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Preface to Washington's Manuscript

 


Scribner's Magazine

 

It was the purpose of Colonel David Humphreys to write the life of Washington.  As a member of his military staff from 1780 until the close of the war, and for some years an inmate of his household at Mount Vernon and in New York, Colonel Humphreys would have found the task an easy and congenial one, and undertaken, as it undoubtedly was to be, immediately upon Washington's death, the supply of material from living and active sources would have been abundant.  But Colonel Humphreys was evidently determined not to rely upon hearsay or secondary testimony, however undoubted, and it would seem, that at his request Washington prepared the narrative, the connected part of which is here given.  This narrative is in autograph, covering some ten pages of manuscript of folio size, and is in part responsive to detailed and numbered questions put by Colonel Humphreys.  These questions, it is believed, are not now accessible; indeed, it is doubtful if they exist today.  Their purpose can only be inferred from the answers, which are in almost every instance very short, and often give but the slightest clue to the inquiry.  The account of his Indian campaigns is, however, a connected story, and the manuscript was evidently carefully revised by Washington before he submitted it to Colonel Humphreys.  There are frequent interlineations and erasures, and the words "I" and "me," in nearly every instance where they occur, are changed to the initials " G. W.," by the revision.

In 1829, eleven years after Colonel Humphreys's death, the original paper was given by Mrs. Humphreys to my grandfather, the late John Pickering, Colonel Humphreys's executor, in the custody of whose family it has since then remained.  It was recently read, by permission, before the Massachusetts Historical Society, but it has never been printed, nor, it is believed, have any extracts from it ever been given to the public.  Certain incidents described in it, such as the instance of grave peril in which Washington's life was placed in one of the engagements, as well as his frank estimate of General Braddock's character and abilities, are of original historical interest, as being heretofore unknown, even to the student; but the permanent value of the narrative is in its authoritative source, and the unchanged form in which it has been transmitted.

    It would seem that the request of Washington contained in the last clause, in regard to the final disposition of the original paper, may with propriety be disregarded, in view of the lapse of time, the character of the narrative, and the value of its historical material; and it is not believed that a confidence, which every American would tenderly respect, is violated by its publication.
 

HENRY G. PICKERING

 



 

  There are several sources of contemporary information on Braddock's defeat.  The Journal of Captain Robert Cholmley's Batman is a daily journal that was kept by the manservant of an officer of Col. Dunbar's Regiment.  Another journal that was written probably at Fort Cumberland after the disaster is The Journal of a British Officer.  Daniel Disney, the adjutant of Halkett's 44th Regiment managed to safeguard the regimental orderly book after the disaster.  It can be found today reprinted as Halkett's Orderly Book.  The Regimental commander, Sir Peter Halkett, was killed in the Battle, but the young adjutant survived to later serve as a Major of British forces fighting in our Revolution.  One might also find Major-General Edward Braddock's Orderly Books, from February 26 to June 17, 1755; ed. W. H. Lowdermilk, Cumberland, Md., 1878.  A biography of Gen. Braddock is: Ill-Starred General: Braddock of the Coldstream Guard, by Lee McCardell; University of Pittsburgh Press, 1958.

 Information on the Battle of Fort Necessity can be found in a National Park Service publication: A Charming Field for an Encounter by Robert C. Alberts; National Park Service, Washington, DC, 1975 [Available from Fort Necessity National Battlefield Park].

 

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