Indian chief predicts Washington's presidency
Comment: Is this fact or fiction?
July 9, 1755.
The American Indian chief looked scornfully at the soldiers on the field
before him. How foolish to fight as they did, forming battle lines out in
the open, standing shoulder to shoulder in their bright red uniforms.
The Indian braves fired from under the safe cover of the forest, yet the
British soldiers never broke rank. The slaughter at the Monongahela River
continued for 2 hours. By then, 1000 British soldiers were killed or
wounded, while only 30 French and Indian warriors were injured.
Not only were the soldiers foolish, but their officers were just as bad.
Riding on horseback, fully exposed above the men on the ground, they made
perfect targets. One by one the chief's marksmen shot the mounted British
officers until only one remained. Twice this officer's horse was shot out
from under him; he just grabbed another horse left idle when a fellow
officer had been shot off it and kept going. Ten, twelve, thirteen rounds
were fired by the sharpshooters, yet he still remained unharmed.
The native officers couldn't believe it. Their rifles seldom missed their
mark. The chief came to a realization that a might power was shielding
this man. He commanded his men to stop firing at him and said: "This man
is under the protection of the Great Spirit...this man was not born to be
killed by a bullet."
Later that evening, this British officer noticed several bullet holes in
his uniform, yet he was unharmed. A few days later he wrote in a letter
to his brother:
"By the all-powerful dispensations of Providence I have been protected
beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets
through my coat, and two horses shot under me yet escaped unhurt, although
death was leveling my companions on every side of me."
Years later, that same British Officer went back to those same
Pennsylvania woods. That same Chief who had fought against this man heard
he was in the region and came a long way to see him. In a face to face
council, the Chief said:
"Listen! [You] will become the chief of nations, and a people
yet unborn will hail [you] as the founder of a mighty empire. I am come
to pay homage to the man who is the particular favorite of Heaven, and who
can never die in battle."
The battle on the Monongahela, part of the French and Indian war, was
fought on July 9, 1755 near Fort Duquesne, now the city of Pittsburgh.
The twenty-three year old officer went on to become the commander in chief
of the Continental Army and the first President of the United States. In
all the years that followed in his long career, this man, George
Washington was never once wounded in Battle.
I vote fiction.
There are many elements that are probably true. In many Washington biographies it is mentioned about the four shots & two horses being shot out from underneath him...example here at the White House website. He was an aide to General Braddock who was killed at the battle of Monongahela River. He may have ridden back & forth rallying troops, although this is disputed. The Brits/colonists got creamed as much by their own incompetence as by the whithering fire from the French & Indians.
However, many details in the post are less than correct. Brit casualties are closer to 800, but this is a minor nit to pick. Perhaps more significant is that the Brits did, indeed, break ranks. And darn quickly, apparently. According to this account, Braddock's advanced 'guard' (I use the term loosely) was fired on and retreated in great disorder into the van causing no small disorder and lots of confusion. The author also contends that a significant number of the Brits were shot by their own men, persumably by accident in the confusion.
I question the image of an un-named Native American Chief having that much visibility or control of his "sharpshooters". First off, the French & Indian side was commanded by a French Captain (who was killed early on and replaced by another French Captain). More to the point, which Indian chief would this be? My searches have found only two named Indian big shots that might have been there, Pontiac (dubious) and Shingas, neither seem like good candidates to track down Washington later on and give their council.
The OP implies Washington was the only officer left on horseback. Unlikely. Many officers of higher rank were there & survived. Indeed, the list of officers who were there is a suprising "Who's Who" of the American Revolutionary war to include Gates, Gage, Charles Lee & Mercer. Since they were all Captains or above in rank, seems they
The book I found online that this seems to come from is The Bullet Proof George Washington and it is obviously a spiritual guide as much as anything and while I am loathe to prejudge before reading, I am admittadly skeptical that this is a work of well-defined scholarship. The author's bio claims a few awards & inclusion "in many Who's Who" but all the tracts he write seem to be concerned with the theme of religion...his titles include "America's Godly Heritage", "The Role of Pastors and Christians in Civil Government" and "Original Intent: The Courts, The Constitution and Religion." Without questioning the sincerity or intent of the gentleman, I suspect that an apocraphyl tale supporting his view of religious intervention might be accepted at face value without the rigors of historical evaluation I normally expect in reliable research.
More scholarly works I've read excerpts from online don't mention the incident. When I get some time I'll crack a few books on the F&I war (not my favorite period, I confess) and see if I can dig anything up...but for now, I think the bit of the Indian meeting up with Washington is fabrication. If I get a chance to read "The Bullet Proof GW" I'd be interested to see his cites, since I don't find much in what I have.
I HAVE read the book in question, and your judgment on it is entirely accurate.
It is a book of tales to prove his points and encourage like-minded readers, and I didn't bother to check his sources when I read it. It was more casual reading for me.
I'm intrigued to see what sources you find the man used, as the book is no longer in my possession. Keep us posted!
Aw, drat, Lady Moon...I was hoping someone would come forward who had it and save me $5.
I spent a pleasent afternoon in the local library reading up on my Washington...sadly (although, I may add, not surprisingly) the library didn't have Bulletproof on its computers. As it is relatively inexpenive I've ordered a copy.
My readings of Washington today mainly confirm my gut reaction. The battle referred to was a complete debacle, but at least one one author places much of the blame on Washington himself. Indeed, Washington states in his diary that General Braddock split his forces on Washington's counsel....so the disaster that the Almighty spared him from was in some ways of Washington's making. (source: George Washington: A Life by Willard Randall, Henry Holt & Co. New York, 1997 pp 189)
I read through two expurgated versions of Washington's diaries and he makes no mention of the incident of meeting an Indian Chief that I've been able to find although he does mention the four bullet holes in his coat...although I don't think there's any independent verification, I'm prepared to cede that point. Washington mentions in a letter to his mother having two horses shot out from underneath him, and other reports say that General Braddock had six horses shot out from underneath him.
Between the diaries and half a dozen biographies I could find no mention of the alleged incident.
In my internet search I've found a lot of different versions that are out there, but more or less the same. Not surprisingly the casualty rates enumerated vary wildly, frmo Washington being the only surviving officer to being one of only five uninjured officers...in this case I can't blame them too much for the inconsistancy as the historical record is remarkably spotty.
The different versions on the internet also contain a wide variety of innaccuracies. In many the Indian chief says that "I am a chief and ruler over my tribes. My influence extends to the waters of the great lakes and to the far blue mountains." I suppose he could have been exaggerating, but again, I can find no record of any chief of that magnitude being at the battle. Also, one internet cite said that Washington sent the letter saying he had four bullet holes to his brother...since Lawrence died three years before the battle, we can assume that his brother's reaction was rather mild. Additionally, and this is a pet peeve of mine, the Indian Chief keeps referring to "lowering their rifles". Rifles were rarely used in the era.
Okay, that's about that until I get the book, but unless something crops up I'd say there's a stake in the heart of this one. There are just too many things that are typical of a UL here. It's based on some facts that are easily verifiable, but the meat of the matter is strangely devoid of documentation. Tellingly, many websites tell us that this story was routinely told to schoolboys 80 years ago, but has been dropped, one is left to assume, by the godless educators. While I'm not prepared to wholly discount it based on that, I sure would like to find a shred of evidence other than a religious tract.
My apologies for both the tardiness of this reply and for the length which I’m sure will bore most readers, but I felt compelled to run this one to
Ground…and that took longer than I thought owing to lack of time on my part
to do research.
The bottom line: Who knows? Depends how much you trust one man.
Okay, here's the story. After reading the OP I did an internet search and
found lots of examples, but little source documentation. I ended up purchased
a small pamphlet called "The Bullet-Proof George Washington" (Hereafter BPGW)
which is a recently-published tract on the legend that an Indian Chief once
met with George Washington and proclaimed that his warriors had fired at him
but kept missing, so they ascribed that to divine intervention and the chief
then prophesized that Washington would a) never die in battle, b) become the
leader of his nation and c) found a great empire...or words to that effect.
The tract had lots of and lots of references - over 30 - but unfortunately
none of them were indexed with the narrative of the story. I despaired
briefly having to track down all of these references that were really, really
obscure (many of them were school textbooks from 1880s-1920s...not the sort
of thing one finds in the local library...). Fortunately, I narrowed it down
by focusing on the two main instances that are in the narrative to explain what happened.
The first was that a woman by the name of Mary Draper Ingles, who had been
taken captive by an Indian raiding party at about the same time of the battle
which featured the supposed frustrated Indian sharpshooters. BPGW recounts that while in captivity Mrs. Ingles heard two French traders talking and
saying the name "Washington" over and over...when she asked them about
Washington, they recounted the story of his remarkable bullet-dodging.
I might give many reasons why this is unlikely...not the least of which was
how the Frenchmen - or Indian sharpshooters - would know who the heck
Washington was (he was comparatively unknown at the time), but the most
telling thing was that nowhere in BPGW's impressive bibliography is there the
only record of Mary Ingles' captivity, a 40-odd page recollection written by
Mary's grandson (in all likelihood she was illiterate) years after the event.
Instead the author used has a reference the (in my humble opinion)
inexcusable reference of a novel. In this case, "Follow the River" by a Mr.
Thom. While I shan't criticize Mr. Thom's novel, as I'm sure it is a good &
entertaining work, it does lack a certain quality of scholarship.
The good news is that Mr. Thom acknowledges that he did use Mrs. Ingles'
account as the base of his novel in the afterword. The bad news is that Mrs.
Ingles' account never mentions the incident. One is forced to assume, then,
that Mrs. Ingles' overhearing the Frenchmen talking is a product of Mr.
Thom's fertile imagination, but then was used as a fact by the author of
This is hardly in the tradition of good scholarship.
The second support, however, is much more fertile ground and I was able to
ascertain through a bit of good google-luck the original author of the OP's
lines from the Indian Chief. The Indian Chief's name is given as Menawa by
the author but, sadly, it is kind of irrelevant since the name is probably
made up...the only Menawa I found (and I admit I didn't look hard) was Creek
who was born well after the supposed meeting.
The author of the OP was none other than George Washington's Step-Grandson,
George Washington Parke Custis. To borrow terminology from epidemiology, he
is the Index Case for this legend. In his Recollections of George Washington
(published 1857) the OP is written just about word for word. In a footnote to
the story, Custis says that he was told the story after Washington's death by
Dr. Craik, a long-time friend of GW's, who was at the battle, accompanied
Washington to Ohio in 1772 or so and would have been at the alleged meeting,
and may have inadvertently killed Washington by bleeding him during an illness.
Thankfully, the BPGW author cites that work. Unfortunately, he doesn't cite
an earlier work, also by Custis, published about 30 years earlier...a play
called "The Indian Prophecy". By modern standards this is a remarkably
mediocre play. The lines in the OP are the final words of the play, delivered
by the fictional Menawa just before the curtain comes down. In fact, as far
as I can tell, the entire play exists simply to allow this Indian to deliver
his lines. In the era that the play was put on, it probably went over incredibly well, though.
For those friendly non-Americans (and some Americans) that peruse these boards, Washington was a man who became quite literally a legend in his own time and in the 19th through the better part of the 20th Century, Washington had a heroic quality that would amaze many today. In the era that The Indian Prophecy played, it would have been very well received…doubly so as it was written by a member of that august family.
So the question becomes...how much do you trust Mr. Custis? Neither
Washington nor Craik have left us a shred of evidence that the meeting took
place. The former's journals account for the trip to the Ohio circa 1770, but
include no mention of any such prophecy. The latter apparently left no known
diary (or at least none I can find) and the good doctor died over 10 years
before the play was published. This means that Mr. Custis has about zero
corroboration and, to make things worse, he had a lot of good reasons to
"fluff-up" the legend.
Custis was the de factor heir to the Washington legend. In the early 19th
Century the Washington legend was rampant and patriotism was very much in
vogue. He had strong ties to his step-grandfather and at least one reference
I read referred to his "obsession" with Washington. Add to that that Mr.
Custis could & did make money by presenting legends of Washington, and one
can't help wondering about the validity of the legend.
Despite being a staple in American text-books from about 1860 to the early
1930s (along with stories of chopping down cheery trees and throwing coins
across rivers), the lack of a paper trail doesn't hold water for this legend.
Did it happen? Maybe....but the lack of contemporary accounts makes it very
suspect. I'd have to give this one a thumbs down.
In case anyone wishes to look into this further I will provide references upon request.
Nice work, sir!
I'll add a couple of thoughts:
IIRC, at Monongahela River, Washington tried to discourge Braddock from fighting in ordered formations...the British practice was suicidal in the heavily wooded terrain. The French and Indians (and possibly the colonial militiamen) fought from cover.
As to how the French knew the figure on horseback was Washington, would Washington have been wearing a British uniform, that of the Virginia militia, or something else? He was a volunteer aide-de-camp to Braddock, and so might have not been wearing a British uniform. That might have made him much more recognizable. He was also known to the French from the battles at Forts Duquesne and Neccessity the previous year.
Washington was more than likely wearing a colonial militia uniform, but I'm not sure if the Indians would have made the distinction, though the French might have.
An interesting possibility on Washington's reputation preceding him, but in an era without mass communication or photographs I don't know if someone in the heat of battle could have told Washington from anyone else...although I admit that he probably stood out like a sore thumb being well above average height.
If this did happen, it may have been less of the Indian recognizing Washington from the batlefield as hearing of his fame after the fact. By 1772, the time of the alleged incident, Washington had fame. An Indian Chief could have head that George was in town, and people would no doubt be talking about what a dude he was.
But then all this is just pretty wild speculation...we just don't have any reliable source from the time. Darn those terrible journal writers