In October of 1753, George Washington, a 22-year-old major in the Virginia militia, volunteered to carry a letter from the governor of Virginia to the French commander of the forts recently built on the headwaters of the Ohio River in northwestern Pennsylvania. The French had recently expanded their military operations from the Great Lakes into the Ohio country, and had spent the summer of 1753 building forts and roads along the Allegheny River, with the design of linking their trade routes and sphere of influence down the Ohio to the Mississippi. Virginia governor Robert Dinwiddie believed them to be in violation of treaties and claims that made those territories part of Virginia and Pennsylvania, as granted by the British Crown, and his letter to the French commander instructed him to cease, desist, and depart from those regions.
Washington left Williamsburg, Virginia on October 31, 1753, and completed the round trip of more than 1,000 miles by horse, foot, canoe, and raft in about ten weeks. He was accompanied by Christopher Gist, an explorer and surveyor employed by the Ohio Company, by Jacob Van Braam, a French Interpreter, four Indian traders and baggage-men, and various Indian delegations and guards, including Tanacharison, known as the “Half-King.” Washington accomplished far more than the mere delivery of a letter: he practiced diplomacy to keep the Native leaders allied to the English cause; he interviewed French deserters and reported on the extent of French military posts between New Orleans and the Great Lakes; he reconnoitered the Forks of the Ohio with an eye to the proper site for building a fort; and he inspected and reported on the construction of the new French forts and made estimates of their strength and preparations for the following year’s expeditions.
When Washington arrived back in Williamsburg on January 16, 1754, Governor Dinwiddie immediately asked him to prepare a written report for the House of Burgesses. Dinwiddie then had this report printed, and it became very popular reading. The Virginia legislature was so pleased with his mission and his report that they voted him a £50 reward. The Journal of Major George Washington was reprinted in various colonial newspapers as far away as Boston, and a British edition was issued in London later that same year, for which Washington sent materials for the preparation of a map.
I've picked out some from the start of the journal to share here:
The excessive Rains and vast Quantity of Snow that had fallen, prevented our reaching Mr. Frazier's, an Indian Trader, at the Mouth of Turtle rock, on Monongahela, till Thursday, the 22nd, we were informed here, that Expresses were sent a few days ago to the Traders down the River, to acquaint them with the French General's Death, and the Return of the major Part of the French army into Winter Quarters.
The Waters were quite impassable, without swimming our Horses; which obliged us to get the loan of a Canoe from Frazier, and to send Barnaby Currin, and Henry Steward, down Monongahela with our Baggage, to meet us at the Forks at Ohio, about 10 miles, to cross Allegany.
As I got down before the Canoe, I spent some time in viewing the Rivers, and the Land in this Fork, as it has the absolute Command of both Rivers. The Land at the Point is 20 or 25 Feet above the common Surface of the Water, and a considerable Bottom of flat, well-timbered Land all around it, very convenient for Building; the Rivers are each a Quarter of a Mile, or more, across, and run here very near at right Angles; Allegany bearing N.E. and Monongahela S.E. the former of these two is a very rapid and swift running. Water, the other deep and still, without any perceptible Fall.
About two Miles from this, on the South East Side of the River, at the Place where the Obis Company intended to erect a Fort, lives Shingiss, King of the Delawares; we call'd upon him, to invite him to Council at the Loggs Town.
As I had taken a good deal of Notice Yesterday of the Situation of the Forks, my Curiosity led me to examine this more particularly, and I think it greatly inferior, either for Defence or Advantages; especially the latter, for a Fort at the Forks would be equally well situated on Ohio, and have the entire command of Monongahela, which runs up to our Settlements and is extremely well designed for Water Carriage, as it is of a deep still Nature; besides, a Fort at the Fork might be built at a much less Expense, than at the other Places.