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Jacob Van Braam

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Jacobus van Braam (b. Bergen op Zoom, in the Netherlands, 1 April 1729,[1] d. 1 August 1792 Charleville, France)[2] was a sword master and mercenary who trained the 19-year-old George Washington in 1751 or shortly thereafter. He was also retained by Washington as a translator.


Van Braam entered the British naval service and acted as lieutenant with Lawrence Washington, George Washington's elder half brother. They served under Admiral Vernon in the expedition to Carthagena.[3] Then, accompanying Lawrence Washington to Mount Vernon,[3] Van Braam was taken on to train George Washington just after Washington was appointed a militia leader for his district with the nominal rank of major. Van Braam gave Washington much instruction as to fencing, flags, fortification and the armies of Europe. Lawrence Washington also trained George at this time, as did Lawrence's cronies, and an adjutant named "Muse" (no first name given) who taught George the "evolution of arms." According to the 1855 biography of Washington by Washington Irving:

Another of Lawrence [Washington]'s campaigning comrades was Jacob Van Braam, a Dutchman by birth; a soldier of fortune of the Dalgetty order;[4] who had been in the British Army, but was now out of service, and, professing to be a complete master of fence, recruited his slender purse in this time of military excitement, by giving the Virginian youth lessons in the sword exercise.
Under the instructions of [Lawrence and Van Braam] Mount Vernon, from being a quiet rural retreat, where Washington, three years previously, had indited love ditties to his "lowland beauty," was suddenly transformed into a school of arms, as he practised the manual exercise with Adjutant Muse, or took lessons on the broadsword from Van Braam.

Curiously other biographers (notably, John Marshall) mention Van Braam only as "an interpreter" brought along on the preliminary diplomatic expeditions leading up to the culmination of his earlier actions against the French, and not as a longtime associate and instructor who campaigned with his brother and schooled George Washington in the art of the sword and other military matters. At the Battle of Great Meadows in July 1754,

The fort was handed over on July 4 and the bulk of British garrison were allowed to return to Maryland honorably. Van Braam and Captain Robert Stobo were retained by the French as a guarantee of compliance with the terms of surrender.[5] The French burned the fort and returned to Fort Duquesne.

On account of his alleged wrong rendering of one word, Van Braam received more blame than praise for his services, while others made it the occasion for criticism of 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.[3]

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 1754, when he rushed upon the French party, during which Jumonville was killed.[3]

Van Braam later joined the 60th Foot (The Royal American Regiment) and fought in the American Revolutionary War, serving on the British side. In a letter to Washington, he expressed personal regret at the change of relations and the fortune of war.[3] He resigned his commission in 1779. He then settled in France.[6] He died in Charleville, Champagne, France on 7 August 1792.[2]


  1. ^ Markiezenhof, NH doopboek, Bergen op Zoom 1729-1752
  2. ^ a b "Het Utrechts Archief, notarial deed 1794 C. A. DUKER".
  3. ^ a b c d e This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainRines, George Edwin, ed. (1920). "Van Braam, Jacob" . Encyclopedia Americana.
  4. ^ The order of Dalgetty appears to be completely unknown although it is a place name in Scotland. Curiously enough, a character in Sir Walter Scot's fictional work "Legends of Montrose" set in Scotland of the 17th century and published in 1819 is a Mercenary named Dalgetty.

    Much of the novel is taken up with a subplot involving an expedition into enemy territory by Dugald Dalgetty, an experienced mercenary fighting for Montrose. Dalgetty does not fight out of political or religious conviction, but purely for the love of carnage. However, he is very professional, and remains loyal to an employer to the end of his contract. He gained his experience fighting for various armies during the Thirty Years' War, then still raging in Germany. Note: He did not fight all thirty years. Dalgetty is regarded as one of Scott's finest comic characters, however he dominates so much of the story that the main plot is not really developed in detail.

  5. ^ To George Washington from Andrew Lewis, 31 October 1758, Founders Online, National Archives
  6. ^ Frank E. Grizzard, Jr. (2002). George Washington: a biographical companion. Santa Barbara, California. p. 320. ISBN 9781576070826.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)