LAST WEEK'S story of the events antedating the founding of Pittsburgh left Washington disheartened after the surrender at Fort Necessity and two of his captains, Robert Stobo and Jacob Van Braam in the hands of the French as hostages for the safe return and good treatment of the French officers La Force and Drauillon, and the two cadets, taken prisoners by Washington in the engagement when M. Jumonville was killed May 28, 1754.
By the terms of the capitulation at Fort Necessity the English were to deliver up all the prisoners captured with Jumonville, sending them under safeguard to Fort Duquesne within two months and a half at the farthest. This would make the time expire about the middle of September.
The giving and retaining of hostages is old in warfare. Students of Caesars' commentaries will readily recall how greatly it was Caesars' custom to take hostages and always the most influential men were demanded, sometimes the wives and children of the leaders. This custom has been revived in the great war now going on. Hostages were usually treated with kindness and not kept closely confined.
First English Prisoners.
Hence Stobo and Van Braam had an easy, but likely a dull time in Fort Duquesne. They were the first English prisoners in the celebrated fort; both Stobo and his comrade were soldiers of fortune and it is presumed were philosophical and took the fortunes of war as dealt out to them without murmuring.
It was a cause of great mortification to Washington when Gov. Dinwiddie refused to ratify the capitulation in regard to the French prisoners. Dinwiddie wrote a letter to the Virginia Board of Trade and explained his position. He said:
The French after the capitulation entered into with Col. Washington, took eight of our people and exposed them to sale and missing thereof sent them prisoners to Canada. On hearing of this I detained the 17 prisoners, the officer and the two cadets, as I am of opinion, after they were in my custody, Washington could not engage for their being returned.
I have ordered a flag of truce to to [sic] be sent to the French, offering the return of their officer and the two cadets for the two hostages they have of ours.
This course did not suit Washington. It was decidedly at variance with his principles of honor and fine sense of equity. But he was helpless, having no control of the situation. The hostages were not returned and the French prisoners were detained in Virginia, supported and clothed at the public expense, having been granted a weekly allowance.
Officers Well Treated.
The private soldiers were confined, but Drouillon and the cadets were allowed to go at large, first at Williamsburg, then the capital of Virginia, later at Winchester, whither they had been sent, and at last at Alexandria, where they were living when Braddock arrived.
Braddock thought it highly improper for them to be at liberty, obscuring the motions of his army. It was first designed to send them on shipboard, but the officer in command, Commodore Keppell, would not receive them on the ground that he had no instructions about prisoners.
Braddock advised that the privates be sent to England and this was done. They were carried over by a returning transport. M. Drouillon and the cadets soon after went as passengers on another vessel, their passage paid by the colony of Virginia.
M. La Force, the French commissary, had been a volunteer under Jumonville. A very aggressive character, La Force wanted to be at the front when anything was likely to occur that meant fight. He was well known on the border and had committed depredations, the Virginians alleged, and on his arrival in Williamsburg was thrown into prison.
A man of ready resources, the crude prison did not hold him long, for he broke out and had gone several miles when he was apprehended. His foreign accent betrayed him. On his return he was placed in close confinement.
Stobe [sic] Makes Plan.
Stobo while in Fort Duquesne made good use of his time in drawing a plan of the fort and in writing several letters to Gov. Dinwiddie. The first of these he wrote July 28, 1754, when he had been at the fort about three weeks. In this letter he tells of the Frnch [sic] counseling with the Shawanese, and the French machinations with the other Indians in the vicinity.
He describes the strength of the garrison, tells of the departure of Mencin, a fine soldier, who went with one of the detachments sent away, in all numbering about 1,000 men. He tells Dinwiddie only about 200 men remained, mostly laborers. The garrison was short of provisions. Two hundred men had recently been sent under a lieutenant to bring provisions and was [sic] daily expected.
The untiring La Force was greatly missed. To quote Stobo's exact words:
La Force is greatly wanted here—no scouting now—he certainly must have been an extraordinary man among them—he is so much regretted and wished for.
This information was not at all to La Force's good. It made Dinwiddie all the more determined to hold him. In La Force's imprisonment he was crippling the French.
It is apparent from Stobo's words that Jumonville's party, with La Force, a gratified volunteer, accompanying, was not an embassy, as Contrecoeur contended, but a scouting party surprised and captured as Washington and his men ever maintained.
Stobo imparts the intelligence that only Contrecoeur, a few young officers and some cadets were in the garrison at Fort Duquesne. Now was the time to strike, Stobo urges—he is patriotic and philosophic. He says:
When we engaged to serve our country, it was expected we were to do it with our lives. Let them not be disappointed. Consider the good of the expedition, without the least regard to us. For my part I would rather die a thousandd eaths [sic], to have the pleasure of possessing this Fort one day.
They are so vain of their success at the Meadows, it is worse than death to hear them. Strike this fall as soon as possible. Make the Indians ours. Prevent intelligence. Get the best and 'tis done.
100 trusty Indians might surprise this Fort. They have access all day, and might lodge themselves so that they might secure the guard with tomahawks; shut the sally gate, and the Fort is ours.
None but the guard and Contrecoeur stay in the Fort. For God's sake communicate this to but few and them you can trust.
Intelligence comes here unaccountably. If they should know I wrote I would lose the little liberty I have. I should be glad to hear from you. But take no notice of this in yours. Excuse errors, bad diction, &c.
Pray be kind to this Indian. Springes and Delaware George have been here.
Here follows a plan of the fort, a copy of which appeared in The Gazette Times of Sunday, February 14.
Stobo Takes Risk.
It is possible by Springes, Stobo refers to Shingiss, the Delaware chief. There is no other mention of Springes in our pre-colonial history. It is most apparent Stobo knew the risks he was taking.
The Indian who cunningly got the letter through was a brother-in-law of Monacatootha, or Scarrooady as he most frequently mentioned in the history of those days.
In the second letter to Dinwiddie, written the very next day, Stobo gives this Indian's names—"Long, or Mono." The second letter went by Delaware George.
Stobo is newsy in this letter also and fearsome. He has heard that the Half-King and Monacatootha have been killed and their families given to the Cherokees as slaves.
He wishes for peace between the Catawbas and the nations about the fort, saying the French are much afraid of the Catawbas. Stobo goes on to say:
You had as just a plan of the fort as time and opportunty [sic] would allow. The French manage the Indians with the greatest artifice. I mentioned yesterday a council the Shawanese had with the French, the present they gave (wampum, ammunition, guns, clothing, etc.), and if they made the French a speech, the bearer, who was present, will inform you to what purport.
If yesterday's letter reaches you it will give you a particular account of most things. I have scarce a minute; therefore can only add one thing more. (Here follows the data relating to the French forces reiterated).
The Indians have great liberty here; they go out and in when they please without notice. If 100 trusty Shawanese, Mingoes and Delawares were picked out they might surprise the fort.
All this you have more particular in yesterday's account. Your humble servant, etc.
Quick Action Urged.
La Force is greatly missed here.
Let the good of the expedition be considered preferable to our safety. Haste to strike.
A list of deserters and prisoners to the French followed. On one of Capt. Mercer's company, John Ramsey, Stobo is severe. He says:
This man is the cause of all our misfortunes. He deserted the day before th [sic] battle. The French got to Gists at dawn of day, surrounding the fort, imagining we were still there, gave a general fire. But when they found we were gone they were determined to return with all expedition, thinking we had returned to the inhabitants—when up comes Mr. Rascal, told them he had deserted the day before, and the regiment was stil lat [sic] the Meadows, in a starving condition which caused his deserting, and hearing they were coming, deserted to them. They confined him. Told him if true he should be rewarded, if false hanged. This I had from the English interpreters.
Gist's plantation and small fort, so often referred to in our history, was at what is now Mt. Braddock in Fayette county. From Stobo's account it can be readily deduced that the French under De Villiers had little fear in the taking of Washington's fort Necessity, which in name alone tells of his desperate condition.
Stobo also relates the fate of some of the prisoners and traders captured by the French and Indians.
Some of those allotted to the Indians were offered for sale; "40 pistoles each." "A good ransom," commented Stobo. A pistole was a Spanish gold coin worth 16 shillings.
Some of the wounded died and four prisoners were shot. Stobo remonstrted [sic] several times with Contrecoeur, but to no purpose. In view of the capitulation, Stobo claimed the French had no right to make them prisoners. Contrecoeur replied they belonged to the Indians and he could not get them from them.
The expedition was almost a year in coming to take the fort, and then it did not accomplish the purpose for which it was sent. One word tells the story—the name of the commander—Braddock. Stobo's fears that ill would come to him if these letters should ever come to the knowledge of the French were destined to be filled.
Copies of the letters and Stobo's plan of Fort Duquesne had been given to Gen. Braddock, the plan a most important requisite. All of Braddock's baggage fell into the hands of the enemy and with it the plans and the letters and they were published.
Stobo had made use of his non-combatant status as a hostage in the character of a spy. Naturally the kind treatment of his captors ceased. They were justly incensed. Previous to the battle on the Monongahela Stobo and Van Braam had been sent to Quebec.
The extraordinary zeal for the service of his country and the self-devoting spirit manifested in these letters, as Neville B. Craig puts it, led Mr. Craig to obtain fuller information of this remarkable man. The letter of the historian Hume attracted Mr. Craig's attention and subsequently Dr. Lyman C. Draper, the Baltimore historian, furnished Mr. Craig much pertinent matter relating to Stobo's career.
The matter was printed in the Olden Time, a historical magazine published in Pittsburgh in 1846–47 by Mr. Craig under his editorial supervision.
Later a friend furnished Mr. Craig information, from an English catalogue, of a book entitled "The Memoirs of Maj. Robert Stobo, of the Virginia Regiment."
About the time Mr. Craig published his "History of Pittsburgh" in 1851, through the kindness of an English friend, he obtained a manuscript copy of the copy preserved in the British Museum. The inference is that the contents of the book were copied for Mr. Craig.
Previously (1846) Isaac D. Rupp had published his "History of Western Pennsylvania and the West." He seems to have had access to the same sources that Mr. Craig had subsequently, for in a lengthy footnote relating to Stobo he tells us much the same history of the man.
It appears that Stobo was born at, or near, Glasgow, Scotland, in 1727. His father was a merchant and Robert was an only son. His mother died when he was young.
He early inclined to a spirit of adventure. He was sent by some Glasgow merchants to serve in a store in Virginia, being perfectly willing. Subsequently he sold his property in Glasgow and engaged in business on his own account in Virginia.
Leading a gay life, in modern parlance "having a good time," his business did not prosper. However, he fell in with Gov. Dinwiddie, a fellow-countryman, with whom he became a great favorite.
Stobo Made Captain.
In 1754, when Stobo was 27 years of age, Dinwiddie appointed him the senior captain in the Virginia regiment for service on the border. This we know brought him under the command of Washington.
At Quebec, as at Fort Duquesne, Stobo and Van Braam had a measure of liberty. Stobo made good use of his opportunities and later we shall hear of him in an event that changed the map of North America.
With the defeat of Braddock came misfortune to Stobo. He was put in close confinement. So too Van Braam. At times they were fed only on bread and water. Ordinarily they were allowed a pound of bread and a pound of horse flesh a day.
It occurring to the French that Stobo was deserving of severe punishment he was tried and convicted as a spy and sentenced to be executed. Delays ensued in the carrying out of the sentence, but the rigor of his confinement was made more so.
In some manner Stobo and a companion escaped and after various hardships arrived at Louisburg on the island of Cape Breton. Here he learned that Gen. Wolfe had left with his army for Quebec with the object of capturing that city. Stobo immediately returned to Quebec, joining the expedition in the siege.
Unique War Drama.
Let us bring our imaginations into play and behold a drama unique in the history of war. We see a procession of boats filled with English soldiers steered silently down a mighty river. The stars are out but the darkness is impressive.
In one of the foremost boats sits Gen. James Wolfe, going to his death. Close at hand is the erstwhile prisoner of Fort Duquesne, the unconquerable Stobo.
The flotilla nears its destination and will soon safely land its army of scarlet uniforms. The stillness is broken:
"Qui Vive?" is the sharp resonant challenge from an alert sentry on the shore.
"France," calmly responds the Highland officer appointed to that duty because he understood French.
"What regiment?" demands the sentry.
He is given the name of a known French regiment.
The custom of the French in landing provisions by river was fully known to their soldiers. It had been revealed to Wolfe by deserters. The sentry expecting provision boats does not ask the password.
"Hush," replied the imperturbable Highlander; "we have provisions. You will expose us to the English."
They land at the appointed place selected by Stobo, accepted by Wolfe. It is at the foot of the cliffs at a little cove, Anse de Foulon.
The Scotchman, Stobo, leads the way up the cliffs, Wolfe and the officers following. They find, at length, the path barricaded.
Col. Howe, afterwards the antagonist of Washington on Long Island, with 24 daring spirits, gained the heights by climbing. It was a forlorn hope, but it succeeded and at the first sound of musketry the soldiers with Wolfe tore away the barricades and toiled up the cliffs, Wolfe among the first.
It is a far cry from Pittsburgh to Quebec, but Stobo, the hostage, and Wolfe, the general, have been linked indissolubly in the happenings of September 12, 1759.
Pittsburgh Born in War.
Had there been no Fort Duquesne there would have been no hostages. Had there been no Fort Duquesne there would have been no Pittsburgh. It would have been something else in some other way. Perhaps a way of peace. Pittsburgh was born in war.
In November, 1759, the Virginia Assembly passed the following resolution:
Resolved; That the sum of £1,000 be paid by the treasurer of this colony to Capt. Robert Stobo, over and above the pay that is due him from the time of his rendering himself a hostage to this day as a reward for his zeal to his country, and a recompense for the great hardships he has suffered during his confinement in the enemy's country.
Poor Van Braam was a prisoner for six years, mostly in Canada. He returned to Williamsburg in the fall of 1760.
All the officers in Washington's regiment were thanked by the Virginia Assembly except the major, accused of cowardice and Van Braam of duplicity.
Victim of Craft.
Rather let us believe Van Braam, a poor scholar, was imposed on by the crafty DeVilliers, and translated the strange French word "l'assassinat" as "the death, or loss of" Jumonville, instead of its real meaning. Surely Van Braam was conscious of no turpitude or else he had not returned to Viginia.
He was no stranger to Washington. He had been with Washington on his mission to the French forts and was left behind by Washington, when the latter and Gist pushed forward alone on their return. Van Braam safely brought back Washington's horses and baggage.
Van Braam had been a companion of Lawrence Washington in the British army service. Van Braam was a good swordsman and gave the youthful George instructions in sword exercise.
Upon Van Braam's return he was recompensed also with a gratuity of £500 and 9,000 acres of land in Kentucky.
Stobo was likewise granted the same acreage in the same state. Here both disappear from our history.
Antedating the events on the Heights of Abraham nearly a year, other events happened about the "Forks of the Ohio" and in these two countrymen of Stobo, stand forth pre-eminent, James Grant and John Forbes. The one a man of iron stomach and marvelous strength and vitality; the other a slowly dying sufferer, named the "Iron Heart."
In our history both are commemorated in street names. The one is associated with disaster; the second with victory and the birth of our city.
We have Stobo street also, but how inadequate a rememberance [sic]—and a second naming at that!