Nicholas Cresswell was a young British man who traveled to the American colonies in 1774, stayed for about three years, and recorded his experiences in a diary. In April of 1775, he had made his way to what is now western Pennsylvania. On April 15th, he wrote
“Crossed Jacob’s Creek and Saweekly Creek. Got to Mr. John DeCamp’s. Land very rich and level”.
John DeCamp (1743-1778) was my 5th great grandfather. He was born in Woodbridge, New Jersey. The DeCamps go back to the earliest settlers of New Amsterdam. By 1774, when John’s son George was born, he was living in Augusta County, Virginia – what is now Westmoreland County in Pennsylvania. His daughter Sarah (1778-1854) married Robert McKean (1760-1854), my 4th great grandfather, and they settled in Salem, Mercer County, Pennsylvania.
To get back to Nicholas Cresswell, while he waited for several days to have a canoe built from the local lumber, he did some exploring in the area of Fort Pitt, on the Monongahela River. On the sixteenth, he found a man who agreed to take him to the place where the Monongahela met Turtle Creek, the site of a battle from the French and Indian War. There he found a rather grisly scene. He wrote
“Found great numbers of bones, both men and horses. The trees are injured, I suppose by the artillery. It appears to me the front of our army never extended more than 400 yards of the river, where it is level and full of underwood. Farther from the river it is hilly and some rocks where the enemy would still have the advantage of the ground. We could find not one whole skull, all of them broke to pieces in the upper part, some of them had holes broken in them about an inch diameter, suppose it to be done with a pipe tomahawk. I am told the wounded were all massacred by the Indians.”
The battle took place on July 9, 1755, and was essentially an effort by both the British and the French to control what was then the western frontier. General Edward Braddock had been appointed to command British and colonial soldiers in western Pennsylvania, aided by a twenty-two year old lieutenant colonel from Virginia, named George Washington. As Braddock and his force of about 1500 men approached the Monongahela River, they were ambushed by a force of about 900 Indians and Frenchmen. Several British officers were killed, Washington had his hat shot off, and Braddock was hit in the arm and chest. The British troops fled from the enemy, colliding with their fellow soldiers who were still advancing. Amidst the chaos and friendly fire, Washington managed to organize a retreat with a number of men, while carrying Braddock out in a wagon. The general died just a few days later.
Washington wrote a letter to his mother Mary on July 18th, writing that his troops
“… were struck with such a panic that they behaved with more cowardice than it is possible to conceive. The officers behaved gallantly, in order to encourage their men, for which they suffered greatly, there being near sixty killed and wounded; a large proportion of the number we had. The Virginia troops showed a good deal of bravery, and were nearly all killed; for I believe, out of three companies that were there, scarcely thirty men are left alive.”
Though the battle was a huge blow to the British, George Washington’s cool head helped to make his reputation as a military leader, leading eventually to his appointment as commander of the colonial army during the Revolutionary War, and ultimately to his election as our first president.
- The journal of Nicholas Cresswell, 1774-1777, Library of Congress; published in 1924 by Dial Publishing
- Braddock’s Battlefield History Center website, North Braddock Pennsylvania
- General Braddock Defeated by Richard Cavendish 2005; HistoryToday.com
- Washington and the French and Indian War, MountVernon.org