[WASHINGTON, GEORGE]. GIST, CHRISTOPHER. Autograph journal of an expedition to the French in the Ohio Valley AS A GUIDE FOR GEORGE WASHINGTON, comprising 47 daily entries dated from 14 November 1753 to 4 January 1754. 4½ pages, closely written, blank cover sheet present, wear at folds (not affecting text), scattered stains, patch to margin of page 4, old label affixed to margin of last page, that page blank but for a 3-line note on the total distance covered and contemporary docket "Washington Journal," and (in a different hand) "Braddock."
TREACHERY IN THE WILDERNESS: WASHINGTON'S MISSION TO THE FRENCH FORTS IN THE OHIO VALLEY AS RECORDED BY HIS FRONTIER GUIDE
A remarkable record of an important wilderness expedition undertaken by Major George Washington at the request of Virginia Governor Robert Dinwiddie, accompanied by the legendary soldier and wilderness guide Christopher Gist (1706-1759). "More than any other man, Gist was to be Washington's teacher in the art of the frontiersman...[He] could scarcely have had a better instructor..." (Freeman, George Washington, vol. 1, pp. 283-284). Dinwiddie had received royal instructions to warn the French not to explore or erect forts in the Ohio River Valley which the English claimed as part of the Commonwealth of Virginia. In October, Washington had met with the Governor and volunteered to deliver his message to the French commander on the Ohio. Orders were drawn up for him to proceed across the Alleghenies to "Logstown," and to contact the Native Americans, who were friendly to Gist and would lead him safely to the French outpost, where he was to present Dinwiddie's letter and return with the French reply. Secretly, he was charged "to procure all the information he could obtain of the numerical strength, armament, defenses, communications and plans of the intruders" (ibid., p. 276). In Fredericksburg, Washington recruited a young Hollander, Jacob Van Braam, as translator, and the two proceeded to Wills Creek (later Fort Cumberland) on the Potomac in Western Maryland, where Gist lived. Gist agreed to accompany Washington, and several local men joined them. The party consisted of seven men and four attendants with horses and baggage.
Gist's account opens with Washington's arrival: "Then Majr. George Washington came to my House at Wills Creek and delivered me a Letter from the Council in Virginia requesting me to attend him up to the Commandant of the French Fort on the Ohio River." The next day he recorded, "we set out and at Night Encamp'd at George's Creek..." By the 19th, the party had reached the crossing of the Big Youghiogheny, 34 miles from Wills Creek and part of the Ohio River watershed. Snow was encountered on the 18th, and on 21 November, Gist recorded that "It continu'd to rain all day." By the 22nd they had reached the Monongahela, and the wilderness trading post of John Frazier, who lent them a canoe. Frazier informed Washington that several Native American tribes had turned against the English, and that the French had withdrawn to winter quarters further North, near Lake Erie. On the 23rd, they reached the conjunction of the Allegheny and Monongahela, where Washington made notes and planned for the erection of a fort (later to be known as Fort Duquesne and Fort Pitt). They made contact with two Delaware sachems, Shingiss and Lowmoloch on the 24th, and were escorted to Logstown, a trading post, to meet with the powerful Half King and other sachems. Half King agreed to take them north to the French fort, and reported that the French planned to occupy the area in the Spring.
On 30 November, after receiving provisions from the Native Americans, "we set out and the Half King and two old men and one young Warrior with us," proceeding northwards along the Allegheny. At Venango (Wynango), on 3 December, Gist states "we was kindley & complaisantly received by Mons. Jonquere (Joincare) the French Interpreter for the Six Nations" (for more on Joincare, see Freeman, p. 303). On 11 December the party, under French escort, reached the stockaded Fort La Boeuf. The next day, after the arrival of another French officer from Lake Erie (Fort Niagara), Washington formally presented his credentials and Governor Dinwiddie's letter to the French commander, Legardeur de St. Pierre de Repentigny. As Gist records: "...the Majr. delivered the letter and desired speedy answer..." (The full text of Dinwiddie's letter is in Freeman, p. 309-310). Washington's observations of the fort and its armament, and his conversations with the French, polite and deferential in tone, convinced him that the French would maintain their claim (based on La Salle's explorations) of the Ohio River Valley, and intended to use the Native Americans as their allies; they also had plans to strengthen and expand their presence in the vast territory. "...Virginia must act quickly and in strength. Not one day must be lost in getting to Williamsburgh the news of what the French were undertaking" (Freeman, p. 311). Upon receiving St. Pierre's reply to the Governor's letter, the English party set out to return, escorted by several French-manned canoes. The winter river was fraught with dangers. On 22 December Gist writes: "...the creek began to be very low & we were forced to get out to keep our Canoe from oversetting...the water freezing to our Cloaths, and we had the pleasure of seeing the French oversett and the Brandy & Wine floating in the Creek and Run by them and left them to shift for themselves. Came to Wynango..." Two days later, he notes that "Majr. Washington set out on foot in Indian Dress. Our horses grew [so] weak that we were mostly obliged to travel on foot and had snow all day..." Three of the men suffered severe frostbite. Washington, anxious to get his intelligence back to the Governor, proposed that he and Gist leave the horses and other members of the party and proceed by a shorter route, saving a day's travel. Gist "was unwilling he should undertake such a travel who had never been used to walking before this time," but Washington insisted and the two men struck off on their own on 27 December.
Here Gist recounts a celebrated incident. At "Murthering Town," a frontier outpost, the two encountered a Native American whom Gist thought he had seen at the French post, several days before. In spite of Gist's misgivings, they made him their guide: "Washington insisted on travelling on the nearest way to the Forks of Allegheny, we ask'd the Indian if he would...show us the nearest way, The Indian seem'd very glad and ready to go with us, upon which we set out and the Indian took the Majr's Pack..." Although Washington suffered severe foot pain, he refused to allow the Native American to carry his gun. The Native American "grew Churlish," Gist reports, and insisted they press on, for there were Ottawas in the forest who, "would scalp us" if they encamped. He offered to take them to his own cabin nearby, but Gist wrote that, "I thought very ill of the Fellow but did not care to let the Majr. know I mistrusted him, but he soon mistrusted him as much as I..." After some miles, Washington began to suspect they were being deliberately led astray, as Gist records, "We came to a clear Meadow, it was very Light and Snow on the ground, the Indian made a stop, turn'd about, the Majr. saw him point his gun towards us and fired, said the Majr. Are you shot[?], no said I, upon which the Indian run forward to a big standing white Oak and [set] to loading his Gun..." Gist and Washington gave chase and "we was soon with him. I would have killed him but the Majr. would not suffer me to kill him. We let him charge his Gun, we found he put in a ball, then we took care of him, the Majr. or I always stood by the Guns..." As they prepared a camp, Gist said to Washington "As you will not have him killed we must get him away, and then we must travel all night, upon which he said to the Indian, I suppose you was lost and fired your gun,...Well said I do you go home and as we are much tired we will follow your trail in the morning....he was glad to get away, I followed him & listened untill he was fairly out of the way..."
Having succeeded in evading the treacherous Native American, Gist and Washington traveled all night and most of the next day on foot. At the Allegheny River they made a Raft (which took two days work), but the navigation was very risky: "the Majr. having fallen in [the river] from off the Raft and my fingers frost bitten and the Sun down and very cold..." They reached Frazier's camp on December 31, recrossed the Youghiogheny and, as recorded in the last entry in Gist's journal, set out on 4 January "for Wills Creek, where we arrived on Sunday morning January 6th." Washington reached Williamsburgh with his important military news and on 16 January presented Dinwiddie with the letter from St. Pierre.
The formal report of the epic journey, the narrative, with a hand-drawn map, is in Writings, ed. J.C. Fitzpatrick, 1:22-31. Gist's journal was edited by William M. Darlington and published in 1893. His and Washington's account are the two principal sources from which Freeman constructed his dramatic account of the mission, in a chapter entitled "A Mission Uncovers a Pending Advance" (Washington, vol. 1, pp. 274-326). Within a year, England and France were at war and the young Virginian would be called upon again for frontier military duties.
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