George Washington to John Robinson, Speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses, April 24, 1756
The Writings of George Washington, Volume II, by Jared Sparks
(Boston: Charles Tappan, 1846), pages 148-153
To John Robinson, Speaker of the House of Burgesses, Virginia.
Winchester, 24 April, 1756.
Yesterday I received yours by Mr. Kirkpatrick, and am sorry to hear of the reflections upon the conduct of the officers. I could wish that their names had been particularized, that justice might be done to the innocent and guilty; for it is extremely hard, that the whole corps should suffer reproaches for the inadvertence and misconduct of a few.
The deplorable situation of this people is no more to be described, than my anxiety and uneasiness for their relief. You may expect, by the time this comes to hand, that, without a considerable reinforcement, Frederic county will not be mistress of fifteen families. They are now retreating to the securest parts in droves of fifties. In short, every thing has too melancholy an appearance for pen to communicate. I have therefore sent an officer, whose good sense and judicious observations will be a more effectual way of transmitting an account of the people’s distresses.
I wish the Assembly had given two thousand, instead of fifteen hundred men, and that I had been acquainted with the dispositions they intended to make. Since I am ignorant of these, I hope it will not be thought presuming in me to offer my sentiments upon the subject.
We are, Sir, first to consider, that, if a chain of forts is to be erected upon our frontiers, it will be done with a design to protect the people; therefore, if these forts are more than fifteen or eighteen miles, or a day’s march, asunder, and garrisoned with less than eighty or a hundred men each, the object is not answered, and for these reasons. First, if they are at greater distances, it will be inconvenient for the soldiers to scout, and will allow the enemy to pass between undiscovered. Secondly if they are garrisoned with less than eighty or a hundred men, the number will be too few to afford detachments. Then, again, our frontiers are so extensive, that, were the enemy to attack us on the one side, they might, before the troops on the other could reach the spot, overrun and destroy half the country. And it is more than probable, if they had a design in one direction, they would make a feint in another. We are also to consider what sums the building of twenty forts, and the removing of stores and provisions to each, would cost. In the last place, we are to inquire where and when this expense will end. For, unless we endeavour to remove the cause, we shall be liable to the same incursions seven years hence as now, if the war continues, and the enemy is allowed to remain on the Ohio.
I shall next give the reasons, which I think make for a defensive plan. If the neighbouring colonies refuse us their assistance, we have neither strength nor ability to conduct an expedition; and, if we had, and were the whole to join us, I do not see to what purpose, since we have neither a train of artillery, artillery-men, nor engineers to execute any scheme beyond the mountains against a regular fortress. Again, we have neither stores nor provisions, arms nor ammunition, wagons nor horses, in any degree proportioned to the service; and to undertake an affair, where we are sure to fall through, would be productive of the worst consequences. By another defeat we should entirely lose the interest of every Indian.
If, then, we cannot act offensively with a prospect of success, we must be upon the defensive; and that there is no way to protect the people, or save ourselves, but by a chain of forts, is certain.
I would beg leave, in that case, to propose that a strong fort should be erected at this place, for a general receptacle of all the stores, and a place of residence for the commanding officers, which may be garrisoned by one company for the security of the stores, serving also as escorts for wagons, that are going higher up. It is the most public and convenient post for intelligence of any in the country, and approaches nearest to the parts, that will ever be attacked by numbers.
I have found by experience, that being just within the inhabitants is essential, in giving orders for the defence of the people; and that Fort Cumberland is of no more use towards that defence, than Fort George at Hampton. For the people, as soon as they are alarmed, immediately fly inwards, and at this time there is not an inhabitant living between this place and Fort Cumberland, except a few settlements upon the Manor around a fort we built there, and a few families at Edwards’s, on Cacapehon River, with a guard of ours, which makes this very town at present the outermost frontier. Though a place trifling in itself, it is yet of the utmost importance, as it commands the communication from east to west, and from north to south. At this place almost all the roads centre. It secures the great roads from one half our frontiers to the markets of the neighbouring colonies, as well as to those on Rappahannoc and Potomac. At Fort Cumberland I would have one company garrisoned to secure the place, to procure the earliest intelligence, and to cover the detachments that may be sent towards the Ohio, which is all the use it can ever be put to. In the next place, I would propose, that a good fort should be erected between this and Fort Cumberland, in a line with the chain of forts across the country, and garrisoned by two companies. This I would advise, because, as I before observed, if we are ever attacked by a large body, it must be here, since there is no other road to our frontiers, either for transporting men or necessaries.
These three forts will employ four companies, which will be a tolerable body, if the companies are large, as they would be, according to the plan I sent you. And it would be a trifling expense to augment each company to one hundred privates, making two thousand, exclusive of officers, who were included in the scheme last sent.
After this is done, I would post the remaining companies equidistant, or at proper passes, along our frontiers, agreeably to the enclosed sketch, and order communications to be opened between fort and fort, and large detachments to scout and discover the tracks of the enemy.
It needs now only to be inquired, upon what part of our frontiers these forts are to be built. The Great Ridge, or North Mountain, so called in Evans’s map, to which I refer, is now become our exterior bound, there not being one inhabitant beyond, on all the Potomac waters, except a few families on the South Branch, and at Joseph Edwards’s, on Cacapehon, as already mentioned. So that it requires some consideration to determine whether we are to build near this place, with a view to protect the present inhabitants; or on the South Branch, or at Patterson’s Creek, in the hope of drawing back those, who have forsaken their dwellings.
If we do not build there, that country will ever want settlers; and if we do, there is so great a blank, with such a series of mountains between, that it will be next to impossible to guard the people effectually. I could again wish, that the Assembly had given two thousand men, exclusive of officers, to be formed into two battalions of ten companies each. Indeed, fifteen hundred men are a greater number than ever was in a regiment of only one battalion, and they should be divided into two, with four field-officers, who should be so posted as to have the immediate care of a certain number of forts, with orders to draw from one to another, as occasion should require.
I could add more on this subject, but I am so hurried, that I am obliged to refer you for further particulars to the bearer, who will tell you, that, to carry on all these works, a number of tools, as well as many other necessaries, will be wanting.
I have given my opinion with candor, and submit to correction with the greatest pleasure. Confusion and hurry must be an apology for the incoherence and incorrectness of this letter.
I am, dear Sir, yours, &c.
French and Indian War Documents