George Washington: The Forge of Experience, 1732-1775

By James Thomas Flexner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER
6
Forest Adventure

IT WAS OCTOBER in 1753. At this season Washington had, in past years, brought to a close his surveys in the Shenandoah Valley and gone home. Now, though winter approached, his duty was to leave behind all settlements for that wilderness where the white world shrank to the strength of a sinew and the aim of a firearm; where another order of men, painted and strange, moved with the astounding ease of fish in the ocean. And every step would carry him closer to a European enemy who might fire or suborn secret shots in the forest. George Washington could simply disappear.

He knew none of the languages of those with whom he would deal. To help him negotiate with the white enemy, he selected a Dutchman, Jacob van Braam, who advertised as a French teacher and whose knowledge of that language was at least attested to by the badness of his English. To guide him with the savages and in wilderness travel, Washington had been instructed by Dinwiddie to enlist Christopher Gist. A rough frontiersman, Gist had previously conducted negotiations with the tribes for both Virginia and the Ohio Company. Washington was to discover that, although he seemed "well acquainted with the Indians' manners and customs," he "knows but little of their language." 1 Four "servitors" from the most ignorant class that

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