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Chapter 3

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
Pioneers of the Old Southwest

Constance Lindsay Skinner

in the
Chronicles of America edition,
Yale University Press,
New Haven, 1919

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 5
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p75  Chapter IV
The Passing of the French Peril

The great pile of the Appalachian peaks was not the only barrier which held back the settler with his plough and his rifle from following the trader's tinkling caravans into the valleys beyond. Over the hills the French were lords of the land. The frontiersman had already felt their enmity through the torch and tomahawk of their savage allies. By his own strength alone he could not cope with the power entrenched beyond the hills; so he halted. But that power, by its unachievable desire to be overlord of two hemispheres, was itself to precipitate events which would open the westward road.

The recurring hour in the cycle of history, when the issue of Autocracy against Democracy cleaves the world, struck for the men of the eighteenth century as the second half of that century dawned. In our own day, happily, that issue has been perceived by the rank and file of the people. In  p76 those darker days, as France and England grappled in that conflict of systems which culminated in the Seven Years' War, the fundamental principles at stake were clear to only a handful of thinking men.

But abstractions, whether clear or obscure, do not cause ambassadors to demand their passports. The declaration of war awaits the overt act. Behold, then, how great a matter is kindled by a little fire. The casus belli between France and England in the Seven Years' War — the war which humbled France in Europe and lost her India and Canada — had to do with a small log fort built by a few Virginians in 1754 at the Forks of the Ohio River and wrested from them in the same year by a company of Frenchmen from Canada.

The French claimed the valley of the Ohio as their territory; the English claimed it as theirs. The dispute was of long standing. The French claim was based on discovery; the English claim, on the sea-to‑sea charters of Virginia and other colonies and on treaties with the Six Nations. The French refused to admit the right of the Six Nations to dispose of the territory. The English were inclined to maintain the validity of their treaties with the Indians. Especially was Virginia so  p77 inclined, for a large share of the Ohio lay within her chartered domain.

The quarrel had entered its acute phase in 1749, when both the rival claimants took action to assert their sovereignty. The Governor of Canada sent an envoy, Céloron de Blainville, with soldiers, to take formal possession of the Ohio for the King of France. In the same year the English organized in Virginia the Ohio Company for the colonization of the same country; and summoned Christopher Gist, explorer, trader, and guide, from his home on the Yadkin and dispatched him to survey the land.

Then appeared on the scene that extraordinary man, Robert Dinwiddie, Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, erstwhile citizen of Glasgow. His correspondence from Virginia during his seven years' tenure of office (1751‑58) depicts the man with a vividness surpassing paint. He was as honest as the day — as honest as he was fearless and fussy. But he had no patience; he wanted things done and done at once, and his way was the way to do them. People who did not think as he thought didn't think at all. On this drastic premise he went to work. There was of course continuous friction between him and the House of Burgesses.  p78 Dinwiddie had all a Scot's native talent for sarcasm. His letters, his addresses, perhaps in particular his addresses to the House, bristled with satirical thrusts at his opponents. If he had spelled out in full all the words he was so eager to write, he would have been obliged to lessen his output; so he used a shorthand system of his own, peculiar enough to be remarkable even though abbreviations were the rule in that day. Even the dignity of Kings he sacrificed to speed, and we find "His Majesty" abbreviated to "H M'y"; yet a small luminary known as "His Honor" fares better, losing only the last letter — "His Hono." "Ho." stands for "house" and "yt" for "that," "what," "it," and "anything else," as convenient. Many of his letters wind up with "I am ve'y much fatig'd." We know that he must have been!

It was a formidable task that confronted Dinwiddie — to possess and defend the Ohio. Christopher Gist returned in 1751, having surveyed the valley for the Ohio Company as far as the Scioto and Miami rivers, and in the following year the survey was ratified by the Indians. The Company's men were busy blazing trails through the territory and building fortified posts. But the French dominated the territory. They had built  p79 and occupied with troops Fort Le Boeuf on French Creek, a stream flowing into the Allegheny. We may imagine Dinwiddie's rage at this violation of British soil by French soldiers and how he must have sputtered to the young George Washington, when he summoned that officer and made him the bearer of a letter to the French commander at Fort Le Boeuf, to demand that French troops be at once withdrawn from the Ohio.

Washington made the journey to Fort Le Boeuf in December, 1753, but the mission of course proved fruitless. Dinwiddie then wrote to London urging that a force be sent over to help the colonists maintain their rights and, under orders from the Crown, suggested by himself, he wrote to the governors of all the other colonies to join with Virginia in raising troops to settle the owner­ship of the disputed territory. From Governor Dobbs of North Carolina he received an immediate response. By means of logic, sarcasm, and the entire force of his prerogatives, Dinwiddie secured from his own balking Assembly £10,000 with which to raise troops. From Maryland he obtained nothing. There were three prominent Marylanders in the Ohio Company, but — or because of this — the Maryland Assembly voted down the measure for  p80 a military appropriation. On June 18, 1854, Dinwiddie wrote, with unusually full spelling for him:

I am perswaded had His Majesty's Com'ds to the other Colonies been duely obey'd, and the necessary Assistance given by them, the Fr. wou'd have long ago haveº been oblig'd entirely to have evacuated their usurp'd Possession of the King's Lands, instead of w'ch they are daily becoming more formidable, whilst every Gov't except No. Caro. has amus'd me with Expectations that have proved fruitless, and at length refuse to give any Supply, unless in such a manner as must render it ineffectual.

This saddened mood with its deliberate penman­ship did not last long. Presently Dinwiddie was making a Round Robin of himself in another series of letters to Governors, Councilors, and Assemblymen, frantically beseeching them for "H. M'y's hono." and their own, and, if not, for "post'r'ty," to rise against the cruel French whose Indians were harrying the borders again and "Basely, like Virmin, stealing and carrying off the helpless infant" — as nice a simile, by the way, as any Sheridan ever put into the mouth of Mrs. Malaprop.

Dinwiddie saw his desires thwarted on every hand by the selfish spirit of localism and jealousy which was more rife in America in those days than it is today. Though the phrase "capitalistic war"  p81 had not yet been coined, the great issues of English civilization on this continent were befogged, for the majority in the colonies, by the trivial fact that the shareholders in the Ohio Company stood to win by a vigorous prosecution of the war and to lose if it were not prosecuted at all. The irascible Governor, however, proceeded with such men and means as he could obtain.

And now in the summer of 1754 came the "overt act" which precipitated the inevitable war. The key to the valley of the Ohio was the tongue of land at the Forks, where the Allegheny and the Monongahela join their waters in the Beautiful River. This site — today Pittsburgh — if occupied and held by either nation would give that nation the command of the Ohio. Occupied it was for a brief hour by a small party of Virginians, under Captain William Trent; but no sooner had they erected on the spot a crude fort than the French descended upon them. What happened then all the world knows: how the French built on the captured site their great Fort Duquesne; how George Washington with an armed force, sent by Dinwiddie to recapture the place, encountered French and Indians at Great Meadows and built Fort Necessity, which he was compelled to surrender;  p82 how in the next year (1755) General Braddock arrived from across the sea and set out to take Fort Duquesne, only to meet on the way the disaster called "Braddock's Defeat"; and how, before another year had passed, the Seven Years' War was raging in Europe, and England was allied with the enemies of France.

From the midst of the debacle of Braddock's defeat rises the figure of the young Washington. Twenty-three he was then, tall and spare and hard-bodied from a life spent largely in the open. When Braddock fell, this Washington appeared. Reckless of the enemy's bullets, which spanged about him and pierced his clothes, he dashed up and down the lines in an effort to rally the panic-stricken redcoats. He was too late to save the duty, but not to save a remnant of the army and bring out his own Virginians in good order. Whether among the stay-at‑homes and voters of credits there were some who would have ascribed Washington's conduct on that day to the fact that his brothers were large shareholders in the Ohio Company and that Fort Duquesne was their personal property of "private interest," history does not say. We may suppose so.

North Carolina, the one colony which had not  p83 "amus'd" the Governor of Virginia "with Expectations that proved fruitless," had voted £12,000 for the war and had raised two companies of troops. One of these, under Edward Brice Dobbs, son of Governor Dobbs, marched with Braddock; and in that company as wagoner went Daniel Boone, then in his twenty-second year. Of Boone's part in Braddock's campaign nothing more is recorded save that on the march he made friends with John Findlay, the trader, his future guide into Kentucky; and that, on the day of the defeat, when his wagons were surrounded, he escaped by slashing the harness, leaping on the back of one of his horses, and dashing into the forest.

Meanwhile the southern tribes along the border were comparatively quiet. That they well knew a colossal struggle between the two white races was pending and were predisposed to ally themselves with the stronger is not to be doubted. French influence had long been sifting through the formidable Cherokee nation, which still, however, held true in the main to its treaties with the English. It was the policy of the Governors of Virginia and North Carolina to induce the Cherokees to enter strongly into the war as allies of the  p84 English. Their efforts came to nothing chiefly because of the purely local and suicidal Indian policy of Governor Glen of South Carolina. There had been some dispute between Glen and Dinwiddie as to the right of Virginia to trade with the Cherokees; and Glen had sent to the tribes letters calculated to sow distrust of all other aspirants for Indian favor, even promising that certain settlers in the Back Country of North Carolina should be removed and their holdings restored to the Indians. These letters caused great indignation in North Carolina, when they came to light, and had the worst possible effect upon Indian relations. The Indians now inclined their ear to the French who, though fewer than the English, were at least united in purpose.

Governor Glen took this inauspicious moment to hold high festival with the Cherokees. It was the last year of his administration and apparently he hoped to win promotion to some higher post by showing his achievements for the fur trade and in the matter of new land acquired. He plied the Cherokees with drink and induced them to make formal submission and to cede all their lands to the Crown. When the chiefs recovered their sobriety, they were filled with rage at what had been done,  p85 and they remembered how the French had told them that the English intended to make slaves of all the Indians and to steal their lands. The situation was complicated by another incident. Several Cherokee warriors returning from the Ohio, whither they had gone to fight for the British, were slain by frontiersmen. The tribe, in accordance with existing agreements, applied to Virginia for redress — but received none.

There was thus plenty of powder for an explosion. Governor Lyttleton, Glen's successor, at last flung the torch into the magazine. He seized, as hostages, a number of friendly chiefs who were coming to Charleston to offer tokens of good will and forced them to march under guard on a military tour which the Governor was making (1759) with intent to overawe the savages. When this expedition reached Prince George, on the upper waters of the Savannah, the Indian hostages were confined within the fort; and the Governor, satisfied with the result of his maneuver departed south for Charleston. Then followed a tragedy. Some Indian friends of the imprisoned chiefs attacked the fort, and the commander, a popular young officer, was treacherously killed during a parley. The infuriated frontiersmen within the fort fell upon the  p86 hostages and slew them all — twenty-six chiefs — and the Indian war was on.

If all were to be told of the struggle which followed in the Back Country, the story could not be contained in this book. Many brave and resourceful men went out against the savages. We can afford only a passing glance at one of them. Hugh Waddell of North Carolina was the most brilliant of all the frontier fighters in that war. He was a young Ulsterman from County Down, a born soldier, with a special genius for fighting Indians, although he did not grow up on the border, for he arrived in North Carolina in 1753, at the age of nineteen. He was appointed by Governor Dobbs to command the second company which North Carolina had raised for the war, a force of 450 rangers to protect the border counties; and he presently became the most conspicuous military figure in the colony. As to his personality, we have only a few meager details, with a portrait that suggests plainly enough those qualities of boldness and craft which characterized his tactics. Governor Dobbs appears to have had a special love towards Hugh, whose family he had known in Ireland, for an undercurrent of almost fatherly pride is to be found in the old Governor's reports to the Assembly concerning Waddell's exploits.

 p87  The terror raged for nearly three years. Cabins and fields were burned, and women and children were slaughtered or dragged away captives. Not only did immigration cease but many hardy settlers fled from the country. At length, after horrors indescribable and great toll of life, the Cherokees gave up the struggle. Their towns were invaded and laid waste by imperial and colonial troops, and they could do nothing but make peace. In 1761 they signed a treaty with the English to hold "while rivers flow and grasses grow and sun and moon endure."

In the previous year (1760) the imperial war had run its course in America. New France lay prostrate, and the English were supreme not only on the Ohio but on the St. Lawrence and the Great Lakes. Louisbourg, Quebec, Montreal, Oswego, Niagara, Duquesne, Detroit — all were in English hands.

Hugh Waddell and his rangers, besides serving with distinction in the Indian war, had taken part in the capture of Fort Duquesne. This feat had been accomplished in 1758 by an expedition under General Forbes. The troops made a terrible march over a new route, cutting a road as they  p88 went. It was November when they approached their objective. The wastes of snow and their diminished supplies caused such depression among the men that the officers called a halt to discuss whether or not to proceed toward Fort Duquesne, where they believed the French to be concentrated in force. Extravagant sums in guineas were named as suitable reward for any man who would stalk and catch a French Indian and learn from him the real conditions inside the fort. The honor, if not the guineas, fell to John Rogers, one of Waddell's rangers. From the Indian it was learned that the French had already gone, leaving behind only a few of their number. As the English drew near, they found that the garrison had blown up the magazine, set fire to the fort, and made off.

Thus, while New France was already tottering, but nearly two years before the final capitulation of Montreal, the English again became masters of the Ohio Company's land — masters of the Forks of the Ohio. This time they were there to stay. Where the walls of Fort Duquesne had crumbled in the fire Fort Pitt was to rise, proudly bearing the name of England's Great Commoner who had directed English arms to victory on three continents.

With France expelled and the Indians deprived  p89 of their white allies, the westward path lay open to the pioneers, even though the red man himself would rise again and again in vain endeavor to bar the way. So a new era begins, the era of exploration for definite purpose, the era of commonwealth building. In entering on it, we part with the earliest pioneer — the trader, who first opened the road for both the lone home seeker and the great land company. He dwindles now to the mere barterer and so — save for a few chance glimpses — slips out of sight, for his brave days as Imperial Scout are done.

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