The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin/Section Fifty Four

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Section Fifty Four[edit]

It was the Beginning of January when we set out upon this Business of Building Forts. I sent one Detachment towards the Minisinks, with Instructions to erect one for the Security of that upper part of the Country; and another to the lower Part, with similar Instructions. And I concluded to go myself with the rest of my Force to Gnadenhut, where a Fort was tho’t more immediately necessary. The Moravians procur’d me five Wagons for our Tools, Stores, Baggage, &c. Just before we left Bethlehem, Eleven Farmers who had been driven from their Plantations by the Indians, came to me requesting a supply of Fire Arms, that they might go back and fetch off their Cattle. I gave them each a Gun with suitable Ammunition. We had not march’d many Miles before it began to rain, and it continu’d raining all Day. There were no Habitations on the Road, to shelter us, till we arriv’d near Night, at the House of a German, where and in his Barn we were all huddled together as wet as Water could make us. It was well we were not attack’d in our March, for Our Arms were of the most ordinary sort & our Men could not keep their Gunlocks dry. The Indians are dextrous in Contrivances for that purpose, which we had not. They met that Day the eleven poor Farmers above-mentioned & kill’d Ten of them. The one who escap’d inform’d that his & his Companions’ Guns would not go off, the Priming being wet with the Rain. The next Day being fair, we continued our March and arriv’d at the desolated Gnadenhut. There was a Saw Mill near, round which were left several Piles of Boards, with which we soon hutted ourselves; an Operation the more necessary at that inclement Season, as we had no Tents. Our first Work was to bury more effectually the Dead we found there, who had been half interr’d by the Country People. The next Morning our Fort was plann’d and mark’d out, the Circumference measuring 455 feet, which would require as many Palisades to be made of Trees one with another of a Foot Diameter each. Our Axes, of which we had 70, were immediately set to work, to cut down Trees; and our Men being dextrous in the Use of them, great Dispatch was made. Seeing the Trees fall so fast, I had the Curiosity to look at my Watch when two Men began to cut at a Pine. In 6 Minutes they had it upon the Ground; and I found it of 14 Inches Diameter. Each Pine made three Palisades of 18 Feet long, pointed at one End. While these were preparing, our other Men, dug a Trench all round of three feet deep in which the Palisades were to be planted, and our Wagons, the Body being taken off, and the fore and hind Wheels separated by taking out the Pin which united the two Parts of the Perch, we had 10 Carriages with two Horses each, to bring the Palisades from the Woods to the Spot. When they were set up, our Carpenters built a Stage of Boards all round within, about 6 Feet high, for the Men to stand on when to fire thro’ the Loopholes. We had one swivel Gun which we mounted on one of the Angles; and fired it as soon as fix’d, to let the Indians know, if any were within hearing, that we had such Pieces. And thus our Fort, (if such a magnificent Name may be given to so miserable a Stockade) was finished in a Week, tho’ it rain’d so hard every other Day that the Men could not work.

This gave me occasion to observe, that when Men are employ’d they are best contented. For on the Days they work’d they were good-natur’d and cheerful; and with the consciousness of having done a good Day’s work they spent the Evenings jollily; but on the idle Days they were mutinous and quarrelsome, finding fault with their Pork, the Bread, &c. and in continual ill-humor; which put me in mind of a Sea- Captain, whose Rule it was to keep his Men constantly at Work; and when his Mate once told him that they had done every thing, and there was nothing farther to employ them about; O, says he, make them scour the Anchor.

This kind of Fort, however contemptible, is a sufficient Defense against Indians who have no Cannon. Finding our selves now posted securely, and having a Place to retreat to on Occasion, we ventur’d out in Parties to scour the adjacent Country. We met with no Indians, but we found the Places on the neighboring Hills where they had lain to watch our Proceedings. There was an Art in their Contrivance of those Places that seems worth mention. It being Winter, a Fire was necessary for them. But a common Fire on the Surface of the Ground would by its Light have discover’d their Position at a Distance. They had therefore dug Holes in the ground about three feet Diameter, and somewhat deeper. We saw where they had with their Hatchets cut off the Charcoal from the Sides of burnt Logs lying in the Woods. With these Coals they had made small Fires in the Bottom of the Holes, and we observ’d among the Weeds & Grass the Prints of their Bodies made by their laying all round with their Legs hanging down in the Holes to keep their Feet warm, which with them is an essential Point. This kind of Fire, so manag’d, could not discover them either by its Light, Flame, Sparks or even Smoke. It appear’d that their Number was not great, and it seems they saw we were too many to be attack’d by them with Prospect of Advantage.

We had for our Chaplain a zealous Presbyterian Minister, Mr Beatty, who complain’d to me that the Men did not generally attend his Prayers & Exhortations. When they enlisted, they were promis’d, besides Pay & Provisions, a Gill of Rum a Day, which was punctually serv’d out to them half in the Morning and the other half in the Evening, and I observ’d they were as punctual in attending to receive it. Upon which I said to Mr Beatty, “It is perhaps below the Dignity of your Profession to act as Steward of the Rum. But if you were to deal it out, and only just after Prayers, you would have them all about you.” He lik’d the Thought, undertook the Office, and with the help of a few hands to measure out the Liquor executed it to Satisfaction; and never were Prayers more generally & more punctually attended. So that I thought this Method preferable to the Punishments inflicted by some military Laws for Non-Attendance on Divine Service.