YOUNG WASHINGTON IN THE WOODS

THE STORY OF A PERILOUS JOURNEY

No man ever lived whose name is more honored than that of George Washington, and no man ever deserved his fame more. All the success that ever came to him was won by hard work. He succeeded because he was the kind of man that he was, and not in the least because he had “a good chance” to distinguish himself. He never owed anything to “good luck,” nor even to a special education in the business of a soldier. Some men are called great because they have succeeded in doing great things; but he succeeded in doing great things because he was great in himself.

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Everybody who knew him, even as a boy, seems to have respected as well as liked him. There was something in his character which made men think well of him. When he was only sixteen years of age Lord Fairfax admired him to such a degree that he appointed him to a post which not many men would have been trusted to fill. He put the boy at the head of a surveying party, and sent him across the mountains to survey the valley of Virginia—a vast region which was then unsettled. So well did Washington perform this difficult and dangerous task that a few years later, when he was only twenty-one years old, the Governor of Virginia picked him out for a more delicate and dangerous piece of work.

The English colonies lay along the Atlantic coast, while the French held Canada. The country west of the Alleghany Mountains, which we now know as Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, etc., was claimed by both the French and the English, though only the Indians lived there. The French made friends of the savages, and began building forts at different points in that region, and putting soldiers there to keep the English away. The Governor of Virginia wanted to put a stop to this, and so he resolved to send a messenger into “the Great Woods,” as the western country was called, to warn the French off, and to win the friendship of the Indians if possible.

For such a service he needed a man with a cool head, good sense, great courage, and, above all, what boys call “grit;” for whoever should go would have to make his way for many hundreds of miles through a trackless wilderness, over mountains and rivers, and among hostile Indians. Young Washington had already shown what stuff he was made of, and, young as he was, he was regarded as a remarkable man. The governor therefore picked him out as the very best person for the work that was to be done.

It was November when Washington set out, and the weather was very cold and wet. He took four white men and two Indians with him, the white men being hunters who knew how to live in the woods. As the country they had to pass through was a wilderness, they had to carry all their supplies with them on pack-horses. They rode all day through the woods, and when night came slept in little tents by some spring or watercourse. Day after day they marched forward, until at last they reached an Indian village, near the spot where Pittsburgh now stands, and there they halted to make friends with the Indians.

by: George Cary Eggleston (1839-1911)

The following short story is reprinted from Strange Stories from History for Young People. George Cary Eggleston. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1885.

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