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At the age of ten years, by the death of his father, he was left in the sole care of a solicitous mother, She
gave him a private education. A grammatical knowledge of the English language, mathematicks, geography, history, natural and moral philosophy, to the exclusion of the learned languages, formed the course of his youthful studies.
The candour and manliness of his disposition were early displayed among his young companions, and the commanding influence of his character was first discovered by his ascendency over them.
The patrimonial estate of Mr. Washington was small, After the completion of his course with his tutor, he was engaged in useful industry ; and for several years of his minority, employed as a county surveyor. In this employment he distinguished himself by his diligence, and by the neatness and accuracy of his plans. His experience in this business made him well acquainted with the worth of new lands, and aided him afterwards in their selection.
The military bias of his mind was early discovered. The war between England and France in 1747 kindled in his young breast that spark, which at a subsequent period burst into a flame; and at his own importunity, the birth of a' midshipman, at the age of fifteen, was obtained in the British navy. His views in this instance were defeated by the anxiety of an affectionate mother.
At a time when the militia was to be trained for actual service, at nineteen he was appointed one of
the adjutant generals of Virginia, with the rank of major ; froin the execution of the duties of this commission, honourable to his age, he was soon called to higher employments.
France at this period unfolded her ambitious de. sign of connecting Canada with Louisiana, and in this way of enclosing the British colonies in North America. Her officers were directed to establish a line of posts from the lakes to the Ohio. This tract of country, the English held to be within the boundaries of Virginia. Mr. Dinwiddie, then the Lieutenant Governour of the province, alarmed by encroachments, which involved the important interests of the British crown, conceived it proper officially to warn the French to desist from the prosecution of a scheme, deemed a violation of existing treaties between the two countries.
It was difficult to select a proper agent to execute this perilous mission. He must pass through an unexplored wilderness,filled by tribes of Indians; some of which were doubtful friends, and many the decided enemies of the English. The fatigues and dangers which induced other Virginians to decline the com. mission of erivoy on this occasion, led Mr. WASHINGTON with ardour to seek the appointment.
The very day on which he received his Oct. 31. commission he commenced his journey
from Williamsburg. At Winchester he procured the necessary provisions, baggage and horses. On the fourteenth of November he reached Will's Creek, the frontier of inhabited Vir.
ginia ; here he hired a pilot, and four other attendants, to accompany him over the Alleghany mountains ; the passage of which was now attended with difficulty and hazard. The weather became incessantly stormy, and the snow deep ; and he was unable to arrive at Turtle Creek, on the mouth of the Monongahela before the 22d. Here he was informed of the death of the French General, and that his troops had retired to winter quarters. With extreme fatigue he pursued his journey ; sur. veyed the country with the judgment of a soldier, and selected the forks of the Monongahela and Al. leghany rivers, as a place highly expedient for the English to possess and fortify. On this site the French soon after erected Fort du Quesne, which, when the British General Forbes gained the possession, he called Fort Pitt.
In this place he spent a few days to conciliate the affections of the Indians of the vicinity. Some of their chiefs, whose fidelity he took the wisest meas. ures to secure, he engaged as guides, with them, ascended the Alleghany river, and at the mouth of French Creek found the first French post. Pro. ceeding up the creek to another fort, he met Monsieur le Gardeur de St. Pierre, the commanding officer on the Ohio, and to him he delivered Governour Dinwiddie's letter. Within three or four days he received an official answer to his communication, and immediately left the place on his return ; but the snow being excessively deep, and his horses growing weak from fatigue, he became impatient at the slowness of his progress. Leaving there. fore his horses with necessary directions, in the care of his attendants, he and his pilot wrapt them. selves in watch coats, took his important papers, and the necessary provisions in their packs, and with their guns in their hands, prosecuted the journey on foot the nearest way through the woods. The next day, December 26, as he passed a place, called the Mur. dering town, he fell in with a party of French Indians, which laid in wait for him ; one of them not fifteen steps distant fired, but without effect. They took him into custody, and kept him until nine o'clock at night, then let him go, and walked themselves all the remaining part of the night, without making any stop, that they might be out of the reach of pursuit the next day, supposing that the Indians would then follow their track. The second day he reached the river two miles above the Shannapis, expecting to find it frozen over ; but the ice extended only fifty yards from the shore; though quantities of it were driving in the channel. A raft was their only means of passing, and they had but one poor hatchet with which to make it. It cost them a hard day's work to form the raft; the next day they launched it, went on board, and attempted the passage ; but before they were half way over they were enclosed by masses of ice, and threatened with immediate destruction. Mr. WASHINGTON put down his setting pole to stop the raft, that the ice might pass by, but the rapidity of the current threw the ice with such force against the pole, that it jerked him out ir ten feet water. But fortunately he saved himself by seizing one of the raft logs. With their utmost efforts they were unable to reach either shore, but with difficulty they landed on an island. The cold was so severe, that Mr. Gist the Pilot had his hands and feet frozen, The next morning, without hazard they passed the river on the ice, and were received into the lodgings of Mr. Frazier, an Indian trader. Here Major WASHINGTON took a horse, and on the 16th January 1754, reached Williamsburg, and made report of his proceedings.
The fatigue and danger of this mission, are not casily conceived by persons in the bosom of civilized life. “From the 1st to the 15th of December," says Major WASHINGTON, “there was but one day in which it did not rain or snow incessantly,and through the whole journey there was but one continued series of cold, wet weather.” The journal composed for the perusal of Governour Dinwiddie, was published, and the enterprise, judgment, and perseverance displayed in this mission exalted Mr. WASHINGTON in public opinion ; and gave his country an earnest of his future services.
The embassy to the Ohio, not having induced the French to withdraw from that country, the assembly of Virginia adopted measures to maintain the claims of the British crown. They empowered the executive of the Colony to raise a regiment to consist of three hurdred men.
Mr. Fry, a gentleman acquainted with the western country, was appointed to command it, and the commission of Lieut,