You have already learned how the English people had control of all that part of our country which borders upon the Atlantic Ocean. You have learned, also, that they had made thirteen great settlements along the coast, while all the vast region west of the mountains remained a wild and unknown land.
Now, because Englishmen had been the first white men to see the line of shore that stretches from Maine to Georgia, they set up a claim to all the land west of that line.
They had no idea how far the land extended. They knew almost nothing about its great rivers, its vasts forests, its lofty mountains, its rich prairies. They cared nothing for the claims of the Indians whose homes were there.
"All the land from ocean to ocean," they said, "belongs to the King of England." But there were other people who also had something to say about this matter.
The French had explored the Mississippi River. They had sailed on the Great Lakes. Their hunters and trappers were roaming through the western forests. They had made treaties with the Indians; and they had built trading posts, here and there, along the watercourses.
They said, "The English people may keep their strip of land between the mountains and the sea. But these great river valleys and this country around the Lakes are ours, because we have been the first to explore and make use of them."
Now, about the time that George Washington was thinking of becoming a sailor, some of the rich planters in Virginia began to hear wonderful stories about a fertile region west of the Alleghanies, watered by a noble river, and rich in game and fur-bearing animals.
This region was called the Ohio Country, from the name of the river; and those who took pains to learn the most about it were satisfied that it would, at some time, be of very great importance to the people who should control it.
And so these Virginian planters and certain Englishmen formed a company called the Ohio Company, the object of which was to explore the country, and make money by establishing trading posts and settlements there. And of this company, Lawrence Washington was one of the chief managers.
Lawrence Washington and his brother George had often talked about this enterprise.
"We shall have trouble with the French," said Lawrence. "They have already sent men into the Ohio Country; and they are trying in every way to prove that the land belongs to them."
"It looks as if we should have to drive them out by force," said George.
"Yes, and there will probably be some hard fighting," said Lawrence; "and you, as a young man, must get yourself ready to have a hand in it."
And Lawrence followed this up by persuading the governor of the colony to appoint George as one of the adjutants-general of Virginia.
George was only nineteen years old, but he was now Major Washington, and one of the most promising soldiers in America.