Fort Necessity

I was excited to head to Fort Necessity today (8/1/17) because this is where it all began:  The French Indian War which gave rise to the American Revolution.  So much of Washington is tied up in this area–his worst defeat, his biggest betrayal, his deepest humiliation, and the loss of a surrogate father figure.  Standing on the ground here, I felt, would give me the greatest insight for my book.  It is a truly incredible place.

I hadn’t realized that Washington and his men had spent almost two months clearing land for a road to attack Fort Duquesne.  One thing that has always stood out to me in this area is just how many trees there are–everywhere.  I can’t imagine trying to carve a path through them, much less fighting in them.  When he happened upon the Great Meadows, it must have seemed an oasis in the desert.  He termed it, “A charming field for an engagement.”  For a man who desperately wanted a British commission and who had been trained in the shoulder to shoulder British style of fighting, this spot was perfect.  Still, he hadn’t intended it for military service, but merely a supply station for troops attacking Fort Duquesne.

Another view of the fort

That all changed when three days later, Washington’s ally Tanacharison (the Half King) informed Washington there were French in the area (about 7 miles away).  His actions later make me wonder if this was a set-up, and he was simply using Washington.   Washington and 40 men set out to the Half King’s camp.  When they arrive, his scouts lead them to a ravine where the French are encamped.  From this point, two different versions of the story come into place.  Like typical siblings, both the French and the British claim the other one started it.  The French claim the British surprised them, and they fired back.  The British claim the French saw them approaching and fired first, with the British return fire being self defense.  Whatever actually happened, at the end of the day, the French commander Joseph Coulon de Villiers (Sieur de Jumonville) and 9 others were killed, one wounded, 21 prisoners, and one man who escaped to carry the news to Fort Duquesne.  British casualties were one killed, two wounded.  This would lead me to believe the British fired first, though they did have the high ground, so the disparity in casualties could come from that.  The interesting thing is that Coulon de Villiers was actually only wounded and was possibly trying to surrender–until the Half King got ahold of him–literally.  With a tomahawk.

Diorama of the Fort

When British Colonel Fry falls off his horse and dies of his injuries two days later, Washington is promoted to Colonel.  With the weight of leadership on his shoulders and the expectation of French retaliation from Fort Duqesne, Washington begins to try to make the area a fort, while still trying to do work on the road.  He has men guard those working on the road, but even with reinforcements still only has about 400 men.  His Indian allies meet with him, but when they realize Washington’s supplies haven’t come through as promised, and he has barely enough provisions for his men, they decide the British are a lost cause and refuse to fight.  Thus, Washington will face the 700 approaching Frenchmen and Indians with no allies.  I’m sure this was a huge betrayal by those he thought would stand with him–especially the man who was actually to blame for the incident.  But, it’s about to get a whole lot worse.

Artillery demonstration

It’s a horrible, rainy day on July 3, making fighting sporadic, as both sides are dealing with wet gunpowder, and Washington’s men are standing in trenches, which are slowly filling up.  The commander of the French Army is none other than the Louis, brother of Joseph Coulon de Villiers.  But, Providence will both save Washington and humiliate him.  The Indians with the French prefer the element of surprise and the spoils of war.  Seeing that there is neither at this time, they tell Louis Coulon De Villiers that they will leave in the morning.  He has a choice to make.

He requests a truce to parlay, offering Washington the chance to surrender.  But, when the terms are sent to Washington, they are smudged because of the rain.  Washington’s normal translator had been killed, and the man who was translating was Dutch, but could understand most of what was said.  Most being the key word.  He informs Washington that the terms are generous, allowing Washington and his men to leave with honors of war, taking their baggage and weapons (but no swivel guns–like little cannons) and return immediately to Virginia.  They had to leave two men as hostages (who would volunteer, then provide valuable intelligence as spies.)  Unfortunately, the translator left out the part where, by signing, Washington is admitting to the assassination of Joseph Coulon de Villiers, whom the French claim was acting as an ambassador, in the same role as Washington himself–though papers in his effects give the possibility he was spying as well (as the British would claim).  This report makes it all over Europe and the colonies, and Washington is humiliated.  Though Governor Dinwiddie doesn’t blame Washington when he reaches Virginia, he will disband the Virginia regiments into garrison companies, and will offer Washington the demoted rank of Captain.  When Washington is unable to negotiate a higher rank, he will leave military service less than three months after the Fort Necessity debacle and return to Mount Vernon.

Braddock’s memorial

But, Washington doesn’t get too comfortable in the quiet life as a farmer.  When General Braddock is named Commander in chief of the British forces and arrives in America with two Irish regiments, Washington sends him a note of congratulations–a great way to get noticed.  Because of the way British commissions worked, Washington would be subordinate to even his British inferiors, so he makes the decision to accept the offer to join as Braddock’s Aide de Camp–a volunteer position in which he only answered to Braddock, and he could pave the way to a commissioned rank.

I can’t imagine what he must have felt when his path led him back to Fort Necessity, where the bones of his men were still visible against the landscape (the French had burned Fort Necessity to the ground.)  But, he had another chance to assault Fort Duquesne.  Unfortunately, it would be another devastating loss.

View of Braddock’s original burial site (right) and monument (left)

Braddock has mostly heeded Washington’s advice on the advance.  He has men scouting and protecting the flanks and rear as the army crosses the Monongahela River.  When he doesn’t get ambushed, however, Braddock assumes the French are holed up in the fort and pulls the scouts in, lining his men up, unfurling the banners, and striking up the band.  There’s not a chance the French can miss their arrival.  Unfortunately.  Unbeknownst to him, the French know Braddock’s coming and had made the decision to surprise attack–they just didn’t make it to the river in time.  The two armies slam into each other.  And though the British have over twice the numbers, the French and Indians are fighting ambush style, hitting the flanks from the treeline, and the British lines literally collapse into each other, forming a mass of red coated men–a horribly easy target.  Washington and Braddock, both on horseback, are trying to return order to the situation.  Both have horses shot from under them.  Both have bullet holes in their clothing.  Both are unhit–until Braddock is struck with a bullet to the shoulder which passes into his chest.  Washington is able to get him into a wagon and off the field, then assemble the men and cover the retreat.

The original spot where Braddock was buried.

Unfortunately, Braddock, who had been a sort of father figure to 24 year old George who had lost his own father at 11, would die three days later.  Washington himself will preside over the burial, choosing to bury him in the road he had built where soldiers will march over his grave, obscuring the site from those who would seek to desecrate the body.  He will remain there until 1804 when men repairing this section of the road will stumble upon the remains and move them to the hill.

Ironically, this site of so much pain will be bought by Washington who visited after the war.  For the surveyor, it is indeed a beautiful piece of land, but I can’t imagine being able to see past all the memories he would have had.  But, knowing that he also revisited Valley Forge, I believe Washington didn’t shy away from the hard places.  Perhaps that’s another thing that makes him great.







As a lover of history and one who is also doing a Kickstarter project, I wanted to make others aware of this need.

Belle Grove Plantation Bed and Breakfast

March 25, 2015

When we first moved into Belle Grove Plantation, one of the things we needed to do was to take down several trees. But in true fashion, I didn’t want to just take them down and send them to the dump. One tree, the mulberry located right in front of the house, was one that I knew was pretty old. I would later find out it was over 200 years old. That means it was live during James Madison’s lifetime.

So I reached out to our blog followers and had two woodworking guilds come front to help me preserve our “Witness Wood”. One of these was Historic Pens of New Jersey. Bob and his master craftsmen find “Witness Wood” from locations like Gettysburg, Independence Hall, The Boardwalk in New Jersey and turn them into some of the most beautiful pens you have every seen. They have created pens…

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Entrance to Dachau:  "Work makes you free"

Entrance to Dachau: “Work makes you free” Dachau was the model for Auschwitz.

First, I want to thank you, blog community–whether you’ve visited this site once or many times, I’m glad you’re here–and I’m glad you come from so many places!

Second, while I started this blog as a way to record my voyage into the lives of Robert Bolling and Lucy Maude Montgomery, it has progressed to so much more than that. It’s a way for me to not only remember forever the amazing experiences I have had, but it is also a way for me to bless you–whether it’s through an “inside look” at a place you’re interested in or whether you gain ideas for places to visit or explore for yourself.

So, now I have a rare opportunity for you. This summer I am travelling to Poland with Holocaust Survivor Eva Kor. While I am there, I will be gathering information and photographs to share with you here. To be able to do so, I need to raise a little over $2,000. If you are someone who enjoys what you’ve seen here, consider making an investment in it. Through Kickstarter, https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/435213789/facing-the-darkness , you can be a part of making that trip a reality. While any gift is a HUGE blessing (200 people at $10 makes $2,000…), if you give at the $50, $100, or $500 level, in addition to some other prizes, your name will be mentioned as an underwriter on the entries from the trip.

So check out more on Kickstarter.com. I hope you come along for the ride!


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 5,500 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


Side View of Shirley Plantation

Side View of Shirley Plantation

After a long hiatus from travelling (known as teaching school), it is finally Spring Break and time to be back on the trail again. This Spring Break takes my mom and I on a true bit of Legacy Hunting, as we will be pursuing our own family roots in Virginia. And where better to start than with the oldest active plantation in Virginia.

Today (3/23/14), we headed over to Shirley Plantation, located just off Route 5 in Charles City, Virginia. The Shirley Plantation was settled in 1613 by Sir Thomas West, who named it the West and Shirley Hundred (West for him and Shirley for his wife Cecily Shirley (Cessalye Sherley), who remained in England) He apparently had a two story wooden house there, though the house is no longer in existence. Also, the fact that Sir Thomas West is the man history books refer to as Lord De La Warr (Delaware), means he probably had his hands full being the governor of Jamestowne and warding off Indian attacks. When he returns to England and is lost at sea, the property passes into his wife’s possession. Having her own life established in England, she chooses to sell the property, which passes to Edward Hill I, whose family owns it to this day.

Distant view of Shirley Plantation and Outbuildings

Distant view of Shirley Plantation and Outbuildings

Edward Hill I would establish Shirley Plantation as a farm in 1638, an act which secures its place as the longest existing family owned business in North American history. He’s not just a farmer, though. This man would also put down Ingle’s rebellion and return land to Leonard Calvert (younger brother to Cecil Calvert–Lord Baltimore).

The house currently on the property was started in 1723 and finished in 1738 as a home for Elizabeth Hill (great-granddaughter of Edward Hill I, who inherited it when her brother died of consumption) and her husband John Carter. Filled with many original pieces, the house is an amazing thing to experience. In addition to the many family portraits, it boasts a “flying staircase,” a staircase that appears to be flying since it has no obvious means of support–apparently, the only one of this architectural style in North America.

350+ year old tree on the Plantation Property

350+ year old tree on the Plantation Property

But, it was the personal stories that really piqued my interest. The first story I enjoyed is the fact that Robert E. Lee’s parents, “Lighthorse Harry” Lee and Ann Hill Carter were married in the parlor. The house boasts portraits of Lee and his parents. (I had never seen a picture of Robert E. Lee’s parents, but was immediately impressed at how much Robert E. Lee favors his mother more than his father in appearance.) Robert E. Lee spent his early years in this house.

The second is a sad story, but a fun one as well. One of the Carter descendants had an arranged marriage that she did not want. In order to get out of having to marry a man she did not love, she looked for a legal way to prevent the marriage from taking place. At the time, a woman could call the wedding off if the diamond in her engagement ring wasn’t real. To prove the stone’s value, she tested the theory that a real diamond can etch glass. Unfortunately for this young woman, her ring was indeed real, and she had to marry the man after all. But, her actions inspired the Carter women who came after her, who each etched her name, initials, or another memento on the windows around the home. While not all are dated, I saw many etchings, including one from 1834 and the most recent one from 1995.

Original Slave Cabin just off the Plantation property

Original Slave Cabin just off the Plantation property

Finally, being a Civil War enthusiast, I loved the story about Mary Braxton Randolf Carter and her sister who woke up one morning to a lawn filled with wounded Union men. McClellan had fought the Battle of Malvern Hill and was withdrawing his wounded to the field hospital at Berkeley Plantation, but he soon realized many wouldn’t make it. When the sisters saw the many wounded men in their yard, they took them soup, bread, water, and bandages made from their own linens. They proceeded to care for the men and read to them. These acts of kindness saved, not only their own lives, but also Shirley Plantation. McClellan issued them a Federal Order of Safeguard, which protected them and their house from the Army of the Potomac. The family still possesses the original document, but visitors get to see a copy of the Safeguard.

All in all, Shirley Plantation is an incredible place to visit and one I highly recommend!


St. Peters--outside the oldest restaurant in Europe

St. Peters–outside the oldest restaurant in Europe

Today (07/11/13), after 2 flights, we landed in Munich, Germany where we rented a car and drove to Salzburg, Austria. Thus begins a month adventure.

If you’ve never travelled to Europe before, I would recommend a few pointers. First, copy the international road signs. While I was pleasantly surprised at how drivers acted on the legendary Autobahn (just stay out of the left lane), I was infinitely glad to have the international signs. This is the version I used: http://ygraph.com/chart/2029 I also discovered that the Autobahn uses “speed zone” and “end of speed zone” signs, which are either posted on the road (the ones that never change) or on an electronic sign (these change.) In short, as you’re driving, there are times when you will have a speed limit, times you may have a limit, and areas where people drive however fast they jolly well please (It is at these points that you want to avoid the left lane!) People DID tend to obey the posted speed (Surprising for one from Chicagoland where standard procedure is to add 10 mph to the speed limit.), and I felt the signs were clearly posted. Additionally, we had purchased an international GPS on loan, which is a helpful option.

One thing I didn’t expect was to have to pay to go to the bathroom at rest areas. The price where we were was $.70 Euros, or about $1.00. (In public places, it’s usually $.50 Euros, but museums and restaurants have free restrooms, so go while you’re there. Just another something to be aware of. A helpful feature is that the signs for rest areas will count down from 300 meters away.

Performers at Mozart Dinner Concert

Performers at Mozart Dinner Concert

After a quick nap and buying groceries (Bring your own bags–another tip), we set off to the Mozart Dinner Concert. This concert features a collection of Mozart favorites, costumed musicians, and food from the era. It was an amazing experience.

Dinner is served in four courses with music in between. It is an elegant experience. (Check out the website: http://www.salzburg-concerts.com/salzburg-mozart-dinner-concert/mozart-dinner-concert/home for pictures and samples of the performance.) For a formal critique, I would have to say the food was good (bread, cream soup with a cheese dumpling, capons and vegetables, and a frozen honey desert), the music was incredible, and I was disappointed by the “historic costumes” which included such modern inventions as zippers and hair pulled back in scrunchies. I’m glad we went, though not sure it was worth the $54 Euros price tag (though if you show your Salzburg card, you get a “free” CD–normally $10 Euros.)

Tomorrow, we’re off on a Sound of Music tour. More fun to come 🙂


The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 2,200 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 4 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.


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