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Chapter IV The Ambassador
 That man alone deserves to live who consistently makes a good use of his life. He who does not do so, really does not live at all, at least not in a human sense. He who understands life does not bury his talent, but constantly develops his gifts for his own good and that of his fellow men, and such a life is a worthy one. George Washington was now nineteen years old and already his fellow citizens gave him credit for a high degree of manly courage and judgment. This is proved by a circumstance which we are now going to relate.
The borders of Virginia were often disturbed by attacks by the French and Indians, so that the colonial government decided to prepare the men capable of bearing arms, or the militia, for defence. Virginia was divided into districts, over each of which an officer with the rank of major and the title of adjutant-general was placed. The pay was 150 pounds sterling yearly. This officer was expected to bring the militia of his district up to the highest grade of military efficiency. The high reputation which George Washington had won caused him to be offered such a post. It was thoroughly in accord with the tastes of his earliest youth, as we have already learned. But while accepting it he appreciated thoroughly all the responsibilities of the position. His first and most earnest care was to make himself master of all the knowledge and duties of his rank. Under the tutelage of his brother and of other officers who had seen active service, he studied the science of war and perfected himself in the use of the sword. Thus he was acquiring a new profession, in which he was to gain honor and fame. Before he had an opportunity, however, of testing his abilities in his new position, he had a painful duty to perform for his beloved brother Lawrence, whose lungs had become so affected that the doctors advised him to seek relief in the milder climate of the West Indies. The sick man wished George to accompany him, and he could not refuse such a request from his dearly beloved brother. They set sail in the Fall of 1751, returning in Midsummer of the following year, George enriched by new experiences and impressions, but distressed with the fear that his brother would not regain his health. The sick man had also given up hope and only came back because he wished to die at home. He did die very soon afterward, mourned sincerely by all who had been closely related to him or had had an opportunity of becoming acquainted with his amiable personality. Lawrence left a widow and little daughter. He had given his brother a part of his large fortune and made him executor of his will. The estate of Mount Vernon was to go to his daughter, or in the event of her death without heirs, to George. The widow was to enjoy the income from his estate for life.
As soon as Washington had settled these affairs he returned to his military duties. Governor Dinwiddie had in the meanwhile divided Virginia into four districts, and Washington, now twenty years old, was given charge of one of them. It was his duty to train the officers, as well as the men of his district, in military tactics. There was a particular reason for the new military partition of Virginia by the governor and for the zeal with which he sought to put the militia on a war footing. A quarrel had broken out between the English and French for the possession of the fertile lands stretching from the Allegheny Mountains to the Ohio River. The English governor Dinwiddie took possession of them for England and the governor of Canada for France. Both sides sought to gain over the Indian tribes that lived on the land or near it, so that on the outbreak of hostilities they might have their assistance. Both parties claimed a right to the Ohio region. It would have been hard to tell where the title really lay, but both sides were determined not to give way, but to let matters come to a crisis. This was why Governor Dinwiddie was so anxious to get the Virginia militia ready for action. The command came from England to erect two forts on the Ohio, but while the letter containing this order was crossing the ocean the French had already taken possession of part of the disputed territory. The English governor now determined to send an emissary to the French commander to make a last attempt at a peaceable adjustment, as well as to get some knowledge of the strength of the enemy and of his position.
The governor found no one so well fitted for this mission as George Washington. It was a difficult piece of work. It meant a journey of not less than 560 miles, principally through a region that was neither quite uninhabited nor peopled by Indian tribes of uncertain temper. An advantage in the negotiations was only to be gained by conducting them with the utmost circumspection and courage. Washington did not refuse the office which the governor had offered him, although he clearly recognized the difficulties of the mission. He immediately prepared for the eventful journey. As companions he had, besides his fencing master, an interpreter and four frontiersmen, of whom two were Indian traders. The journey was begun during the raw November days of 1753. The progress of the little company was much impeded by storms and snow. They had to ford streams and cross rivers on quickly improvised rafts. As they were nearing their goal, they met with Indians who were friendly to the English. One chief told them that he had explained to the French commander in a speech that the French had no right to take possession of the land. Of course the chief had not written his discourse, but he had preserved it, word for word, in his memory and could repeat it for Washington, who had the interpreter translate it for him, and he wrote it all down in his diary. As the speech is a very characteristic one, we shall give a part of it here. (Remember that it was addressed to the French commander.)
“Fathers,” said he, “you are disturbers of this land by building towns and taking it from us, by fraud or force. We kindled a fire long ago at Montreal, where we desired you to stay, and not to come and intrude upon our country. I now advise you to return thither, for this land is ours. If you had come in a peaceable manner, like our brothers the English, we should have traded with you as we do with them; but that you should come and take our possessions by force and build houses upon them is what we cannot submit to. Both you and the English are white. We live in a region between you both. The land belongs to neither of you. The Great Spirit allotted it to us as a home. So I desire you, as I have desired our brothers, the English, to withdraw, for I will keep you both at arm’s length. Whoever most regards this request, by them we will stand and consider them friends. Our brothers, the English, have heard this, and I now come to tell it to you.”
The Indian chief told them, however, that the French had won over several Indian tribes completely. After a few days Washington set out once more. The exceedingly difficult and dangerous journey to the headquarters of the French commander in the northern Ohio country lasted just one day less than six weeks. The Frenchman received Major Washington politely, but when the purpose of the mission was explained to him, refused any discussion of the disputed question, for he claimed that, as a soldier, his sole duty was to carry out the orders of his government. Thereupon Washington took all the more pains to fulfil the second part of his task and to obtain the most exact information possible relative to the strength of the French garrison and the situation of the fortifications. When he had informed himself sufficiently on these points, he started for home. The return was also very dangerous and toilsome. Several times the little company was ambushed by Indians who were friendly to the French, and for weeks they encamped on the snowy ground. Once Washington came near being drowned in a rushing stream. He notes this in his diary thus: “There was no way for getting over but on a raft, which we set about with but one poor hatchet, and finished just after sunsetting. This was a whole day’s work. We next got it launched, then went on board of it and set off, but before we were half way over, we were jammed in the ice in such a manner that we expected every moment our raft would sink and ourselves perish. I put out my setting-pole to try to stop the raft, that the ice might pass by, when the rapidity of the stream threw it with so much violence against the pole that it jerked me out into ten feet of water; but I fortunately saved myself by catching hold of one of the raft-logs. Notwithstanding all our efforts, we could not get to either shore, but were obliged, as we were near an island, to quit our raft and make to it.” After such an adventure, think of the night on a desert island! And they could not even expect succor in the morning! But the unexpected happened. Cakes of ice piled up on one side of the island in such a way that they were able to gain the shore. In the middle of January, 1754, Washington reached home and the next day made his report to the governor.


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