appointed, with himself as chairman, to draw up resolutions expressive of the sentiments of the present meeting, and to report the same at a general meeting of the county, to be held in the court-house on the 18th of July.
The course that public measures were taking shocked the loyal feelings of Washington's valued friend, Bryan Fairfax, of Tarlston Hall, a younger brother of George William, who was absent in England. He was a man of liberal sentiments, but attached to the ancient rule; and, in a letter to Washington, advised a petition to the throne, which would give Parliament an opportunity to repeal the offensive acts.
"I would heartily join you in your political sentiments," writes Washington in reply, "as far as relates to a humble and dutiful petition to the throne, provided there was the most distant hope of success. But have we not tried this already? Have we not addressed the lords, and remonstrated to the commons? And to what end? Does it not appear as clear as the sun in its meridian brightness that there is a regular, systematic plan to fix the right and practice of taxation upon us? ... Is not the attack upon the liberty and property of the people of Boston, before restitution of the loss to the India Company was demanded, a plain and self-evident proof of what they are aiming at? Do not the subsequent bills for depriving the Massachusetts Bay of its charter, and for transporting offenders to other colonies or to Great Britain for trial, where it is impossible, from the nature of things, that justice can be obtained, convince us that the administration is determined to stick at nothing to carry its point? Ought we not, then, to put our virtue and fortitude to the severest tests?"
The committee met according to appointment, with Washington as chairman. The resolutions framed at the meeting insisted, as usual, on the right of self-government, and the principle that taxation and representation were in their nature inseparable. That the various acts of Parliament for raising revenue; taking away trials by jury; ordering that persons might be tried in a different country from that in which the cause of accusation originated; closing the port of Boston; abrogating the charter of Massachusetts Bay, &c., &c.,—were all part of a premeditated design and system to introduce arbitrary government into the colonies. That the sudden and repeated dissolutions of Assemblies whenever they presumed to examine the illegality of ministerial mandates, or deliberated on the violated rights of their constituents, were part of the same system, and calculated and intended to drive the people of the colonies to a state of desperation, and to dissolve the compact by which their ancestors bound themselves and their posterity to remain dependent on the British crown. The resolutions, furthermore, recommended the most perfect union and co-operation among the colonies; solemn covenants with respect to non-importation and non-intercourse, and a renunciation of all dealings with any colony, town, or province, that should refuse to agree to the plan adopted by the General Congress.
They also recommended a dutiful petition and remonstrance from the Congress to the king, asserting their constitutional rights and privileges; lamenting the necessity of entering into measures that might be displeasing; declaring their attachment to his person, family, and government, and their desire to continue in dependence upon Great Britain; beseeching him not to reduce his faithful subjects of America to desperation, and to reflect, that from our sovereign there can be but one appeal.
These resolutions are the more worthy of note, as expressive of the opinions and feelings of Washington at this eventful time, if not being entirely dictated by him. The last sentence is of awful import, suggesting the possibility of being driven to an appeal to arms.
Bryan Fairfax, who was aware of their purport, addressed a long letter to Washington, on the 17th of July, the day preceding that in which they were to be reported by the committee, stating his objections to several of them, and requesting that his letter might be publicly read. The letter was not received until after the committee had gone to the court-house on the 18th, with the resolutions revised, corrected, and ready to be reported. Washington glanced over the letter hastily, and handed it round to several of the gentlemen present. They, with one exception, advised that it should not be publicly read, as it was not likely to make any converts, and was repugnant, as some thought, to every principle they were contending for. Washington forbore, therefore, to give it any further publicity.
The resolutions reported by the committee were adopted, and Washington was chosen a delegate to represent the county at the General Convention of the province, to be held at Williamsburg on the 1st of August. After the meeting had adjourned, he felt doubtful whether Fairfax might not be dissatisfied that his letter had not been read, as he requested, to the county at large; he wrote to him, therefore, explaining the circumstances which prevented it; at the same time replying to some of the objections which Fairfax had made to certain of the resolutions. He reiterated his belief that an appeal would be ineffectual. "What is it we are contending against?" asked he; "Is it against paying the duty of threepence per pound on tea because burdensome? No, it is the right only, that we have all along disputed; and to this end, we have already petitioned his majesty in as humble and dutiful a manner as subjects could do. Nay, more, we applied to the House of Lords and House of Commons in their different legislative capacities, setting forth that, as Englishmen, we could not be deprived of this essential and valuable part of our constitution. ...
"The conduct of the Boston people could not justify the rigor of their measures, unless there had been a requisition of payment, and refusal of it; nor did that conduct require an act to deprive the government of Massachusetts Bay of their charter, or to exempt offenders from trial in the places where offences were committed, as there was not, nor could there be, a single instance produced to manifest the necessity of it. Are not all these things evident proofs of a fixed and uniform plan to tax us? If we want further proofs, do not all the debates in the House of Commons serve to confirm this? And has not General Gage's conduct since his arrival, in stopping the address of his council, and publishing a proclamation, more becoming a Turkish bashaw than an English governor, declaring it treason to associate in any manner by which the commerce of Great Britain is to be affected,—has not this exhibited an unexampled testimony of the most despotic system of tyranny that ever was practised in a free government?"
The popular measure on which Washington laid the greatest stress as a means of obtaining redress from government, was the non-importation scheme; "for I am convinced," said he, "as much as of my existence, that there is no relief for us but in their distress; and I think—at least I hope—that there is public virtue enough left among us to deny ourselves every thing but the bare necessaries of life to accomplish this end." At the same time, he forcibly condemned a suggestion that remittances to England should be withheld. "While we are accusing others of injustice," said he, "we should be just ourselves; and how this can be whilst we owe a considerable debt, and refuse payment of it to Great Britain is to me inconceivable: nothing but the last extremity can justify it."
On the 1st of August, the convention of representatives from all parts of Virginia assembled at Williamsburg. Washington appeared on behalf of Fairfax County, and presented the resolutions, already cited, as the sense of his constituents. He is said, by one who was present, to have spoken in support of them in a strain of uncommon eloquence, which shows how his latent ardor had been excited on the occasion, as eloquence was not in general among his attributes. It is evident, however, that he was roused to an unusual pitch of enthusiasm, for he is said to have declared that he was ready to raise one thousand men, subsist them at his own expense, and march at their head to the relief of Boston. [Footnote: See information given to the elder Adams, by Mr. Lynch of South Carolina.—Adams's Diary.]
The Convention was six days in session. Resolutions, in the same spirit with those passed in Fairfax County, were adopted, and Peyton Randolph, Richard Henry Lee, George Washington, Patrick Henry, Richard Bland, Benjamin Harrison, and Edmund Pendleton, were appointed delegates, to represent the people of Virginia in the General Congress.
Shortly after Washington's return from Williamsburg, he received a reply from Bryan Fairfax, to his last letter. Fairfax, who was really a man of liberal views, seemed anxious to vindicate himself from any suspicions of the contrary. In adverting to the partial suppression of his letter by some of the gentlemen of the committee: "I am uneasy to find," writes he, "that any one should look upon the letter sent down as repugnant to the principles we are contending for; and, therefore, when you have leisure, I shall take it as a favor if you will let me know wherein it was thought so. I beg leave to look upon you as a friend, and it is a great relief to unbosom one's thoughts to a friend. Besides, the information, and the correction of my errors, which I may obtain from a correspondence, are great inducements to it. For I am convinced that no man in the colony wishes its prosperity more, would go greater lengths to serve it, or is, at the same time, a better subject to the crown. Pray excuse these compliments, they may be tolerable from a friend." [Footnote: Sparks. Washington's Writings, vol. ii., p. 329.]
The hurry of various occupations prevented Washington, in his reply, from entering into any further discussion of the popular theme. "I can only in general add," said he, "that an innate spirit of freedom first told me that the measures which the administration have for some time been, and now are violently pursuing, are opposed to every principle of natural justice; whilst much abler heads than my own have fully convinced me, that they are not only repugnant to natural right, but subversive of the laws and constitution of Great Britain itself. ... I shall conclude with remarking that, if you disavow the right of Parliament to tax us, unrepresented as we are, we only differ in the mode of opposition, and this difference principally arises from your belief that they (the Parliament I mean), want a decent opportunity to repeal the acts; whilst I am fully convinced that there has been a regular systematic plan to enforce them, and that nothing but unanimity and firmness in the colonies, which they did not expect, can prevent it. By the best advices from Boston, it seems that General Gage is exceedingly disconcerted at the quiet and steady conduct of the people of the Massachusetts Bay, and at the measures pursuing by the other governments. I dare say he expected to force those oppressed people into compliance, or irritate them to acts of violence before this, for a more colorable pretence of ruling that, and the other colonies, with a high hand."
Washington had formed a correct opinion of the position of General Gage. From the time of taking command at Boston, he had been perplexed how to manage its inhabitants. Had they been hot-headed, impulsive, and prone to paroxysm, his task would have been comparatively easy; but it was the cool, shrewd common sense, by which all their movements were regulated, that confounded him.
High-handed measures had failed of the anticipated effect. Their harbor had been thronged with ships; their town with troops. The port bill had put an end to commerce; wharves were deserted, warehouses closed; streets grass-grown and silent. The rich were growing poor, and the poor were without employ; yet the spirit of the people was unbroken. There was no uproar, however; no riots; every thing was awfully systematic and according to rule. Town meetings were held, in which public rights and public measures were eloquently discussed by John Adams, Josiah Quincy, and other eminent men. Over these meetings Samuel Adams presided as moderator; a man clear in judgment, calm in conduct, inflexible in resolution; deeply grounded in civil and political history, and infallible on all points of constitutional law.
Alarmed at the powerful influence of these assemblages, government issued an act prohibiting them after the 1st of August. The act was evaded by convoking the meetings before that day, and keeping them alive indefinitely. Gage was at a loss how to act. It would not do to disperse these assemblages by force of arms; for, the people who composed them mingled the soldier with the polemic; and, like their prototypes, the covenanters of yore, if prone to argue, were as ready to fight. So the meetings continued to be held portinaciously. Faneuil Hall was at times unable to hold them, and they swarmed from that revolutionary hive into old South Church. The liberty tree became a rallying place for any popular movement, and a flag hoisted on it was saluted by all processions as the emblem of the popular cause.
Opposition to the new plan of government assumed a more violent aspect at the extremity of the province, and was abetted by Connecticut. "It is very high," writes Gage, (August 27th,) "in Berkshire County, and makes way rapidly to the rest. At Worcester they threaten resistance, purchase arms, provide powder, cast balls, and threaten to attack any troops who may oppose them. I apprehend I shall soon have to march a body of troops into that township."
The time appointed for the meeting of the General Congress at Philadelphia was now at hand. Delegates had already gone on from Massachusetts. "It is not possible to guess," writes Gage, "what a body composed of such heterogeneous matter will determine; but the members from hence, I am assured, will promote the most haughty and insolent resolves; for their plan has ever been, by threats and high-sounding sedition, to terrify and intimidate."
MEETING OF THE FIRST CONGRESS—OPENING CEREMONIES—ELOQUENCE OF PATRICK HENRY AND HENRY LEE—DECLARATORY RESOLUTION—BILL OF RIGHTS—STATE PAPERS—CHATHAM'S OPINIONS OF CONGRESS—WASHINGTON'S CORRESPONDENCE WITH CAPT. MACKENZIE—VIEWS WITH RESPECT TO INDEPENDENCE—DEPARTURE OF FAIRFAX FOR ENGLAND.
When the time approached for the meeting of the General Congress at Philadelphia, Washington was joined at Mount Vernon by Patrick Henry and Edmund Pendleton, and they performed the journey together on horseback. It was a noble companionship. Henry was then in the youthful vigor and elasticity of his bounding genius; ardent, acute, fanciful, eloquent. Pendleton, schooled in public life, a veteran in council, with native force of intellect, and habits of deep reflection. Washington, in the meridian of his days, mature in wisdom, comprehensive in mind, sagacious in foresight. Such were the apostles of liberty, repairing on their august pilgrimage to Philadelphia from all parts of the land, to lay the foundations of a mighty empire. Well may we say of that eventful period, "There were giants in those days."
Congress assembled on Monday, the 5th of September, in a large room in Carpenter's Hall. There were fifty-one delegates, representing all the colonies excepting Georgia.
The meeting has been described as "awfully solemn." The most eminent men of the various colonies, were now for the first time brought together; they were known to each other by fame, but were, personally, strangers. The object which had called them together, was of incalculable magnitude. The liberties of no less than three millions of people, with that of all their posterity, were staked on the wisdom and energy of their councils. [Footnote: Wirt's Life of Patrick Henry, p. 224.]
"It is such an assembly," writes John Adams, who was present, "as never before came together on a sudden, in any part of the world. Here are fortunes, abilities, learning, eloquence, acuteness, equal to any I ever met with in my life. Here is a diversity of religions, educations, manners, interests, such as it would seem impossible to unite in one plan of conduct."
There being an inequality in the number of delegates from the different colonies, a question arose as to the mode of voting; whether by colonies, by the poll, or by interests.
Patrick Henry scouted the idea of sectional distinctions or individual interests. "All America," said he, "is thrown into one mass. Where are your landmarks—your boundaries of colonies? They are all thrown down. The distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers and New Englanders, are no more. I am not a Virginian, but an American." [Footnote: J. Adams' Diary.]
After some debate, it was determined that each colony should have but one vote, whatever might be the number of its delegates. The deliberations of the House were to be with closed doors, and nothing but the resolves promulgated, unless by order of the majority.
To give proper dignity and solemnity to the proceedings of the House, it was moved on the following day, that each morning the session should be opened by prayer. To this it was demurred, that as the delegates were of different religious sects, they might not consent to join in the same form of worship.
Upon this, Mr. Samuel Adams arose and said: "He would willingly join in prayer with any gentleman of piety and virtue, whatever might be his cloth, provided he was a friend of his country;" and he moved that the reverend Mr. Duch, of Philadelphia, who answered to that description, might be invited to officiate as chaplain. This was one step towards unanimity of feeling, Mr. Adams being a strong Congregationalist, and Mr. Duch an eminent Episcopalian clergyman. The motion was carried into effect; the invitation was given and accepted.
In the course of the day, a rumor reached Philadelphia that Boston had been cannonaded by the British. It produced a strong sensation; and when Congress met on the following morning (7th), the effect was visible in every countenance. The delegates from the east were greeted with a warmer grasp of the hand by their associates from the south.
The reverend Mr. Duch, according to invitation, appeared in his canonicals, attended by his clerk. The morning service of the Episcopal church was read with great solemnity, the clerk making the responses. The Psalter for the 7th day of the month includes the 35th Psalm, wherein David prays for protection against his enemies. "Plead my cause, O Lord, with them that strive with me: fight against them that fight against me.
"Take hold of shield and buckler and stand up for my help.
"Draw out, also, the spear, and stop the way of them that persecute me. Say unto my soul, I am thy salvation," &c., &c.
The imploring words of this psalm, spoke the feelings of all hearts present; but especially of those from New England. John Adams writes in a letter to his wife: "You must remember this was the morning after we heard the horrible rumor of the cannonade of Boston. I never saw a greater effect upon an audience. It seemed as if heaven had ordained that psalm to be read on that morning. After this, Mr. Duch unexpectedly struck out into an extemporary prayer, which filled the bosom of every man present. Episcopalian as he is, Dr. Cooper himself never prayed with such fervor, such ardor, such earnestness and pathos, and in language so eloquent and sublime, for America, for the Congress, for the province of Massachusetts Bay, and especially the town of Boston. It has had an excellent effect upon every body here." [Footnote: John Adams' Correspondence and Diary.]
It has been remarked that Washington was especially devout on this occasion—kneeling, while others stood up. In this, however, each, no doubt, observed the attitude in prayer to which he was accustomed. Washington knelt, being an Episcopalian.
The rumored attack upon Boston, rendered the service of the day deeply affecting to all present. They were one political family, actuated by one feeling, and sympathizing with the weal and woe of each individual member. The rumor proved to be erroneous; but it had produced a most beneficial effect in calling forth and quickening the spirit of union, so vitally important in that assemblage.
Owing to closed doors, and the want of reporters, no record exists of the discussions and speeches made in the first Congress. Mr. Wirt, speaking from tradition, informs us that a long and deep silence followed the organization of that august body; the members looking round upon each other, individually reluctant to open a business so fearfully momentous. This "deep and deathlike silence" was beginning to become painfully embarrassing, when Patrick Henry arose. He faltered at first, as was his habit; but his exordium was impressive; and as he launched forth into a recital of colonial wrongs he kindled with his subject, until he poured forth one of those eloquent appeals which had so often shaken the House of Burgesses and gained him the fame of being the greatest orator of Virginia. He sat down, according to Mr. Wirt, amidst murmurs of astonishment and applause, and was now admitted, on every hand, to be the first orator of America. He was followed by Richard Henry Lee, who, according to the same writer, charmed the house with a different kind of eloquence, chaste and classical; contrasting, in its cultivated graces, with the wild and grand effusions of Henry. "The superior powers of these great men, however," adds he, "were manifested only in debate, and while general grievances were the topic; when called down from the heights of declamation to that severer test of intellectual excellence, the details of business, they found themselves in a body of cool-headed, reflecting, and most able men, by whom they were, in their turn, completely thrown into the shade." [Footnote: Wirt's Life of Patrick Henry.]
The first public measure of Congress was a resolution declaratory of their feelings with regard to the recent acts of Parliament, violating the rights of the people of Massachusetts, and of their determination to combine in resisting any force that might attempt to carry those acts into execution.
A committee of two from each province reported a series of resolutions, which were adopted and promulgated by Congress, as a "declaration of colonial rights." In this were enumerated their natural rights to the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property; and their rights as British subjects. Among the latter was participation in legislative councils. This they could not exercise through representatives in Parliament; they claimed, therefore, the power of legislating in their provincial assemblies; consenting, however, to such acts of Parliament as might be essential to the regulation of trade; but excluding all taxation, internal or external, for raising revenue in America.
The common law of England was claimed as a birthright, including the right of trial by a jury of the vicinage; of holding public meetings to consider grievances; and of petitioning the king. The benefits of all such statutes as existed at the time of the colonization were likewise claimed; together with the immunities and privileges granted by royal charters, or secured by provincial laws.
The maintenance of a standing army in any colony in time of peace, without the consent of its legislature, was pronounced contrary to law. The exercise of the legislative power in the colonies by a council appointed during pleasure by the crown, was declared to be unconstitutional, and destructive to the freedom of American legislation.
Then followed a specification of the acts of Parliament, passed during the reign of George III., infringing and violating these rights. These were: the sugar act; the stamp act; the two acts for quartering troops; the tea act; the act suspending the New York legislature; the two acts for the trial in Great Britain of offences committed in America; the Boston port bill; the act for regulating the government of Massachusetts, and the Quebec act.
"To these grievous acts and measures," it was added, "Americans cannot submit; but in hopes their fellow subjects in Great Britain will, on a revision of them, restore us to that state in which both countries found happiness and prosperity, we have, for the present, only resolved to pursue the following peaceable measures:
"1st. To enter into a non-importation, non-consumption, and non-exportation agreement, or association.
"2d. To prepare an address to the people of Great Britain, and a memorial to the inhabitants of British America.
"3d. To prepare a loyal address to his majesty."
The above-mentioned association was accordingly formed, and committees were to be appointed in every county, city, and town, to maintain it vigilantly and strictly.
Masterly state papers were issued by Congress in conformity to the resolutions: viz., a petition to the king, drafted by Mr. Dickinson, of Philadelphia; an address to the people of Canada by the same hand, inviting them to join the league of the colonies; another to the people of Great Britain, drafted by John Jay, of New York; and a memorial to the inhabitants of the British colonies by Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia. [Footnote: See Correspondence and Diary of J. Adams, vols. ii. and ix.]
The Congress remained in session fifty-one days. Every subject, according to Adams, was discussed "with a moderation, an acuteness, and a minuteness equal to that of Queen Elizabeth's privy council." [Footnote: Letter to William Tudor, 29th Sept., 1774.] The papers issued by it have deservedly been pronounced masterpieces of practical talent and political wisdom. Chatham, when speaking on the subject in the House of Lords, could not restrain his enthusiasm. "When your lordships," said he, "look at the papers transmitted to us from America; when you consider their decency, firmness, and wisdom, you cannot but respect their cause, and wish to make it your own. For myself, I must declare and avow that, in the master states of the world, I know not the people, or senate, who, in such a complication of difficult circumstances, can stand in preference to the delegates of America assembled in General Congress at Philadelphia."
From the secrecy that enveloped its discussions, we are ignorant of the part taken by Washington in the debates; the similarity of the resolutions, however, in spirit and substance to those of the Fairfax County meeting, in which he presided, and the coincidence of the measures adopted with those therein recommended, show that he had a powerful agency in the whole proceedings of this eventful assembly. Patrick Henry, being asked, on his return home, whom he considered the greatest man in Congress, replied: "If you speak of eloquence, Mr. Rutledge, of South Carolina, is by far the greatest orator; but if you speak of solid information and sound judgment, Colonel Washington is unquestionably the greatest man on that floor."
How thoroughly and zealously he participated in the feelings which actuated Congress in this memorable session, may be gathered from his correspondence with a friend enlisted in the royal cause. This was Captain Robert Mackenzie, who had formerly served under him in his Virginia regiment during the French war, but now held a commission in the regular army, and was stationed among the British troops at Boston.
Mackenzie, in a letter, had spoken with loyal abhorrence of the state of affairs in the "unhappy province" of Massachusetts, and the fixed aim of its inhabitants at "total independence." "The rebellious and numerous meetings of men in arms," said he, "their scandalous and ungenerous attacks upon the best characters in the province, obliging them to save themselves by flight, and their repeated, but feeble threats, to dispossess the troops, have furnished sufficient reasons to General Gage to put the town in a formidable state of defence, about which we are now fully employed, and which will be shortly accomplished to their great mortification."