The True George Washington: Friends: Military Friends

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff

Military Friends

One of the most curious circle of friends was that composed of Indians. After his mission among them in 1753, Washington wrote to a tribe and signed himself "your friend and brother." In a less general sense he requested an Indian agent to "recommend me kindly to Mononcatoocha and others; tell them how happy it would make Conotocarius to have an opportunity of taking them by the hand." A little later he had this pleasure, and he wrote the governor, "the Indians are all around teasing and perplexing me for one thing or another, so that I scarce know what I write." When Washington left the frontier this intercourse ceased, but he was not forgotten, for in descending the Ohio in his Western trip of 1770 a hunting party was met, and "in the person of Kiashuto I found an old acquaintance, he being one of the Indians that went [with me] to the French in 1753. He expressed satisfaction at seeing me, and treated us with great kindness, giving us a quarter of very fine buffalo. He insisted upon our spending that night with him, and, in order to retard us as little as possible moved his camp down the river."

With his appointment to the Virginia regiment came military friends. From the earliest of these?Van Braam, who had served under Lawrence Washington in the Carthagena expedition of 1742, and who had come to live at Mount Vernon?Washington had previously taken lessons in fencing, and when appointed the bearer of a letter to the French commander on the Ohio he took Van Braam with him as interpreter. A little later, on receiving his majority, Washington appointed Van Braam his recruiting lieutenant, and recommended him to the governor for a captain's commission on the grounds that he was "an experienced good officer." To Van Braam fell the duty of translating the capitulation to the French at Fort Necessity, and to his reading was laid the blunder by which Washington signed a statement acknowledging himself as an "assassin." Inconsequence he became the scapegoat of the expedition, was charged by the governor with being a "poltroon" and traitor, and was omitted from the Assembly's vote of thanks and extra pay to the regiment. But Washington stood by him, and when himself burgess succeeded in getting this latter vote rescinded.

Another friend of the same period was the Chevalier Peyroney, whom Washington first made an ensign, and then urged the governor to advance him, promising that if the governor "should be pleased to indulge me in this request, I shall look upon it in a very particular light." Peyroney was badly wounded at Fort Necessity and was furloughed, during which he wrote his commander, "I have made my particular Business to tray if any had some Bad intention against you here Below; But thank God I meet allowais with a good wish for you from evry Mouth each one entertining such Caracter of you as I have the honour to do myself." He served again in the Braddock march, and in that fiasco, Washington wrote, "Captain Peyroney and all his officers down to a corporal, was killed."

With Captain Stewart?"a gentleman whose assiduity and military capacity are second to none in our Service"?Washington was intimate enough to have Stewart apply in 1763 for four hundred pounds to aid him to purchase a commission, a sum Washington did not have at his disposal. But because of "a regard of that high nature that I could never see you uneasy without feeling a part and wishing to remove the cause," Washington lent him three hundred pounds towards it, apparently without much return, for some years later he wrote to a friend that he was "very glad to learn that my friend Stewart was well when you left London. I have not had a letter from him these five years." At the close of the Revolution he received a letter from Stewart containing "affectionate and flattering expressions," which gave Washington "much pleasure," as it "removed an apprehension I had long labored under, of your having taken your departure for the land of Spirits. How else could I account for a silence of 15 years. I shall always be happy to see you at Mt. Vernon."

His friend William Ramsay?"well known, well-esteemed, and of unblemished character"?he appointed commissary, and long after, in 1769, wrote,?

"Having once or twice of late heard you speak highly in praise of the Jersey College, as if you had a desire of sending your son William there ... I should be glad, if you have no other objection to it than what may arise from the expense, if you would send him there as soon as it is convenient, and depend on me for twenty-five pounds this currency a year for his support, so long as it may be necessary for the completion of his education. If I live to see the accomplishment of this term, the sum here stipulated shall he annually paid; and if I die in the mean while, this letter shall be obligatory upon my heirs, or executors, to do it according to the true intent and meaning hereof. No other return is expected, or wished, for this offer, than that you will accept it with the same freedom and good will, with which it is made, and that you may not even consider it in the light of an obligation or mention it as such; for, be assured, that from me it will never be known."

The dearest friendship formed in these years was with the doctor of the regiment, James Craik, who in the course of his duties attended Washington in two serious illnesses, and when the war was ended settled near Mount Vernon. He was frequently a visitor there, and soon became the family medical attendant. When appointed General, Washington wrote, "tell Doctor Craik that I should be very glad to see him here if there was anything worth his acceptance; but the Massachusetts people suffer nothing to go by them that they lay hands upon." In 1777 the General secured his appointment as deputy surgeon-general of the Middle Department, and three years later, when the hospital service was being reformed, he used his influence to have him retained. Craik was one of those instrumental in warning the commander-in-chief of the existence of the Conway Cabal, because "my attachment to your person is such, my friendship is so sincere, that every hint which has a tendency to hurt your honor, wounds me most sensibly." The doctor was Washington's companion, by invitation, in both his later trips to the Ohio, and his trust in him was so strong that he put under his care the two nephews whose charge he had assumed. In Washington's ledger an entry tells of another piece of friendliness, to the effect, "Dr. James Craik, paid him, being a donation to his son, Geo. Washington Craik for his education 30," and after graduating the young man for a time served as one of his private secretaries. After a serious illness in 1789, Washington wrote to the doctor, "persuaded as I am, that the case has been treated with skill, and with as much tenderness as the nature of the complaint would admit, yet I confess I often wished for your inspection of it," and later he wrote, "if I should ever have occasion for a Physician or Surgeon, I should prefer my old Surgeon, Dr. Craik, who, from 40 years' experience, is better qualified than a Dozen of them put together." Craik was the first of the doctors to reach Washington's bedside in his last illness, and when the dying man predicted his own death, "the Doctor pressed his hand but could not utter a word. He retired from the bedside and sat by the fire absorbed in grief." In Washington's will he left "to my compatriot in arms and old and intimate friend, Doctor Craik I give my Bureau (or as the Cabinet makers called it, Tambour Secretary) and the circular chair, an appendage of my study."

The arrival of Braddock and his army at Alexandria brought a new circle of military friends. Washington "was very particularly noticed by that General, was taken into his family as an extra aid, offered a Captain's commission by brevet (which was the highest grade he had it in his power to bestow) and had the compliment of several blank Ensigncies given him to dispose of to the Young Gentlemen of his acquaintance." In this position he was treated "with much complaisance ... especially from the General," which meant much, as Braddock seems to have had nothing but curses for nearly every one else, and the more as Washington and he "had frequent disputes," which were "maintained with warmth on both sides, especially on his." But the general, "though his enmities were strong," in "his attachments" was "warm," and grew to like and trust the young volunteer, and had he "survived his unfortunate defeat, I should have met with preferment," having "his promise to that effect." Washington was by the general when he was wounded in the lungs, lifted him into a covered cart, and "brought him over the first ford of the Monongahela," into temporary safety. Three days later Braddock died of his wounds, bequeathing to Washington his favorite horse and his body-servant as tokens of his gratitude. Over him Washington read the funeral service, and it was left to him to see that "the poor general" was interred "with the honors of war."

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