Washington on his way to Pittsburgh, Aged twenty. Creator: William Stott, (print), ca. 1754. Published by R. Magee, No. 45, Chestnut St., Philadelphia
George Washington is a name that will always have a home in American history books. His history in Pennsylvania though, is different and not always covered. In Pennsylvania, he was George Washington before he was GEORGE WASHINGTON; he was one soldier in the French and Indian War before he was Commander-In-Chief in the Revolutionary War; he was one guy who almost died and would have been forgotten instead of the First President of the United States, Founding Father of our country, to be always remembered in the American heart.
He was born February 22, 1732, in Westmoreland County, Virginia. When he was young, his father died, leaving Washington to look up to his brother Lawrence. Wanting to follow in his brother’s footsteps, Washington became an adjutant of the Virginia militia. One of his first assignments, in 1753, was to carry a letter to the French warning them to get out of the Ohio Valley because it was British territory. On this trip he met Tanacharisson, also called the Half-King, who was an important Seneca chief.
A journal of George Washington’s details this first expedition into the Ohio Country, October 1753 – January 1754:
Other Washington artifacts that we have is this letter written in 1754 that document events leading up to the French and Indian war. In it, he announces the surrender of the fort “in the Forks of Monongahela.”
Fast-forward several years, and Washington goes from one war to the next.
This letter of Washington’s dates 1777, during the American Revolution. His correspondence with General Hand concerns the state of our very own Fort Pitt. Washington recognizes the state of the garrison at Fort Pitt and the attitude of the neighboring inhabitants in furnishing assistance. He tells Hand that he can keep any Continental troops except those of the 8th Pennsylvania Regiment. Any members of this regiment are to be sent to Washington’s camp.
This letter was written after the Battle of Germantown, which was technically a British victory but raised American spirits because they had almost won. Yet Washington and his men were still in the throes of war, as this letter was also written a little before the army settled at Valley Forge for the winter.
Even though this was a desperate time for George Washington, we all know how he pulled through, fought, won, and gained America her freedom. But, what if, back before the French and Indian War when he was just another soldier in Pennsylvania, what if he had died?
Washington Crossing the Allegheny River with his guide, Christopher Gist October 31, 1753.
Christopher Gist, Washington’s guide, wrote in his Third Journal,
Saturday [December] 29 .
We set out early, got to Alleghany, made a raft, and with much difficulty got over to an island, a little above Shannopin’s town. The Major [George Washington] having fallen in from off the raft, and my fingers frost-bitten, and the sun down, and very cold, we contented ourselves to encamp upon that island. It was deep water between us and the shore; but the cold did us some service, for in the morning it was frozen hard enough for us to pass over on the ice.
Washington wrote about the seriousness of the incident in his own journal: “But before we were Half Way over, we were jammed in the Ice, in such a Manner, that we expected every Moment our Raft to sink, and ourselves to perish.”
George Washington would have become a mere footnote on the pages of history books instead of the main subject of scores of them. The highlight of his short career would have been delivering that letter to the French; indeed, all the “events leading up to the French and Indian War” that he was involved in may not have even been noted because there may not have been any French and Indian War to lead up to. And let’s not even think about how the Revolutionary War would have gone, not to mention America, democracy, freedom.
However, this might be too much responsibility to place on the shoulders of one man (even if he was six feet tall). Hopefully, even if one great man hadn’t been around, others would have stepped up instead. As we know well, the American spirit isn’t only to be found in one man or woman. But, this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t celebrate that American spirit when it is found.
Written by student employee, Lauren Galloway.
McClung, Robert M. Young George Washington and the French and Indian War, 1753-1758. North Haven, CT: Linnet, 2002. Print.
Vickery, Paul. Washington: A Legacy of Leadership. Ed. Stephen Mansfield. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2010. Print. The Generals.