George Washington, Vol. I
Henry Cabot Lodge

Part 1 out of 6

Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Tim Koeller and PG Distributed

[Illustration: Frontispiece]

American Statesmen


[Illustration: _The Home of the Washington Family_]

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This edition has been carefully revised, and although very little has
been added of late years to our knowledge of the facts of Washington's
life, I have tried to examine all that has appeared. The researches of
Mr. Waters, which were published just after these volumes in the first
edition had passed through the press, enable me to give the Washington
pedigree with certainty, and have turned conjecture into fact. The
recent publication in full of Lear's memoranda, although they tell
nothing new about Washington's last moments, help toward a completion
of all the details of the scene.


WASHINGTON, February 7, 1898.

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From the painting by Gilbert Stuart in the Museum of Fine Arts,
Boston. This painting is owned by the Boston Athenaeum and is known as
the Athenaeum portrait.

Autograph is from Washington's signature to a bill of exchange, from
"Talks about Autographs" by George Birkbeck Hill.

The vignette of the residence of the Washington family is from "Homes
of American Statesman," published by Alfred W. Putnam, New York.


From an original painting in the possession of Lawrence Washington,
Esq., Alexandria, Va., a great-great-great-nephew.

Autograph from MS. in New York Public Library, Lenox Building.


From an original painting owned by Dr. James D. Moncure of Virginia,
one of her descendants.

No autograph can be found.


From Irving's "Washington," published by G.P. Putnam's Sons.

Autograph from Appleton's "Cyclopaedia of American Biography."


From the original painting by Emanuel Leutze in the New York
Metropolitan Museum. The United States flag shown in the picture is an
anachronism. The stars and stripes were first adopted by Congress in
June, 1777; and any flag carried by Washington's army in December,
1776, would have consisted of the stripes with the crosses of St.
George and St. Andrew in the blue field where the stars now appear.


February 9 in the year 1800 was a gala day in Paris. Napoleon had
decreed a triumphal procession, and on that day a splendid military
ceremony was performed in the Champ de Mars, and the trophies of the
Egyptian expedition were exultingly displayed. There were, however,
two features in all this pomp and show which seemed strangely out
of keeping with the glittering pageant and the sounds of victorious
rejoicing. The standards and flags of the army were hung with crape,
and after the grand parade the dignitaries of the land proceeded
solemnly to the Temple of Mars, and heard the eloquent M. de Fontanes
deliver an "Eloge Funebre."[1]

[Footnote 1: A report recently discovered shows that more even was
intended than was actually done.

The following is a translation of the paper, the original of which
is Nos. 172 and 173 of volume 51 of the manuscript series known as
_Etats-Unis_, 1799, 1800 (years 7 and 8 of the French republic):--

"_Report of Talleyrand, Minister of Foreign Affairs, on the
occasion of the death of George Washington_.

"A nation which some day will he a great nation, and which today
is the wisest and happiest on the face of the earth, weeps at the
bier of a man whose courage and genius contributed the most to
free it from bondage, and elevate it to the rank of an independent
and sovereign power. The regrets caused by the death of this
great man, the memories aroused by these regrets, and a proper
veneration for all that is held dear and sacred by mankind, impel
us to give expression to our sentiments by taking part in an event
which deprives the world of one of its brightest ornaments, and
removes to the realm of history one of the noblest lives that ever
honored the human race.

"The name of Washington is inseparably linked with a memorable
epoch. He adorned this epoch by his talents and the nobility of
his character, and with virtues that even envy dared not assail.
History offers few examples of such renown. Great from the outset
of his career, patriotic before his country had become a nation,
brilliant and universal despite the passions and political
resentments that would gladly have checked his career, his fame
is to-day imperishable,--fortune having consecrated his claim to
greatness, while the prosperity of a people destined for grand
achievements is the best evidence of a fame ever to increase.

"His own country now honors his memory with funeral ceremonies,
having lost a citizen whose public actions and unassuming grandeur
in private life were a living example of courage, wisdom, and
unselfishness; and France, which from the dawn of the American
Revolution hailed with hope a nation, hitherto unknown, that was
discarding the vices of Europe, which foresaw all the glory that
this nation would bestow on humanity, and the enlightenment of
governments that would ensue from the novel character of the
social institutions and the new type of heroism of which
Washington and America were models for the world at
large,--France, I repeat, should depart from established usages
and do honor to one whose fame is beyond comparison with that of

"The man who, amid the decadence of modern ages, first dared
believe that he could inspire degenerate nations with courage to
rise to the level of republican virtues, lived for all nations and
for all centuries; and this nation, which first saw in the life
and success of that illustrious man a foreboding of its destiny,
and therein recognized a future to be realized and duties to be
performed, has every right to class him as a fellow-citizen. I
therefore submit to the First Consul the following decree:--
"Bonaparte, First Consul of the republic, decrees as follows:--
"Article 1. A statue is to be erected to General Washington.
"Article 2. This statue is to be placed in one of the squares of
Paris, to be chosen by the minister of the interior, and it shall
be his duty to execute the present decree."]

About the same time, if tradition may be trusted, the flags upon the
conquering Channel fleet of England were lowered to half-mast in token
of grief for the same event which had caused the armies of France to
wear the customary badges of mourning.

If some "traveler from an antique land" had observed these
manifestations, he would have wondered much whose memory it was that
had called them forth from these two great nations, then struggling
fiercely with each other for supremacy on land and sea. His wonder
would not have abated had he been told that the man for whom they
mourned had wrested an empire from one, and at the time of his death
was arming his countrymen against the other.

These signal honors were paid by England and France to a simple
Virginian gentleman who had never left his own country, and who when
he died held no other office than the titular command of a provisional
army. Yet although these marks of respect from foreign nations were
notable and striking, they were slight and formal in comparison with
the silence and grief which fell upon the people of the United States
when they heard that Washington was dead. He had died in the fullness
of time, quietly, quickly, and in his own house, and yet his death
called out a display of grief which has rarely been equaled in
history. The trappings and suits of woe were there of course, but what
made this mourning memorable was that the land seemed hushed with
sadness, and that the sorrow dwelt among the people and was neither
forced nor fleeting. Men carried it home with them to their firesides
and to their churches, to their offices and their workshops. Every
preacher took the life which had closed as the noblest of texts, and
every orator made it the theme of his loftiest eloquence. For more
than a year the newspapers teemed with eulogy and elegy, and both
prose and poetry were severely taxed to pay tribute to the memory of
the great one who had gone. The prose was often stilted and the verse
was generally bad, but yet through it all, from the polished sentences
of the funeral oration to the humble effusions of the obscurest poet's
corner, there ran a strong and genuine feeling, which the highest art
could not refine nor the clumsiest expression degrade.

From that time to this, the stream of praise has flowed on, ever
deepening and strengthening, both at home and abroad. Washington alone
in history seems to have risen so high in the estimation of men that
criticism has shrunk away abashed, and has only been heard whispering
in corners or growling hoarsely in the now famous house in Cheyne Row.

There is a world of meaning in all this, could we but rightly
interpret it. It cannot be brushed aside as mere popular superstition,
formed of fancies and prejudices, to which intelligent opposition
would be useless. Nothing is in fact more false than the way in which
popular opinions are often belittled and made light of. The opinion
of the world, however reached, becomes in the course of years or
centuries the nearest approach we can make to final judgment on
human things. Don Quixote may be dumb to one man, and the sonnets of
Shakespeare may leave another cold and weary. But the fault is in
the reader. There is no doubt of the greatness of Cervantes or
Shakespeare, for they have stood the test of time, and the voices of
generations of men, from which there is no appeal, have declared them
to be great. The lyrics that all the world loves and repeats, the
poetry which is often called hackneyed, is on the whole the best
poetry. The pictures and statues that have drawn crowds of admiring
gazers for centuries are the best. The things that are "caviare to the
general" often undoubtedly have much merit, but they lack quite as
often the warm, generous, and immortal vitality which appeals alike to
rich and poor, to the ignorant and to the learned.

So it is with men. When years after his death the world agrees to call
a man great, the verdict must be accepted. The historian may whiten or
blacken, the critic may weigh and dissect, the form of the judgment
may be altered, but the central fact remains, and with the man, whom
the world in its vague way has pronounced great, history must reckon
one way or the other, whether for good or ill.

When we come to such a man as Washington, the case is still stronger.
Men seem to have agreed that here was greatness which no one could
question, and character which no one could fail to respect. Around
other leaders of men, even around the greatest of them, sharp
controversies have arisen, and they have their partisans dead as they
had them living. Washington had enemies who assailed him, and friends
whom he loved, but in death as in life he seems to stand alone, above
conflict and superior to malice. In his own country there is no
dispute as to his greatness or his worth. Englishmen, the most
unsparing censors of everything American, have paid homage to
Washington, from the days of Fox and Byron to those of Tennyson and
Gladstone. In France his name has always been revered, and in distant
lands those who have scarcely heard of the existence of the United
States know the country of Washington. To the mighty cairn which the
nation and the states have raised to his memory, stones have come
from Greece, sending a fragment of the Parthenon; from Brazil and
Switzerland, Turkey and Japan, Siam and India beyond the Ganges. On
that sent by China we read: "In devising plans, Washington was more
decided than Ching Shing or Woo Kwang; in winning a country he was
braver than Tsau Tsau or Ling Pi. Wielding his four-footed falchion,
he extended the frontiers and refused to accept the Royal Dignity. The
sentiments of the Three Dynasties have reappeared in him. Can any man
of ancient or modern times fail to pronounce Washington peerless?"
These comparisons so strange to our ears tell of a fame which has
reached farther than we can readily conceive.

Washington stands as a type, and has stamped himself deep upon the
imagination of mankind. Whether the image be true or false is of no
consequence: the fact endures. He rises up from the dust of history as
a Greek statue comes pure and serene from the earth in which it has
lain for centuries. We know his deeds; but what was it in the man
which has given him such a place in the affection, the respect, and
the imagination of his fellow men throughout the world?

Perhaps this question has been fully answered already. Possibly every
one who has thought upon the subject has solved the problem, so that
even to state it is superfluous. Yet a brilliant writer, the latest
historian of the American people, has said: "General Washington is
known to us, and President Washington. But George Washington is an
unknown man." These are pregnant words, and that they should be true
seems to make any attempt to fill the great gap an act of sheer and
hopeless audacity. Yet there can be certainly no reason for adding
another to the almost countless lives of Washington unless it be done
with the object in view which Mr. McMaster indicates. Any such attempt
may fail in execution, but if the purpose be right it has at least an
excuse for its existence.

To try to add to the existing knowledge of the facts in Washington's
career would have but little result beyond the multiplication of
printed pages. The antiquarian, the historian, and the critic have
exhausted every source, and the most minute details have been and
still are the subject of endless writing and constant discussion.
Every house he ever lived in has been drawn and painted; every
portrait, and statue, and medal has been catalogued and engraved. His
private affairs, his servants, his horses, his arms, even his clothes,
have all passed beneath the merciless microscope of history. His
biography has been written and rewritten. His letters have been drawn
out from every lurking place, and have been given to the world in
masses and in detachments. His battles have been fought over and
over again, and his state papers have undergone an almost verbal
examination. Yet, despite his vast fame and all the labors of the
antiquarian and biographer, Washington is still not understood,--as a
man he is unfamiliar to the posterity that reverences his memory. He
has been misrepresented more or less covertly by hostile critics and
by candid friends, and has been disguised and hidden away by the
mistaken eulogy and erroneous theories of devout admirers. All that
any one now can do, therefore, is to endeavor from this mass of
material to depict the very man himself in the various conjunctures of
his life, and strive to see what he really was and what he meant then,
and what he is and what he means to us and to the world to-day.

In the progress of time Washington has become in the popular
imagination largely mythical; for mythical ideas grow up in this
nineteenth century, notwithstanding its boasted intelligence, much as
they did in the infancy of the race. The old sentiment of humanity,
more ancient and more lasting than any records or monuments, which led
men in the dawn of history to worship their ancestors and the founders
of states, still endures. As the centuries have gone by, this
sentiment has lost its religious flavor, and has become more and
more restricted in its application, but it has never been wholly
extinguished. Let some man arise great above the ordinary bounds of
greatness, and the feeling which caused our progenitors to bow down
at the shrines of their forefathers and chiefs leads us to invest
our modern hero with a mythical character, and picture him in our
imagination as a being to whom, a few thousand years ago, altars would
have been builded and libations poured out.

Thus we have to-day in our minds a Washington grand, solemn, and
impressive. In this guise he appears as a man of lofty intellect, vast
moral force, supremely successful and fortunate, and wholly apart
from and above all his fellow-men. This lonely figure rises up to our
imagination with all the imperial splendor of the Livian Augustus, and
with about as much warmth and life as that unrivaled statue. In this
vague but quite serious idea there is a great deal of truth, but
not the whole truth. It is the myth of genuine love and veneration
springing from the inborn gratitude of man to the founders and chiefs
of his race, but it is not by any means the only one of its family.
There is another, equally diffused, of wholly different parentage.
In its inception this second myth is due to the itinerant parson,
bookmaker, and bookseller, Mason Weems. He wrote a brief biography of
Washington, of trifling historical value, yet with sufficient literary
skill to make it widely popular. It neither appealed to nor was read
by the cultivated and instructed few, but it reached the homes of the
masses of the people. It found its way to the bench of the mechanic,
to the house of the farmer, to the log cabins of the frontiersman and
pioneer. It was carried across the continent on the first waves of
advancing settlement. Its anecdotes and its simplicity of thought
commended it to children both at home and at school, and, passing
through edition after edition, its statements were widely spread, and
it colored insensibly the ideas of hundreds of persons who never had
heard even the name of the author. To Weems we owe the anecdote of the
cherry-tree, and other tales of a similar nature. He wrote with Dr.
Beattie's life of his son before him as a model, and the result is
that Washington comes out in his pages a faultless prig. Whether Weems
intended it or not, that is the result which he produced, and that is
the Washington who was developed from the wide sale of his book. When
this idea took definite and permanent shape it caused a reaction.
There was a revolt against it, for the hero thus engendered had
qualities which the national sense of humor could not endure in
silence. The consequence is, that the Washington of Weems has afforded
an endless theme for joke and burlesque. Every professional American
humorist almost has tried his hand at it; and with each recurring 22d
of February the hard-worked jesters of the daily newspapers take it
up and make a little fun out of it, sufficient for the day that is
passing over them. The opportunity is tempting, because of the ease
with which fun can be made when that fundamental source of humor, a
violent contrast, can be employed. But there is no irreverence in it
all, for the jest is not aimed at the real Washington, but at the
Washington portrayed in the Weems biography. The worthy "rector of
Mount Vernon," as he called himself, meant no harm, and there is a
good deal of truth, no doubt, in his book. But the blameless and
priggish boy, and the equally faultless and uninteresting man, whom he
originated, have become in the process of development a myth. So in
its further development is the Washington of the humorist a myth.
Both alike are utterly and crudely false. They resemble their great
original as much as Greenough's classically nude statue, exposed to
the incongruities of the North American climate, resembles in dress
and appearance the general of our armies and the first President of
the United States.

Such are the myth-makers. They are widely different from the critics
who have assailed Washington in a sidelong way, and who can be better
dealt with in a later chapter. These last bring charges which can be
met; the myth-maker presents a vague conception, extremely difficult
to handle because it is so elusive.

One of our well-known historical scholars and most learned
antiquarians, not long ago, in an essay vindicating the "traditional
Washington," treated with scorn the idea of a "new Washington" being
discovered. In one sense this is quite right, in another totally
wrong. There can be no new Washington discovered, because there never
was but one. But the real man has been so overlaid with myths and
traditions, and so distorted by misleading criticisms, that, as
has already been suggested, he has been wellnigh lost. We have
the religious or statuesque myth, we have the Weems myth, and the
ludicrous myth of the writer of paragraphs. We have the stately hero
of Sparks, and Everett, and Marshall, and Irving, with all his great
deeds as general and president duly recorded and set down in polished
and eloquent sentences; and we know him to be very great and wise and
pure, and, be it said with bated breath, very dry and cold. We are
also familiar with the common-place man who so wonderfully illustrated
the power of character as set forth by various persons, either from
love of novelty or because the great chief seemed to get in the way of
their own heroes.

If this is all, then the career of Washington and his towering fame
present a problem of which the world has never seen the like. But this
cannot be all: there must be more behind. Every one knows the famous
Stuart portrait of Washington. The last effort of the artist's cunning
is there employed to paint his great subject for posterity. How serene
and beautiful it is! It is a noble picture for future ages to look
upon. Still it is not all. There is in the dining-room of Memorial
Hall at Cambridge another portrait, painted by Savage. It is cold and
dry, hard enough to serve for the signboard of an inn, and able, one
would think, to withstand all weathers. Yet this picture has something
which Stuart left out. There is a rugged strength in the face which
gives us pause, there is a massiveness in the jaw, telling of an iron
grip and a relentless will, which has infinite meaning.

"Here's John the Smith's rough-hammered head. Great eye,
Gross jaw, and griped lips do what granite can
To give you the crown-grasper. What a man!"

In death as in life, there is something about Washington, call it
greatness, dignity, majesty, what you will, which seems to hold men
aloof and keep them from knowing him. In truth he was a most difficult
man to know. Carlyle, crying out through hundreds of pages and myriads
of words for the "silent man," passed by with a sneer the most
absolutely silent great man that history can show. Washington's
letters and speeches and messages fill many volumes, but they are all
on business. They are profoundly silent as to the writer himself. From
this Carlyle concluded apparently that there was nothing to tell,--a
very shallow conclusion if it was the one he really reached. Such an
idea was certainly far, very far, from the truth.

Behind the popular myths, behind the statuesque figure of the orator
and the preacher, behind the general and the president of the
historian, there was a strong, vigorous man, in whose veins ran warm,
red blood, in whose heart were stormy passions and deep sympathy for
humanity, in whose brain were far-reaching thoughts, and who was
informed throughout his being with a resistless will. The veil of his
silence is not often lifted, and never intentionally, but now and then
there is a glimpse behind it; and in stray sentences and in little
incidents strenuously gathered together; above all, in the right
interpretation of the words, and the deeds, and the true history known
to all men,--we can surely find George Washington "the noblest figure
that ever stood in the forefront of a nation's life."

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To know George Washington, we must first of all understand the society
in which he was born and brought up. As certain lilies draw their
colors from the subtle qualities of the soil hidden beneath the water
upon which they float, so are men profoundly affected by the obscure
and insensible influences which surround their childhood and youth.
The art of the chemist may discover perhaps the secret agent which
tints the white flower with blue or pink, but very often the elements,
which analysis detects, nature alone can combine. The analogy is
not strained or fanciful when we apply it to a past society. We can
separate, and classify, and label the various elements, but to combine
them in such a way as to form a vivid picture is a work of surpassing
difficulty. This is especially true of such a land as Virginia in the
middle of the last century. Virginian society, as it existed at that
period, is utterly extinct. John Randolph said it had departed before
the year 1800. Since then another century, with all its manifold
changes, has wellnigh come and gone. Most important of all, the last
surviving institution of colonial Virginia has been swept away in the
crash of civil war, which has opened a gulf between past and present
wider and deeper than any that time alone could make.

Life and society as they existed in the Virginia of the eighteenth
century seem, moreover, to have been sharply broken and ended. We
cannot trace our steps backward, as is possible in most cases, over
the road by which the world has traveled since those days. We are
compelled to take a long leap mentally in order to land ourselves
securely in the Virginia which honored the second George, and looked
up to Walpole and Pitt as the arbiters of its fate.

We live in a period of great cities, rapid communication, vast and
varied business interests, enormous diversity of occupation, great
industries, diffused intelligence, farming by steam, and with
everything and everybody pervaded by an unresting, high-strung
activity. We transport ourselves to the Virginia of Washington's
boyhood, and find a people without cities or towns, with no means
of communication except what was afforded by rivers and wood roads;
having no trades, no industries, no means of spreading knowledge, only
one occupation, clumsily performed; and living a quiet, monotonous
existence, which can now hardly be realized. It is "a far cry to
Loch-Awe," as the Scotch proverb has it; and this old Virginian
society, although we should find it sorry work living in it, is both
pleasant and picturesque in the pages of history.

The population of Virginia, advancing toward half a million, and
divided pretty equally between the free whites and the enslaved
blacks, was densest, to use a most inappropriate word, at the water's
edge and near the mouths of the rivers. Thence it crept backwards,
following always the lines of the watercourses, and growing ever
thinner and more scattered until it reached the Blue Ridge. Behind
the mountains was the wilderness, haunted, as old John Lederer said a
century earlier, by monsters, and inhabited, as the eighteenth-century
Virginians very well knew, by savages and wild beasts, much more real
and dangerous than the hobgoblins of their ancestors.

The population, in proportion to its numbers, was very widely
distributed. It was not collected in groups, after the fashion with
which we are now familiar, for then there were no cities or towns
in Virginia. The only place which could pretend to either name was
Norfolk, the solitary seaport, which, with its six or seven thousand
inhabitants, formed the most glaring exception that any rule
solicitous of proof could possibly desire. Williamsburg, the capital,
was a straggling village, somewhat overweighted with the public
buildings and those of the college. It would light up into life and
vivacity during the season of politics and society, and then relapse
again into the country stillness. Outside of Williamsburg and Norfolk
there were various points which passed in the catalogue and on the map
for towns, but which in reality were merely the shadows of a name. The
most populous consisted of a few houses inhabited by storekeepers and
traders, some tobacco warehouses, and a tavern, clustered about the
church or court-house. Many others had only the church, or, if a
county seat, the church and court-house, keeping solitary state in the
woods. There once a week the sound of prayer and gossip, or at longer
intervals the voices of lawyers and politicians, and the shouts of the
wrestlers on the green, broke through the stillness which with the
going down of the sun resumed its sway in the forests.

There was little chance here for that friction of mind with mind, or
for that quick interchange of thought and sentiment and knowledge
which are familiar to the dwellers in cities, and which have driven
forward more rapidly than all else what we call civilization. Rare
meetings for special objects with persons as solitary in their lives
and as ill-informed as himself, constituted to the average Virginian
the world of society, and there was nothing from outside to supply the
deficiencies at home. Once a fortnight a mail crawled down from
the North, and once a month another crept on to the South. George
Washington was four years old when the first newspaper was published
in the colony, and he was twenty when the first actors appeared at
Williamsburg. What was not brought was not sought. The Virginians did
not go down to the sea in ships. They were not a seafaring race, and
as they had neither trade nor commerce they were totally destitute of
the inquiring, enterprising spirit, and of the knowledge brought
by those pursuits which involve travel and adventure. The English
tobacco-ships worked their way up the rivers, taking the great staple,
and leaving their varied goods, and their tardy news from Europe,
wherever they stopped. This was the sum of the information and
intercourse which Virginia got from across the sea, for travelers were
practically unknown. Few came on business, fewer still from curiosity.
Stray peddlers from the North, or trappers from beyond the mountains
with their packs of furs, chiefly constituted what would now be called
the traveling public. There were in truth no means of traveling except
on foot, on horseback, or by boat on the rivers, which formed the
best and most expeditious highways. Stage-coaches, or other public
conveyances, were unknown. Over some of the roads the rich man, with
his six horses and black outriders, might make his way in a lumbering
carriage, but most of the roads were little better than woodland
paths; and the rivers, innocent of bridges, offered in the uncertain
fords abundance of inconvenience, not unmixed with peril. The taverns
were execrable, and only the ever-ready hospitality of the people
made it possible to get from place to place. The result was that the
Virginians stayed at home, and sought and welcomed the rare stranger
at their gates as if they were well aware that they were entertaining

It is not difficult to sift this home-keeping people, and find out
that portion which was Virginia, for the mass was but an appendage
of the small fraction which ruled, led, and did the thinking for the
whole community. Half the people were slaves, and in that single
wretched word their history is told. They were, on the whole, well
and kindly treated, but they have no meaning in history except as an
institution, and as an influence in the lives, feelings, and character
of the men who made the state.

Above the slaves, little better than they in condition, but separated
from them by the wide gulf of race and color, were the indented white
servants, some convicts, some redemptioners. They, too, have their
story told when we have catalogued them. We cross another gulf and
come to the farmers, to the men who grew wheat as well as tobacco on
their own land, sometimes working alone, sometimes the owners of a few
slaves. Some of these men were of the class well known since as the
"poor whites" of the South, the weaker brothers who could not resist
the poison of slavery, but sank under it into ignorance and poverty.
They were contented because their skins were white, and because they
were thereby part of an aristocracy to whom labor was a badge of
serfdom. The larger portion of this middle class, however, were
thrifty and industrious enough. Including as they did in their ranks
the hunters and pioneers, the traders and merchants, all the freemen
in fact who toiled and worked, they formed the mass of the white
population, and furnished the bone and sinew and some of the
intellectual power of Virginia. The only professional men were the
clergy, for the lawyers were few, and growing to importance only as
the Revolution began; while the physicians were still fewer, and as a
class of no importance at all. The clergy were a picturesque
element in the social landscape, but they were as a body very poor
representatives of learning, religion, and morality. They ranged from
hedge parsons and Fleet chaplains, who had slunk away from England
to find a desirable obscurity in the new world, to divines of real
learning and genuine piety, who were the supporters of the college,
and who would have been a credit to any society. These last, however,
were lamentably few in number. The mass of the clergy were men who
worked their own lands, sold tobacco, were the boon companions of the
planters, hunted, shot, drank hard, and lived well, performing their
sacred duties in a perfunctory and not always in a decent manner.

The clergy, however, formed the stepping-stone socially between
the farmers, traders, and small planters, and the highest and most
important class in Virginian society. The great planters were the
men who owned, ruled, and guided Virginia. Their vast estates were
scattered along the rivers from the seacoast to the mountains. Each
plantation was in itself a small village, with the owner's house in
the centre, surrounded by outbuildings and negro cabins, and the
pastures, meadows, and fields of tobacco stretching away on all sides.
The rare traveler, pursuing his devious way on horseback or in a boat,
would catch sight of these noble estates opening up from the road or
the river, and then the forest would close in around him for several
miles, until through the thinning trees he would see again the white
cabins and the cleared fields of the next plantation.

In such places dwelt the Virginian planters, surrounded by their
families and slaves, and in a solitude broken only by the infrequent
and eagerly welcomed stranger, by their duties as vestrymen and
magistrates, or by the annual pilgrimage to Williamsburg in search of
society, or to sit in the House of Burgesses. They were occupied by
the care of their plantations, which involved a good deal of riding in
the open air, but which was at best an easy and indolent pursuit made
light by slave labor and trained overseers. As a result the planters
had an abundance of spare time, which they devoted to cock-fighting,
horse-racing, fishing, shooting, and fox-hunting,--all, save the
first, wholesome and manly sports, but which did not demand any undue
mental strain. There is, indeed, no indication that the Virginians
had any great love for intellectual exertion. When the amiable
attorney-general of Charles II. said to the Virginian commissioners,
pleading the cause of learning and religion, "Damn your souls! grow
tobacco!" he uttered a precept which the mass of the planters seem to
have laid to heart. For fifty years there were no schools, and down to
the Revolution even the apologies bearing that honored name were
few, and the college was small and struggling. In some of the great
families, the eldest sons would be sent to England and to the great
universities: they would make the grand tour, play a part in the
fashionable society of London, and come back to their plantations fine
gentlemen and scholars. Such was Colonel Byrd, in the early part of
the eighteenth century, a friend of the Earl of Orrery, and the author
of certain amusing memoirs. Such at a later day was Arthur Lee,
doctor and diplomat, student and politician. But most of these young
gentlemen thus sent abroad to improve their minds and manners led a
life not materially different from that of our charming friend, Harry
Warrington, after his arrival in England.

The sons who stayed at home sometimes gathered a little learning from
the clergyman of the parish, or received a fair education at the
College of William and Mary, but very many did not have even so much
as this. There was not in truth much use for learning in managing a
plantation or raising horses, and men get along surprisingly well
without that which they do not need, especially if the acquisition
demands labor. The Virginian planter thought little and read less,
and there were no learned professions to hold out golden prizes and
stimulate the love of knowledge. The women fared even worse, for
they could not go to Europe or to William and Mary's, so that after
exhausting the teaching capacity of the parson they settled down to a
round of household duties and to the cares of a multitude of slaves,
working much harder and more steadily than their lords and masters
ever thought of doing.

The only general form of intellectual exertion was that of governing.
The planters managed local affairs through the vestries, and ruled
Virginia in the House of Burgesses. To this work they paid strict
attention, and, after the fashion of their race, did it very well and
very efficiently. They were an extremely competent body whenever they
made up their minds to do anything; but they liked the life and habits
of Squire Western, and saw no reason for adopting any others until it
was necessary.

There were, of course, vast differences in the condition of the
planters. Some counted their acres by thousands and their slaves by
hundreds, while others scrambled along as best they might with one
plantation and a few score of negroes. Some dwelt in very handsome
houses, picturesque and beautiful, like Gunston Hall or Stratford, or
in vast, tasteless, and extravagant piles like Rosewell. Others were
contented with very modest houses, consisting of one story with a
gabled roof, and flanked by two massive chimneys. In some houses there
was a brave show of handsome plate and china, fine furniture, and
London-made carriages, rich silks and satins, and brocaded dresses.
In others there were earthenware and pewter, homespun and woolen, and
little use for horses, except in the plough or under the saddle.

But there were certain qualities common to all the Virginia planters.
The luxury was imperfect. The splendor was sometimes barbaric. There
were holes in the brocades, and the fresh air of heaven would often
blow through a broken window upon the glittering silver and the costly
china. It was an easy-going aristocracy, unfinished, and frequently
slovenly in its appointments, after the fashion of the warmer climates
and the regions of slavery.

Everything was plentiful except ready money. In this rich and poor
were alike. They were all ahead of their income, and it seems as if,
from one cause or another, from extravagance or improvidence, from
horses or the gaming-table, every Virginian family went through
bankruptcy about once in a generation.

When Harry Warrington arrived in England, all his relations at
Castlewood regarded the handsome young fellow as a prince, with his
acres and his slaves. It was a natural and pleasing delusion, born of
the possession of land and serfs, to which the Virginians themselves
gave ready credence. They forgot that the land was so plentiful that
it was of little value; that slaves were the most wasteful form of
labor; and that a failure of the tobacco crop, pledged before it was
gathered, meant ruin, although they had been reminded more than once
of this last impressive fact. They knew that they had plenty to eat
and drink, and a herd of people to wait upon them and cultivate their
land, as well as obliging London merchants always ready to furnish
every luxury in return for the mortgage of a crop or an estate. So
they gave themselves little anxiety as to the future and lived in the
present, very much to their own satisfaction.

To the communities of trade and commerce, to the mercantile and
industrial spirit of to-day, such an existence and such modes of life
appear distressingly lax and unprogressive. The sages of the bank
parlors and the counting-rooms would shake their heads at such
spendthrifts as these, refuse to discount their paper, and confidently
predict that by no possibility could they come to good. They had their
defects, no doubt, these planters and farmers of Virginia. The life
they led was strongly developed on the animal side, and was perhaps
neither stimulating nor elevating. The living was the reverse of
plain, and the thinking was neither extremely high nor notably
laborious. Yet in this very particular there is something rather
restful and pleasant to the eye wearied by the sight of incessant
movement, and to the ear deafened by the continual shout that nothing
is good that does not change, and that all change must be good. We
should probably find great discomforts and many unpleasant limitations
in the life and habits of a hundred years ago on any part of the
globe, and yet at a time when it seems as if rapidity and movement
were the last words and the ultimate ideals of civilization, it is
rather agreeable to turn to such a community as the eighteenth-century
planters of Virginia. They lived contentedly on the acres of their
fathers, and except at rare and stated intervals they had no other
interests than those furnished by their ancestral domain. At the
court-house, at the vestry, or in Williamsburg, they met their
neighbors and talked very keenly about the politics of Europe, or the
affairs of the colony. They were little troubled about religion, but
they worshiped after the fashion of their fathers, and had a serious
fidelity to church and king. They wrangled with their governors over
appropriations, but they lived on good terms with those eminent
persons, and attended state balls at what they called the palace, and
danced and made merry with much stateliness and grace. Their every-day
life ran on in the quiet of their plantations as calmly as one of
their own rivers. The English trader would come and go; the infrequent
stranger would be received and welcomed; Christmas would be kept in
hearty English fashion; young men from a neighboring estate would
ride over through the darkening woods to court, or dance, or play
the fiddle, like Patrick Henry or Thomas Jefferson; and these simple
events were all that made a ripple on the placid stream. Much time was
given to sports, rough, hearty, manly sports, with a spice of danger,
and these, with an occasional adventurous dash into the wilderness,
kept them sound and strong and brave, both in body and mind. There was
nothing languid or effeminate about the Virginian planter. He was a
robust man, quite ready to fight or work when the time came, and well
fitted to deal with affairs when he was needed. He was a free-handed,
hospitable, generous being, not much given to study or thought, but
thoroughly public-spirited and keenly alive to the interests of
Virginia. Above all things he was an aristocrat, set apart by the
dark line of race, color, and hereditary servitude, as proud as the
proudest Austrian with his endless quarterings, as sturdy and vigorous
as an English yeoman, and as jealous of his rights and privileges
as any baron who stood by John at Runnymede. To this aristocracy,
careless and indolent, given to rough pleasures and indifferent to the
finer and higher sides of life, the call came, as it comes to all men
sooner or later, and in response they gave their country soldiers,
statesmen, and jurists of the highest order, and fit for the great
work they were asked to do. We must go back to Athens to find another
instance of a society so small in numbers, and yet capable of such an
outburst of ability and force. They were of sound English stock, with
a slight admixture of the Huguenots, the best blood of France; and
although for a century and a half they had seemed to stagnate in
the New World, they were strong, fruitful, and effective beyond the
measure of ordinary races when the hour of peril and trial was at



Such was the world and such the community which counted as a small
fraction the Washington family. Our immediate concern is with that
family, for before we approach the man we must know his ancestors. The
greatest leader of scientific thought in this century has come to
the aid of the genealogist, and given to the results of the latter's
somewhat discredited labors a vitality and meaning which it seemed
impossible that dry and dusty pedigrees and barren tables of descent
should ever possess. We have always selected our race-horses according
to the doctrines of evolution, and we now study the character of a
great man by examining first the history of his forefathers.

Washington made so great an impression upon the world in his lifetime
that genealogists at once undertook for him the construction of a
suitable pedigree. The excellent Sir Isaac Heard, garter king-at-arms,
worked out a genealogy which seemed reasonable enough, and then wrote
to the president in relation to it. Washington in reply thanked him
for his politeness, sent him the Virginian genealogy of his own
branch, and after expressing a courteous interest said, in his simple
and direct fashion, that he had been a busy man and had paid but
little attention to the subject. His knowledge about his English
forefathers was in fact extremely slight. He had heard merely that
the first of the name in Virginia had come from one of the northern
counties of England, but whether from Lancashire or Yorkshire, or one
still more northerly, he could not tell. Sir Isaac was not thoroughly
satisfied with the correctness of his own work, but presently Baker
took it up in his history of Northamptonshire, and perfected it to
his own satisfaction and that of the world in general. This genealogy
derived Washington's descent from the owners of the manor of Sulgrave,
in Northamptonshire, and thence carried it back to the Norman knight,
Sir William de Hertburn. According to this pedigree the Virginian
settlers, John and Lawrence, were the sons of Lawrence Washington of
Sulgrave Manor, and this genealogy was adopted by Sparks and Irving,
as well as by the public at large. Twenty years ago, however, Colonel
Chester, by his researches, broke the most essential link in the chain
forged by Heard and Baker, proving clearly that the Virginian settlers
could not have been the sons of Lawrence of Sulgrave, as identified by
the garter king-at-arms. Still more recently the mythical spirit has
taken violent possession of the Washington ancestry, and an ingenious
gentleman has traced the pedigree of our first president back to
Thorfinn and thence to Odin, which is sufficiently remote, dignified,
and lofty to satisfy the most exacting Welshman that ever lived. Still
the breach made by Colonel Chester was not repaired, although many
writers, including some who should have known better, clung with
undiminished faith to the Heard pedigree. It was known that Colonel
Chester himself believed that he had found the true line, coming, it
is supposed, through a younger branch of the Sulgrave race, but he
died before he had discovered the one bit of evidence necessary to
prove an essential step, and he was too conscientiously accurate to
leave anything to conjecture. Since then the researches of Mr. Henry
E. Waters have established the pedigree of the Virginian Washingtons,
and we are now able to know something of the men from whom George
Washington drew his descent.

In that interesting land where everything, according to our narrow
ideas, is upside down, it is customary, when an individual arrives at
distinction, to confer nobility upon his ancestors instead of upon
his children. The Washingtons offer an interesting example of the
application of this Chinese system in the Western world, for, if they
have not been actually ennobled in recognition of the deeds of their
great descendant, they have at least become the subjects of intense
and general interest. Every one of the name who could be discovered
anywhere has been dragged forth into the light, and has had all that
was known about him duly recorded and set down. By scanning family
trees and pedigrees, and picking up stray bits of information here and
there, we can learn in a rude and general fashion what manner of men
those were who claimed descent from William of Hertburn, and who bore
the name of Washington in the mother-country. As Mr. Galton passes
a hundred faces before the same highly sensitized plate, and gets a
photograph which is a likeness of no one of his subjects, and yet
resembles them all, so we may turn the camera of history upon these
Washingtons, as they flash up for a moment from the dim past, and hope
to obtain what Professor Huxley calls a "generic" picture of the race,
even if the outlines be somewhat blurred and indistinct.

In the North of England, in the region conquered first by Saxons and
then by Danes, lies the little village of Washington. It came into the
possession of Sir William de Hertburn, and belonged to him at the time
of the Boldon Book in 1183. Soon after, he or his descendants took
the name of De Wessyngton, and there they remained for two centuries,
knights of the palatinate, holding their lands by a military tenure,
fighting in all the wars, and taking part in tournaments with becoming
splendor. By the beginning of the fifteenth century the line of feudal
knights of the palatinate was extinct, and the manor passed from the
family by the marriage of Dionisia de Wessyngton. But the main stock
had in the mean time thrown out many offshoots, which had taken firm
root in other parts and in many counties of England. We hear of
several who came in various ways to eminence. There was the learned
and vigorous prior of Durham, John de Wessyngton, probably one of the
original family, and the name appears in various places after his time
in records and on monuments, indicating a flourishing and increasing
race. Lawrence Washington, the direct ancestor of the first President
of the United States, was, in the sixteenth century, the mayor of
Northampton, and received from King Henry VIII. the manor of Sulgrave
in 1538. In the next century we find traces of Robert Washington of
the Adwick family, a rich merchant of Leeds, and of his son Joseph
Washington, a learned lawyer and author, of Gray's Inn. About the same
time we hear of Richard Washington and Philip Washington holding high
places at University College, Oxford. The Sulgrave branch, however,
was the most numerous and prosperous. From the mayor of Northampton
were descended Sir William Washington, who married the half-sister of
George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham; Sir Henry Washington, who made a
desperate defense of Worcester against the forces of the Parliament in
1646; Lieutenant-Colonel James Washington, who fell at the siege of
Pontefract, fighting for King Charles; another James, of a later time,
who was implicated in Monmouth's rebellion, fled to Holland and became
the progenitor of a flourishing and successful family, which has
spread to Germany and there been ennobled; Sir Lawrence Washington, of
Garsdon, whose grand-daughter married Robert Shirley, Baron Ferrers;
and others of less note, but all men of property and standing. They
seem to have been a successful, thrifty race, owning lands and
estates, wise magistrates and good soldiers, marrying well, and
increasing their wealth and strength from generation to generation.
They were of Norman stock, knights and gentlemen in the full sense of
the word before the French Revolution, and we can detect in them here
and there a marked strain of the old Norse blood, carrying with it
across the centuries the wild Berserker spirit which for centuries
made the adventurous Northmen the terror of Europe. They were a strong
race evidently, these Washingtons, whom we see now only by glimpses
through the mists of time, not brilliant apparently, never winning the
very highest fortune, having their failures and reverses no doubt,
but on the whole prudent, bold men, always important in their several
stations, ready to fight and ready to work, and as a rule successful
in that which they set themselves to do.

In 1658 the two brothers, John and Lawrence, appeared in Virginia. As
has been proved by Mr. Waters, they were of the Sulgrave family,
the sons of Lawrence Washington, fifth son of the elder Lawrence of
Sulgrave and Brington. The father of the emigrants was a fellow of
Brasenose College, Oxford, and rector of Purleigh, from which living
he was ejected by the Puritans as both "scandalous" and "malignant."
That he was guilty of the former charge we may well doubt; but that he
was, in the language of the time, "malignant," must be admitted, for
all his family, including his brothers, Sir William Washington of
Packington, and Sir John Washington of Thrapston, his nephew, Sir
Henry Washington, and his nephew-in-law, William Legge, ancestor of
the Earl of Dartmouth, were strongly on the side of the king. In a
marriage which seems to have been regarded as beneath the dignity of
the family, and in the poverty consequent upon the ejectment from
his living, we can find the reason for the sons of the Rev. Lawrence
Washington going forth into Virginia to find their fortune, and flying
from the world of victorious Puritanism which offered just then so
little hope to royalists like themselves. Yet what was poverty in
England was something much more agreeable in the New World of America.
The emigrant brothers at all events seem to have had resources of a
sufficient kind, and to have been men of substance, for they purchased
lands and established themselves at Bridges Creek, in Westmoreland
County. With this brief statement, Lawrence disappears, leaving us
nothing further than the knowledge that he had numerous descendants.
John, with whom we are more concerned, figures at once in the colonial
records of Maryland. He made complaint to the Maryland authorities,
soon after his arrival, against Edward Prescott, merchant, and captain
of the ship in which he had come over, for hanging a woman during the
voyage for witchcraft. We have a letter of his, explaining that he
could not appear at the first trial because he was about to baptize
his son, and had bidden the neighbors and gossips to the feast. A
little incident this, dug out of the musty records, but it shows us an
active, generous man, intolerant of oppression, public-spirited and
hospitable, social, and friendly in his new relations. He soon after
was called to mourn the death of his English wife and of two children,
but he speedily consoled himself by taking a second wife, Anne Pope,
by whom he had three children, Lawrence, John, and Anne. According to
the Virginian tradition, John Washington the elder was a surveyor, and
made a location of lands which was set aside because they had been
assigned to the Indians. It is quite apparent that he was a forehanded
person who acquired property and impressed himself upon his neighbors.
In 1667, when he had been but ten years in the colony, he was chosen
to the House of Burgesses; and eight years later he was made a colonel
and sent with a thousand men to join the Marylanders in destroying
the "Susquehannocks," at the "Piscataway" fort, on account of some
murdering begun by another tribe. As a feat of arms, the expedition
was not a very brilliant affair. The Virginians and Marylanders killed
half a dozen Indian chiefs during a parley, and then invested the
fort. After repulsing several sorties, they stupidly allowed the
Indians to escape in the night and carry murder and pillage through
the outlying settlements, lighting up first the flames of savage war
and then the fiercer fire of domestic insurrection. In the next year
we hear again of John Washington in the House of Burgesses, when Sir
William Berkeley assailed his troops for the murder of the Indians
during the parley. Popular feeling, however, was clearly with the
colonel, for nothing was done and the matter dropped. At that point,
too, in 1676, John Washington disappears from sight, and we know only
that as his will was proved in 1677, he must have died soon after the
scene with Berkeley. He was buried in the family vault at Bridges
Creek, and left a good estate to be divided among his children. The
colonel was evidently both a prudent and popular man, and quite
disposed to bustle about in the world in which he found himself. He
acquired lands, came to the front at once as a leader although a
new-comer in the country, was evidently a fighting man as is shown by
his selection to command the Virginian forces, and was honored by his
neighbors, who gave his name to the parish in which he dwelt. Then
he died and his son Lawrence reigned in his stead, and became by his
wife, Mildred Warner, the father of John, Augustine, and Mildred

This second son, Augustine, farmer and planter like his forefathers,
married first Jane Butler, by whom he had three sons and a daughter,
and second, Mary Ball, by whom he had four sons and two daughters. The
eldest child of these second nuptials was named George, and was born
on February 11 (O.S.), 1732, at Bridges Creek. The house in which
this event occurred was a plain, wooden farmhouse of the primitive
Virginian pattern, with four rooms on the ground floor, an attic story
with a long, sloping roof, and a massive brick chimney. Three years
after George Washington's birth it is said to have been burned, and
the family for this or some other reason removed to another estate in
what is now Stafford County. The second house was like the first, and
stood on rising ground looking across a meadow to the Rappahannock,
and beyond the river to the village of Fredericksburg, which was
nearly opposite. Here, in 1743, Augustine Washington died somewhat
suddenly, at the age of forty-nine, from an attack of gout brought on
by exposure in the rain, and was buried with his fathers in the old
vault at Bridges Creek. Here, too, the boyhood of Washington was
passed, and therefore it becomes necessary to look about us and see
what we can learn of this important period of his life.

We know nothing about his father, except that he was kindly and
affectionate, attached to his wife and children, and apparently
absorbed in the care of his estates. On his death the children came
wholly under the maternal influence and direction. Much has been
written about the "mother of Washington," but as a matter of fact,
although she lived to an advanced age, we know scarcely more about her
than we do about her husband. She was of gentle birth, and possessed
a vigorous character and a good deal of business capacity. The
advantages of education were given in but slight measure to the
Virginian ladies of her time, and Mrs. Washington offered no exception
to the general rule. Her reading was confined to a small number of
volumes, chiefly of a devotional character, her favorite apparently
being Hale's "Moral and Divine Contemplations." She evidently knew no
language but her own, and her spelling was extremely bad even in that
age of uncertain orthography. Certain qualities, however, are clear to
us even now through all the dimness. We can see that Mary Washington
was gifted with strong sense, and had the power of conducting business
matters providently and exactly. She was an imperious woman, of strong
will, ruling her kingdom alone. Above all she was very dignified, very
silent, and very sober-minded. That she was affectionate and loving
cannot be doubted, for she retained to the last a profound hold upon
the reverential devotion of her son, and yet as he rose steadily to
the pinnacle of human greatness, she could only say that "George
had been a good boy, and she was sure he would do his duty." Not a
brilliant woman evidently, not one suited to shine in courts, conduct
intrigues, or adorn literature, yet able to transmit moral qualities
to her oldest son, which, mingled with those of the Washingtons, were
of infinite value in the foundation of a great Republic. She found
herself a widow at an early age, with a family of young children to
educate and support. Her means were narrow, for although Augustine
Washington was able to leave what was called a landed estate to each
son, it was little more than idle capital, and the income in ready
money was by no means so evident as the acres.

Many are the myths, and deplorably few the facts, that have come
down to us in regard to Washington's boyhood. For the former we are
indebted to the illustrious Weems, and to that personage a few more
words must be devoted. Weems has been held up to the present age
in various ways, usually, it must be confessed, of an unflattering
nature, and "mendacious" is the adjective most commonly applied to
him. There has been in reality a good deal of needless confusion about
Weems and his book, for he was not a complex character, and neither he
nor his writings are difficult to value or understand. By profession a
clergyman or preacher, by nature an adventurer, Weems loved notoriety,
money, and a wandering life. So he wrote books which he correctly
believed would be popular, and sold them not only through the regular
channels, but by peddling them himself as he traveled about the
country. In this way he gratified all his propensities, and no doubt
derived from life a good deal of simple pleasure. Chance brought him
near Washington in the closing days, and his commercial instinct
told him that here was the subject of all others for his pen and
his market. He accordingly produced the biography which had so much
success. Judged solely as literature, the book is beneath contempt.
The style is turgid, overloaded, and at times silly. The statements
are loose, the mode of narration confused and incoherent, and the
moralizing is flat and common-place to the last degree. Yet there
was a certain sincerity of feeling underneath all the bombast and
platitudes, and this saved the book. The biography did not go, and was
not intended to go, into the hands of the polite society of the great
eastern towns. It was meant for the farmers, the pioneers, and the
backwoodsmen of the country. It went into their homes, and passed with
them beyond the Alleghanies and out to the plains and valleys of the
great West. The very defects of the book helped it to success among
the simple, hard-working, hard-fighting race engaged in the conquest
of the American continent. To them its heavy and tawdry style, its
staring morals, and its real patriotism all seemed eminently befitting
the national hero, and thus Weems created the Washington of the
popular fancy. The idea grew up with the country, and became so
ingrained in the popular thought that finally everybody was affected
by it, and even the most stately and solemn of the Washington
biographers adopted the unsupported tales of the itinerant parson and

In regard to the public life of Washington, Weems took the facts known
to every one, and drawn for the most part from the gazettes. He then
dressed them up in his own peculiar fashion and gave them to the
world. All this, forming of course nine tenths of his book, has
passed, despite its success, into oblivion. The remaining tenth
described Washington's boyhood until his fourteenth or fifteenth year,
and this, which is the work of the author's imagination, has lived.
Weems, having set himself up as absolutely the only authority as to
this period, has been implicitly followed, and has thus come to demand
serious consideration. Until Weems is weighed and disposed of, we
cannot even begin an attempt to get at the real Washington.

Weems was not a cold-blooded liar, a mere forger of anecdotes. He was
simply a man destitute of historical sense, training, or morals, ready
to take the slenderest fact and work it up for the purposes of the
market until it became almost as impossible to reduce it to its
original dimensions as it was for the fisherman to get the Afrit back
into his jar. In a word, Weems was an approved myth-maker. No better
example can be given than the way in which he described himself. It
is believed that he preached once, and possibly oftener, to a
congregation which numbered Washington among its members. Thereupon he
published himself in his book as the rector of Mount Vernon parish.
There was, to begin with, no such parish. There was Truro parish, in
which was a church called indifferently Pohick or Mount Vernon church.
Of this church Washington was a vestryman until 1785, when he joined
the church at Alexandria. The Rev. Lee Massey was the clergyman of the
Mount Vernon church, and the church at Alexandria had nothing to do
with Mount Vernon. There never was, moreover, such a person as the
rector of Mount Vernon parish, but it was the Weems way of treating
his appearance before the great man, and of deceiving the world with
the notion of an intimacy which the title implied.

Weems, of course, had no difficulty with the public life, but in
describing the boyhood he was thrown on his own resources, and out
of them he evolved the cherry-tree, the refusal to fight or permit
fighting among the boys at school, and the initials in the garden.
This last story is to the effect that Augustine Washington planted
seeds in such a manner that when they sprouted they formed on the
earth the initials of his son's name, and the boy being much delighted
thereby, the father explained to him that it was the work of the
Creator, and thus inculcated a profound belief in God. This tale
is taken bodily from Dr. Beattie's biographical sketch of his son,
published in England in 1799, and may be dismissed at once. As to the
other two more familiar anecdotes there is not a scintilla of evidence
that they had any foundation, and with them may be included the colt
story, told by Mr. Custis, a simple variation of the cherry-tree
theme, which is Washington's early love of truth. Weems says that
his stories were told him by a lady, and "a good old gentleman," who
remembered the incidents, while Mr. Custis gives no authority for his
minute account of a trivial event over a century old when he wrote.
To a writer who invented the rector of Mount Vernon, the further
invention of a couple of Boswells would be a trifle. I say Boswells
advisedly, for these stories are told with the utmost minuteness, and
the conversations between Washington and his father are given as if
from a stenographic report. How Mr. Custis, usually so accurate, came
to be so far infected with the Weems myth as to tell the colt story
after the Weems manner, cannot now be determined. There can be no
doubt that Washington, like most healthy boys, got into a good deal of
mischief, and it is not at all impossible that he injured fruit-trees
and confessed that he had done so. It may be accepted as certain that
he rode and mastered many unbroken thoroughbred colts, and it is
possible that one of them burst a blood-vessel in the process and
died, and that the boy promptly told his mother of the accident. But
this is the utmost credit which these two anecdotes can claim. Even so
much as this cannot be said of certain other improving tales of like
nature. That Washington lectured his playmates on the wickedness of
fighting, and in the year 1754 allowed himself to be knocked down in
the presence of his soldiers, and thereupon begged his assailant's
pardon for having spoken roughly to him, are stories so silly and
so foolishly impossible that they do not deserve an instant's

There is nothing intrinsically impossible in either the cherry-tree or
the colt incident, nor would there be in a hundred others which might
be readily invented. The real point is that these stories, as told by
Weems and Mr. Custis, are on their face hopelessly and ridiculously
false. They are so, not merely because they have no vestige of
evidence to support them, but because they are in every word and
line the offspring of a period more than fifty years later. No
English-speaking people, certainly no Virginians, ever thought or
behaved or talked in 1740 like the personages in Weems's stories,
whatever they may have done in 1790, or at the beginning of the next
century. These precious anecdotes belong to the age of Miss Edgeworth
and Hannah More and Jane Taylor. They are engaging specimens of the
"Harry and Lucy" and "Purple Jar" morality, and accurately reflect the
pale didacticism which became fashionable in England at the close of
the last century. They are as untrue to nature and to fact at the
period to which they are assigned as would be efforts to depict
Augustine Washington and his wife in the dress of the French
revolution discussing the propriety of worshiping the Goddess of

To enter into any serious historical criticism of these stories would
be to break a butterfly. So much as this even has been said only
because these wretched fables have gone throughout the world, and it
is time that they were swept away into the dust-heaps of history. They
represent Mr. and Mrs. Washington as affected and priggish people,
given to cheap moralizing, and, what is far worse, they have served
to place Washington himself in a ridiculous light to an age which has
outgrown the educational foibles of seventy-five years ago. Augustine
Washington and his wife were a gentleman and lady of the eighteenth
century, living in Virginia. So far as we know without guessing or
conjecture, they were simple, honest, and straight-forward, devoted to
the care of their family and estate, and doing their duty sensibly and
after the fashion of their time. Their son, to whom the greatest wrong
has been done, not only never did anything common or mean, but from
the beginning to the end of his life he was never for an instant
ridiculous or affected, and he was as utterly removed from canting
or priggishness as any human being could well be. Let us therefore
consign the Weems stories and their offspring to the limbo of
historical rubbish, and try to learn what the plain facts tell us of
the boy Washington.

Unfortunately these same facts are at first very few, so few that they
tell us hardly anything. We know when and where Washington was born;
and how, when he was little more than three years old,[1] he was taken
from Bridges Creek to the banks of the Rappahannock. There he was
placed under the charge of one Hobby, the sexton of the parish, to
learn his alphabet and his pothooks; and when that worthy man's store
of learning was exhausted he was sent back to Bridges Creek, soon
after his father's death, to live with his half-brother Augustine,
and obtain the benefits of a school kept by a Mr. Williams. There he
received what would now be called a fair common-school education,
wholly destitute of any instruction in languages, ancient or modern,
but apparently with some mathematical training.

[Footnote 1: There is a conflict about the period of this removal (see
above, p. 37). Tradition places it in 1735, but the Rev. Mr. McGuire
(_Religious Opinions of Washington_) puts it in 1739.]

That he studied faithfully cannot be doubted, and we know, too, that
he matured early, and was a tall, active, and muscular boy. He could
outwalk and outrun and outride any of his companions. As he could
no doubt have thrashed any of them too, he was, in virtue of these
qualities, which are respected everywhere by all wholesome minds, and
especially by boys, a leader among his school-fellows. We know further
that he was honest and true, and a lad of unusual promise, not because
of the goody-goody anecdotes of the myth-makers, but because he
was liked and trusted by such men as his brother Lawrence and Lord

There he was, at all events, in his fourteenth year, a big, strong,
hearty boy, offering a serious problem to his mother, who was
struggling along with many acres, little money, and five children.
Mrs. Washington's chief desire naturally was to put George in the way
of earning a living, which no doubt seemed far more important than
getting an education, and, as he was a sober-minded boy, the same idea
was probably profoundly impressed on his own mind also. This condition
of domestic affairs led to the first attempt to give Washington a
start in life, which has been given to us until very lately in a
somewhat decorated form. The fact is, that in casting about for
something to do, it occurred to some one, very likely to the boy
himself, that it would be a fine idea to go to sea. His masculine
friends and relatives urged the scheme upon Mrs. Washington, who
consented very reluctantly, if at all, not liking the notion of
parting with her oldest son, even in her anxiety to have him earn his
bread. When it came to the point, however, she finally decided against
his going, determined probably by a very sensible letter from her
brother, Joseph Ball, an English lawyer. In all the ornamented
versions we are informed that the boy was to enter the royal navy,
and that a midshipman's warrant was procured for him. There does not
appear to be any valid authority for the royal navy, the warrant, or
the midshipman. The contemporary Virginian letters speak simply of
"going to sea," while Mr. Ball says distinctly that the plan was to
enter the boy on a tobacco-ship, with an excellent chance of being
pressed on a man-of-war, and a very faint prospect of either getting
into the navy, or even rising to be the captain of one of the petty
trading-vessels familiar to Virginian planters. Some recent writers
have put Mr. Ball aside as not knowing what was intended in regard to
his nephew, but in view of the difficulty at that time of obtaining
commissions in the navy without great political influence, it seems
probable that Mrs. Washington's brother knew very well what he was
talking about, and he certainly wrote a very sensible letter. A bold,
adventurous boy, eager to earn his living and make his way in the
world, would, like many others before him, look longingly to the sea
as the highway to fortune and success. To Washington the romance of
the sea was represented by the tobacco-ship creeping up the river and
bringing all the luxuries and many of the necessaries of life from
vaguely distant countries. No doubt he wished to go on one of these
vessels and try his luck, and very possibly the royal navy was hoped
for as the ultimate result. The effort was certainly made to send
him to sea, but it failed, and he went back to school to study more

Apart from the fact that the exact sciences in moderate degree were
about all that Mr. Williams could teach, this branch of learning had
an immediate practical value, inasmuch as surveying was almost the
only immediately gainful pursuit open to a young Virginia gentleman,
who sorely needed a little ready money that he might buy slaves and
work a plantation. So Washington studied on for two years more, and
fitted himself to be a surveyor. There are still extant some early
papers belonging to this period, chiefly fragments of school
exercises, which show that he already wrote the bold, handsome
hand with which the world was to become familiar, and that he made
geometrical figures and notes of surveys with the neatness and
accuracy which clung to him in all the work of his life, whether great
or small. Among those papers, too, were found many copies of legal
forms, and a set of rules, over a hundred in number, as to etiquette
and behavior, carefully written out. It has always been supposed that
these rules were copied, but it was reserved apparently for the storms
of a mighty civil war to lay bare what may have been, if not the
source of the rules themselves, the origin and suggestion of their
compilation. At that time a little volume was found in Virginia
bearing the name of George Washington in a boyish hand on the
fly-leaf, and the date 1742. The book was entitled, "The Young Man's
Companion." It was an English work, and had passed through thirteen
editions, which was little enough in view of its varied and extensive
information. It was written by W. Mather, in a plain and easy style,
and treated of arithmetic, surveying, forms for legal documents, the
measuring of land and lumber, gardening, and many other useful topics,
and it contained general precepts which, with the aid of Hale's
"Contemplations," may readily have furnished the hints for the rules
found in manuscript among Washington's papers.[1] These rules were in
the main wise and sensible, and it is evident they had occupied deeply
the boy's mind.[2] They are for the most part concerned with the
commonplaces of etiquette and good manners, but there is something not
only apt but quite prophetic in the last one, "Labor to keep alive in
your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience." To
suppose that Washington's character was formed by these sententious
bits of not very profound wisdom would be absurd; but that a series of
rules which most lads would have regarded as simply dull should have
been written out and pondered by this boy indicates a soberness and
thoughtfulness of mind which certainly are not usual at that age.
The chief thought that runs through all the sayings is to practice
self-control, and no man ever displayed that most difficult of virtues
to such a degree as George Washington. It was no ordinary boy who took
such a lesson as this to heart before he was fifteen, and carried it
into his daily life, never to be forgotten. It may also be said that
very few boys ever needed it more; but those persons who know what
they chiefly need, and pursue it, are by no means common.

[Footnote 1: An account of this volume was given in the _New York
Tribune_ in 1866, and also in the _Historical Magazine_ (x. 47).]

[Footnote 2: The most important are given in Sparks' _Writings of
Washington_, ii. 412, and they may be found complete in the little
pamphlet concerning them, excellently edited by Dr. J.M. Toner, of



While Washington was working his way through the learning purveyed
by Mr. Williams, he was also receiving another education, of a much
broader and better sort, from the men and women among whom he found
himself, and with whom he made friends. Chief among them was his
eldest brother, Lawrence, fourteen years his senior, who had been
educated in England, had fought with Vernon at Carthagena, and had
then returned to Virginia, to be to him a generous father and a loving
friend. As the head of the family, Lawrence Washington had received
the lion's share of the property, including the estate at Hunting
Creek, on the Potomac, which he christened Mount Vernon, after his
admiral, and where he settled down and built him a goodly house. To
this pleasant spot George Washington journeyed often in vacation
time, and there he came to live and further pursue his studies, after
leaving school in the autumn of 1747.

Lawrence Washington had married the daughter of William Fairfax, the
proprietor of Belvoir, a neighboring plantation, and the agent for
the vast estates held by his family in Virginia. George Fairfax, Mrs.
Washington's brother, had married a Miss Gary, and thus two large and
agreeable family connections were thrown open to the young surveyor
when he emerged from school. The chief figure, however, in that
pleasant winter of 1747-48, so far as an influence upon the character
of Washington is concerned, was the head of the family into which
Lawrence Washington had married. Thomas, Lord Fairfax, then sixty
years of age, had come to Virginia to live upon and look after the
kingdom which he had inherited in the wilderness. He came of a noble
and distinguished race. Graduating at Oxford with credit, he served in
the army, dabbled in literature, had his fling in the London world,
and was jilted by a beauty who preferred a duke, and gave her faithful
but less titled lover an apparently incurable wound. His life having
been thus early twisted and set awry, Lord Fairfax, when well past his
prime, had determined finally to come to Virginia, bury himself in the
forests, and look after the almost limitless possessions beyond the
Blue Ridge, which he had inherited from his maternal grandfather, Lord
Culpeper, of unsavory Restoration memory. It was a piece of great
good-fortune which threw in Washington's path this accomplished
gentleman, familiar with courts and camps, disappointed, but not
morose, disillusioned, but still kindly and generous. From him the boy
could gain that knowledge of men and manners which no school can give,
and which is as important in its way as any that a teacher can impart.

Lord Fairfax and Washington became fast friends. They hunted the fox
together, and hunted him hard. They engaged in all the rough sports
and perilous excitements which Virginia winter life could afford, and
the boy's bold and skillful riding, his love of sports and his fine
temper, commended him to the warm and affectionate interest of the old
nobleman. Other qualities, too, the experienced man of the world saw
in his young companion: a high and persistent courage, robust and calm
sense, and, above all, unusual force of will and character. Washington
impressed profoundly everybody with whom he was brought into personal
contact, a fact which is one of the most marked features of his
character and career, and one which deserves study more than almost
any other. Lord Fairfax was no exception to the rule. He saw in
Washington not simply a promising, brave, open-hearted boy, diligent
in practicing his profession, and whom he was anxious to help, but
something more; something which so impressed him that he confided to
this lad a task which, according to its performance, would affect both
his fortune and his peace. In a word, he trusted Washington, and told
him, as the spring of 1748 was opening, to go forth and survey the
vast Fairfax estates beyond the Ridge, define their boundaries, and
save them from future litigation. With this commission from Lord
Fairfax, Washington entered on the first period of his career. He
passed it on the frontier, fighting nature, the Indians, and the
French. He went in a schoolboy; he came out the first soldier in the
colonies, and one of the leading men of Virginia. Let us pause a
moment and look at him as he stands on the threshold of this momentous
period, rightly called momentous because it was the formative period
in the life of such a man.


He had just passed his sixteenth birthday. He was tall and muscular,
approaching the stature of more than six feet which he afterwards
attained. He was not yet filled out to manly proportions, but was
rather spare, after the fashion of youth. He had a well-shaped,
active figure, symmetrical except for the unusual length of the arms,
indicating uncommon strength. His light brown hair was drawn back from
a broad forehead, and grayish-blue eyes looked happily, and perhaps a
trifle soberly, on the pleasant Virginia world about him. The face was
open and manly, with a square, massive jaw, and a general expression
of calmness and strength. "Fair and florid," big and strong, he was,
take him for all in all, as fine a specimen of his race as could be
found in the English colonies.

Let us look a little closer through the keen eyes of one who studied
many faces to good purpose. The great painter of portraits, Gilbert
Stuart, tells us of Washington that he never saw in any man such large
eye-sockets, or such a breadth of nose and forehead between the
eyes, and that he read there the evidences of the strongest passions
possible to human nature. John Bernard the actor, a good observer,
too, saw in Washington's face, in 1797, the signs of an habitual
conflict and mastery of passions, witnessed by the compressed mouth
and deeply indented brow. The problem had been solved then; but in
1748, passion and will alike slumbered, and no man could tell which
would prevail, or whether they would work together to great purpose
or go jarring on to nothingness. He rises up to us out of the past in
that early springtime a fine, handsome, athletic boy, beloved by those
about him, who found him a charming companion and did not guess that
he might be a terribly dangerous foe. He rises up instinct with life
and strength, a being capable, as we know, of great things whether for
good or evil, with hot blood pulsing in his veins and beating in his
heart, with violent passions and relentless will still undeveloped;
and no one in all that jolly, generous Virginian society even dimly
dreamed what that development would be, or what it would mean to the

It was in March, 1748, that George Fairfax and Washington set forth on
their adventures, and passing through Ashby's Gap in the Blue Ridge,
entered the valley of Virginia. Thence they worked their way up the
valley of the Shenandoah, surveying as they went, returned and swam
the swollen Potomac, surveyed the lands about its south branch and in
the mountainous region of Frederick County, and finally reached Mount
Vernon again on April 12. It was a rough experience for a beginner,
but a wholesome one, and furnished the usual vicissitudes of frontier
life. They were wet, cold, and hungry, or warm, dry, and well fed, by
turns. They slept in a tent, or the huts of the scattered settlers,
and oftener still beneath the stars. They met a war party of Indians,
and having plied them with liquor, watched one of their mad dances
round the camp-fire. In another place they came on a straggling
settlement of Germans, dull, patient, and illiterate, strangely unfit
for the life of the wilderness. All these things, as well as the
progress of their work and their various resting-places, Washington
noted down briefly but methodically in a diary, showing in these rough
notes the first evidences of that keen observation of nature and men
and of daily incidents which he developed to such good purpose in
after-life. There are no rhapsodies and no reflections in these hasty
jottings, but the employments and the discomforts are all set down in
a simple and matter-of-fact way, which omitted no essential thing and
excluded all that was worthless. His work, too, was well done, and
Lord Fairfax was so much pleased by the report that he moved across
the Blue Ridge, built a hunting lodge preparatory to something more
splendid which never came to pass, and laid out a noble manor, to
which he gave the name of Greenway Court. He also procured for
Washington an appointment as a public surveyor, which conferred
authority on his surveys and provided him with regular work. Thus
started, Washington toiled at his profession for three years, living
and working as he did on his first expedition. It was a rough life,
but a manly and robust one, and the men who live it, although often
rude and coarse, are never weak or effeminate. To Washington it was
an admirable school. It strengthened his muscles and hardened him to
exposure and fatigue. It accustomed him to risks and perils of various
kinds, and made him fertile in expedients and confident of himself,
while the nature of his work rendered him careful and industrious.
That his work was well done is shown by the fact that his surveys were
considered of the first authority, and stand unquestioned to this day,
like certain other work which he was subsequently called to do. It was
part of his character, when he did anything, to do it in a lasting
fashion, and it is worth while to remember that the surveys he made as
a boy were the best that could be made.

He wrote to a friend at this time: "Since you received my letter of
October last, I have not slept above three or four nights in a bed,
but, after walking a good deal all the day, I have lain down before
the fire upon a little hay, straw, fodder, or a bearskin, whichever
was to be had, with man, wife, and children, like dogs and cats; and
happy is he who gets the berth nearest the fire. Nothing would make it
pass off tolerably but a good reward. A doubloon is my constant gain
every day that the weather will permit of my going out, and sometimes
six pistoles." He was evidently a thrifty lad, and honestly pleased
with honest earnings. He was no mere adventurous wanderer, but a man
working for results in money, reputation, or some solid value,
and while he worked and earned he kept an observant eye upon the
wilderness, and bought up when he could the best land for himself and
his family, laying the foundations of the great landed estate of which
he died possessed.

There was also a lighter and pleasanter side to this hard-working
existence, which was quite as useful, and more attractive, than
toiling in the woods and mountains. The young surveyor passed much of
his time at Greenway Court, hunting the fox and rejoicing in all field
sports which held high place in that kingdom, while at the same time
he profited much in graver fashion by his friendship with such a man
as Lord Fairfax. There, too, he had a chance at a library, and his
diaries show that he read carefully the history of England and the
essays of the "Spectator." Neither in early days nor at any other time
was he a student, for he had few opportunities, and his life from the
beginning was out of doors and among men. But the idea sometimes put
forward that Washington cared nothing for reading or for books is an
idle one. He read at Greenway Court and everywhere else when he had an
opportunity. He read well, too, and to some purpose, studying men and
events in books as he did in the world, for though he never talked of
his reading, preserving silence on that as on other things concerning
himself, no one ever was able to record an instance in which he showed
himself ignorant of history or of literature. He was never a learned
man, but so far as his own language could carry him he was an educated
one. Thus while he developed the sterner qualities by hard work and a
rough life, he did not bring back the coarse habits of the backwoods
and the camp-fire, but was able to refine his manners and improve his
mind in the excellent society and under the hospitable roof of Lord

Three years slipped by, and then a domestic change came which much
affected Washington's whole life. The Carthagena campaign had
undermined the strength of Lawrence Washington and sown the seeds of
consumption, which showed itself in 1749, and became steadily more
alarming. A voyage to England and a summer at the warm springs were
tried without success, and finally, as a last resort, the invalid
sailed for the West Indies, in September, 1751. Thither his brother
George accompanied him, and we have the fragments of a diary kept
during this first and last wandering outside his native country. He
copied the log, noted the weather, and evidently strove to get some
idea of nautical matters while he was at sea and leading a life
strangely unfamiliar to a woodsman and pioneer. When they arrived at
their destination they were immediately asked to breakfast and dine
with Major Clarke, the military magnate of the place, and our young
Virginian remarked, with characteristic prudence and a certain touch
of grim humor, "We went,--myself with some reluctance, as the smallpox
was in the family." He fell a victim to his good manners, for two
weeks later he was "strongly attacked with the smallpox," and was
then housed for a month, getting safely and successfully through
this dangerous and then almost universal ordeal. Before the disease
declared itself, however, he went about everywhere, innocently
scattering infection, and greatly enjoying the pleasures of the
island. It is to be regretted that any part of this diary should have
been lost, for it is pleasant reading, and exhibits the writer in an
agreeable and characteristic fashion. He commented on the country and
the scenery, inveighed against the extravagance of the charges for
board and lodging, told of his dinner-parties and his friends, and
noted the marvelous abundance and variety of the tropical fruits,
which contrasted strangely with the British dishes of beefsteak and
tripe. He also mentioned being treated to a ticket to see the play of
"George Barnwell," on which he offered this cautious criticism:
"The character of Barnwell and several others were said to be well
performed. There was music adapted and regularly conducted."

Soon after his recovery Washington returned to Virginia, arriving
there in February, 1752. The diary concluded with a brief but
perfectly effective description of Barbadoes, touching on its
resources and scenery, its government and condition, and the manners
and customs of its inhabitants. All through these notes we find the
keenly observant spirit, and the evidence of a mind constantly alert
to learn. We see also a pleasant, happy temperament, enjoying with
hearty zest all the pleasures that youth and life could furnish. He
who wrote these lines was evidently a vigorous, good-humored young
fellow, with a quick eye for the world opening before him, and for the
delights as well as the instruction which it offered.

From the sunshine and ease of this tropical winter Washington passed
to a long season of trial and responsibility at home and abroad. In
July, 1752, his much-loved brother Lawrence died, leaving George
guardian of his daughter, and heir to his estates in the event of
that daughter's death. Thus the current of his home life changed, and
responsibility came into it, while outside the mighty stream of public
events changed too, and swept him along in the swelling torrent of a
world-wide war.

In all the vast wilderness beyond the mountains there was not room for
both French and English. The rival nations had been for years slowly
approaching each other, until in 1749 each people proceeded at last to
take possession of the Ohio country after its own fashion. The French
sent a military expedition which sank and nailed up leaden plates; the
English formed a great land company to speculate and make money, and
both set diligently to work to form Indian alliances. A man of far
less perception than Lawrence Washington, who had become the chief
manager of the Ohio Company, would have seen that the conditions on
the frontier rendered war inevitable, and he accordingly made ready
for the future by preparing his brother for the career of a soldier,
so far as it could be done. He brought to Mount Vernon two old
companions-in-arms of the Carthagena time, Adjutant Muse, a Virginian,
and Jacob Van Braam, a Dutch soldier of fortune. The former instructed
Washington in the art of war, tactics, and the manual of arms, the
latter in fencing and the sword exercise. At the same time Lawrence
Washington procured for his brother, then only nineteen years of age,
an appointment as one of the adjutants-general of Virginia, with the
rank of major. To all this the young surveyor took kindly enough so
far as we can tell, but his military avocations were interrupted by
his voyage to Barbadoes, by the illness and death of his brother, and
by the cares and responsibilities thereby thrust upon him.

Meantime the French aggressions had continued, and French soldiers and
traders were working their way up from the South and down from the
North, bullying and cajoling the Indians by turns, taking possession
of the Ohio country, and selecting places as they went for that
chain of forts which was to hem in and slowly strangle the English
settlements. Governor Dinwiddie had sent a commissioner to remonstrate
against these encroachments, but his envoy had stopped a hundred
and fifty miles short of the French posts, alarmed by the troublous
condition of things, and by the defeat and slaughter which the
Frenchmen had already inflicted upon the Indians. Some more vigorous
person was evidently needed to go through the form of warning France
not to trespass on the English wilderness, and thereupon Governor
Dinwiddie selected for the task George Washington, recently
reappointed adjutant-general of the northern division, and major in
the Virginian forces. He was a young man for such an undertaking, not
yet twenty-two, but clearly of good reputation. It is plain enough
that Lord Fairfax and others had said to the governor, "Here is the
very man for you; young, daring, and adventurous, but yet sober-minded
and responsible, who only lacks opportunity to show the stuff that is
in him."

Thus, then, in October, 1753, Washington set forth with Van Braam, and
various servants and horses, accompanied by the boldest of Virginian
frontiersmen, Christopher Gist. He wrote a report in the form of a
journal, which was sent to England and much read at the time as part
of the news of the day, and which has an equal although different
interest now. It is a succinct, clear, and sober narrative. The little
party was formed at Will's Creek, and thence through woods and over
swollen rivers made its way to Logstown. Here they spent some days
among the Indians, whose leaders Washington got within his grasp after
much speech-making; and here, too, he met some French deserters from
the South, and drew from them all the knowledge they possessed of New
Orleans and the military expeditions from that region. From Logstown
he pushed on, accompanied by his Indian chiefs, to Venango, on the
Ohio, the first French outpost. The French officers asked him to sup
with them. The wine flowed freely, the tongues of the hosts were
loosened, and the young Virginian, temperate and hard-headed, listened
to all the conversation, and noted down mentally much that was
interesting and valuable. The next morning the Indian chiefs,
prudently kept in the background, appeared, and a struggle ensued
between the talkative, clever Frenchmen and the quiet, persistent
Virginian, over the possession of these important savages. Finally
Washington got off, carrying his chiefs with him, and made his way
seventy miles further to the fort on French Creek. Here he delivered
the governor's letter, and while M. de St. Pierre wrote a vague and
polite answer, he sketched the fort and informed himself in regard to
the military condition of the post. Then came another struggle over
the Indians, and finally Washington got off with them once more, and
worked his way back to Venango. Another struggle for the savages
followed, rum being always the principal factor in the negotiation,
and at last the chiefs determined to stay behind. Nevertheless, the
work had been well done, and the important Half-King remained true to
the English cause.

Leaving his horses, Washington and Gist then took to the woods on
foot. The French Indians lay in wait for them and tried to murder
them, and Gist, like a true frontiersman, was for shooting the
scoundrel whom they captured. But Washington stayed his hand, and
they gave the savage the slip and pressed on. It was the middle of
December, very cold and stormy. In crossing a river, Washington fell
from the raft into deep water, amid the floating ice, but fought his
way out, and he and his companion passed the night on an island, with
their clothes frozen upon them. So through peril and privation, and
various dangers, stopping in the midst of it all to win another savage
potentate, they reached the edge of the settlements and thence went
on to Williamsburg, where great praise and glory were awarded to the
youthful envoy, the hero of the hour in the little Virginia capital.

It is worth while to pause over this expedition a moment and to
consider attentively this journal which recounts it, for there are
very few incidents or documents which tell us more of Washington. He
was not yet twenty-two when he faced this first grave responsibility,
and he did his work absolutely well. Cool courage, of course, he
showed, but also patience and wisdom in handling the Indians, a clear
sense that the crafty and well-trained Frenchmen could not blind, and
a strong faculty for dealing with men, always a rare and precious
gift. As in the little Barbadoes diary, so also in this journal,
we see, and far more strongly, the penetration and perception that
nothing could escape, and which set down all things essential and let
the "huddling silver, little worth," go by. The clearness, terseness,
and entire sufficiency of the narrative are obvious and lie on the
surface; but we find also another quality of the man which is one of
the most marked features in his character, and one which we must dwell
upon again and again, as we follow the story of his life. Here it
is that we learn directly for the first time that Washington was a
profoundly silent man. The gospel of silence has been preached in
these latter days by Carlyle, with the fervor of a seer and prophet,
and the world owes him a debt for the historical discredit which he
has brought upon the man of mere words as compared with the man of
deeds. Carlyle brushed Washington aside as "a bloodless Cromwell," a
phrase to which we must revert later on other grounds, and, as
has already been said, failed utterly to see that he was the most
supremely silent of the great men of action that the world can show.
Like Cromwell and Frederic, Washington wrote countless letters, made
many speeches, and was agreeable in conversation. But this was all in
the way of business, and a man may be profoundly silent and yet talk a
great deal. Silence in the fine and true sense is neither mere holding
of the tongue nor an incapacity of expression. The greatly silent man
is he who is not given to words for their own sake, and who never
talks about himself. Both Cromwell, greatest of Englishmen, and the
great Frederic, Carlyle's especial heroes, were fond of talking of
themselves. So in still larger measure was Napoleon, and many others
of less importance. But Washington differs from them all. He had
abundant power of words, and could use them with much force and point
when he was so minded, but he never used them needlessly or to hide
his meaning, and he never talked about himself. Hence the inestimable
difficulty of knowing him. A brief sentence here and there, a rare
gleam of light across the page of a letter, is all that we can find.
The rest is silence. He did as great work as has fallen to the lot of
man, he wrote volumes of correspondence, he talked with innumerable
men and women, and of himself he said nothing. Here in this youthful
journal we have a narrative of wild adventure, wily diplomacy, and
personal peril, impossible of condensation, and yet not a word of the
writer's thoughts or feelings. All that was done or said important to
the business in hand was set down, and nothing was overlooked, but
that is all. The work was done, and we know how it was done, but the
man is silent as to all else. Here, indeed, is the man of action and
of real silence, a character to be much admired and wondered at in
these or any other days.

Washington's report looked like war, and its author was shortly
afterwards appointed lieutenant-colonel of a Virginian regiment,
Colonel Fry commanding. Now began that long experience of human
stupidity and inefficiency with which Washington was destined to
struggle through all the years of his military career, suffering from
them, and triumphing in spite of them to a degree unequaled by any
other great commander. Dinwiddie, the Scotch governor, was eager
enough to fight, and full of energy and good intentions, but he was
hasty and not overwise, and was filled with an excessive idea of his
prerogatives. The assembly, on its side, was sufficiently patriotic,
but its members came from a community which for more than half a
century had had no fighting, and they knew nothing of war or its
necessities. Unaccustomed to the large affairs into which they were
suddenly plunged, they displayed a narrow and provincial spirit.
Keenly alive to their own rights and privileges, they were more
occupied in quarreling with Dinwiddie than in prosecuting the war. In
the weak proprietary governments of Maryland and Pennsylvania there
was the same condition of affairs, with every evil exaggerated
tenfold. The fighting spirit was dominant in Virginia, but in
Quaker-ridden Pennsylvania it seems to have been almost extinct. These
three were not very promising communities to look to for support in a
difficult and costly war.

With all this inertia and stupidity Washington was called to cope, and
he rebelled against it in vigorous fashion. Leaving Colonel Fry to
follow with the main body of troops, Washington set out on April 2,
1754, with two companies from Alexandria, where he had been recruiting
amidst most irritating difficulties. He reached Will's Creek three
weeks later; and then his real troubles began. Captain Trent, the
timid and halting envoy, who had failed to reach the French, had been
sent out by the wise authorities to build a fort at the junction of
the Alleghany and Monongahela, on the admirable site selected by the
keen eye of Washington. There Trent left his men and returned to
Will's Creek, where Washington found him, but without the pack-horses
that he had promised to provide. Presently news came that the French
in overwhelming numbers had swept down upon Trent's little party,
captured their fort, and sent them packing back to Virginia.
Washington took this to be war, and determined at once to march
against the enemy. Having impressed from the inhabitants, who were not
bubbling over with patriotism, some horses and wagons, he set out on
his toilsome march across the mountains.

It was a wild and desolate region, and progress was extremely slow.
By May 9 he was at the Little Meadows, twenty miles from his
starting-place; by the 18th at the Youghiogany River, which he
explored and found unnavigable. He was therefore forced to take up his
weary march again for the Monongahela, and by the 27th he was at the
Great Meadows, a few miles further on. The extreme danger of his
position does not seem to have occurred to him, but he was harassed
and angered by the conduct of the assembly. He wrote to Governor
Dinwiddie that he had no idea of giving up his commission. "But," he
continued, "let me serve voluntarily; then I will, with the greatest
pleasure in life, devote my services to the expedition, without any
other reward than the satisfaction of serving my country; but to be
slaving dangerously for the shadow of pay, through woods, rocks,
mountains,--I would rather prefer the great toil of a daily laborer,
and dig for a maintenance, provided I were reduced to the necessity,
than serve upon such ignoble terms; for I really do not see why the
lives of his Majesty's subjects in Virginia should be of less value
than those in other parts of his American dominions, especially when
it is well known that we must undergo double their hardship." Here we
have a high-spirited, high-tempered young gentleman, with a contempt
for shams that it is pleasant to see, and evidently endowed also with
a fine taste for fighting and not too much patience.

Indignant letters written in vigorous language were, however, of
little avail, and Washington prepared to shift for himself as best he
might. His Indian allies brought him news that the French were on the
march and had thrown out scouting parties. Picking out a place in the
Great Meadows for a fort, "a charming field for an encounter," he in
his turn sent out a scouting party, and then on fresh intelligence
from the Indians set forth himself with forty men to find the enemy.
After a toilsome march they discovered their foes in camp. The French,
surprised and surrounded, sprang to arms, the Virginians fired, there
was a sharp exchange of shots, and all was over. Ten of the French
were killed and twenty-one were taken prisoners, only one of the party
escaping to carry back the news.

This little skirmish made a prodigious noise in its day, and was much
heralded in France. The French declared that Jumonville, the leader,
who fell at the first fire, was foully assassinated, and that he and
his party were ambassadors and sacred characters. Paris rang with this
fresh instance of British perfidy, and a M. Thomas celebrated the
luckless Jumonville in a solemn epic poem in four books. French
historians, relying on the account of the Canadian who escaped,
adopted the same tone, and at a later day mourned over this black
spot on Washington's character. The French view was simple nonsense.
Jumonville and his party, as the papers found on Jumonville showed,
were out on a spying and scouting expedition. They were seeking to
surprise the English when the English surprised them, with the usual
backwoods result. The affair has a dramatic interest because it was
the first blood shed in a great struggle, and was the beginning of a
series of world-wide wars and social and political convulsions, which
terminated more than half a century later on the plains of Waterloo.
It gave immortality to an obscure French officer by linking his name
with that of his opponent, and brought Washington for the moment
before the eyes of the world, which little dreamed that this Virginian
colonel was destined to be one of the principal figures in the great
revolutionary drama to which the war then beginning was but the

Washington, for his part, well satisfied with his exploit, retraced
his steps, and having sent his prisoners back to Virginia, proceeded
to consider his situation. It was not a very cheerful prospect.
Contrecoeur, with the main body of the French and Indians, was moving
down from the Monongahela a thousand strong. This of course was to
have been anticipated, and it does not seem to have in the least
damped Washington's spirits. His blood was up, his fighting temper
thoroughly roused, and he prepared to push on. Colonel Fry had died
meanwhile, leaving Washington in command; but his troops came forward,
and also not long after a useless "independent" company from South
Carolina. Thus reinforced Washington advanced painfully some thirteen
miles, and then receiving sure intelligence of the approach of the
French in great force fell back with difficulty to the Great Meadows,
where he was obliged by the exhausted condition of his men to stop. He
at once resumed work on Fort Necessity, and made ready for a desperate
defense, for the French were on his heels, and on July 3 appeared at
the Meadows. Washington offered battle outside the fort, and this
being declined withdrew to his trenches, and skirmishing went on all
day. When night fell it was apparent that the end had come. The men
were starved and worn out. Their muskets in many cases were rendered
useless by the rain, and their ammunition was spent. The Indians had
deserted, and the foe outnumbered them four to one. When the French
therefore offered a parley, Washington was forced reluctantly to
accept. The French had no stomach for the fight, apparently, and
allowed the English to go with their arms, exacting nothing but a
pledge that for a year they would not come to the Ohio.

So ended Washington's first campaign. His friend the Half-King, the
celebrated Seneca chief, Thanacarishon, who prudently departed on the
arrival of the French, has left us a candid opinion of Washington and
his opponents. "The colonel," he said, "was a good-natured man, but
had no experience; he took upon him to command the Indians as his
slaves, and would have them every day upon the scout and to attack
the enemy by themselves, but would by no means take advice from the
Indians. He lay in one place from one full moon to the other, without
making any fortifications, except that little thing on the meadow;
whereas, had he taken advice, and built such fortifications as I
advised him, he might easily have beat off the French. But the French
in the engagement acted like cowards, and the English like fools."[1]

[Footnote 1: _Enquiry into the Causes and Alienations of the Delaware
and Shawanee Indians_, etc. London, 1759. By Charles Thomson,
afterwards Secretary of Congress.]

There is a deal of truth in this opinion. The whole expedition was
rash in the extreme. When Washington left Will's Creek he was aware
that he was going to meet a force of a thousand men with only a
hundred and fifty raw recruits at his back. In the same spirit he
pushed on; and after the Jumonville affair, although he knew that the
wilderness about him was swarming with enemies, he still struggled
forward. When forced to retreat he made a stand at the Meadows and
offered battle in the open to his more numerous and more prudent
foes, for he was one of those men who by nature regard courage as a
substitute for everything, and who have a contempt for hostile odds.
He was ready to meet any number of French and Indians with cheerful
confidence and with real pleasure. He wrote, in a letter which
soon became famous, that he loved to hear bullets whistle, a sage
observation which he set down in later years as a folly of youth. Yet
this boyish outburst, foolish as it was, has a meaning to us, for it
was essentially true. Washington had the fierce fighting temper of the
Northmen. He loved battle and danger, and he never ceased to love them
and to give way to their excitement, although he did not again set
down such sentiments in boastful phrase that made the world laugh.
Men of such temper, moreover, are naturally imperious and have a fine
disregard of consequences, with the result that their allies, Indian
or otherwise, often become impatient and finally useless. The campaign
was perfectly wild from the outset, and if it had not been for
the utter indifference to danger displayed by Washington, and the
consequent timidity of the French, that particular body of Virginians
would have been permanently lost to the British Empire.

But we learn from all this many things. It appears that Washington was
not merely a brave man, but one who loved fighting for its own sake.
The whole expedition shows an arbitrary temper and the most reckless
courage, valuable qualities, but here unrestrained, and mixed
with very little prudence. Some important lessons were learned by
Washington from the rough teachings of inexorable and unconquerable
facts. He received in this campaign the first taste of that severe
experience which by its training developed the self-control and
mastery of temper for which he became so remarkable. He did not spring
into life a perfect and impossible man, as is so often represented. On
the contrary, he was educated by circumstances; but the metal came out
of the furnace of experience finely tempered, because it was by nature
of the best and with but little dross to be purged away. In addition
to all this he acquired for the moment what would now be called a
European reputation. He was known in Paris as an assassin, and in
England, thanks to the bullet letter, as a "fanfaron" and brave
braggart. With these results he wended his way home much depressed in
spirits, but not in the least discouraged, and fonder of fighting than

Virginia, however, took a kinder view of the campaign than did her
defeated soldier. She appreciated the gallantry of the offer to fight
in the open and the general conduct of the troops, and her House of
Burgesses passed a vote of thanks to Washington and his officers, and
gave money to his men. In August he rejoined his regiment, only to
renew the vain struggle against incompetence and extravagance, and as
if this were not enough, his sense of honor was wounded and his temper
much irritated by the governor's playing false to the prisoners taken
in the Jumonville fight. While thus engaged, news came that the French
were off their guard at Fort Duquesne, and Dinwiddie was for having
the regiment of undisciplined troops march again into the wilderness.
Washington, however, had learned something, if not a great deal, and
he demonstrated the folly of such an attempt in a manner too clear to
be confuted.

Meantime the Burgesses came together, and more money being voted,
Dinwiddie hit on a notable plan for quieting dissensions between
regulars and provincials by dividing all the troops into independent
companies, with no officer higher than a captain. Washington, the
only officer who had seen fighting and led a regiment, resented quite
properly this senseless policy, and resigning his commission withdrew
to Mount Vernon to manage the estate and attend to his own affairs. He
was driven to this course still more strongly by the original cause of
Dinwiddie's arrangement. The English government had issued an order
that officers holding the king's commission should rank provincial
officers, and that provincial generals and field officers should have
no rank when a general or field officer holding a royal commission was
present. The degradation of being ranked by every whipper-snapper who
might hold a royal commission by virtue, perhaps, of being the bastard
son of some nobleman's cast-off mistress was more than the temper
of George Washington at least could bear, and when Governor Sharpe,
general by the king's commission, and eager to secure the services
of the best fighter in Virginia, offered him a company and urged his
acceptance, he replied in language that must have somewhat astonished
his excellency. "You make mention in your letter," he wrote to Colonel
Fitzhugh, Governor Sharpe's second in command, "of my continuing in
the service, and retaining my colonel's commission. This idea has
filled me with surprise; for, if you think me capable of holding a
commission that has neither rank nor emolument annexed to it, you must
entertain a very contemptible opinion of my weakness, and believe
me to be more empty than the commission itself.... In short, every
captain bearing the king's commission, every half-pay officer, or
others, appearing with such a commission, would rank before me.... Yet
my inclinations are strongly bent to arms."

It was a bitter disappointment to withdraw from military life, but
Washington had an intense sense of personal dignity; not the small
vanity of a petty mind, but the quality of a proud man conscious of
his own strength and purpose. It was of immense value to the American
people at a later day, and there is something very instructive in this
early revolt against the stupid arrogance which England has always
thought it wise to display toward this country. She has paid dearly
for indulging it, but it has seldom cost her more than when it drove
Washington from her service, and left in his mind a sense of indignity


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