American History Stories—Volume I - Mara L. Pratt

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt


George Washington
in the French and Indian War

I suppose every child in America knows about George Washington. Indeed, I hardly dare offer you a story about this man, lest you say, "O, don't bother! we know all about him." And very likely you do; but let's read this one story together.

When the French and Indian War broke out, George Washington was a young man, only about as old as those big boys that you see coming now and then from their colleges to spend their vacations at home.

George Washington, you remember, lived in Virginia. The Governor of Virginia at that time was Governor Dinwiddie.

It became very necessary to get a message to the commander of the French forts on the Ohio river; and, as Washington had already made a name for himself, being a brave, honest, trustworthy lad, Governor Dinwiddie chose him to go on this important journey with the message.

It was a terrible journey, and one that was full of danger. Very likely Washington would have been quite willing to be excused from the task; but as it must be done, and somebody must do it, he bravely and willingly accepted the trust.

It was in the winter time; and his journey lay over mountains, through forests, and across rivers, where very likely, no white man had ever been before.

One night he and his companion worked till daylight, making a rude raft with which to cross a narrow river too deep to ford, expecting every minute an attack from the savages of the forest.

Lossing, in his "Life of Washington," gives the following account of this journey:

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt


"I was unwilling," writes the guide, "that he should undertake such a march; but, as he insisted on it, we set out with our packs, like Indians, and traveled eighteen miles. That night we lodged at an Indian cabin, and the major was much fatigued. It was very cold; all the small streams were frozen, so that we could hardly get water to drink." At two o'clock the next morning they were again on foot, and pressed forward until they struck the southeast branch of Beaver Creek, at a place called Murderingtown, the scene, probably, of some Indian massacre.

"Here we met with an Indian, whom I thought I had seen when on our journey up to the French fort. This fellow called me by my Indian name, and pretended to be glad to see me. He asked us several questions, as, how came we to travel on foot, where we parted from our horses, and when they would be there. Major Washington insisted upon traveling on the nearest way to the forks of the Allegheny. We asked the Indian if he could go with us, and show us the nearest way. He seemed very glad and ready to do so; upon which we set out, and he took the major's pack.

"We traveled quite briskly for eight or ten miles, when the major's feet grew very sore, and he very weary, and the Indian steered too much northeastwardly. The major desired to encamp, upon which the Indian asked to carry his gun; but he refused that. Then the Indian grew churlish, and pressed us to keep on, telling us there were Ottawa Indians in these woods, and that they would scalp us if we lay out; but to go to his cabin and we should be safe.

"I thought very ill of the fellow, but did not care to let the major know I mistrusted him. But he soon mistrusted him as much as I. The Indian said he could hear a gun from his cabin, and steered us more northwardly. We grew uneasy, and then he said two whoops might be heard from his cabin. We went two miles farther. Then the major said he would stay at the next water, and we desired the Indian to stop there; but before we came to water we came to a clear meadow.

"It was very light. Snow was on the ground. The Indian made a stop, and turned about. The major saw him point his gun toward us and fire. Said the major, 'Are you shot?' 'No,' said I; upon which the Indian ran forward to a big standing white oak, and began loading his gun, but we were soon with him. I would have killed him, but the major would not suffer me. We let him charge his gun. We found he put in a ball; and then we took care of him. Either the major or I always stood by the guns. We made him make a fire for us by a little run, as if we intended to sleep there.

"I said to the major, 'As you will not have him killed, we must get him away, and then we must travel all night;' upon which I said to the Indian, 'I suppose you were lost, and fired your gun.' He said he knew the way to his cabin, and it was but a little way. 'Well,' said I, 'do you go home, and as we are much tired, we will follow your track in the morning.' He was glad to get away. I followed him and listened until he was fairly out of the way, and then we went about half a mile, when we made a fire, set our compass, and fixed our course and traveled all night. In the morning we were on the head of Piney Creek." There is little reason to doubt that it was the intention of the savage to kill one or both of them.

The fort on the Ohio was at last reached. Washington delivered his message to the commander there, who sent back a very insolent reply to Governor Dinwiddie.

The journey back was as hard and as dangerous as the journey to the fort had been. It was accomplished, however, and the French commander's reply delivered to Dinwiddie.

I will not try to tell you what these messages had been about, but the one that Washington brought back from the fort was such that the people of Virginia knew that the French were determined to fight, and that war would surely follow.

Quickly the Governor of Virginia prepared for war, and, sending word to the other colonies, bade them be ready too. All the colonies bravely made ready to meet the foe. Even Georgia, settled only twenty years before, was ready to join hands with Virginia and Massachusetts, the oldest colonies of all, to give what help she could.

To help the colonies, England also sent over

[Illustration] from American History Stories - I by Mara L. Pratt


a large army of soldiers, with General Braddock at the head. Now, General Braddock felt himself to be a great man. Indeed, he had made up his mind that, as soon as he and his army arrived, the whole war would be as good as over. He little knew what sort of people these Indians were with whom he was going to fight. He supposed that, as soon as they caught sight of the great red-coated soldiers with him at their head, they would be so overcome by fright that they would give up at once. "Pooh!" said he, "the idea of Indians daring to fight with me!"

General Braddock's contempt for the colonists was as great as his contempt for the Indians. How he sneered when the sturdy colonists took their places among the red-coats as he drew up his forces in battle array!

It is a wonder he didn't tell them to go to their homes, while he started off through the forests with his troops alone.

Washington, who was at the head of the Virginia militia, talked long and earnestly with Braddock, trying to show him how impossible it would be to attempt to fight these Indians as he would fight a battle where the armies on both sides were trained soldiers.

He told him the Indian way of fighting; how they never came out in battle array; how they always hid behind trees, in bushes, and in swamps.

But Braddock only sneered. "Do you suppose a General in the King's army needs advice from a boy like you?" thought he. And I shouldn't be at all surprised if he said it too.

Now, Washington and his Virginia troops were used to the ways of the Indians, and when they saw that Braddock was determined to set out upon the journey to meet the Indians in the English fashion, they knew only too well what the result would be. Nevertheless they made no complaint, but were ready to start at Braddock's command.

In the first place, there were the Virginia mountains to be climbed, and the rivers to be forded. The English soldiers used only to their level country, began to give out before the journey was half accomplished.

Still, Braddock had not sense enough to see that it would be well to heed the advice of Washington and the other colonists. "Perhaps the Indians can frighten such soldiers as you are," said he, sneering at the colonists, "but they cannot frighten English soldiers."

So they were marching on, in full battle array, drums beating, and colors flying.

Braddock's head was high in the air, and he was very likely expecting to see the Indians advancing in the same manner.

Suddenly, as his army was ascending a little slope with deep ravines and thick underbrush on either side, they were greeted with the terrible war-whoop of the Indians. Arrows began to fly in every direction, men were falling dead about him; still no enemy was to be seen.

"Where are they?" weakly asked the boasting General.

T'he terrible war-whoop resounded on every side. Well might the General ask, "Where are they?" They seemed to be everywhere.

The British regulars huddled together, and frightened, fired right and left at trees and at rocks.

The Virginia troops alone, with Washington at their head, sprang into the forests and into the bushes and met the Indians on their own ground. Washington seemed everywhere present. The Indians singled him out as the especial object for their shot. Four balls passed through his coat; two horses were shot dead beneath him. Braddock was mortally wounded and was borne from the field. Then, when the Virginia troops were nearly all killed, the British soldiers turned and fled disgracefully.

Washington and his few men, seeing they were fleeing turned again upon the Indians, and, by keeping them busy returning his fire, prevented them from pursuing the frightened British regulars.

This battle was a terrible one to the British and the colonists. Nearly all of Washington's troops were killed and a great many of the English; the French and Indians on the other side lost very few.

After this the British were more willing to take the advice of the colonists, who were so much more familiar with the ways of the Indians.

Now in this war it was important that Quebec be taken from the French.

To give you some idea of how Quebec was situated, and how difficult it was to besiege it, perhaps nothing can help you more than the story of how the city came to be named Quebec.

Away back in these early times, when the French were sailing down the St. Lawrence, and taking possession of what they saw, in the name of France, by a turn in the river, they came suddenly into view of a great, sharp overhanging cliff. "Quel bec!" cried one of the sailors, meaning "What a beak!"

Coming nearer, the leader saw that the top of this cliff would make a fine site for a trading-post. It would be difficult for the enemy to attack, and it would be an excellent watch-tower from which to watch vessels passing on the river.

Accordingly the cliff was chosen for the trading-post and remembering the sailor's cry, the explorer gave it the name Quebec. When it afterwards became a city, you can see that it was indeed a watch-tower for the people. If an enemy's vessel was seen approaching, the people were warned long before it reached them, and they meantime had plenty of opportunity to prepare for defence.

"Quebec must be taken!" said the English officers.

"We can do nothing on the river with that city scowling down upon us, ready to attack our vessels as soon as they pass within the shadow of that great beak."

And so it came about that General Wolfe was sent to attack this city of Quebec. Landing at night two miles above the city, the soldiers climbed the steep banks of the river, and stood at daybreak, on the plains of Abraham.

Montcalm, who held the city, was surprised indeed to see the English upon the plain in full battle array. But Montcalm was a brave soldier; and though he knew that in Wolfe he had a "noble foe,'' he did not shrink from the encounter, which seemed likely from the beginning to be disastrous to the French.

Towards ten o'clock the French advanced to the attack. Two cannons, which, with very great labor the English had dragged up the path from the landing place, at once opened fire upon the French.

The advance was badly conducted. The French soldiers marched steadily on, but the native Canadians, firing as they advanced, threw themselves on the ground to reload, and this broke the order of the line. The English advanced some little distance to meet their foes, and then halted.

Not a shot was fired until the French were within forty paces, and then, at the word of command, a volley of musketry, crashed out along the whole length of the line. So regularly was the volley given, that as the French officers afterwards said, it sounded like a single cannon-shot. Another volley followed, then another and another; and when the smoke cleared away there lay the dead and wounded on every side.

All order had been lost under the terrible fire. In three minutes the line of advancing soldiers was broken up into a disorderly shouting mob. Then Wolfe gave the order to charge, and the British cheer mingled with the wild yell of the Scotch Highlanders rose loud and fierce. The English regiments advanced with levelled bayonets; the Highlanders drew their broadswords and rushed headlong forward.

The fire was heaviest on the British right, where Wolfe himself led the charge. A shot shattered his wrist. He wrapped his handkerchief around it and kept on. Another shot struck him, but he still advanced. When a third pierced his breast, he staggered and sat down. Two or three officers and men carried him to the rear, and then laid him down and asked if they would send for a surgeon.

"There is no need," he said. "It is all over with me."

A moment later one of those standing by him cried out:

"They run, see how they run!"

"Who run?" Wolfe asked.

"The enemy, sir; they give way everywhere."

"Go, one of you, to Colonel Burton," Wolfe said, "tell him to march Webb's regiment down to the Charles River to cut off their retreat from the bridge;" then, turning on his side, he said:

"Now, God be praised, I die in peace!" and a few minutes later he died.

At almost the same moment Montcalm, mortally wounded, said to his surgeon, "Have I much longer to live?"

"No," answered the surgeon; "only a few moments, I fear."

"So much the better," answered Montcalm, "I shall not live to see the surrender of Quebec."

This French and Indian War was carried on for about five years. There were many terrible battles, and thousands and thousands of brave men were killed on both sides. At last the British and the colonists won, peace was made, and England now owned all the land from the Arctic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico, and from the Atlantic to the Mississippi.