The Journal of Major Washington
In 1753 the Governor of Virginia, Robert Dinwiddie, sent Major George Washington (then only 21) into the Western reaches of the Colony to warn the encroaching French that they were trespassing on land that was claimed by Virginia for England. The land in question would eventually become Ohio.
Washington and his small expedition were to deliver an ultimatum to the French garrison at Fort Le Boeuf. Not far from Lake Erie. He was received by the French commander who told Washington that he would forward the request to his superiors in Quebec. In the meantime, they were going nowhere.
When the expedition kicked off Washington was sure to take experienced woodsmen, explorers, and interpreters with him. He was about to get his first taste of the true frontier. On his tour, he dealt with rain and snow, visited a number of French forts and even some native villages. Putting his skills as a surveyor to the test he even created one of the first maps of the Ohio River Valley. Realizing that he was not going to get the answer he was looking for Washington headed home.
As soon as he returned to Williamsburg Washington wrote out the official report of his trip and handed it over to Governor Dinwiddie who immediately saw it as a tool to warn people about the encroaching French menace. Dinwiddie had the journal published in book form and in broadsides and excerpts even showed up in newspapers in the colonies and back in England. Overnight Major George Washington became a name well-known at home and in the social circles in London.
The picture above is of one of the original copies of the published journal.
Dinwiddie would send Washington back to the Ohio River Valley on a second expedition to parley with the French. This one did not go as well. George Washington may have accidentally started a world war. One that would end with the British American colonies on a slippery slope to revolution. Too bad he didn’t keep a journal of THAT adventure!
The Symbol of Domination
The New World brought untold riches to the powers of the Old World. Gold, silver, furs, tobacco, and many, many other resources became the currency of conquest. There was however one other resource that can not be left off that list, souls. Religion, as is almost always the case, became a weapon and resource in the New World.
The natives that lived in North America had beliefs and religion of their own. That didn’t really matter. The Catholic Church, under the auspices of both Spain and France, saw the natives as savages and pagans. They sought to “rescue” their souls for God.
To do so they established missions all through the New World. These missions often became the center of life for many of the Europeans living in the frontier. They became crucial to not only gaining the support of the natives but converting them to Christianity.
In particularity unsafe or contested areas, sometimes these missions would become forts. From there they would be able to attack enemies and aggressively spread the word of God.
Not all native tribes took to the missionaries very well. They saw no reason to change their traditions and beliefs. There was an effort to make them more like the white man by encouraging them to move from the hunter/gatherer society they had always known to an agrarian based society. All too often the attempts to “civilize” the natives lead to bloody conflict that never ended well for them.
The crosses that are shown in the picture above came were found in the area of one of the old mission/forts. Where the meaning of cross to some is death and rebirth, to others it could just as easily be about the end of a way of life.
The Governor’s Palace At Williamsburg
The picture above is the Virginia Governors Palace at Colonial Williamsburg. Construction on the original building started in 1705 and continued off and on until 1718. That year Governor Spotswood finally took up residence. It was not totally completed, however. Lack of funds and growing expenses dragged the construction out. A total of nine Governors would live in the “palace”. Including such men at Robert Dinwiddie, John Murray, fourth Earl of Dunmore, Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson. In 1780 the capital moved to Richmond where it would stay.
The original palace burned down in 1781, and it pretty much stayed that way for a very long time. After the Revolution, the land was given over to the College of William & Mary and several instructional buildings took over the location. In 1928 The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation purchased the site and began an extensive archaeological survey of the site. During this survey, they were able to locate the original foundation and were able to get a good idea of the structure which for many had only ever existed in paintings of descriptions.
In 1929, armed with the results of the survey an extensive reconstruction of the original building started. In 1934 the restored building opened to the public and serves as a historic site and museum to this day.
Certainly one of the highlights of any trip to Williamsburg, there is no description that can possibly translate what it feels like to be standing on the top floor of that building and looking through the window, out over the town square and imagining what it was like in the days before the Revolution.
Shot in the Age of Sail!
Ah Yes! The Age of Sail. Tall ships, billowing canvas, wooden hulls cutting through the open water. It’s enough to make one a little teary eyed imagining the wind rushing past as you close into your enemy. Once you catch them what do you do? Turn your ship broadside and cut loose with your powerful cannons? Of course, but that old solid shot cannonball is only going to do so much damage. What you need is something, special…
In the picture above is an example of three different kinds of shot that would be fired from cannons during a naval engagement. Each would be used for a specific purpose against the enemy.
On the far left is Bar Shot. This consisted of two halves of a regular solid cannonball connected by an iron bar. When fired it would tumble through the air and tear into the enemy ships rigging and sails. No ropes, they could not control the sails. Big holes in the sails, nothing to drive the ship forward. They would be sitting ducks.
In the center is Chain Shot. Like the Bar Shot it consisted of two halves of a ball but this time connected with a chain, sometimes as long a six feet! When fired the balls tumble and the chain becomes fully extended. It would tear into the rigging and sails and cause devastation.
The far right has the real beauty. Grape Shot, or Cannister Shot. Usually wrapped in a canvas bag, or sometimes held in a metal canister, this shot effectively turned your cannon into a large shotgun. Not only could it tear through sails and ropes, but it was most effective against the personnel of the enemy.
These are not all the special tricks but used right they could take an enemy down before you even got close enough to board them. The end of the Age of Sail and the advent of armor sort of diminished their use over time.
Fort Dearborn or at Least a Model of it…
The frontier was a rough place during the colonial era, and after the American Revolution is was even more so. As America started moving West a series of forts were built along strategic points. The forts were built to keep an eye on the natives and British. Over time they quickly became hubs for settlers and merchants that looked to bring civilization to the wild lands.
In 1803 on the shores of Lake Michigan where the Chicago river feeds into a Fort Dearborn was built, named after the Secretary of War, Henry Dearborn. Once the fort was built it did not take long for it to become a thriving center of frontier life. So of course it would become a target.
During the War of 1812, the outpost commander General William Hull looked around and decided that being on the frontier, surrounded by enemies and with help a long way away it would be best to abandon the fort temporarily. A such he ordered an evacuation. Unfortunately in the middle of the evacuation a group of approximately 500 Potawatomi Indians took issue with that and proceeded to attack the evacuees. Killing a good number of them and selling the rest to the British. For good measure they burned down the fort.
The fort was rebuilt in 1816. It served on and off again to host garrisons during the various Indian uprisings of the era. In 1837 is was turned over to the city and basically decommissioned. Through the years construction, fire and the need for more land has destroyed most traces of the fort. The original placement is still marked in Chicago at the intersection of Wacker Drive and Michigan Ave. The model above shows the first iteration of the fort and is hosted at the Illinois State Military Museum.
Relics of the Frontier
In 1691 on the banks of the St. Joseph river in what would someday be South Western Michigan, the French built a fort that would become a mission that would have an incredible history. The fort was finally abandoned in 1795 and during the 100 years it traded hands between the French, The English, The Spanish, the English again, and eventually to the United States. That does not actually count any of the Indian incursions against the fort itself, but you get the idea.
Life on the frontier was not easy, and it took a certain breed of people to pull it off. Life in a frontier military post was not easy either. No one looked forward to being posted out in the boondocks. Long winters, lack of supplies, being at the end of the chain of fortifications meant you may not see reinforcements for a very long time. All said, not a happy place, but life goes on.
In 1998 the fort was “rediscovered” and since then it has become a fantastic archaeology site that has provided valuable insights into the life on the frontier, especially under four different flags. In the picture above are just a small sample of the relics that have been found. If only we knew the stories that came along with them.
Pictured above you have several firing mechanisms from a flint-lock rifles. Lead shot of various sizes, a very cool looking hammer/pry bar which could still be useful today. And a number of nails or fastening devices.
The New World was rich with resources which drew the interest of those in the Old World. For the Spanish Central and South America gave them gold, more gold than anyone ever thought existed. This gold fueled the Spanish Empire and caused the other nations in Europe to take notice.
France, England and The Netherlands looked upon North America with interest, some hoping to find the same gold that the Spanish found in the south, some hopping to find something even more valuable. One that they found, were beavers.
Yes, beaver, or more accurately their fur, spurred a gold rush of a different kind in North America and became a flash point for generations as France and England wrestled for control of the resource. The key though was relations with the Native Americans whose land this trade crisscrossed.
France looked upon the natives as partners in the endeavor, they did their best to treat them fairly and not subjugate them. Of course this was not purely altruistic. The French never colonized in the numbers that the British did and keeping on good terms with the natives was truly in their own self-interest,
The British took a slightly different view on the fur trade. They looked upon the natives as subjects and where the French were fairly free wheeling in their dealings, the English looked for a much more regimented structure and as their population grew, conflict with the natives and the French was inevitable.
And this all came on the back of the beaver and the incredible military uses that the little buggers provided. What? No military value? OK, then it must have been because of the beaver has a special gland that provides eternal life? No? Not that either huh? Yes, their fur was prized, and most of it went to the creation of hats. Yes, hats. The photo above shows a beaver pelt and the end product, a beaver pelt hat. A pelt and hat that would eventually lead to the founding of the United States of America.
The Thirteen Colonies
The colonies that would go on to become the United States of America were different and diverse societies among themselves. The idea that these separate entities would one day come together to form a nation is quite simply a miracle. In this book, The Thirteen Colonies, the origin and founding of these colonies is brought to splendid life by the author.
Starting with the discovery of the New World and the initial struggles that put all the major players on the field, each region and colony gets a its own treatment as we learn about the people who risked everything to create this new world. From their early struggles against nature and natives, to their simmering disagreements and differences among themselves, the story of the societies that made up these colonies is brought to life.
Special consideration should be given for the way that it deals with the French & Indian War (Seven Years War). This is topic that has spawned thousands of books on its own. The coverage of it here in this book is done well enough to serve as a primary for further study, it does not bog you down in the nitty-gritty, but does well enough to provide for the entire experience and the contribution of the colonies during this major world war. This portion alone is worth it.
One word of warning in regards to this book though. It is dry and written much more as an academic exercise than as any sort of adventure or novelization. Because of that many people not already engaged with the subject may find it boring and perhaps even a little hard to get though. Stick with it. Definitely worth the purchase.