George Washington to Governor Robert Dinwiddie, October 11, 1755
The Writings of George Washington, Volume II, by Jared Sparks
(Boston: Charles Tappan, 1846), pages 103-110.
To Governor Dinwiddie.
Winchester, 11 October, 1755.
As I think it my indispensable duty to inform you particularly of my proceedings, and to give the most plain and authentic accounts, from time to time, of our situation, I must acquaint you that, immediately after giving the necessary orders at Fredericksburg, and dispatching expresses to hurry the recruits from Alexandria, I rode post to this place. I passed by Lord Fairfax’s, who was not at home, but was here, where I arrived yesterday about noon, and found every thing in the greatest hurry and confusion, by the back inhabitants flocking in, and those of this town moving out, which I have, as far as was in my power, prevented. I was desirous of proceeding immediately, at the head of some militia, to put a stop to the ravages of the enemy, believing their numbers to be few; but I was told by Colonel Martin, who had attempted to raise the militia for the same purpose, that it was impossible to get above twenty or twenty-five men, they having absolutely refused to stir, choosing, as they say, to die with their wives and families.
Finding this expedient likely to prove abortive, I sent off expresses to hurry on the recruits from below, and the militia from Fairfax and Prince William, who had been ordered out by Lord Fairfax. I also hired spies to go out and discover the numbers of the enemy, and to encourage the rangers, who, we were told, were blocked up by the Indians in small fortresses. But, if I may offer my opinion, I believe they are more encompassed with fear, than by the enemy. I have also impressed wagons and sent them to Conococheague for flour, musket-balls, and flints. Powder, and a trifling quantity of paper, bought at extravagant prices, for cartridges, I expect from below.
Six or eight smiths are now at work, repairing the firearms that are here, which are all that we have to depend upon. A man was hired, on the 24th of last month, to do the whole, but neglected it, and was just moving off to Pennsylvania in wagons. I impressed his wagons, and compelled him by force to assist in this work. In all things I meet with the greatest opposition.
No orders are obeyed, but such as a party of soldiers, or my own drawn sword, enforces. Without this, not a single horse, for the most earnest occasion, can be had, - to such a pitch has the insolence of these people arrived, by having every point hitherto submitted to them. However, I have given up none, where his Majesty’s service requires the contrary, and where my proceedings are justified by my instructions; nor will I, unless they execute what they threaten, that is, “blow out our brains.”
I have invited the poor distressed people, who were driven from their habitations, to lodge their families in some place of security, and to join our parties in scouring the woods, where the enemy lie; and I believe some will cheerfully assist. I have also taken, and shall continue to take, every precious step to forward the march of the recruits, as soon as they arrive here. Your Honor may depend, that nothing in my power shall be wanting for the good of the service. I would again hint the necessity of putting the militia under a better regulation, had I not mentioned it twice before, and a third time may seem impertinent. But I must once more beg leave to declare, for here I am more immediately concerned, that, unless the Assembly will pass an act to enforce the military law in all its parts, I must, with great regret, decline the honor that has been so generously intended me. I am urged to this, by the fore-knowledge I have of failing in every point, that might mustly be expected from a person invested with full power to execute his authority. I see the growing insolence of the soldiers, and the indolence and inactivity of the officers, who are all sensible how limited their punishments are, compared with what they ought to be. In fine, I can plainly see, that under the present establishment, we shall become a nuisance, an insupportable charge to our country, and never answer any one expectation of the Assembly. And here I must assume the freedom to express some surprise, that we alone should be so tenacious of our liberty, as not to invest a power, where interest and policy so unanswerably demand it, and whence so much good must consequently ensue. Do we not know, that every nation under the sun finds its account therein, and that, without it, no order or regularity can be observed? Why then should it be expected from us, who are all young and inexperienced, to govern and keep up a proper spirit of discipline without laws, when the best and most experienced can scarcely do it with them? If we consult our interst, I am sure it loudly calls for them. I can confidently assert, that recruiting, clothing, arming, maintaining, and subsisting soldiers, who have since deserted, have cost the country an immense sum, which might have been prevented, were we under restraints, that would terrify the soldiers from such practices.
One thing more on this head I will recommend, and then quit the subject; that is, to have the inhabitants liable to certain heavy fines, or corporal punishments, for entertaining deserters, and a reward offered for taking them up. If this were done, it would be next to an impossibility for a soldier to escape; but, as things now stand they are now only seduced to run away, but are also harboured and assisted with every necessary means to do it.
Sunday noon. – Last night arrived an express, just spent with fatigue and fear, reporting that a party of Indians were seen about twelve miles off, at the plantation of one Isaac Julian, and that the inhabitants were flying in the most promiscuous manner from their dwellings. I immediately ordered the town guards to be strengthened, Perkins’s lieutenant to be in readiness with his companies, some recruits, who had only arrived about half an hour before, to be armed, and sent two men, well acquainted with the roads, to go up that road, and lie in wait, to see if they could discover the number and motion of the Indians, that we might have timely notice of their approach. This morning, before we could parade the men, arrived a second express, ten times more terrified than the former, with information, that the Indians had got within four miles of the town, and were killing and destroying all before them, and that he himself had heard constant firing, and shrieks of the unhappy murdered! Upon this, I immediately collected what force I could, which consisted of twenty-two men, recruited for the rangers, and nineteen of the militia, and marched directly to the place, where these horrid murders were said to be committed. When we came there, whom should we find occasioning all this disturbance, but three drunken soldiers of the light-horse, carousing, firing their pistols, and uttering the most unheard-of-imprecations? These we took, and marched them as prisoners to town, where we met the men I sent out last night, and learned that the party of Indians, discovered by Isaac Julian, proved to be a mulatto and negro, seen hunting cattle by his child, who alarmed the father, and the father the neighbourhood.
These circumstances are related only to show what a panic prevails among the people; how much they are alarmed at the most usual and customary cries; and yet how impossible it is to get them to act in any respect for their common safety. As an instance of this, Colonel Fairfax, who arrived in town while we were upon a scout, immediately sent to a noble captain, not far off, to repair with his company forthwith to Winchester. With coolness and moderation this great captain answered, that his wife, family, and corn were all at stake; so were those of his soldiers; therefore it was impossible for him to come. Such is the example of the officers; such the behavior of the men; and upon such circumstances depends the safety of our country!
Monday morning. – The men I hired to bring intelligence from the Branch returned last night, with letters from Captain Ashby, and the other parties there; by which I learn, that the Indians are gone off; scouts having been dispersed upon those waters for several days, without discovering tracks or other signs of the enemy.
I am also informed, that it is believed their numbers amounted to about one hundred and fifty; that seventy of our men are killed and missing, and several houses and plantations destroyed, but not so great havoc made as was represented at first. The rangers, and a small company of militia, ordered there by Lord Fairfax, I am given to understand, intend to march down on Monday next. They will be immediately followed by all the inhabitants of those parts, that had come together under their protection. I have, therefore, sent peremptory orders to the contrary; but what obedience will be paid to them a little time will reveal. I have ordered those men, that were recruited for the rangers, to join their respective companies. A party of militia, commanded by Captain Harden, also marched with them. Captain Waggener is this instant arrived with thirty recruits, whom he marched from Bellhaven in less than three days, - a great march indeed! Major Lewis and his recruits from Fredericksburg I expect in to-morrow, when, with these and twenty-two of Captain Bell’s now here, I shall proceed by quick marches to fort Cumberland, in order to strengthen that garrison. Besides these, I think it absolutely essential, that there should be two or three companies exclusively of rangers, to guard the Potomac waters, until such time as our regiment is completed. Indeed, the rangers and volunteer companies in Augusta, with some of their militia, should be properly disposed of on those frontiers, for fear of an attack from that quarter. But this is submitted to your Honor’s judgment, and waits your orders for its execution, if thought expedient.
Captain Waggener informs me, that it was with difficulty he passed the Ridge for crowds of people, who were flying as if every moment was death. He endeavoured, but in vain, to stop them; they firmly believing Winchester was in flames. I shall send expresses down the several roads in hopes of bringing back the inhabitants, who are really frightened out of their senses. I despatched an express immediately upon my arrival at this place, with a copy of the enclosed letter to Andrew Montour, who I heard was at a place called Long Island, with three hundred Indians, to see if he could engage him and them to join us. I also wrote to Gist, acquainting him with the favor you intended him, and desired he would repair home, in order to raise his companies of scouts.
I shall defer writing to the Speaker and Committee upon any other head, than that of commissary, still hoping to be down by the time mentioned in my last, provided no new disturbances happen, having some points to settle, that I am uneasy and urgent about. I have been obliged to do duty very foreign to my own; but that I shall never hesitate about, when the good of the service requires it.
In a journey from Fort Cumberland to Fort Dinwiddie, which I made purposely to see the situation of our frontiers, how the rangers were posted, and how troops might be disposed of for the defence of the country, I purchased six hundred and fifty beeves, to be delivered at Fort Cumberland by the 1st of November, at ten shillings per hundred weight, except a few for which I was obliged to give eleven shillings. My own bonds are now out for the performance of these covenants. This is the commissary’s business, who, I am sorry to say, has hitherto been of no use, but of disservice to me, in neglecting my orders, and leaving this place without flour, and Fredericksburg without any provisions for the recruits, although he had timely notice. I must beg, that, if Mr. Dick will not act, some other person may be appointed; for, if things remain in this uncertain situation, the season will pass without having provision made for the winter, or the summer campaign.
I have appointed Captain George Mercer (whose seniority entitled him to it) my aid-de-camp; and Mr. Kirkpatrick, of Alexandria, my secretary, a young man bred to business, of good character, well recommended, and a person of whose abilities I had not the least doubt.
I hope your Honor will be kind enough to despatch Colonel Stephen, with orders to repair hither immediately, and excuse the prolixity of this letter. I was willing to give a circumstantial account of our situation, that you may be the better enabled to judge what orders are necessary. I am, &c.
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