George Washington to Governor Robert Dinwiddie, August 14, 1756
The Writings of George Washington, Volume II, by Jared Sparks
(Boston: Charles Tappan, 1846), pages 178-181
To Governor Dinwiddie.
Winchester, 14 August, 1756.
The return of the express, that came with the account of La Force’s escape, (for which accident I am extremely concerned, and fear its consequences if he is not retaken,) affords me an opportunity to inform you of some occurrences, which have happened since my last.
Repeated complaints and applications from all quarters for men, but more especially from the garrisons, which secure the communication with Fort Cumberland, obliged me to order a company from Captain Waggener’s detachment (for none else could spare a man) to reinforce and enable those garrisons to send escorts with wagons and expresses, going to and returning from that fort. Captain Waggener’s command was thus reduced to a number insufficient to disperse parties among the settlers, and retain a strength to conduct the building of the forts. The grand point then turned on this; whether he was to neglect the inhabitants and build the forts, or neglect the forts and protect the inhabitants.
His council were of the latter opinion unanimously, and sent to know my sentiments, which I own corresponded with theirs, and for these reasons. First, I look upon it, that the protection of the inhabitants was the motive for ordering these forts; and to lose them, while we are at work, would be perverting the intention. Secondly, we have built some forts and altered others, as far south on the Potomac waters as any settlers have been molested; and there only remains one body of inhabitants, at a place called the Upper Tract, who need a guard. Thither I have ordered a party. Beyond this, if I am not misinformed, there is nothing but a continued series of mountains uninhabited, until we get over to the waters of James River, not far from the fort, which takes its name from your Honor; and thence to May River. Captain Hogg, by your orders, is to have the direction. If I have done amiss, in not adhering to the letter of the law, I hope you will intimate the same, and give directions how I am to proceed.
Two or three men have been killed and scalped at different places, since my last, though every precaution has been taken to prevent it. The fatiguing service, low pay, and great hardships in which our men have been engaged, cause, notwithstanding the greatest care and vigilance to the contrary, great and scandalous desertions. Yesterday I received an account, from Captain Stewart, of sixteen men deserting in a party. Frequently two or three went off before, as they have done from this place. We never fail to pursue, and use all possible means to apprehend them; but seldom with success, as they are generally aided and assisted by the inhabitants. Two parties are now in pursuit of these fellows, who have made towards the northward to enlist with the recruiting officers in Pennsylvania. Unless a stop can be put to it, I fear we shall lose numbers of our men.
A report prevailed in town yesterday, said to come from a man, who had it from a person that was at Governor Morris’s treaty with the Indians, and heard them say, that a large body composed of different nations, and headed by some French, intended to attack Fort Cumberland this fall. Reports of this kind often take rise without good foundation; yet, as this is an affair of great importance, the slightest intelligence ought not to be discountenanced, especially when we consider that our provision, and, what is still more valuable, all our ammunition and stores, are lodged in that defenceless place. The consequence of a successful enterprise of this sort, and the absolute impossibility (considering the weakness of the place, badness of situation, and division of our force) of preventing its falling, are, without previous notice, motives sufficient for apprehending the worst. Therefore, notwithstanding I enlarged upon this subject in a former letter, I think it my duty to hint it again, and to ask directions how I am to proceed.
It is true, I give no credit to this intelligence, because I flatter myself such important information as this would be communicated, in the most distinct and expeditious manner, by Governor Morris; yet, it being an expedition they cannot fail of succeeding in, what should deter them from attempting it? We have certain advice, that two of our deserters have reached Fort Duquesne, who were heard to speak in high terms, before they escaped, of the reward that would be got for communicating the weakness of the works and garrison at Fort Cumberland.
As a general meeting of all the persons concerned in the estate of my deceased brother is appointed to be held at Alexandria, about the middle of September next, for making a final settlement of all his affairs, and as I am very deeply interested, not only as an executor, and heir of part of his estate, but also in a very important dispute, subsisting between Colonel Lee, who married the widow, and my brothers and self, concerning a devise in the will, which brings the whole personal estate in question, - I say, as this is a matter of very great moment to me, I hope your Honor will readily consent to my attending this meeting, provided no disadvantage is likely to arise during my absence; in which case, I shall not offer to quit my command.
If war is to be declared at this place, I should be glad if your Honor would direct the manner. I know there is ceremony required, but the order I am ignorant of.
I am, &c.
French and Indian War Documents