Early the very next year news was brought to Virginia that the French were building forts along the Ohio, and making friends with the Indians there. This of course meant that they intended to keep the English out of that country.
The governor of Virginia thought that the time had come to speak out about this matter. He would send a messenger with a letter to these Frenchmen, telling them that all the land belonged to the English, and that no trespassing would be allowed.
The first messenger that he sent became alarmed before he was within a hundred miles of a Frenchman, and went back to say that everything was as good as lost.
It was very plain that a man with some courage must be chosen for such an undertaking.
"I will send Major George Washington," said the governor. "He is very young, but he is the bravest man in the colony."
Now, promptness was one of those traits of character which made George Washington the great man which he afterward became. And so, on the very day that he received his appointment he set out for the Ohio Country.
He took with him three white hunters, two Indians, and a famous woodsman, whose name was Christopher Gist. A small tent or two, and such few things as they would need on the journey, were strapped on the backs of horses.
They pushed through the woods in a northwestwardly direction, and at last reached a place called Venango, not very far from where Pittsburg now stands. This was the first outpost of the French; and here Washington met some of the French officers, and heard them talk about what they proposed to do.
Then, after a long ride to the north, they came to another fort. The French commandant was here, and he welcomed Washington with a great show of kindness.
Washington gave him the letter which he had brought from the governor of Virginia.
The commandant read it, and two days afterward gave him an answer.
He said that he would forward the letter to the French governor; but as for the Ohio Country, he had been ordered to hold it, and he meant to do so.
Of course Washington could do nothing further. But it was plain to him that the news ought to be carried back to Virginia without delay.
It was now mid-winter. As no horse could travel through the trackless woods at this time of year, he must make his way on foot.
So, with only the woodsman, Gist, he shouldered his rifle and knapsack, and bravely started home.
It was a terrible journey. The ground was covered with snow; the rivers were frozen; there was not even a path through the forest. If Gist had not been so fine a woodsman they would hardly have seen Virginia again.
Once an Indian shot at Washington from behind a tree. Once the brave young man fell into a river, among floating ice, and would have been drowned but for Gist.
At last they reached the house of a trader on the Monongahela River. There they were kindly welcomed, and urged to stay until the weather should grow milder.
But Washington would not delay.
Sixteen days after that, he was back in Virginia, telling the governor all about his adventures, and giving his opinion about the best way to deal with the French.