« PreviousContinue »
of Lawrence Washington, and his physicians advised him to go to the more geniai climate of Barbadoes in search of health. George went with him. It was in bright September, 1751, when they sailed, and in dark and stormy January he returned to tell the anxious wife of his brother that her loved one must go to Bermuda in the spring; for the hectic glow was growing brighter and his manly strength less. She was preparing to join him there, when word came that hope's promises had faded forever, and that her husband was coming home to die. He came when the bloom of May was upon the land, and before the close of July he was laid in the grave, at the early age of thirty-four years, leaving a wife and infant child.
And now George Washington, a noble youth of twenty, his fine manly face a little scarred by the smallpox, that seized him while he was in Barbadoes, was at Mount Vernon as the faithful executor of the last will and testament of his brother. He was also prospective heir of that whole beautiful domain, Lawrence having left it to his daughter, with the proviso that in the event of her death that and other lands should become the property of George. That contingency soon occurred. Little Jenny died, and George Washington became the owner of Mount Vernon. Already, by the will of his father, he was the proprietor of the paternal estate on the Rappahannock. Now he ranked among the wealthier of the planters of the Old Dominion.
The development of great and stirring events soon called Washington to the forests, not with compass and chain, and field-book, but with sword and pistol, and diplomatic com. mission. Then his hero-life began.
For a thousand years a national feud had existed between Gauls and Britons — French and English; and their colonists, seated a little way apart in the New World, cherished this sentiment of utter dislike. It was intensified by jealousy; for they were competitors for a prize no less than that of supreme dominion in America,
The English were planters — the French were traders; and while the stations of the latter were several hundred miles in the interior, away from the settlements of the former, on the seaboard, the equanimity of both parties was quite undisturbed. But when, after the capture of Louisburg by the English, in 1745, the French adopted vigorous measures for opposing the extension of British power in America; when they built strong vessels at the foot of Lake Ontario; made treaties of friendship and alliance with the Delaware and Shawnee tribes of Indians; strengthened their fortress at the mouth of the Niagara River, and commenced the erection of a cordon of fortifications, more than sixty in number, between Montreal and New Orleans, the English were aroused to immediate and effective action, in defence of the territorial rights conceded to them in their ancient charters. By virtue of these, they claimed absolute dominion westward to the Pacific Ocean, south of the latitude of the north shore of Lake Erie; while the French claimed a title to all the territory watered by the Mississippi and its tributaries, because they had made the first explorations and settlements in that region. The claims of the real owner the Indian -- were not considered. It was a significant question, asked by a messenger sent by sachems to Mr. Gist, agent of the English Ohio Com pany—“Where is the Indian's land? The English claim it all on one side of the river, the French on the other. Where does the Indian's land lie?"
At length English traders who went to the Ohio region were driven away or imprisoned by the French, and the latter commenced building forts south of Lake Erie. Governor Dinwiddie, of Virginia, thought these proceedings rather insolent, and he sent Major Washington, then less than twentytwo years of age, to carry a letter of remonstrance to the French commander in that region.
Seven persons besides Major Washington composed the expedition, and among them was Van Braam, Washington's Dutch fencing-master, who could speak French fluently, and went as interpreter. They assembled at Williamsburg, and made every preparation for a journey of several hundred miles on horseback, through an unbroken wilderness. They were furnished by the governor with horses, pack-saddles, tent, arms, ammunition, a leathern camp-chest, provisions,
and every other necessary, and on the 31st of October, 1753, departed for the head-waters of the Ohio. They made a most perilous journey, and, after an absence of seven weeks, Major Washington again stood in the presence of Governor Dinwiddic, his mission fulfilled to the satisfaction of all. Two days afterward he returned, first to his mother's home, near Fredericksburg, then to Belvoir, and finally to Mount Vernon, where he spent a greater portion of the winter and spring of 1754.
But Major Washington was not allowed to remain long in seclusion. In the late expedition he had exhibited qualities too great and useful to be suffered to repose. War with the French appeared inevitable. The latter continued their hostile preparations in the Ohio region, and a colonial military force, to be sent thither, was organized in the spring of 1754. Colonel Joshua Fry was appointed its commander, and Major Washington his lieutenant.
For a while Mount Vernon appeared like a recruiting station. At length all preparations were completed, and on the 2d of April, Major Washington, with the advanced corps, marched from Alexandria toward the Ohio. After a toilsome journey of eighteen days, over the Blue Ridge, they reached the mouth of Wills' Creek (now Cumberland), where Washington, for the first time, occupied a house for his headquarters as a military commander. It was the dwelling of a pioneer. It has long since passed away, but the pencil has preserved its features, and now, at the distance of time of more than a hundred years, we may look upon the portrait of WASHINGTON'S FIRST HEAD-QUARTERS.
It is not our purpose to trace the events of Washington's life in their consecutive order. We propose to give delineations of only such as held intimate relations with his beautiful
home on the Potomac, which, for more than forty years, was to him the dearest spot on the earth.
During the war between the French and English, that commenced in earnest in 1755, when Braddock came to America as commander-in-chief of the British forces, until the close of the campaign of 1758, when the French and their dusky allies were driven from the forks of the Ohio, Washington was almost continually in the public service, and spent but little time at Mount Vernon. He had been promoted to Colonel in 1754, but, on account of new military arrangements by the blundering, wrong-headed, narrow-minded Governor Dinwiddie, he had left the service with disgust, and retired to the quiet of private life at Mount Vernon, with a determination to spend his life there in the pursuits of agriculture-pursuits which he always passionately loved, and longed for most earnestly when away from them.
General Braddock, an Irish officer of forty years' experience