George Washington’s Journal
The Maryland Gazette featuring
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The issues of The Maryland Gazette dated March 21, 1754 and March 28, 1754 contain in two installments the complete account of Major George Washington’s Journal of his trip to the Ohio River.
It is the first American printing in a newspaper of one of the most important documents in early American history. Washington’s Journal was first published in a pamphlet in Williamsburg, Virginia.
Because of its historical significance and its rarity (most Americans are unaware of its existence), these two issues of The Maryland Gazette can be viewed here in their entirety…..exactly as Washington wrote it, down to the last comma, period and apostrophe.
It is available for downloading at no charge to historians, scholars and institutions who wish to secure a copy for their archives. In fact, as a matter of policy and in the interests of giving this document the widest possible distribution, we encourage interested parties to do so.
Also included in the March 28 issue online at this site is the full text of Virginia Governor Robert Dinwiddie’s letter to the commandant of the French forces on the Ohio, and which was presented by George Washington.
The letter reads in part: “It is a matter of equal concern and surprise to me, to hear that a body of French Forces are erecting fortresses and making settlements upon that River…
“The many and repeated Complaints I have received of these Acts of hostility, lay me under the necessity of sending … the bearer thereof, George Washington, Esq., … to complain to you of the Encroachments thus made…and of the injuries done … in open violation … between the two Crowns …”
The Maryland Gazette containing George Washington’s Journal is historically significant because publication directly resulted in The French and Indian War. The Journal also represents an historical marker in that it established the young officer’s reputation as a leader. It is not an understatement to say that Washington made his name with the publication of his Journal.
In the early part of the 1750s French and English forces were expanding into the Ohio Valley, both forming alliances with Indian tribes and setting up trading encampments.
In 1753 the French took possession of a tract of land within the chartered limits of Virginia. They then proceeded to erect a chain of military posts from Canada to the Ohio River. All the while, French soldiers and traders made their way up from the south and down from the north, taking possession of the Ohio country.
The French encroachments on the English settlements forced Virginia Governor Robert Dinwiddie to send a commission to warn the French to halt their advances. However, the commission stopped 150 miles short of the French posts and turned back after witnessing the slaughter and defeat of the Indians by the French.
An officer in the Virginia forces — Major George Washington — was recommended to Dinwiddie as an up-and-coming light, someone who might accomplish the mission.
Although only 21 years old, Washington was appointed by Dinwiddie to go into the Ohio Valley and deliver a letter to the commander of the French forces, warning him against their actions in violating British rule over those lands. In addition, Washington was to observe French activity and enforcements, and make friends with the Indian tribes.
On October 31, 1753 Major Washington set out from Williamsburg with a small band of men experienced in the ways of the wilderness. The group consisted of Jacob Van Braam, a Dutch soldier of fortune and French interpreter; Christopher Gist, a Virginia frontiersman of great renown; two servitors; two Indian traders and accompanying horses.
During Washington’s 78 days in the wilderness he met with chiefs of the Indian nations and delivered Gov. Dinwiddie’s letter to the French Commandant, LeGardour de St. Pierre. In a private meeting with Major Washington the French Commandant refused to back down.
On their return to Williamsburg Washington’s entourage encountered bitter cold, deep snow, ice and freezing rain. At one point Washington writes in his Journal “…our horses were now so weak and feeble, and the baggage heavy….therefore myself and others gave up our horses for packs…”
Washington disguised himself in Indian dress while he and Gist decided to return alone on foot. While traveling through the woods they ran into an ambush of French Indians. One of the Indians…”not 15 steps away”… fired at the pair but missed.
While crossing a turbulent river on a homemade raft, Washington was thrown off into 10 feet of water. The weather was so severe, he writes in his Journal, “that Mr. Gist had all his fingers, and some of his toes frozen.”
Washington returned to Williamsburg on January 16, 1754. He spent the entire next day writing his account from the entries he had made during the course of the trip. The following day — January 18 — his Journal was presented to the Virginia Assembly which immediately raised a regiment of 300 men to defend their frontiers and maintain England’s rights over the disputed territory.
Henry Cabot Lodge, George Washington. Washington, D.C. 1898.
David Ramsay, The Life of George Washington. New York. 1807.
John F. Schroeder, Life and Times of Washington. New York. 1857.
Charles H. Ambler, George Washington and The West. The University of North Carolina Press, 1936.
W.W. Abbot et al, The Papers of George Washington. Charlottesville, Virginia. 29 volumes to date. 1983–.
Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, The Diaries of George Washington. Charlottesville, Virginia. 6 volumes.1976-1979.