THE INDIAN PROPHECY
It was at that period in the war of the Rebellion, when the national cause presented its most clouded aspect, that I happened to called at the Congressional Library for the purpose of investigating some subject connected with my pursuits, but, feeling too much depressed in spirit to sit down directly to the work in hand, stood listlessly at the library table, tossing over such books as had casually been collected there, when “Custis’s Recollections of Washington” turned up, and it was not long before my attention was fixed on a chapter entitled The Indian Prophecy. This remarkable occurrence, reduced and abbreviated from the somewhat magniloquent narrative of the worthy, simple-hearted Custis, is as follows:— “ In the year 1770, Col. Washington, accompanied by Dr. Craik and a party of hunters, woodsmen, and a few neighboring gentlemen, proceeded to the Kanawha, for the purpose of exploring the country, and making surveys of extensive and valuable tracts of land.
“ In those world and unfrequented regions, the party pitched their camp on the bank of the river, and were engaged in the surveys and in the usual pursuits of a hunter’s life, when one day, while resting in camp, a party of Indians, led by a trader, was announced. The party halted at a short distance, and the interpreter advanced, stating that he was conducting a party which consisted of a grand Sachem and attendant warriors; that the chief was a very great man among the Northwestern tribes,—the same who commanded the Indians at Braddock’s defeat. Sixteen years before; and that hearing of the visit of Col. Washington to the Western country, he had set out on a mission, the object of which he would make known in person. The Colonel received the interpreter with courtesy; and all the preparations which the circumstances of their situation would permit, having been made for the reception of such a distinguished visitor, the stranger were introduced. The Sachem immediately distinguished Washington from a group of fine, tall, manly figures; although he had not seen him for sixteen years, and then in the fury and tumult of battle, the Indian himself was of a lofty stature, and of a dignified, imposing appearance.
“The camp meal was now ready, and the Colonel presided, placing his distinguished guest at his right, and helping him plentifully with the hunter’s fare; but the Sachem touched not a morsel.
“Amazement not seized the company, and no little anxiety was felt to know how this extraordinary conduct was to terminate. The council fire was at length kindled, when the Sachem addressed Washington to the following effect:—
“‘I am a chief and the ruler over many tribes. My influence extends to the waters of the great lakes and to the blue mountains. I have travelled a long and weary part, that I might see the young warrior of the great battle. It was on the day when the white man’s blood mixed with the streams of our forest, that I first beheld this chief. I called to my young men, and said, Mark you tall and daring warrior! He is not of the red-coat tribe; he hath an Indian’s wisdom, and his warriors fight as we do; himself is alone exposed. Quick! Let your aim be certain, and he dies. Our rifles were leveled,—rifles which but for him knew not how to miss. It was all in vain; a power mightier than we shield him from harm. He cannot die in battle. I am old, and soon shall be gather to the great council fire of my fathers in the land of shades; but ere I go, there is something bids me speak in the voice of prophecy. Listen! The Great Spirit protects that man, and guides his destinies. He will become the chief of nations, and a people yet unborn will hail him as the founder of a mighty empire,’ who could shield from the murderous rifle of the savage foe, the man who was to be the exponent of the greatest event which has taken place since the last judgment,---His chosen instrument in founding a new, a free, and a mighty nation,---that he would not desert that nation now in its direct need, but in His own good time would safely and triumphantly lead it through its great temptation. What was then seen with the eye of faith has since become historical fact. He has safely and prosperously conducted this nation through its great peril; and if we are now wise in setting the great questions which are coming up for our consideration, wise in scattering all over this land, even to its remotest hamlet, the seeds of useful knowledge, morality, and patriotism; and, above all, if we of the New Jerusalem are faithful to our trust, this nation, in whose behalf the land of Providence has so often, so signally, and so manifestly been stretched forth, will move so signally, and so manifestly been stretched forth, will move on to the accomplishment of the high ends for the sake of which that same Providence has raised it up.
The wonderful preservation of Washington at Braddock’s defeat attracted no little attention towards him, even at that early day of his history. Dr. Davis, President, of Princeton Collage, in a sermon soon after this event, thus expresses himself:---
“I beg leave to point the attention of the public to that heroic youth, Col. Washington, whom I cannot but hope Providence has preserved for some great service to this country.”
But to recur to the Indian prophesy. All who heard it were more or less impressed by it; but on no one did this mysterious and romantic adventure makes a deeper or more lasting impression, it would seem, than on the mind of Dr. Craik. In the war of the Revolution it became a favorite theme with him, especially after any perilous action in which his friends and commander had been particularly exposed, as at the battles of Princeton, Germantown, and Manmounth. The night before this last battle, a party of the general officers assembled, and resolved upon a memorial to the chief, praying that he would not expose his person in the approaching conflict.
His high and chivalric daring and contempt of danger at the battles of bridle of his horse, made his friends the more anxious for the preservation of a life so dear to all. It was determined that the memorial that it would be presented by Dr. Craik; but Dr. Craik assured the memorialists that it would be useless. He then related the Indian prophecy, and observed “that really there was something in the air and manner of the old savage chief, delivering his oracle amid the depths of the forest, that neither time nor circumstance would ever erase from his memory; and that he believed with the tawny prophet of the wilderness, that their beloved Washington was a spirit-protected being; and that the enemy could not kill him.”
On the following day, while the Commander-in-chief, attended by his officers, were reconnoitering the enemy from an elevated part of the field, a round-shot from the British artillery struck but a little way from his horse’s feet, throwing up the earth over his person, and then bounding harmlessly away. Dr. Craik, pleased with the confirmation of his faith in the Indian prophecy, nodded to the officers who composed the party of the preceding evening, and then pointed with his finger to heaven.
The artist has seized the moment,----the bounding of the cannon ball under the feet of the horse,---to represent Washington, in the equestrian stature of bronze which stands in the western part of the federal capital.
One of the most beautiful traits in the character of Washington is his reverent acknowledgment of a superintendent Providence in the great affairs in which he was engaged. He thus writes to his brother from the field of Monongahela, the scene of Braddock’s defeat. “By the all-powerful dispensation of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation.” And this was his language on several other occasions. But he was not, like Napoleon Bonaparte, a fatalist, a believer and mysterious as its power is irresistible. The providence, which he acknowledged, was the government of a Christian’s God. In the obscure age of the church in which he lived, it is not likely that his views of Christian doctrine were very clear and distinct; but there can be no doubt, I think, that his mind was the subject of a rich deposit of the remains of the former Christian Church. His mind seems never to have been contaminated with the French philosophy prevalent at the period of the Revolution, and which was imported into this country by our Gallican allies. During my residence on the western shore of the Narraganset Bay, as Principal of the old Kent Academy, I met with more than one old man, whose faith had been unsettled, whose mind had been Voltairized by an intercourse with the officers of Count D’Estaing’s fleet at Newport. But Washington’s mind was impervious to such influences: his faith was raised on too firm a basis to be shaken by such assaults, and he preserved his religious sentiments through life unimpaired. He was an Episcopalian by profession; but his Episcopalianism would hardly meet the view of such men as the present bishops of Maryland and New Jersey. His idea of Christ was too broad and comprehensive to be entertained by such men with any favor. While President, the Lord’s day was set apart; he regular attended Divine service; spent the afternoon in his closet, and the evening in reading a sermon to Mrs. Washington; and at the same with him in his retirement at Mt Vernon; and at this very moment the few which he was accustomed to occupy in the church at Alexandria, is draped in the national flag, as an appropriate part of the Christmas decorations of the Church.
WASHINGTON, JANUARY, 1866. J. O. C.