Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Life and Times of
Sir William Johnson, Bart.,
by William L. Stone
Vol. I
Albany: J. Munsell, 78 State Street, 1865.


The period is now reached, when the active public life of Colonel Johnson begins. In order to correctly appreciate his future career, it is necessary to understand fully the complications which had again arisen between the English and the French; and which led to, a renewal of hostilities between those two nations, finally culminating in he war, which shook both hemispheres to their very centers.

The treaty of Aix La Chapelle, as remarked in the last chapter, was in its effect only a truce. The boundaries between the lands belonging to the crowns of England and France, were left as indefinite after, as before the treaty; and consequently, those lands, to the possession of which both claimed a right, were still in dispute. The valley of the Ohio, with its noble forests and alluvial meadows, presented to the eyes of both governments a tempting prize, which each was unwilling to relinquish. The grounds on which France founded her right to the ownership of this fair domain, were discovery and occupancy. She insisted that La Salle, Father Marquette and others had sailed down the Mississippi, and that settlements had been made in the vicinity of Lake Michigan and on the Wabash, long before it had been traveled by any Englishman. On this point, however, the statements of the early French writers are very confused, and the fact itself is difficult to substantiate. The claims of England were infinitely broader. She had from the very first aimed from the Atlantic to the Pacific, on the ground it the discovery and possession of the sea board, was a discovery of the whole country lying between the oceans. So far, indeed, as actual discovery was an argument, she insisted upon it very little. It is true, that in 1742, John Howard, crossing the mountains, launched a canoe of Buffalo hide, and sailed down the Ohio, reaching the Mississippi, only to he captured by the French. Conrad Weiser, the Pennsylvania interpreter, had also in 1748 taken a trip to Logstown, an Indian canton on the Ohio, and distributed presents to the Indians. This, however, could give the English no claim, as neither of those persons made any settlements ; and besides, the entire valley through which the former sailed, had been trapped and traversed long before by the French hunters and traders.

But the chief argument on which the English based their claim to the ownership of the lands west of the Alleghenies was, that the Ohio valley belonged to the Six Nations, and that when they in 1684, at Albany, placed all their lands under the protection of England, this valley was also included. Aside from this right to protect their lands, which-under the supposition that the Six Nations were correct in their claim to the lands in question-was undeniable, the English declared that many of the western lands were actually purchased by them from the Indians at the treaty held in Lancaster in 1744. A few deeds of land were at that time unquestionably given; and among them one in which, was recognized the right of the king "to all lands that are or by his majesty's appointment shall be within the colony of Virginia." Under this deed -although it was repudiated by the Indians at Logstown, in 1752-the English relied in all their subsequent proceedings. After this, settlements were farther extended westward, as the desire of the whites to enlarge their trade with the Indians increased, until in 1748 several individuals, among whom were Augustine and Laurence, brothers of George Washington, formed an association under the name of the Ohio Company; and petitioned the crown for a grant of six hundred thousand acres of land west of the Alleghanies. The object of this enterprise was to own ; t^-.lands, upon which to establish trading houses, and import the furs obtained from the Indians, receiving in return European goods.' These lands were to be principally located upon the south side of the Ohio, and to include all the region that was embraced between the Monongahela and the Kanawha rivers; the company reserving to itself the privilege of settling a portion upon the north side, should it be deemed advisable. As no permanent settlement, however, could be made by the company with any hope of success without some definite arrangement with the Indians, the government of Virginia was petitioned to invite them to a treaty, at which a better title to the lands to be settled, could be obtained. As a preliminary step to this measure, Christopher Gist was sent to explore the country, and report his observations to the board. Pursuing his instructions, Mr. Gist, in the winter of 1751, went down the south bank of the river as far as the Kanawha, in the vicinity of which, he spent several months, taking accurate observations of the quality of the land, audits suitableness for the object proposed.(2) Finding, however, that no farther progress could be made until the Indians-who influenced by the French traders now regarded with extreme suspicion the designs of the English-had been won over, commissioners were sent in May 1752, to Logstown to treat with the Mingoes, Shawnees and Ohio Indians. On the Lancaster treaty being produced, and the western lands under that treaty claimed,the chiefs indignantly replied that "they had not heard of any sale west of the warriors' road, which ran at the foot of the Allegheny ridge." While they acknowledged the treaty of Lancaster, and the authority of the Six Nations,they denied, that it gave the English any claim to land west of the Alleghenies; but, added the half king, "as theFrench have already struck our friends, the Miamis, we

(1) Sparks's Waihington, ii, 478.
(2) Idem.

therefore desire that our brothers of Virginia will build a strong house at the fork of the Monongahela." Not satisfied, however, with this, the commissioners prevailed upon Captain Montour to use his influence with the Indians, to effect a sale of the lands in question.(1) The influence of the half breed was successful; and upon the thirteenth of June a deed, signed by all the chiefs, was given, "confirming the Lancaster treaty in its full effect" and guarantying that the settlements southeast of the Ohio should not by them be molested.(3)

The French, meanwhile, were not indifferent to the designs of the English. It was evident to them, that if the latter were allowed to establish settlements and trading posts along the Ohio, it would interfere grievously with their own plans for its possession. The governors of Canada -generally military men-had watched their rivals with jealous eyes; and for several years had selected and fortified such positions as would best command an ascendancy over the Indians, and secure a rendezvous from which to make incursions upon the northern frontiers.(3) The spiritual arm was also called to their aid, and missionary stations, "deep in the wilderness," quietly went on with the work of conversion. As soon therefore as La Jonquiere, the Canadian governor, heard of the formation of the Ohio company, deeming it an intrusion into " the dominions of his most Christian majesty," he wrote to the governors of New York and Pennsylvania, informing them of the encroachments of the English traders upon French territory, and threatening

(1) Probably Henry Mintun, the Indian Interpreter-son of Catherine Montour-to whom allusion has been made in a former chapter.

(2) In this discussion of the French and English claims to the Ohio valley, I have freely consulted a very able paper in the North American Review for July 1839,-entitled, "A review of travels through the interior parts of North America, in the years 1766, 1767, and 1768." It has been stated that a few Iroquois chiefs were present at the Logstown treaty. This however, is denied by Colonel Johnson in a letter to Governor Clinton. Doc. His. N. Y., ii, 624.

(3) Marshal.

that unless they immediately -withdrew he should seize them "wherever found."(1) So notice being taken of this threat, La Jonquiere proved its sincerity by seizing, in the summer of 1752, some English traders among the Taighwees, and confining them for a time at Presque Isle on Lake Erie, where a strong fort at that time was erecting. Simultaneously, by a chain of posts along the French creek and Allegheny river, a communication was opened from Presque Isle to the Ohio, which was kept clear by detachments of troops stationed at convenient distances;-twelve hundred men being sent at one time, as was mentioned in the last chapter, for this purpose.

The Ohio company, justly considering these proceedings as a direct intrusion upon the lands which, as part of Virginia, had been granted it by the crown, complained bitterly of this grievance, and called upon Robert Dinwiddie, the lieutenant governor of that province, to demand that these aggressions should be stopped. This gentleman having laid the matter before his assembly, that body resolved that a messenger should be sent to Le Gardeur St. Pierre, commander of the French troops then stationed in the west, to remonstrate with him against these encroachments.

The messenger to whom was entrusted this delicate mission, was George Washington. His coolness, knowledge of woodcraft, and familiarity with hardship, acquired in his profession of surveyor, eminently qualified him for the undertaking. Late in October, 1753, he set out from Williamsburgh, and arrived at Wells creek(2) in fourteen days. Here being joined by an Indian and a French interpreter, the young envoy, with Gist as a guide, hastened forward. Before he would reach his destination, four hundred miles of a trackless wilderness was to be traversed, full of savage men and savage beasts, and deep with the early snows of winter. Yet in the face of sleet, and rain, and

(1) Marshall. La Jonquitire to Clinton, Col. Hist. N. Y.
(2) Cumberland.

snow-through tangled underbrush and across icy precipices-he pushed on, and upon the eleventh of December reached fort La Boeuf,(1) at the head of the -western branch of French creek, the headquarters of the French commandant. St. Pierre received him with great courtesy; and after remaining three or four days, during which he employed himself in taking accurate observations of the strength and position of the fort, he set out on his return, bearing with him a sealed letter to Dinwiddie from the French commandant. (2)

The answer of St. Pierre,-which was to the effect that he had taken possession of the Ohio under the authority of MB general, the governor of Canada, to whom he would refer the matter and abide by his decision,-convinced the assembly of Virginia that the Ohio would not be given up without a severe struggle. Acting with these views, Governor Dinwiddie wrote to the board of trade informing it that a descent of the Ohio was meditated early in the spring by some fifteen hundred French and Indians, having for its design the entire occupation of the valley of that river. At the same time he sent expresses to the governors of New York and Pennsylvania for aid, and proceeded, at the suggestion of his council, to raise two companies of troops-one of which was to be given to Washington, while a backwoodsman, by the name of Trent, was to raise the other and proceed at once to the frontier, to aid in. completing a fort, already begun by the Ohio company at the confluence of the Allegheny and the Monongahela.

Having thus briefly sketched the progress of events in the Ohio valley up to the opening of this year-1754, I now return to affairs in the province of New York.

The general assembly met on the ninth of April. In his opening message, Mr. De Lancey informed the legislature of the recent encroachments of the French upon the territory

(1) Waterford.

(2) For a full account of this journey, see Washington's journal on this occasion in Sparks's Washington, vol. ii, Appendix.

of his majesty, and of their preparations for its secure occupancy by the erection of a chain of forts from Lake Erie to the Ohio. In connection with this, the determination of Virginia to resist these aggressions, and her request for aid from the colony of New York was alluded to-as was also the defenceless condition of their own northern frontier, and the urgent necessity for the erection of more forts for its protection. The importance of the trading post at Oswego, moreover, was such as to need no argument to induce them to vote a sum sufficient for its thorough repair, for, situated on the direct route of the French to the Ohio, it was liable at any time to be attacked. It was his hope, therefore, in view of the expectations which his majesty had expressed in the earl of Holdernease's letter, that ample means would be granted not only for transporting two of the independent companies to Virginia, treating with the Six Nations, and fortifying the northern frontier, but also for their share of any expense that might be incurred by the colonies for the public welfare. The assembly, in their answer on the twelfth, admitted that the several matters recommended by his excellency were certainly of the utmost importance "to all his majesty's colonies upon the continent, and ought to be esteemed a public concern." In view likewise of the active operations of the French, and their efforts to secure all the Indian nations in their interest, Virginia, they thought, was deserving of all praise for her vigorous action. So far all was well, but with a niggardly spirit, rendered the more glaring by their seeming appreciation of the critical, state of affairs, regretted, in the very same paragraph, that the paucity of the colony would prevent them affording all that assistance to their sister colony that they could wish. The reason of this inability, they said, was the large debts that the colony had already incurred for its own protection,-especially the great expense to which it had been subjected in building the forts at Albany, Schenectady, Fort Hunter and Oswego. Moreover, all that the colony could raise would he hardly sufficient for the defence of its own frontiers, menaced as much by the French settlement at Crown Point, as were the southern colonies by the forts along the Ohio.(1) They, however, voted one thousand pounds for the aid of Virginia, four hundred and fifty-six pounds for doubling the garrison at Oswego, and eleven hundred and fifty-six pounds for Indian presents, and the expense of the coming treaty, They also agreed to pay the charges incident to repairing Oswego, and bear their share in erecting forts along the frontier for mutual protection.(2)

The excuse of the assembly for not doing more in aid of its sister colony, had it come from a body of men that had uniformly proved its patriotism by being ever alive to the interests of the colony, would have been amply sufficient; but emanating, as it did, from an assembly which had always manifested the greatest indifference to the welfare of the province, and which had left the settlers upon the frontier, exposed to all the horrors of a merciless predatory warfare, its excuse was little better than a miserable shift. The trading house at Oswego had been left for two years past with a miserable roof of bark, although its condition had been frequently called to their attention,(3) and the frontier fortifications were not in a much better condition. The fort at Saratoga had been burned and abandoned because they had refused to keep it in a proper state of defence; the friendship of the Six Nations had been spurned, and Colonel Johnson quarreled with, for bringing these matters to their attention,--so that this sudden anxiety for the security and welfare of the colony, was simply ridiculous. The argument, advanced by the assembly-that the king should afford the means for the protection of his own dependencies was true, so far as the rights of the crown were involved in the defence of the colonies ; but the protection of the firesides of the colonists themselves, when

(1) Journals of the assembly.

(2) Idem. See also Smith.

(3) Manuscript council minutes.

only their individual interests were at stake, certainly should not have been a burden upon the home government.

Mr. De Lancey, deeming the answer of the assembly unsatisfactory, reminded it in a special message on the nineteenth, of the resolution passed at its fall session "to repel force by force." Quoting an extract from a letter lately received from the board of trade-to the effect that high expectations had been raised in the mind of his majesty by that resolution,-he begged that it would act - promptly upon this occasion, and send to Virginia the assistance which she so earnestly requested. To this the house replied by referring him to the resolution in question-" that they would assist any of his majesty's colonies to repel force by force m case they were invaded," and evasively resolved that there had as yet been no invasion, as the fort which had been built by the "French was at French creek, and " at a considerable distance from the river Ohio," the cause of the dispute. The executive at once answered this quibble by stating that the forts in question had been erected in the country of the Eries-a nation entirely annihilated by the Six Nations--and that as by the treaty of Utretcht, the Six Nations were the subjects of Great Britain, the building of the forts "was evidently an invasion of his majesty's territories, though perhaps, not so clearly within the limits of any colony." The assembly, however, was not to be moved, and besides the bill for raising the supplies had already been sent up to the council for the action of that body. This bill, which provided that the different sums should be issued by the treasurer on the receipts of the persons named therein, and not by the warrant from the governor, nor with the "consent of his majesty's council," was deemed by the council not to be in accordance with the " commission and instructions," and Was therefore sent back to the house for revision. This the latter refused to do, alleging that the bill was according " to a method long pursued, settled with, and solemnly agreed to, by the late Governor Clinton;" but in answer to another message from the executive, counseling unanimity and dispatch, it agreed to frame a bill which should not be obnoxious to the above objections. Before, however, the bill was reconsidered, it proceeded to vote the supplies which it was to contain, but made no allusion to the one thousand pounds lately voted to Virginia. This omission was pointed out to their notice by Mr. De Lancey in a special message on the fourth of May; and the assembly were specially urged not to omit the sum allowed to Virginia, which, by its having been previously voted, would remain an indelible stain on its reputation. In its answer the same day the house bluntly charged the council with the delay, and the withdrawal of aid from Virginia. They farther said that when they promised to frame a bill which should obviate all objections, they referred only to those provisions which were absolutely necessary for the security of the colony-and that they did not consider themselves chargeable with any ill faith. In conclusion they uttered a growl at the large sums of money they were forced to expend by so long a sitting, especially when they could be of no service, and requested that they might all be dismissed to their homes. Mr. De Lancey in his reply stated that he should lay a candid statement of their conduct before the king; and having given his assent to those bills that were ready, prorogued the assembly.

Meanwhile, Virginia was not idle. The assembly, though not without great unwillingness, voted ten thousand pounds for the defence of the province, and increased the two companies already formed to six.(1) In answer also to the solicitations of Dinwiddie, a few troops arrived from South Carolina, and intelligence was received at nearly the same time that South Carolina had voted twelve thousand pounds for defence, and that four hundred volunteers would soon be on the way to Winchester. The prospect now looked more cheering; and a regiment of six hundred men was immediately raised and placed under the command of

(1) Governor Dinwiddie to Lieutenant Governor De Lancey.

Colonel Joshua Fry, Washington being made second in command, with the rank of lieutenant colonel. The governor, in order to stimulate the military ardor of the people and give energy to enlistments, issued a proclamation, offering a bounty of two hundred thousand acres of land on the Ohio river, to be divided among those troops who should enlist for the proposed expedition, free from all quit rents for fifteen years.(l)

All now was bustle and activity. Captain Trent, with forty-one men, pushed ahead to occupy the fort at the Monongahela. Young men, lured on by the tempting bounty, and seeing themselves in the future snugly esconced in comfortable farms, hastened to enlist. Cannon which had arrived from England for the fort at the fork, were hurried forward. All day long the farrier plied his forge, and at night the sparks from its huge chimney told of the work that was still going on within. Wagons were got in readiness, old firelocks mended, and swords which had been handed down as heir looms from father to son, were taken down from over the fireplace, polished, and made ready for service.

As soon as the genial rays of the sun had unlocked the icy chains which bound the western streams, Colonel Washington set out from Alexandria, with two companies -all that had been collected. The march was slow and painful. The melting snows and the warm days and cold nights of early spring rendered the roads nearly impassable. The baggage moved forward slowly from the scarcity of wagons in which to transport it, and the "self-willed and ungovernable'' recruits under Washington rendered efficient concert of action almost impossible. Wills creek was at length reached upon the twentieth of April. Just before his entrance into this settlement, Colonel Washington was met by the ensign of Captain Trent's company. The intelligence brought by this messenger was mournful in the extreme. It was, that while his company were at work

(1) Sparks.

upon the fort, a body of one thousand French troops, commanded by Contrecoeur, in three hundred and sixty bateaux, had dropped down the river from Venango, and planting their artillery before the fort, summoned them to surrender.(1) Although this estimate of the French forces was greatly exaggerated, yet resistance was of course hopeless, and the garrison surrendered, being allowed to retain their arms and tools. The fort was forthwith occupied by Contrecoeur, completed and fortified with the cannon he had brought with him, and named in honor of the Canadian governor, Fort Du Quesne.(2) This was the beginning of the war.(3)

On the reception of this news Washington halted, and sent back expresses to the governors of Virginia and Pennsylvania, informing them of his critical situation, and urging them to hasten forward reinforcements. At the same time he called a council of war, in which, after considering the evils that would result from the raw and undisciplined troops being left in idleness, it was determined to push forward at once to the confluence of the Red Stone creek and Monogahela, and employ the men in erecting a fortification at that place. While Washington, with his men, was preparing to cross the Youghiogeny by constructing a bridge over that river, a belt of wampum on the twenty-fifth of May reached him from the Half King. "Be on your guard," said the belt, "the French army intend to strike the first English whom they shall see.'' Another report, the same day, confirmed this warning, with the additional intelligence that the French were only eighteen miles distant. Being ignorant of their strength or of their movements, Washington fell back to the Great Meadows, threw up entrenchments, and cutting away the underbrush, prepared, to use his own language, " a charming field for an encounter." Scouts, mounted upon wagon horses, were at the same time sent out to reconnoitre, but they returned without discovering any signs of the enemy.

(1) Manuscript letter : Washington to Governor Hamilton of Pennsylvania.

(2) Now Pittsburg.

(3) Sparks.

On the twenty-seventh Gist arrived from Wills creek, and reported that a party of fifty French had visited that settlement the day previous, and that he had himself seen their trail within five miles of the Great Meadows. In the evening of the same day, another express arrived from the Half King, who, with a party of his warriors was about six miles distant, to the effect that an armed body of the French were skulking in the vicinity of his camp. Washington at once took forty men, and pushing out into the night, black with wind and tempest, and stumbling through windfalls and over sharp rocks, reached the camp of the Half King a little while before day. A council was immediately held, and two Indians having discovered the position of the enemy in a rocky ravine, it was determined at once to attack. Marching in single file with the troops on the right and the Indians on the left, they came suddenly upon the French, though not so quickly, but that they had time to seize their arms. Both parties fired simultaneously, and a brisk action ensued, which, lasting for a quarter of an hour, resulted in the complete discomfiture of the enemy, whose commander, M. De Jumonville, and ten of his men were killed, and twenty-two taken prisoners.

Colonel Fry dying suddenly two days afterward at Patterson's creek, as he was hastening forward to unite his forces with the advance, the entire command devolved upon Colonel Washington. Fearing that so soon as the news of De Jumonville's defeat reached the main body of the French, a large force would be sent out to meet him, he set his men to building a stockaded fort at the Great Meadows, which was appropriately called Fort Necessity. Several companies from South Carolina arriving at this time, serious difficulty arose between the commander of the South Carolina troops and Washington, in relation to rank, and the latter to avoid altercation, ordered his own men to advance with the intention of investing Fort Du Quesne. Scarcely, however, had he advanced thirteen miles, when intelligence was received through Indian runners, that Fort Du Qnesne had been largely reinforced by troops from Canada, and that a large force of French and Indians were on their way to avenge the death of Jumonville. On the receipt of this intelligence, Washington immediately fell back to Fort Necessity, and began a moat around the stockade. Hardly had the hastily constructed works been made at all tenantable, when De Villiers, at the head of six hundred French and one hundred Indians, appeared in sight, and took possession of one of the eminences by which the fort was encompassed. A brisk fire of small arms was kept up by the French from behind trees, which was feebly returned by the men in the fort, owing to the rain which fell heavily having filled the trenches with water, and disabled many of their muskets, already sadly out of repair. The firing began at eleven o'clock in the morning, and lasted until eight in the evening, when De Villiers, fearing his ammunition would give out, sounded a parley, and sent into the garrison terms of capitulation. These terms, being interpreted to Washington, were accepted; and the next morning, on the fourth of July, the garrison, taking with them everything but their artillery, marched out of the fort, with colors flying and drums beating.

Thus were the French left in undisputed possession of the basin of the Ohio; and the evening guns, from the waters of Lake Erie to the Delta of the Mississippi, saluted the lillies of France, which now waved proudly in the evening breeze.

Thanks to James F. Morrison for loaning his book for the purpose of putting it on the internet.

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