Dangerous Times in Virginia

George Washington wearing his colonel’s uniform of the Virginia Regiment from the French and Indian War; Charles Willson Peale, Washington-Custis-Lee Collection, Washington and Lee University

A 1764 diary of one Jabez Fitch provides a quick glimpse into an episode in one of my Brewster ancestor’s history. Jabez, a cousin of my 6th great-grandfather William Brewster, wrote about meeting William when he traveled from his home in the Oblong area of Dutchess County, New York to Jabez’s home in Connecticut. William told him the story of his three year residence in Virginia:

“…he movd with his Family Down to Virginea, where he Says he was when Genll Bradick was Defeeted by ye French in 1755 & in 57 ye Indians Drove him of with his Family & oblidg’d him to Return to ye Oblong again where he has made a home ever Since.”

So what was going on in Virginia during those years, and what was the connection to “Genll Bradick”?

The man defeated by the French in 1755 was General Edward Braddock, who was sent by the British colonial government to present-day western Pennsylvania to establish control of the area, at a time when the French held a string of forts there with the support of local American Indian allies. Braddock suffered a humiliating defeat at the Battle of the Monongahela, where his forces were ambushed by French and Indian combatants. The British lost a number of men during a chaotic retreat, and Braddock was mortally wounded. Though most people today won’t recognize Braddock’s name, they will be very familiar with one of his aides during the battle, George Washington.

Washington was to play an important role in further actions of the French and Indian Wars back in his home state of Virginia, after the defeat at Monongahela. My William Brewster, along with his brother Ebenezer, would be directly affected by events in Virginia, to the point of driving William back to his home in New York State.

After the disaster at Monongahela, Washington initiated the building and linking of a series of forts along the Virginia frontier to protect against increasing French and Indian incursions. These incursions often resulted in the death of colonial settlers, burning of farms, and destruction of livestock. Washington was only able to assemble a few hundred troops in Virginia, and had to drastically scale back his fort plans. Throughout the year 1757 mentioned by Jabez Fitch, settlers of central Virginia were attacked, including a major incident on September 19th when Indians killed or captured 34 people in the area of Fort Stephen, in present day Marlboro, located in Frederick County. From Virginia land records, we know that William’s brother Ebenezer settled in Frederick County, Virginia, so this is likely where William also lived. The September 19th attack, and others like it, may very well have been the impetus that sent William and his family back to the relative safety of New York State.

As it happens, British forces started turning the tide of the French and Indian war in 1758, and Virginia settlers gradually saw their security improve in later years. If William had waited, he might have decided to remain in Virginia like his brother Ebenezer. But that would have meant a completely different history – and even put into question the existence – of my branch of the Brewster family!

  1. The Diary of Jabez Fitch Jr., (Jan. 1 1764 to Mar. 14 1764)
  2. Read the Revolution, Braddock’s Defeat, Museum of the American Revolution, 2017
  3. Cedar Creek & Belle Grove National Historical Park, Virginia, Cedar Creek and the French and Indian War, 2020
  4. Life on the Inner Frontier: The French and Indian War in Shenandoah Valley, lecture by Patrick Murphy for the Lovettsville Historical Society & Museum on March 11, 2018

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