GW: Life & Times

Questions — Man on a Mission: Diary of the Journey to a French Fort

Use the 1753 Diaries of George Washington below to answer the following questions.
1. November 26th: This first paragraph is Washington's record of his address to the council of Indians. How does he speak to them? What is he asking of them? Why?
2. November 30th: Washington and the Native Americans stop at another French officer's station. What does he learn?
3. December 5th: Why didn't Washington want to introduce the Indians who were his guides to the French captain Joncaire?
4. December 7th: In addition to the events of the trip, what other information does Washington include in his description (the end of the paragraph for that date)? Why might he do this?
5. From Washington's Journal, what were readers likely to think of the Ohio River Valley, the Native Americans, the French and Washington himself?

26th: We met in council at the Long House, about 9 o'Clock, where I spoke to them as follows,

BROTHERS I have call'd you together in Council, by Order of your Brother the Governor of Virginia, to acquaint you that I am sent with all possible Dispatch to visit PC deliver a Letter to the French Commandant of very great Importance to your Brothers the English: & I dare say to you their Friends & Allies. I was desir'd Brothers, by your Brother the Governor, to call upon you, the Sachems of the Six Nations, to inform you of it, & to ask your Advice & Assistance to proceed the nearest & best Road to the French. You see Brothers I have got thus far on my Journey. His Honour likewise desir'd me to apply to you for some of your young Men to conduct and provide Provisions for us on our Way: & to be a Safeguard against those French Indians, that have taken up the Hatchet against us. I have spoke this particularly to you Brothers, because His Hon. our Governor, treats you as good Friends & Allies, & holds you in great Esteem. To confirm what I have said I give you this String of Wampum.

After they had considered some Time on the above, the Half King got up & spoke.

NOW MY BROTHERS. In Regard to what my Brother the Governor has desir'd of me, I return you this Answer. I rely upon you as a Brother ought to do, as you say we are Brothers, & one People. We shall put Heart in Hand, & speak to our Fathers the French, concerning the Speech they made to me, & you may depend that we will endeavour to be your Guard.

BROTHER, as you have ask'd my Advice, I hope you will be ruled by it, & stay 'til I can provide a Company to go with you. The French Speech Belt is not here, I have it to go for to my hunting Cabbin likewise the People I have order'd are not yet come, nor can 'til the third Night from this, 'till which Time Brother I must beg you to stay. I intend to send a Guard of Mingoes, Shawnesse, & Delawar's, that our Brothers may see the Love and Loyalty We bear them.

As I had Orders to make all possible Dispatch, & waiting here very contrary to my Inclinations; I thank'd him in the most suitable Manner I cou'd, & told that my Business requir'd the greatest Expedition, & wou'd not admit of that Delay: He was not well pleas'd that I shou'd offer to go before the Time he had appointed, told me that he cou'd not consent to our going without a Guard, for fear some Accident shou'd befall us, & draw a reflection upon him-besides says he, this is a Matter of no small Moment, & must not be enter'd into without due Consideration, for I now intend to deliver up the French Speech Belt, & make the Shawnesse & Delawars do the same, & accordingly gave Orders to King Singess, who was present, to attend on Wednesday Night with the Wampum, & two Men of their Nation to be in readiness to set off with us next Morning. As I found it impossible to get off without affronting them in the most egregious Manner, I consented to stay.

I gave them back a String of Wampum that I met with at Mr. Frazer's, which they had sent with a Speech to his Honour the Governor, to inform him, that three Nations of French Indians, (vizt.) Chippaway's, Ottaway's, & Arundacks, had taken up the Hatchet against the English, & desired them to repeat it over again; which they postpon'd doing 'til they met in full Council with the Shawnesse, & Delawar Chiefs.

30th: Last Night the great Men assembled to their Council House to consult further about this Journey, & who were to go; the result of which was, that only three of their Chiefs, with one of their best Hunters shou'd be our Convoy: the reason they gave for not sending more, after what had been propos'd in Council the 26th. was, that a greater Number might give the French Suspicion of some bad Design, & cause them to be treated rudely; but I rather think they cou'd not get their Hunters in.

We set out about 9 o'Clock, with the Half King, Jeskakake, White Thunder, & the Hunter; [49] & travel'd on the road to Venango, where we arriv'd the 4th: of December, without any Thing remarkably happening, but a continued Series of bad Weather. [50] This is an old Indian Town, situated on the Mouth of French Creek on Ohio, & lies near No. about 60 Miles from the Logstown, but more than 70 the Way we were oblig'd to come. We found the French Colours hoisted at a House where they drove Mr. John Frazer an English Subject from: I immediately repair'd to it, to know where the Commander resided: There was three Officers, one of which, Capt. Joncaire, inform'd me, that he had the Command of the Ohio, but that there was a General Officer at the next Fort, which he advis'd me to for an Answer.

He invited us to Sup with them, & treated with the greatest Complaisance. The Wine, as they dos'd themselves pretty plentifully with it, soon banish'd the restraint which at first appear'd in their Conversation, & gave license to their Tongues to reveal their Sentiments more freely. They told me it was their absolute Design to take Possession of the Ohio, & by G-- they wou'd do it, for tho' they were sensible, that the English cou'd raise two Men for their one; yet they knew their Motions were too slow & dilatory to prevent any Undertaking of theirs. They pretended to have an undoubted right to the river from a Discovery made by one La Sol 60 Years ago, & the use of this Expedition is to prevent our Settling on the River or Waters of it, as they have heard of some Families moving out in order thereto.

From the best Intelligence I cou'd get, there has been 1,500 Men this Side Oswago Lake, but upon the Death of the General, all were recall'd to about 6 or 7 Hundred, which were left to Garrison four Forts, 150 or thereabouts in each, the first of which is on French Creek, near a small Lake, about 60 Miles from Venango near N: N: W: the next lies on Lake Erie, where the greatest Part of their Stores are kept about 15 Miles from the other; from that it is 120 Miles from the Carrying Place, at the Fall of Lake Erie, where there is a small Fort, which they lodge their Goods at, in bringing them from Morail, the Place that all their Stores come from; the next Fort lies about 20 Miles from this, on Oswago Lake; between this Fort & Morail there are three others; the first of which is near the English Fort Oswago. From the Fort on Lake Erie to Morail is about 600 Miles, which they say if good Weather, requires no more than 4 Weeks Voyage, if they go in Barks or large Vessells that they can cross the Lake; but if they come in Canoes, it will require five or six Weeks for they are oblig'd to keep under the Shoar.

5th: Rain'd successively all Day, which prevented our traveling. Capt. Joncaire sent for the half King, as he had but just heard that he came with me: He affected to be much Concern'd that I did not make free to bring him in before; I excused it in the best Manner I was capable, & told him I did not think their Company agreeable, as I had heard him say a good deal in dispraise of Indians in General. But another Motive prevented my bringing them into his Company: I knew that he was Interpreter, & a Person of very great Influence among the Indians, & had lately used all possible means to draw them over to their Interest; therefore I was desirous of giving no more Opportunity than cou'd be avoided. When they came in there was great Pleasure express'd at seeing them, he wonder'd how they cou'd be so near without coming to visit him, made several trifling Presents, & applied Liquors so fast, that they were soon render'd incapable of the Business they came about notwithstanding the Caution that was given. [51]

7th: Monsieur La Force, Commissary of the French Stores, [52] three other Soldiers came over to accompany us up. We found it extreamly difficult getting the Indians off to Day; as every Stratagem had been used to prevent their going up with me. I had last Night left John Davison (the Indian Interpreter that I brought from Logstown with me) strictly charg'd not to be out of their Company, as I cou'd not get them over to my Tent (they having some Business with Custaloga, to know the reason why he did not deliver up the French Belt, which he had in keeping,) but was oblig'd to send Mr. Gist over to Day to fetch them, which he did with great Perswasion.

At 11 o'Clock we set out for the Fort, & was prevented from arriving there 'till the 11th: by excessive rains, Snows, & bad traveling, through many Mires & Swamps, which we were oblig'd to pass to avoid crossing the Creek, which was impassible either by Fording or Rafting, the Water was so high & rapid. We pass'd over much good Land since we left Venango, & through several extensive & very rich Meadows, one of which was near 4 Miles in length, & considerably wide in some Places. [53]


49. White Thunder, or Belt of Wampum, was an Iroquois chief (SARGENT [1], 378). The Hunter, also known as Guyasuta or Kiasutha, was a Seneca who later became a principal chief of the Six Nations and participated in many of the councils between the Iroquois and the English before the Revolution. after Braddock's Defeat in 1755, Guyasuta went over to the French and led the Indians in the defeat of Maj. James Grant in 1758 (SIPE, 372). GW encountered him again during his journey to the Ohio in 1770. [back to text]

50. Gist's description of the journey from Logstown to Venango reads:

"Friday 30--We set out, and the Half-King and two old men and one young warrior, with us. At night we encamped at the Murthering town, about fifteen miles, on a branch of Great Beaver Creek. Got some corn and dried meat.
"Saturday 1 December.--Set out, and at night encamped at the crossing of Beaver creek from the Kaskuskies to Venango about thirty miles. The next day rain; our Indians went out a hunting; they killed two bucks. Had rain all day.
"Monday 3.--We set out and travelled all day. Encamped at night on one of the head branches of Great Beaver creek about twenty-two miles.
"Tuesday [4].--Set out about fifteen miles, to the town of Venango, where we were kindly and complaisantly received by Monsieur Joncaire. the French interpreter for the Six Nations" (GIST, 81). [back to text]

51. Gist's diary entry for this day reads:

"Wednesday 5.--Rain all day. Our Indians were in council with the Delawares, who lived under the French colors, and ordered them to deliver up to the French the belt, with the marks of the four towns, according to the desire of King Shingiss. But the chief of these Delawares said, 'It was true King Shingiss was a great man, but he had sent no speech, and,' said he, 'I cannot pretend to make a speech for a King.' So our Indians could not prevail with them to deliver their belt; but the Half-King did deliver his belt, as he had determined. Joncaire did every thing he could to prevail on our Indians to stay behind us, and I took all care to have them along with us" (GIST, 82). [back to text]

52. Michel Pépin, called La Force, was captured by the British near Great Meadows in the spring of 1754 and sent to Williamsburg as a hostage after the surrender of Fort Necessity. His abilities were as respected by the British as by the French: "looseing La Force, I really think, w'd tend more to our disservice, than 50 other Men, as he is a Person whose active Spirit, leads him into all parlys, and brought him acquainted with all parts, add to this a perfect use of the Indian Tongue, and g't influence with the Indians" (GW to Dinwiddie, 29 May 1754, DLC:GW). [back to text]

53. According to Gist's diary, the party left Venango on 6 Dec. His entries for the journey to Fort Le Boeuf read as follows:

"Thursday 6.--We set out late in the day accompanied by the French General and four servants or soldiers, and
"Friday 7.--All encamped at Sugar creek, five miles from Venango. The creek being very high we were obliged to carry all our baggage over on trees, and swim our horses. The Major and I went first over, with our boots on.
"Saturday [8].--We set out and travelled twenty-five miles to Cussewago, an old Indian town.
"Sunday 9.--We set out, left one of our horses here that could travel no further. This day we travelled to the big crossing, about fifteen miles, and encamped, our Indians went out to look out logs to make a raft; but as the water was high, and there were other creeks to cross, we concluded to keep up this side the creek.
"Monday 10.--Set out, travelled about eight miles, and encamped. Our Indians killed a bear. Here we had a creek to cross, very deep; we got over on a tree, and got our goods over.
"Tuesday 11.--We set out, travelled about fifteen miles to the French fort, the sun being set. Our interpreter gave the commandant notice of our being over the creek; upon which he sent several officers to conduct us to the fort, and they received us with a great deal of complaisance" (GIST, 82--83). [back to text]

From Donald Jackson, ed., The Diaries of George Washington, vol. I, 1748-65 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1976), 118.