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Two Hangings at Fort Loudoun?

July 28, 2015 – August 31, 2015 all-day




by Jim Moyer in 2015, updated 3/11/2017. 1/9/2019



George Washington in a letter to Lt Gov Dinwiddie stated he has hanged 2 men in Winchester VA.


We believe this may have been the first hangings by George Washington, which by law must be authorized by warrant signed by Lt Gov Dinwiddie for each individual execution.  Dinwiddie gave GW a group of blank warrants to get around the problems of inevitable delays.


We cover some issues in the court cases that led to these hangings.  We only have confirmation by GW in a letter and confirmation that Dinwiddie replied to GW about these executions.  If the executions did not happen, would GW risk lying to the acting Governor?  We have not found the authorizing warrants.


We are interested in why depositions about one of the hanged men was taken AFTER the hanging.


We are also interested in the selective application of the law.  Many were used to paying their way out of service and putting someone else “in their room,” as the saying then went.



August 3, 1757. George Washington’s letter to Lt Gov. Dinwiddie.


Placed down in the middle of the letter were the hangings two days after the court martial:


“I send your Honor a copy

of the proceedings of a

General Court martial.

Two of those condemned,

namely, Ignatious Edwards, and Wm. Smith,

were hanged on thursday last [28 July 1757],

just before the companies marched

for their respective posts.

Your Honor will, I hope excuse my hanging,

instead of shooting them.

It conveyed much more terror to others;

and it was for example sake, we did it.

They were proper objects to suffer:

Edwards had deserted twice before,

and Smith was accounted

one of the greatest villians

upon the continent.

Those who were intended to be whipped,

have received their punishment accordingly;

and I should be glad to know

what your Honor wou’d choose

to have done with the rest?.”


See information about the hangings on this link .


See court martials that led to authorizing the hanging of 2 men, and floggings of the others.



Depositions are still taken

after the hanging of Ignatius Edwards.

Was this pursuit to uncover culpability

in others who may have helped

cause Edwards’ desertions?

Or was this to further firm up

a defense of the hanging?

Or both?


August 15, 1757

Alexander Gaddes testified:


“that before the Draughting Court for this County,

William Brent Esqr. sent this Deponent

to look for Ignatius Edwards, &

to advise him to appear, &

that after he was draughted &

sent to Falmouth,

he the said Brent sent him with a Letter

to the said Edwards advising him

by no means to dessert, &

that if he had not done so

this Depont verily believes

he wou’d have desserted

before he came to Winchester &

that this Depont told him

the said Brent wou’d procure

a Man to Serve in his Room, &

use his Interest with

Col. Washington to get him off, &

that he heard the said Brent say

if he desserted & came to his Plantation,

he wou’d have him taken up &

Order’d his People if they saw him Sculking there

to take him up;

That the said Edwards told

the Depont at Falmouth

that he wou’d dessert at any rate,

if he cou’d not be discharged”


August 16, 1757


William Brent (1733–1782), of Richland

in the Aquia Creek area of Stafford County,

testified in Alexandria

“that He did not at any time

during his stay at Winchester

in July last; or at any other time before or After;

Advise, or use any Words with design to cause,

Ignatious Edwards a Drafted Soldier

in the Virginia Regiment,

to desert the Service of the said Regiment—

and that, he never did at any time offer,

or say that he woud give the said Edwards

£100 Currt money of Virginia

to buy his discharge

from Colo. George Washington Commander

of the said Regiment—

or, that he ever made the said Edwards

any proposal which might,

if carried into Execution reflect dishonour

on the Conduct and Character of the said Washington”


August 27, 1757


From Founders Online Footnote 3:

GW had decided by 27 Aug.,

with Dinwiddie’s acquiescence,

to pardon these men and all others

sentenced to death by this court-martial

except Edwards and William Smith.


Source for all of the above quotes:






1.  Any independent eye witness reports of these 2 alleged hangings?


2. Did Colonel Washington fill out the death warrants required by law?


3. Would Washington risk telling a lie to Lt Gov Dinwiddie claiming he hanged the 2 men?


4. Would any underling risk writing to Dinwiddie or some other interloper to let Dinwiddie know there were no hangings?


5. If the hangings did occur, why were more witnesses deposed after  the hanging date for Ignatius Edwards and why only still depose  witnesses for just him?




In a letter datelined Fort Loudoun,

Colonel Washington writes to Colonel John Stanwix:

“I have a Gallows near 40 feet high

erected (which has terrified the rest exceedingly:)

and I am determined,

if I can be justified in the proceeding,

to hang two or three on it,

as an example to others.”


1. Take a look at the height of some homes. A gallows 40 feet would be almost double the height of that home. Would they really waste the wood and effort to build a 40 foot  gallows?


2. Or did Washington use the 40 foot rise of the hill over the  town as his calculation for the height?


Notice the line, “. . . abt 40 feet higher” indicating how high the hill is overlooking the downtown.

Click on the picture to enlarge.


fort loudoun copy by quarles 2c


The source of the above picture is from a copy Garland R Quarles made of the original for his book, “George Washington and Winchester Virginia 1748-1758″


3. Was the scant work force, which was either sick or too few in number, an asset too limited to waste making such an immensely tall structure while still working on constructing Fort Loudoun?


4. There is a macabre, horrific skill to hanging to avoid decapitation, or slow strangulation. It is unknown whether anyone at Fort Loudoun knew or cared to avoid either result, if the hangings did occur.




History of Questions over Martial Law legalities


See 20 August 1754 letter from Washington to Lt Gov Dinwiddie .








Henings statues http://vagenweb.org/hening/vol05-05.htm  page 79 creation of Frederick and Augusta Counties out of Orange County in 1738


Excellent Table of Contents:

1.  “Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1619-1776” 

2.  http://vagenweb.org/hening/

3. The Legal Genealogist VA House of Burgesses


Quarterly Courts established by House of Burgesses





Examples of Men buying their way out of service.

This is called taking the man’s room.


And why is this an issue?

Because a man was hanged and denied his attempts to buy his way out. The examples below got through the door before George Washington got tired of the abuses, especially of the replacement man not ever showing up.  This is conjecture for now.


Example 1

6 January 1756 and [11–14 January 1756] 

Jacob Funckhouser received his discharge at William West’s, January 11th as Ensign Buckner had taken John Berry in his room.



Example 2

Winchester: Friday, April 9th 1756.

John Bruner, of the Troop of Light Horse, having deserted, and procured another man to serve in his stead, is discharged.


Example 3

[Alexandria, 2–3 February 1756]

John Sellers, Enlisted by Ensign Deane, was this day discharged; as not being legally Enlisted.


Example 4

28 August 1756 letter asking GW to allow a replacement for a draftee. 

“Since writing of the within Letter I’ve prevail’d with myself & Colo. Digges to wait on the Governour & represented Mr Roberts’s Case to him;1 he left the Matter entirely to us & agreed that he might be discharged if We could procure another Man to go up in his Room; this I’m afraid will not be in our Power; We have however pass’d our Words that Roberts shall surrender himself to you, to be disposed of as you think proper. If you can’t discharge him without having another Man in his Stead . . .”





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