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young George Washington


George Washington on the Frontier


Surveying the Backcountry
 
    When George Washington turned sixteen years of age, his family helped establish him in the profession of surveying. Since most of his late father's estate was inherited by his older half-brother, young George had to find a respectable way to make a living. [See family tree] Surveying was a profession acceptable to someone of his social rank and reasonably lucrative for someone willing to endure the hardships of life on the frontier. Since Washington's family had such a close relationship with Lord Fairfax's family, there was certainly the probability of a great deal of work surveying the Northern Neck lands for Lord Fairfax.
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    With the approval of Lord Fairfax, George Washington made his first trip to the Virginia frontier west of the Shenandoah Valley in early 1748.  In the company of James Genn who had been surveying for several years and George William Fairfax, he set out to assist in the surveys of the Patterson's Creek, South Branch River and Cacapon River valleys.  The next year, William and Mary College had certified his surveying skills, and Washington received an appointment as the surveyor of Culpepper County.  Mr. Washington returned to old Frederick County (now Hampshire County, WV) over the course of the next several seasons making surveys for Fairfax grantees through the spring of 1752. (see list of surveys )
 
    Washington's work on the frontier brought him in contact with the more influential members of the community, men such as Joseph Edwards, Isaac Van Meter, and James Caudy.  He also met many of the poorer immigrants who were looking for opportunities to build a home in this fertile land.  His acquaintance with these settlers and with the common soldiers who would later come to protect them would have a lasting effect on the young Mr. Washington.  He would come to respect the part they played in the development of the country.
 
   When Lawrence Washington died in 1752, young George came in line to inherit his half-brother's estate, Mount Vernon. With the prospect of becoming a "planter" of the landed gentry of Virginia, George Washington no longer had need of a profession like surveying. He gave up that work and turned to the responsibilites of running his various farms and fulfilling civic duties like his new appointment as Adjutant in the Virginia Militia.
 

England and France Move Toward Conflict
 
    By 1753, the French and English in America were on a collision course.  The English were pushing settlement westward, and the French were building outposts in the Ohio Valley and Mississippi Valley that they had claimed by right of exploration.  In the winter of 1753-1754 Gov. Dinwiddie of Virginia chose Major George Washington, then an Adjutant in the Militia, to be his ambassador to the French on the Ohio River.  Maj. Washington made his way to Wills Creek (later Fort Cumberland) where he met Christopher Gist, a well respected frontier guide and explorer.  From there they traveled to the French Fort Le Boeuf near Lake Erie.  Here Washington delivered Gov. Dinwiddie's demand that the French vacate the territory claimed by the British.  The French refused.  On the journey, Maj. Washington made careful notes about the terrain, the Indians, and the French forts and soldiers.
 
    Once the challenge had been issued, it was clear both sides must move quickly.  A small colonial force was ordered to the Forks of the Ohio River to begin to fortify the site.  As soon as the northern rivers thawed, the French amassed a force for the same purpose.  On April 25, 1754, Washington wrote to Gov. Dinwiddie that the French had ousted the Virginians from the Forks of the Ohio and were beginning to build a formidable fortification there.  Lt. Col. Washington was ordered to march for the Forks.
 

The Jumonville Affair
 
    On the morning of May 28, 1754, Lt. Col. Washington attacked a force of about 30 French soldiers who had been following the Virginians' movements for several days.  Just before sunrise, Washington's force killed Ensign Coulon de Jumonville and nine soldiers and captured 21 prisoners.  One French soldier escaped to take the news to Ft. Duquesne.
 
necess2e.jpg    The French response was swift and powerful.  Washington retreated to his hastily erected Fort Necessity and awaited both reinforcements and a French attack.  When the French attacked on July 3rd, Col. Washington had only 284 men fit for duty.  By evening, in a pouring rain, with a third of his men dead or wounded and their powder wet,  it was clear that the English position was untenable.  The French offered terms, and Col. Washington surrendered.  The French now, for a time, were masters of the Ohio country.
 

Initial British Defeat

    In the spring of 1755 London sent two regiments of British regulars under General Edward Braddock who had been appointed Commander of British forces in North America.  Braddock moved his regiments toward Ft. Duquesne to sieze this strategic fort, but instead his army was brutally defeated.  George Washington had offered to serve as an aide to Gen. Braddock on this campaign. In the heat of battle, Washington's steady leadership was all that saved the British and their colonial supporters from complete annihilation.  Several men who would later figure prominantly in America's future growth and power took part in this engagement including Daniel Morgan and Daniel Boone. Click here to read Col. Washington's own report of the Battle.

The Chain of Forts

   After this first major offensive ended in a disastrous defeat, the British frontier was open to French and Indian incursions.  For the next three years Colonel Washington, now Commander of the Virginia Regiment, would try to defend Virginia against the French and their Indian allies who had free access to the frontier.  Col. Washington established a chain of forts along the frontier which included Fort Loudoun, his headquarters at Winchester, Ft. Ashby on Patterrson's Creek and the forts at Edwards's on the Cacapon, Pearsall's on the South Branch, Enock's at the forks of Cacapon and other sites continuing southward to the North Carolina border.

    The forts on the frontier were of two types.  First there were the settlers homes that were fortified to afford security to the neighbors and a station for soldiers.  Secondly, there were forts built from scratch directly at Col. Washington's orders.  Fort Loudoun in Winchester, Fort Ashby on Patterson's Creek and Fort Pleasant, just to the southwest of the Trough, were of the latter kind.  Most of the other forts in old Hampshire County, including those of Edwards and Pearsall, were originally settler's homes.

Retirement from Service

    In October 1758, Colonel Washington led his Virginia troops as part mtvernon.jpgof the successful Forbes expedition to capture the French Fort Duquesne.  The fall of Fort Duquesne in November 1758, removed much of the threat from the Virginia frontier.  In December Col. Washington retired from the Regiment and turned his thoughts toward Mount Vernon and his coming marriage to Martha Custis.  Thus ended a period of ten years (1748-1758) when Mr. Washington had learned the lessons of manhood and leadership on the Virginia frontier. These years prepared him for the greater challenges that lay ahead both for himself personally and for his country.

The Legacy

These ten years that Mr. Washington spent on the Virginia frontier were the most crucial, formative years of his life. His experiences during this time of learning, leadership and achievement prepared him for the coming years of the Revolution and the establishment of our Republic. He has left us a legacy that still guides and enriches our lives today.

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