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History: St. Clair Gains News of Enemy

250 years ago a British army led by General Edward Braddock arrived in Alexandria in route, unknowingly, to a bloody defeat at the hands of the French and Indians. Following is one of a series of articles on that army.

Feb. 9, 1755, Williamsburg: Sir John St. Clair, Deputy Quartermaster General of the Braddock expedition, wrote to his superior today that he had learned "the first Column of the Indians are arrived" at Fort Duquesne, the French fort (located at present-day Pittsburgh) that the British army planned to attack, "and two more are on the march."

Surprisingly, St. Clair considered this good rather than bad news. He had been in Virginia and Maryland for a month attempting to arrange for supplies and raise militia for the expedition only to find that, in his opinion, "the Inhabitants are totally ignorant of Military Affairs: their Sloth and Ignorance is not to be believed." He thought that Indians making scattered attacks would be "the only thing [that] will awake the sleepy headed mortals of this [Virginia] and the Neighboring Provinces." If he could have foreseen the future, he would not have found the presence of Indians quite so agreeable.

In the same letter to Braddock, St. Clair recommended that one of the army's two regiments then sailing to Virginia from Ireland be disembarked near Fredericksburg and the other at Alexandria. Half the latter regiment would stay in Alexandria to rest and be supplied for its long march, and the other half would proceed to Dumfries, Virginia, and to Upper Marlboro, Bladensburg, and Frederick, Maryland.

In the meantime, St. Clair's contact in Alexandria, the 34-year-old businessman John Carlyle, was preparing for the army's arrival.

Ted Pulliam is a member of the Alexandria Archaeological Commission.