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The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Van Braam, Jacob

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VAN BRAAM, Jacob. A Dutch soldier of fortune: b. Bergen-op-zoom, in the Netherlands, 1 April 1727. He entered the British naval service and acted as lieutenant with Lawrence Washington under Admiral Vernon, in the expedition to Carthagena. Then, accompanying him to Mount Vernon, he became the military instructor of George Washington, giving him much instruction as to fencing, flags, fortification and the armies of Europe. He accompanied Washington into the Ohio country in October 1753 and acted as translator of the French missives. On account of his alleged wrong rendering of one word, he received more blame than praise for his services, while jealous rivals and enemies made it the occasion for abusive criticism and malignant attack upon Washington himself. The voluminous controversy, which arose in the Virginia colonial legislature over Van Braam's asserted mistranslation, could hardly have arisen in New York, where the Dutch language was generally spoken, and the Netherlanders' association of ideas with the use of the word “assassin,” which was not then in the Dutch language, but common in French and English, was better understood. The ordinary meaning of this word “assassin,” as used in military parlance at this time, was not that of a dastardly or prowling murderer, but rather that of a soldier who attacks suddenly without warning; and this seems to have been the method of the impetuous, young George Washington, in July 1753, when he rushed upon the French party, during which Jumonville was killed. In view of the whole situation — wind, rain, night, a flickering candle for light and a desire to be fair to both parties — the Dutchman most probably did the best he could and is scarcely to he blamed. During the Revolution, Van Braam served on the British side, though in a letter to Washington, his former pupil, he expressed personal regret at the change of relations and the fortune of war. His subsequent history is not known. Consult the lives of Washington by Marshall and Irving; Winson's ‘Narrative and Critical History of America’ (Vol. V).