George Washington Requests Three Months’ Pay as Colonel of Virginia Militia, 1754 Extremely Rare this Early
Washington asks that the paymaster convey his pay for the final three months of his first military service to fellow planter, merchant, and commissary John Carlyle. Resenting the subordination of all provincial officers of whatever rank to any officer with the king's commission and poor pay, Washington had resigned as colonel of the Virginia Regiment.
GEORGE WASHINGTON, Autograph Document Signed, Order to Paymaster of the Virginia Forces, November 18, 1754, [Belvoir or Mount Vernon, Virginia]. 1 p., 7.375ʺ x 4.5ʺ. Soiled; some closed fold separations; a few words faded from dampstaining.
Please to pay to Major Carlyle the Sum of Sixty Nine pounds Cury my pay from the 29th of July to the 29th of October and you’ll oblige yr Hble Servt
November ye 18th 1754
To the Paymaster of the
The events that began just before this document sparked the French and Indian War (1754-1763) in North America, which escalated into the global Seven Years' War (1756-1763) between France and Great Britain.
In March 1754, Virginia’s Royal Governor Robert Dinwiddie commissioned George Washington a lieutenant colonel and ordered him to drive the French from the strategically significant forks of the Ohio River (at modern Pittsburgh). On May 28, Washington and thirty men with a few Native American allies attacked and defeated a small French force under the command of Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville in a short battle that left Jumonville and a few other French soldiers dead and the rest captured. Accounts varied dramatically on who killed Jumonville and how, but his death proved controversial. The French accused Washington of having ordered the assassination of Jumonville.
Washington’s forces finished constructing Fort Necessity at Great Meadows, approximately 50 miles southeast of the French Fort Duquesne at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers, on June 2. They also continued building a road toward the forks of the Ohio River. A force of 700 French and Indians surrounded Fort Necessity and forced Washington to surrender his 400 men on July 3.
During negotiations for the surrender, the French offered terms that would allow Washington and his men to return to Virginia. The Americans' interpreter Jacob Van Braam gave the message to Washington, who agreed to the terms. The hastily scribbled and poorly translated surrender document that Washington signed included an admission that his forces had "assassinated" Jumonville. When he later saw the published text in English, Washington denied the charge, claiming the French translator altered what had been agreed. In any case, Washington and his men withdrew from Fort Necessity.
Washington returned to Williamsburg by July 17 and gave his account of the surrender of his forces, which was published in the Virginia Gazette on July 19. Leaving to rejoin his regiment in northern Virginia, he arrived in Alexandria early in August. There, under orders from Governor Dinwiddie, he was recruiting for the next expedition against the French. Virginia’s failure to pay his troops led to unrest, misconduct and several desertions. Dinwiddie sent Washington £600 in early August to be distributed to the soldiers. Washington expressed misgivings about a new expedition due to the lack of manpower and supplies, in addition to poor morale and bad weather.
On September 11, Dinwiddie informed Washington that the Council had rejected the House of Burgesses' supply bill and that he had prorogued the Assembly for six weeks. He admitted an expedition against the French at Fort Necessity was no longer feasible and ordered Washington to send a detachment to Augusta County and to march with the rest of his forces to Wills Creek (modern Cumberland, Maryland), where his soldiers constructed Fort Mount Pleasant and awaited further orders.
Washington returned to Williamsburg on October 21 to settle the accounts of his regiment. On September 15, 1754, the House of Burgesses had voted that "the Thanks of this House be given to Colo. George Washington, Captn Mackay of his Majesty’s independent Company, and the Officers under his Command; Major Adam Stephens [and several others]...for their late gallant and brave Behaviour in the Defense of their Country; and That the Speaker be desired to acquaint him of the same, to desire him to inform the other Gentlemen of it, and to communicate to the Soldiers the just Sense this House have of their Bravery also." Washington received this message when he arrived in Williamsburg and responded on October 23: "Nothing could have given me, and the Officers under my command, greater satisfaction, than to have received the thanks of the House of Burgesses, in so particular and honourable a manner, for our Behaviour in the late unsuccessful Engagement with the French at the Great-Meadows; and we unanimously hope, that our future Conduct in the Service of our Country, may entitle us to a continuance of its approbation."
In protest against the underpayment of colonial officers and the policy that all colonial officers were subordinate to all British officers regardless of rank, Washington resigned his appointment in the Virginia militia later that month.
In the spring of 1755, Washington seized an opportunity to return to service. Frustrated that British regular officers looked down on his Virginia militia rank, Washington served as an unpaid aide to General Braddock, rather than resume his militia rank. Braddock's defeat and death at Fort Duquesne threw the Virginia-Pennsylvania frontier into chaos. Despite prior differences, Dinwiddie commissioned the twenty-three-year-old Washington as commander-in-chief of all Virginia forces, with the rank of colonel. Although he failed to gain a royal commission, he did convince Governor William Shirley to issue a decree that militia officers would outrank British officers of lower (but not equal) rank. Washington's principal responsibility was protecting the vast Virginia frontier against the raids of the French and their Indian allies. One of the chief obstacles he faced was the arrogant noncooperation of regular British troops who refused to accept the colonists as equals.
John Carlyle (1720-1780) was born in England into a Scottish family. In 1741, he immigrated to Virginia and worked as an agent for English merchant William Hicks. In 1747, he married Sarah Fairfax (1730-1761) of one of the most influential families in Virginia. He built a house in Alexandria and owned thousands of acres in Virginia, including three plantations. He and George Washington were friends and fellow planters. In January 1754, Carlyle received appointment as commissary of provisions and stores for Virginia with the rank of major. Three months later, he wrote to his brother, "The post is attended with great trouble & fatigue & care, tho little risque & the profit makes up for the fatigue." By July, however, even with six deputies, Carlyle described the position as "the most troublesome one Ive had." In 1755, Major-General Edward Braddock used Carlyle’s house as his headquarters, where he planned his ill-fated expedition to Fort Duquesne over Washington's objections.
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