Ohio History Journal





To us of the central west the memory of Washington and

his dearest ambitions must be precious beyond that of any other

American, whether statesman, general or seer. Under strange

providential guidance the mind and heart of that first American

was turned toward the territories lying between the Alleghenies

and the Mississippi and it is to be doubted if any other portion

of his country received so much of his attention and study as

this. Washington was the original expansionist-not for ex-

pansion's sake, truly, but for the country's sake and duty's. If

Washington was the father of his country he was in a stronger

and more genuine sense the father of the west. It was begot-

ten of him. Others might have led the revolutionary armies

through the valleys as deep and dark as those through which

Washington passed, and have eventually fought England to

a similar standstill as did Washington; at least Gates and Greene

and Putnam would never have surrendered up the cause of the

colonies. But of the west who knew it as Washington did?

Who saw its possibilities, realized the advantages which would

accrue to the colonies from its possession, understood the part

it might play in the commercial development of the seaboard

states? Probably no one to a similar degree.

It is wholly idle to speculate upon what might have been

unless such speculation aids to help us realize the price which

was paid for that which is. If ever a finger was lifted by order

of Providence it was the finger which fired the first gun of the

French and Indian war in that Allegheny vale. And yet today

what would the Washington of 1754 be called-fighting redskins

and foreigners with splendid relish in a far distant portion of

the country to gain possession of a pathless wilderness?

Washington had, first, an extraordinary knowledge of the

west which he championed. Into Lord Fairfax's wild acres

he went in his teens to earn an honest doubloon a day. Each


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206      Ohio Arch. and His. Society Publications.


step of the young Washington in those early years was frought

with the weight of destiny itself, and never has human life showed

more plainly the very hand of God directing, preparing, guiding.

The years spent with the tripod were of incalculable value to

the young surveyor, bringing to his cheeks the brown of the

forest leaves, to his limbs the strength of the mountain rivers,

and to his heart withal the sweetness of the songs of moun-

tain birds-for all the University of Nature which he attended

in the Allegheny mountains saw to it that her pupil was built

up in a most holy strength, as he had in him the most holy

faith-strength of limb, of mind, as well as soul.

Then the young man stepped upon the stage of history

- not indirectly or obscurely or undecidedly, but plain to the

world and strong in his conviction of the right of his cause and

its ultimate triumph. His mission to La Boeuf for Governor

Dinwiddie marks the young Washington conspicuously as a

man fully alive to the questions of the hour and their hidden

meanings.  In an unostentatious way he allowed the com-

mander of Fort Venango to imbibe too freely and rail

with many an oath at English presumption in hoping to oust

France from the Ohio valley. Oh that we might know in detail

the young man's experience and feelings on that one night on

the Allegheny! What an example to young men is this first

public performance of Washington to do as much more than

their mere duty as lies in their power! Washington did far

more than was expected of him, for besides getting a clear idea

of the genuineness of French hostility, did he not report the

strategic value of the point of land at the junction of the

Allegheny and Monongahela, the future sight of Forts Dupuesne

and Pitt and the present Pittsburg? And that point of land

has been since Washington's attention was turned to it, the stra-

tegic military position of the central west.

As in the first, so in the second act of the drama of 1750-

60, Washington was the chief figure. He signed the first

treaty ever drawn up in the central west, with old Van Braam

and Villiers in a misty rain at Fort Necessity. When, in quick

succession, the French fortified the spot Washington's genius

had selected for a British fort, and the brave but blundering

The Debt of the West to Washington

The Debt of the West to Washington.        207

Braddock came to his grave in the Monongahela forests, Wash-

ington was perhaps the most conspicuous personage at the

bloody ford and battle field.

When, then, in 1759, the young Colonel took his bride, Martha

Custis, to Mount Vernon, he was well acquainted with the then

west, though it might seem that thereafter its destiny and his

were to be indifferent to each other. But not so. The days

that were passed in his early struggles for fame and fortune

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were not forgotten. In the quiet of his farm life the man could

still hear the rippling of the Allegheny streams and the sough-

ing of those great forests, and many of his day dreams found

their setting in the rough free land, on whose Indian trails and

in whose meadow   lands he had first touched hands with

fortune. Washington's seven or eight thousand acres near the

Potomac were not his only landed possessions. He counted

his estates in far western Pennsylvania, along the Ohio and the

Great Kanawha. Something of his interest in and solicitation

for the future of the west must be attributed to his interest in

his own possessions. But his efforts for the west benefited

every acre of land and every insignificant squatter, and no one

can say with a shadow of reason that Washington's hope for

the west was a selfish hope. But his personal interest must not

be forgotten by the fair narrator. Together with his personal

interest must be mentioned the state pride which Washington had

-and which every healthy, hopeful, patriotic man should have.

Washington was a Virginian of Virginians and in view of the

vast interests which his native state had in the west (granted

by ancient charter) his state pride and ambition must have

had large appreciable influence in his contemplation of western

affairs. Prior to the Revolution it may be said that Washing-

ton's interest in the west was largely a personal interest. He

visited it at various times in his own and in the interest of others.

And after the Revolution his interest may be said to have broad-

ened- proportionately with the broadening importance of the

central west to the nation whose best interests were ever nearest

his patriotic heart. Early in the 80s Washington's correspon-

dence shows that his attention was devoted as never before to

the commercial aspect of the central west. As we read those

letters how strangely do the problems of transportation, for

instance, seem to us of this day. How the sight of a single fast

freight speeding from Chicago to Pittsburg would have knocked

the bottom out of the fondest theories of the great and wise men

who were at the nation's helm in those days! It is well known

how great transportation companies struggle to get and hold

certain strategic acres of land only wide enough, it may be,

for a single railway track. Can anyone believe that any por-

The Debt of the West to Washington

The Debt of the West to Washington.        209

tion of this central west between the Allegheny and Mississippi;

covered with swamps and primeval forests, could have been

so greatly prized a century and a quarter ago? Yet this was

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true. It was not the river front at Cincinnati, or the lake shore

at Cleveland or Chicago. These spots then could have been

bought for the shortest songs-and what was in that day con-

sidered of priceless value could today be bought for $30 an

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acre. I refer to the portages between the head waters of the

streams which flow into the lakes and those which flow into

the Ohio-between the Cuyahoga and the Muskingum, the Scioto

and the Sandusky, the Maumee and the Wabash, etc. So all-

important were these strips of land in the eyes of our forefathers,

that by the famous Ordinance of 1787 they were voted by con-

gress "common highways and forever free". Some of these

I have found; of some of them I have detailed descriptions given

by aged men, who remember them when they were only zig-zag

Indian trails. But this was one of Washington's most deter-

mined ambitions, that the head waters of the Virginia rivers

and the head waters of the Oho rivers, both north and south,

should be surveyed and made ready for the century when the

west should pour its riches toward the Atlantic seaboard. "The

navigation of the Ohio." he wrote in 1784 to General Harrison,

"being well known, they will have less to do in examination

of it; but, nevertheless, let the courses and distances be taken

to the mouth of the Muskingum and up that river to the carry-

ing place of the Cuyahoga; down the Cuyahoga to Lake Erie,

and thence to Detroit. Let them do the same with Big Bea-

ver creek and with the Scioto. In a word, let the waters east

and west of the Ohio which invite our notice by their proxim-

ity, and by the ease with which land transportation may be had

between them and the lakes on the one side, and the rivers

Potomac and James on the other, be explored, accurately de-

lineated and a correct and corrected map of the whole be pre-

sented to the public. * * * The object in my estimation

is of vast commercial and political importance." These words

were written little over a century ago, but were they the plans

for the canals from the Nile to the site of the pyramids they

could hardly seem more antiquated! And nevertheless they

cannot but seem precious to us of the central west, for they portray

the anxious, serious heart of the man, and his honest, high am-

bitions for things which seemed to many about him to be the

idlest dreaming.

Had Washington not held far different views from many

of his contemporaries, it is a moral certainty that the central

west would, at the close of the Revolutionary war, have been

The Debt of the West to Washington

The Debt of the West to Washington.       211

divided up among European powers, who for so long had been

sending emissaries to Kentucky and the Mississippi valley to

alienate the border settlements from the contemplated union with

the colonies. England was ready at any moment to urge Joseph

Brant into Pontiac's old role of attemptingto arouse the old north-

west, and she defiantly kept her flag floating over Sandusky

and Detroit and Fort Miami for twenty years after Cornwallis'

bands played "The world's turned upside down" at Yorktown.

The world looked for a partition of our west among the powers

in 1780 as confidently as the partition of the great hulk China

is expected by many today. And indeed we escaped such mon-

trous catastrophe by a narrower margin than is commonly known.

Spanish agents among high Kentuckians were looked upon with

favor, and their plan of joining Kentucky to Spain (who then

held all the trans-Mississippi realm) was not without advantages

which the struggling, bankrupt, jealous colonies, one "nation

today, thirteen tomorrow," could not possibly offer.

With this glimpse of Washington's ambitions for the com-

mercial advancement of the central west, let us notice his subse-

quent interest in the military operations for its subjugation,

an item which even the farseeing Washington had not fully

anticipated. At the time of Crawford's campaign, Washington

was fully in favor of the advance toward Sandusky, and it was

through his influence or suggestion that the command was

given to his old friend of Revolutionary days, Colonel William

Crawford. True, Crawford was duly elected by the men he

led, but his presence in the expedition was due to Washington's

influence. When the immortal Ordinance was under discus-

sion Washington's attitude was strong in its favor, and it incor-

porated, as has already been shown, his idea of the value of

the portages between the rivers as the future routes of com-

merce. During the long and bitter war with the western In-

dians, 1790-5, Washington had a clearer vision than the most of

his advisers, and with better judgment and knowledge sought to

gain the ends best for the nation. His "search for a man" was

nearly as pathetic as was Lincoln's in another century, but,

despite the intense opposition of Kentucky with its seventy thous-

and inhabitants, he placed Mad Anthony Wayne in command,

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who, in the tall grass and felled trees of Fallen Timbers, justi-

fied his choice, as Appomattox justified Lincoln's.  After

the campaign of 1791 under Harmar and the terrible defeat of

the brave St. Clair, Washington was the hope of the west. To

him the nation looked with that same confidence shown in the

darker and more desperate days of the Revolution. He bore the

the brunt of criticism and carried on his great heart the sorrows

of the bleeding frontier. No one knew better than he the real

meaning of the situation. No one saw with clearer eyes the

despicable affiliation of British interests with Indian in the last

hope of limiting the territories of the upstart colonies to the land

east of the mountains. And, while Jay was heroically working

for the treaty which at once quenched the dreams of certain

British leaders in America, Washington wrote him the whole

situation, as follows: "All the difficulties we encounter with the

Indians, their hostilities, the murder of helpless women and chil-

dren along all our frontiers result from the conduct of the agents

of Great Britain in this country."

Truly Washington was in a special sense the father of this

central west. It is idle to speculate on what might have been its

history had it not been championed from the earliest day by

this great farseeing man in whom the people of the nation, as

a people, believed and trusted as perhaps no leader in history,

with the possible exception of William the Silent, has ever been

trusted by his countrymen. Many of Washington's plans seem

strange to us of today, just in proportion as the times and the cus-

toms of his day are strange to our eyes. But his eye was clear, he

saw greater possibilities than many of his advisors, his great

heart warmed toward the new west, which in his day was sound-

ing with axes ringing a pioneer's welcome to a new land. In

his heart of hearts Washington was led to believe in and foresee

the dispensation of Providence which has become the wonder of

our time. And this belief appeared not in theorizing alone.

What could he do toward creating right conceptions concerning

the future of the Mississippi Basin, Washington did; and if he

had not so done and so believed it is sure that the progress of

these great empires between the Allegheny and the Mississippi

The Debt of the West to Washington

The Debt of the West to Washington.      213

and the Great Lakes and the Blue Ridge would not have been

what it has.

Has this been sufficiently realized? Have we remembered

and appreciated our debt to Washington? And when our united

appreciation of the fact influences these imperial commonwealths

to put on record in lasting form the gratitude which should be felt,

let the monument rise tall and stately from whatever site may

seem appropriate, but let it show at the summit the young man

Washington, as he was when he came to know the west best.

Clothe him in the ranger's costume that he first wore on the In-

dian trails of the Ohio valley. Place in his hand the old time

musket he bore to Fort La Boeuf, or carried in his canoe

down the Ohio to the Great Kanawha. That is the WASHING-

TON OF THE WEST-the fearless, dutiful, thoughtful youth, who

came from his mother's knee to the west that gave him a fame

which he never could outgrow.