General Washington, by Bradley T. Johnson, Chapter 1

Washington and Lee University

General Washington

By General Bradley T. Johnson



GREAT industry, enthusiasm, and sentiment have been expended in tracing the genealogy of George Washington, Colonel of Virginia Militia, Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, first President of the United States, and greatest of all Americans.

Ancestor worship seems to concentrate in intensity as it ceases to be general; and as soon as an individual emerges above the mass, and distinguishes himself by achievement in action, admirers seek to connect him with a distant and illustrious past, through ancestors who have equaled or surpassed their descendant in fame.

So, as soon as the independence of the United States was achieved, industrious genealogists and ardent admirers, both in America and in England, set to work to explore all the hereditary sources from which the great character displayed by the leader of the Revolution had been derived. The pedigree of the Virginian Washingtons has been traced back to Odin, or to De Hertburn, who came into England on the Norman raid, and held on to a few manors, prize of his sword and his spear.

These mythical genealogies are based more on enthusiasm than on proof, and on faith rather than on facts. It is a very difficult matter to connect an emigrant who left a certain place in England, about a certain year, with an immigrant of the same name who appeared in America some months or years afterward, unless there exist contemporaneous proofs of their identity.

Identity of name is no proof, while it tends to show a probable connection. We shall therefore content ourselves with the facts about the Virginian Washingtons, and discard the myths and fables. Within the last year evidence has been discovered which establishes beyond doubt who John Washington, the emigrant to Virginia, was, from what part of England he came, and at what time he landed in Virginia. Records of Westmoreland County, lost ever since the Revolution of 1775–’83, have lately been discovered, deciphered, and disclosed, which identify John Washington beyond a doubt. He was major of the militia of Westmoreland on April 4, 1655, during the Commonwealth Government. His deposition, dated 1674, states that he was then forty-five years of age. He was therefore born in 1629, and in 1655, when he was commissioned major, he was twenty-six years old; which proves that he was a gentleman of consideration and proper political sympathies in the Dominion of Virginia.

He returned to England, and in 1656 was engaged by Mr. Edward Prescott to come over from England to Dunkirk (or Dantzic) and join Prescott in a trading venture in the North Sea, and to America, Prescott supplying ship and venture, and Washington to act as supercargo and first mate, and to share the profits equally. He accepted Prescott’s proposition, went to Dunkirk or Dantzic, Lübeck, Copenhagen, and Elsinore, selling tobacco, which appears to hive been the cargo, and with the proceeds purchased goods for the outgoing voyage. They arrived in the Potomac early in 1657, and, having fallen out during the voyage, Washington tried to secure a settlement from Prescott of his share of the partnership in the trading operation.

Prescott did not deny Washington’s claim, but one Sunday he set sail, and took himself out of the reach of the law or the reclamations of his first mate; whereupon the creditor began a suit by way of attachment in the court of Westmoreland County, and proceeded to take depositions to establish the facts, which depositions were duly recorded among the archives, and furnish us now the only authentic information we have of the first Virginian Washington. He was a cavalier in political affinities, or he would not have been commissioned major in 1655; or he may not have had any pronounced sympathy with either side, and the Government of Virginia may have selected him for that reason. He returned to England that same year or the next, and came out with Prescott in 1657 and straightway married.

In the following year he complained to the Governor and Council of Maryland that Edward Prescott, his quondam, fraudulent, and fugitive partner, had, during the voyage in the preceding year, been accessory to the murder of a poor old woman by permitting her to be tried for witchcraft. The trial consisted in throwing her overboard. If she floated, she would have been proved to be a witch; if she sank, her innocence would be demonstrated. She naturally was drowned, and Major Washington protested that that was an outrage not to be endured. What his opinion of Prescott would have been if he had settled fairly he does not say, but we may imagine he would have had a much more tolerant feeling about the witch trial. There has always been a great deal of human nature in the Washington blood! The Maryland authorities, having taken the matter into consideration, ordered Mr. Prescott to attend them, and notified Major Washington to bring his witnesses with him to prove his charge.

The Virginian gentleman, whose traits neither time nor circumstance have changed, found pleasure a duty, and informed the Maryland Governor and Council that he was just about to celebrate the baptism of his eldest child, that the day was named, “the gossips bid,” and that he could not break such an engagement for a mere witch prosecution over on the other side of the Potomac. He said he would come at a more convenient and comfortable season. The Marylanders dismissed Mr. Prescott, and bothered themselves no further about the matter.

It is reasonable to infer that at the time when the constituted authorities at home under Sir Matthew Hale, and their co-religionists in New England, were denouncing the crime of witchcraft and punishing witches, the new government of Maryland, recently established under the authority of the Commonwealth, should have hesitated and refused to antagonize in action and sentiment the powers that controlled “the State of England.”

John Washington was chosen vestryman of Appomattox Parish, July 3, 1661, and was commissioned justice for Westmoreland, June 24, 1662. He was a member of the House of Burgesses for Westmoreland from 1666 to 1677. He was colonel commanding the militia, the armed posse comitatus of Westmoreland County, and the responsibilities and labor of the position were incessant and severe.

The militia were the conservators of the peace and the wardens of the border. The settlements on the south side of the Potomac only extended a short distance beyond the bay, as they did also on the north side, for the Virginian and Marylander marched side by side, up the great river to the conquest of the pathless forest that extended from the falls of the Rappahannock and of the Potomac to the Pacific Ocean. The open highway of the river gave them easy means of constant intercourse for pleasure or for business.

When, therefore, news came, in the summer of 1675, that the “naked Indians were in the woods” and had killed a man in Stafford, the country rose. There was riding in hot haste from house to house on both sides of the river. Colonel Washington and Major Allerton drove the Indians from cover to cover, and forced them over the water. The Marylanders under Major Truman closed in on them, and the combined forces surrounded them in a fort at Piscataway, on the border of Charles County, in Maryland, not far from the present line of the District of Columbia. The Indians defended themselves with vigor, until at last a parley was held, under which five of the principal chiefs of the Susquehannas came out to discuss terms of peace, or surrender, when they were promptly put to death.

The Indians escaped from their fort, recrossed into Virginia, and revenged themselves a hundredfold for the loss of their leaders, for they sacked every homestead on the frontier from the Potomac to the James. They were the moving cause of Bacon’s rebellion, when Bacon roused the householders of Virginia first to defend themselves against the Indians, and next to march on Jamestown and extort necessary reforms from Sir William Berkeley, the high-tempered, generous, stupid cavalier Governor of the dominion.

There is some doubt about who was responsible for these killings. It is difficult now to get the point of view from which the frontiersmen and the original settlers regarded the Indian. He was an infidel, a savage, a wild beast. He had no soul. It was not only lawful but it was meritorious to kill him on sight, just as they would a panther or a rattlesnake. If you did not kill him, he would kill you, and therefore the thing to do was to strike first, and strike hardest. No faith was conceivable with animals, and therefore no truce was to be observed. The Marylanders had always been more punctilious about killing Indians—a policy impressed on them by the Jesuit influence under which their colony had been planted. But it had been policy alone, not humanity, that directed their action. Peace was more favorable to the growth and security of the young colony, and the policy of peace would render land more easily acquired and draw more adventurers to St. Mary’s. They started with the purchase of an Indian town from the emperor of the tribe, and they acquired by willing conveyance from the natives such territory as they required for settlement, for cultivation, for hunting, and for protection.

No Indian massacre ever wiped out the infant settlements on tide water, on the Potomac, in blood and ashes, as had happened on the James; and no devastating war had ever ravaged the border, and driven women and children back to the older settlements. Therefore the murder of the five chiefs at Piscataway roused the indignation of the. Marylanders; and their General Assembly, acting as the Grand Inquest for the colony, examined into the circumstances and denounced the whole affair as brutal and barbarous. The depositions of witnesses are spread out in full on the records; they state explicitly that Colonel Washington refused to permit further talk, and ordered the five “to be knocked on the head,” which was done at once. The lower House proposed to punish Major Truman, but the Governor and Council refused to assent to such action, and the matter was dropped.

In Virginia it was not considered in such a serious light. Sir William Berkeley ordered an investigation, and the depositions of the witnesses taken at the time under his orders are to be seen among the records of Westmoreland. They state distinctly that Colonel John Washington did not order the Indians to be killed, but that Major Truman took possession and control of them, and killed them. But this glimpse of the Washington nature in the great grandfather of George is much more vivid than the dim visions of De Hertburns and Wessington, conjured up by sentimental imaginations of admirers and worshipers.

The Virginian Washingtons were strong, hardy, manly people—hard riders, hard fighters, men of action, meeting and dealing with the responsibilities of life in a straightforward, positive, clear-headed way, without the least sentiment of any kind about the hardships of life. Life was a fact. It required nerve, courage, fortitude, fidelity, to meet its trials on the frontier, and the English in Virginia transplanted the highest hereditary traits to the new conditions, and, in the environment of forest and savage, subdued Nature and man. They lived over again many of the circumstances which had developed nerve and muscle, for a thousand years, in struggle with the North Sea, and with Celt and Saxon, Goth and Northman.

It has been the fashion of these latter generations to designate the race which settled the Atlantic seaboard of America under English charters as the Anglo-Saxon. This is a curious error, for nothing is more certain than that the English adventurers, from Raleigh down, were in the main of Norman blood. Compare the portraits in Lodge’s Gallery of British Worthies—which display the leaders of thought and action at the time of the settlement, and they show a race, of long-headed, lean-faced, strong cheekboned men—with the portraits in Brown’s Genesis of America, of the Americans of the Revolution, and the remarkable likeness at once appears. The same gravity, the same contour of face and head, appear in the era of Coke and Raleigh as in that of George Mason, of Gunston, and George Washington, of Mount Vernon; and a visitor to any of the courts of the old counties of Virginia will see to-day on court day the same grave deportment, the same reserved carriage, the same courteous intercourse, as was exhibited by their ancestors of six generations ago; and the characteristics, physical and moral, of person and manners were and are Norman, and not Saxon.

The British race that has been created by the Union there, by trade, by industrialism, has become more and more Saxon in its characteristics; but the people who settled Virginia, and have held it ever since, are the best specimens who now exist of the breed who roved the Spanish main under Hawkins and Blake, who with Raleigh sought El Dorado, and under Captain John Smith explored the Chesapeake, or who fought the Grand Armada under Lord Howard, of Effingham, and won for mankind the freedom of the seas.

The Washingtons, like their neighbors, addressed themselves to the duties of life with severe simplicity. The immigrant soon after his arrival married Anne Pope, daughter of Colonel Nathanael Pope; was a thrifty, energetic, public-spirited man; was colonel of the militia, vestryman of his parish, member of the House of Burgesses. Land then could be had for the asking, and it only required the courage and energy to examine it to select and locate the best. Before his death, in 1677, John Washington acquired large possessions and numerous servants, with horses and horned cattle and swine, and all the wealth of a new country. By Anne Pope he had Lawrence, John, and Anne Washington. His son Lawrence married Mildred Warner, by whom he had John, Augustine, and Mildred Washington. Augustine (pronounced Austin) Washington first married Jane Butler, who died in 1728, leaving two sons, Lawrence and Augustine. Augustine then married Mary Ball, of a well-known and established Westmoreland family.

The Balls were people of position and comfortable fortune, and Mary Ball’s education was such as was appropriate to her station in life and to the times in which she lived. Her father, whose estate was Epping Forest, engaged a tutor for his young family of boys and girls, who under his instruction acquired the arts of reading, writing, and ciphering. In the daily intercourse with their own family, and with their neighbors, they learned to love God and honor the king, to speak the truth, and be respectful to their betters and seniors, rendering to their parents affection and respect absolutely without limit.

In due time Mary Ball was introduced to the vice-regal court at Williamsburgh, where she observed and was instructed in and imitated the #8220;mode” of the great world, and learned how to enter a room and how to leave it, how to make her courtesy, and how to manage her train and her fan. She made an impression on society as a beauty, as contemporary letters show, and after her “fling” of a season she returned, happy and contented, to her country home to take up her life as the wife of some honest Virginian colonel, to become the mother of his children and the manager of his servants, his estates, and of himself, as has always been the custom there, and to live serene, happy, and contented in that state of life into which it should please God to call her. Fulfilling her destiny, she married the widower Augustine Washington with his two sons, and bore him four sons and two daughters.

The eldest, George, was born at Bridge’s Creek, in Westmoreland, on February 11, O.S., 1732; February 22, N.S. Three years after this event the house was burned, and Augustine Washington moved his family to another house and plantation in Stafford, on the north side of the Rappahannock, opposite the village of Fredericksburg. Here he died, in 1743, leaving a large landed estate, stocked with servants and cattle, and this large family to the care of the young widow.

Much effusion has been expended over the wonderful traits of “Mary, the mother of Washington”; and her sagacity, her influence in forming character, her example in the way of method, order, and frugality, have been greatly exploited as having exerted a prodigious influence on the career of her illustrious son. But it is fair to say that Mary Washington was only a fair example of hundreds of Virginian widows, who, before and since her time, deprived of the support of a husband, have deliberately, seriously, and voluntarily dedicated their lives to the training of their children, and the preservation of their estates, committed to them by the devotion, the respect, and the intelligence of the father and husband who had gone. Such instances of self-sacrifice are usual in that society, and the example forms strong characters, brave and good men and women. Mary Washington was left in charge of several plantations, many servants, the two stepsons, Lawrence and Augustine, and her own children, George, Samuel, John Augustine, Charles, and Betty; another daughter, Mildred, having died in infancy.

Augustine Washington, after his marriage, had paid a visit to England with his wife, which has led to a tradition that his eldest son George was born near London. But it is certain that he was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia. By the will of Augustine his large landed estate was equitably divided between his children of the first and second marriage alike. To Lawrence he left the estate on Hunting Creek, in Fairfax County—afterward named, by Lawrence, Mount Vernon, in honor of his old commander, Admiral Vernon—and to George the place on the Rappahannock. Mrs. Washington was made guardian of her own children, with control and management of their property until they became of age. She purchased a small one-story, three-roomed house in Fredericksburg, and moved from the plantation into the town. But she managed all her affairs herself; she did precisely what every lady in her station did then in that society, and does now.

Mrs. Washington had a large family of children, for her servants were her children, next to her real children. She watched them, guided them, controlled them, trained them in manners and in morals, in ideas and in faith, day and night, morning and evening. In due season the geese were to be plucked to provide for pillows and beds, the hens and turkeys to be set, the sheep to be sheared, the wool to be washed, carded, spun, and woven, the hides to be saved and tanned, the winter shoes to be made and socks to be knit, and clothes to be issued; and with this, the daily care of the plantation and the house, the weighing out of the “allowance” to each family, the examination as to the cleanliness of the persons and the houses of the “family.” This was part of the domestic police, and every part and detail was executed under the direct eye of the mistress. In the garden and on the plantation the same method of personal superintendence was applied. The head gardener and the overseer every morning came to “the house” for “orders,” and the mistress gave minute directions as to everything that was to be done by them during the day. And after the details of domestic housekeeping were through in the morning, she would make a tour of inspection over the garden, and then mount a one-horse stick gig and cross the Rappahannock by the ferry, and see everything on the plantation. Such a life requires energy, intelligence, perseverance; it begets methods of order, frugality, and exactness; and with the constant example before his eyes, at home and everywhere he went, among his relations and friends, the boy Washington must have acquired habits which accompanied and controlled him all his life.

There were no schools, but Mrs. Washington understood perfectly the value of education to a young gentleman. Many young men of the neighborhood, her own brother Joseph Ball among them, had been sent “home” for education. Oxford was full of Virginians; Fitzhugh, Robinson, Randolph, Burwell, Wormly, and many others were represented there, and at the University of Edinburgh. It was impossible, with the limited means of the Washingtons, to send them home for education. Lawrence Washington had been sent home by his father for that purpose, and that was as much as was reasonable; the rest of the boys had to take their chances. So George was put in charge of William Hobby, an old fellow of the neighborhood, sexton and school-teacher.

It does not at all follow that because Hobby was a sexton that he might not also have been an M.A. of Oxford, or a gentleman by birth. After the rising of 1745 in England the adherents of the Stuarts were exported by the hundred to Virginia and sold at public vendue. A groom of the chambers, or a maid of honor, would get at court a grant of fifty or a hundred prisoners, captured by the Duke of Cumberland, and crammed into the jails of the northern counties, where typhus and smallpox destroyed them by the score; and gifts of prisoners were negotiable property, a kind of sight draft directed to any jailer or sheriff in the kingdom, and were sold at a market price. So old Hobby may have been a gentleman although he was a sexton, and may have been a university man though he did keep an old field school. Hobby taught the three Rs, and George learned to write a good, legible hand, which must have been learned at that time, and which was not taught by an illiterate man.

When George was seven or eight years old, Lawrence returned from England a well-set-up, educated gentleman, and one of the finest traits of his character was the affection and interest he at once took in the little stepbrother. He felt what a difference there would be between his life and that of the unkempt country lad who followed him around with admiring eyes and affectionate docility. Big brother Lawrence was the hero of George’s youth. Lawrence, with many young Virginians of quality, volunteered for the expedition under Admiral Vernon against the hated Papist and Spaniard in the West Indies, and was present and helped at the capture of Carthagena. In due time Lawrence returned with the approbation of his commanding officer and the applause of his comrades, and the boy followed him around, fearful to lose one word of the wonderful story of hairbreadth escapes by flood and field. As the boy grew older he needed better instruction and training than Hobby could give him, and he was sent to his half-brother Augustine’s, on Bridge Creek, in Westmoreland, to get the advantage of a neighborhood school kept by Thomas Williams.

When George was thirteen years of age, he did the things and developed the traits usual in a Virginia country boy of his age and period. A lad in that society rides a horse from the time he is five years old, and has a horse of his own, which he uses at his pleasure. He catches him at pasture, saddles and bridles him, and rides him everywhere—to the neighbors, on an errand for his mother, to borrow some sugar, for his father, to take back a bridle, to church on Sunday, to school on week days. By the time a boy is thirteen his horse becomes part of himself as much as his clothes, and he would as readily appear in public without one as without the other. In the country, boys find amusement and pleasure in the expenditure of the energy of youth and health. They run races, they wrestle, and they fight. In the society in which Washington was born, like the English society in the preceding century, of which it was a type, it was considered natural, proper, and healthy for boys to fight.

Quarrels were discountenanced, but mothers taught their sons that, if ever a falling out occurred between comrades, the best thing to do was to strip off their jackets and settle it—fight it out, and settle it, not quarrel over it. At a school where every boy’s father had been shot at by or had shot an Indian, the athletic sports most affected would naturally be of a military cast. George, like every other healthy boy, had been playing soldier and drilling the little negroes on the plantation, and about the house, ever since he had donned boy’s clothes; and at the Williams school a boy who had a brother who wore a scarlet coat and bore the King’s commission, and who had heard from that brother glowing accounts of real war under Admiral Vernon and General Wentworth against the Spaniards, was of necessity a leader, especially when that boy was well grown, muscular and strong, and quite prompt to enforce respect by a remarkably stalwart and ready right arm.

Lawrence Washington had married Anne Fairfax, the daughter of William Fairfax, of Belvoir, the cousin of Lord Fairfax, and was living on his estate of Mount Vernon in comfort, without ostentation, and plenty, without extravagance. He felt the inequality in social conditions between himself and his young stepbrother, and appreciated the immense advantage that social culture and elegant society gives a man in the world, and he made a point of having him at Mount Vernon as much as possible. There he was introduced at Belvoir, and a well-grown, handsome lad of fourteen is much more of a man in primitive societies than in older ones, where conventionalities thrust the young into the background So young Washington was a favorite among the Virginian English society of the Northern Neck.

It has been represented that that society lived in semisavage profusion and pomp, surrounded by troops of slaves; that the planter lived in a house where the glass in the windows was often broken, though the sideboard groaned beneath the remnant of the plate, the rest of which had been melted down for the King, at home; that there were holes in the damask curtains, though the walls were decorated with Lely’s masterpieces, portraits of ancestresses brought from home; that the women were ignorant, and the men were boorish examples of the day and manners of Squire Western. These views are as erroneous as this picture is false.

No Virginian ever spoke of “slaves.” By a curious, unconscious cerebration, the word was distasteful to a people who valued liberty as their most precious possession, and the retainers of the family were called “servants.— They were as much the family as the children, or the wife, or the mother. The relation of master and servant was not a property relation at all. It was the domestic institution as it had always existed in every primitive society, as it had been practiced by the patriarchs, and recognized and regulated by Moses and the prophets. A man’s “wife, his manservant, and his maidservant,” were placed in the same category in the decalogue, and it was the Virginians who prevented the appearance of the word “slaves” in the Constitution of the United States, where reference is made to the servile class of the population as “persons held to labor” and as “other persons.”

“Slave” was a word tabooed in the language of ladies and gentlemen; it was vulgar; it was “common,” to use the vernacular. It was not until the invention of the cotton gin led to a great development in the cotton-producing States that “servants” began to be “slaves,” and to be considered on account of their mercantile value, and the consequent sectional jealousy which viewed with alarm the growth of the Southern section which threatened to transfer the power from east of the Hudson, that “slave” began to be a word in the common vocabulary, used on the one side as a taunt, on the other as a defiance. And there was no barbaric extravagance or savage profusion. The planter’s estate furnished everything the family consumed except sugar and coffee; tea was practically unknown. Bear, venison, wild turkeys, pheasants, partridges abounded in the woods; ducks and swans, oysters of the finest, and fish of every variety crowded the rivers and bays, and a huntsman and fisherman, detailed for the sole duty of stocking the larder, kept every household fully supplied. Beef, mutton, bacon, and hams were provided also, while the fields produced wheat and corn, from which bread of unrivaled excellence was made; nor were the manners most in vogue those of Squire Western.

The heir of every family was educated at home, and read his terms at Oxford. At the University of Edinburgh there was a club, requisite to the membership of which was the fact that the applicant must have been born in Virginia. Within a day’s ride of Mount Vernon were a dozen country houses the masters of which were university graduates and had made the grand tour—the Fitzhughs at Eagle’s Nest and at Marmion, the Masons at Gunston Hall, the Lees at Stratford, the Carters at Sabine Hall, the Fauntleroys in Richmond.

All along the Potomac and the Rappahannock were large roomy, pretentious homes, some of which were on English models from Italian architects, the great majority simple and plain mansions, in which gathered and circulated a refined, elevated, traveled society. Colonel Lewis Littlepage, of New Castle, had been the chamberlain of the last King of Poland. Colonel John Parke had been aid-de-camp to the Duke of Marlborough at Blenheim, and had carried the dispatch of victory to Queen Anne, and received from her fair hand, for reward, her miniature set in brilliants.

Colonel William Byrd, of Westover, had been the intimate friend and was the constant correspondent of the Earl of Orrery, the inventor of the astronomical instrument which bears his name. Lord Fairfax had been one of the bucks of the court, the companion of Addison and Dick Steele, and had contributed to the Spectator.

As was and is the Virginia custom, the families of wealth in the Dominion were closely bound by frequent intermarriages, by ties of blood and friendship, and they constituted one large circle. One household would move over to another with servants, children, carriages, horses, and dogs, and, after a stay of two or three weeks, all would move to a third, and so go on accumulating as they went, until it became time for all to go home to arrange for the coming year. But home was the last place the Virginian wanted to go unless he was accompanied by a house full of cousins. This constant social intercourse, free but reserved, cordial but dignified, produced a type of manners of the highest grade; and the characteristics of Washington, which for these hundred years have been descanted upon as of phenomenal ceremony and extraordinary dignity, were the ways and manners of his class, with whom he passed his earlier years. He was an exemplar of the culture of his society, and in no remarkable way different from the gentlemen of his station in life all around him. He was a typical Virginian of his epoch.

At this time the experience of Lawrence prompted George to desire a commission as midshipman in the British navy; but Uncle Joseph Ball, who had studied law in London and who was settled there as a practicing attorney, discountenanced the idea with the stolid obstinacy of the middle-class Englishman, whose only idea of the naval service was derived from the press gang, and who thought it unbecoming for his provincial nephew to aspire to the position of a gentleman and to bear the King’s cornmission. The instruction of Williams’s school had imparted sufficient skill to make young Washington a competent surveyor. There are plats of surveys now in the General Land Office of Virginia made by him which would do credit to any youth of his age at the present day. Lord Fairfax had acquired all the land lying between the Potomac and the Rappahannock Rivers, and a right line drawn from the principal source of the one to the head of the other. This great principality was unexplored save by the trapper and hunter. Across it ran the great war trail of the Five Nations, passing northeast and southwest. In the spring of 1748, when young Washington had just passed his sixteenth birthday, Lord Fairfax employed him as surveyor to explore and locate his lands beyond the Blue Ridge, up to the principal source of the Potomac, his compensation being fixed at a doubloon a day, with the possibility of increasing it to six pistoles.

In March, he and George Fairfax rode over the mountain by Ashby’s Gap and through the lovely valley of Virginia as far as the mouth of Wills Creek, on the Potomac, and on their return, in April, Lord Fairfax was so much pleased at their report of the country, that he moved over to a new settlement, in what is now the County of Clarke, and established a hunting lodge which he named Greenway Court. The ensuing three years were passed in the woods in this employment as surveyor. His earnings, which were very large compared with the price of land—one day’s wages sufficed to pay for many acres—were invested in land, the location of which to this day attests his admirable judgment. Probably this experience as a surveyor was the most valuable epoch of his life. He was taught self-control, alertness, quick decision, prompt action. Living in the woods, where a man’s life is guarded alone by himself, teaches him to be on guard at all times, by day and by night; and in such a life every man’s tomahawk was loose, every man’s rifle was unslung, his bullet pouch was pulled around so as to be handy, and never for a moment was the guard relaxed. A watch was set every night, and on the march by day an advance scout was sent out, and a wary lookout kept up.

This life under the open sky, when a man carries his life in his hand, and a keen eye and sharp ear and quick hand are his surest safeguard, develops a self-possession, an endurance, a patience, and a perseverance unknown in other states of society. One who spends days in the forest, without exchanging an unnecessary word with a comrade, becomes a taciturn man; whose life every minute is only protected by himself, becomes of necessity self-reliant; whose time is passed in the solitude of Nature, absorbs the gravity of the woods and the mountains. In such a school George Washington passed the ensuing three years of his life.

Returning from his surveying expedition in the valley, Lord Fairfax procured him the appointment of public surveyor, which insured him steady employment, and gave his work the stamp of official authority. While thus employed, he enjoyed the benefit of the cultivated society assembled by Lord Fairfax at Greenway Court. There he found a library of English books, and read the Spectator and the History of England, the only opportunity which he had had up to that time to read books. His education had been by action and by living, by observation of Nature and men, and thoughtfulness and analysis of what he had observed.

In September, 1751, Lawrence went to Barbadoes for his health, taking his young brother with him, and returned the following spring. He died in July, 1752, leaving his whole estate to his infant daughter, with the remainder, in case she died without issue, to his brother George, with the latter as guardian of the infant and executor of the will. This produced an entire change in the prospects and position of the young surveyor. His self-denial in working and in saving his earnings, and his judgment in investing them in well-selected and well-located lands during his experience as a surveyor, had made him a large holder of wild land along the Potomac and the Shenandoah. Lawrence Washington was a man of large views and forcible character.

The struggle that had been going on between England and France in Europe for centuries had been extended to the New World. The French settled Canada and held the Great Lakes and their outlet to the sea. The English planted colonies along the Atlantic seaboard, and began feeling out beyond the mountains toward the vast, unexplored wilderness which stretched in unbroken solitude toward the setting sun.

The French acquired the mouth of the Mississippi, and explored what they believed to be its source in Minnesota. They established communications between their northern and southern posts; they navigated the Great Lakes; they pushed up the Ohio; and they were overrunning the country on the right bank of that river. If they were successful, Protestant Virginia would be walled in by the Blue Mountains, held by Catholic France, and confined to the narrow seaboard.

The English of Virginia, like their race everywhere, pushed their trade before them and followed it with their flag. They organized the Ohio Company, with men and means to settle the disputed territory, and made Lawrence Washington their general manager. No man could live on the frontier with the threat of Indian massacre ever present to him, and the Indian backed by the Frenchman; no man whose ancestor had fought under English Harry at Agincourt but must have felt that the question of English or French supremacy in America must eventually be decided by arms. Four generations of Virginian Englishmen had been fighting the brutes set on them by the French. No man could remember the time when the tale of Indian horrors had not been told by mother and grandmother around the fire, with bated breath, to the children.

Lawrence Washington, like most of the young Virginian gentlemen of his day, had seen service. He procured for his brother, aged nineteen, the position of assistant adjutant general for the Northern District of Virginia with the rank of major, and provided as instructors for him Adjutant Bataille Muse, a Virginian, who probably had served in the Low Countries, as many young Virginian gentlemen of the day did, and Jacob Van Braam, an old Dutch soldier, whom Lawrence Washington had picked up on the Carthagena expedition.

He was determined that his younger brother should be equipped for that stage of life to which it should please God to call him; just as our generation has seen young men prepared by military education, training, and discipline, for the trials that were to come to them.

Lawrence Washington’s death, George Washington’s reputation and experience as surveyor, his thrift and intelligence in the acquisition of wild land, his executorship and guardianship of the heiress of Mount Vernon, and his residence there, all gave him weight and consideration in the community; and when the Lieutenant Governor of Virgina—a choleric Scotchman, Dinwiddie—required a man to warn off the French trespassers from that part of. Virginia which extended northwest of the Ohio, the master of Mount Vernon was pre-eminently the fittest man for the work.

A former envoy of the Governor had been stopped by Indian threats—instigated by French craft—far short of the French posts, and had turned back utterly unsuccessful. The service needed a man of varied qualities and acquirements; a man of will and force; a woodsman, for he would be required to meet and overcome many obstacles from man and Nature, and to face the perils of the wild woods which stretched unbroken from the Shenandoah to the Rockies and to Lake Michigan; a gentleman of culture and information, for he must meet, on equal terms, men trained at the Court of Versailles. What was the utility of sending a messenger hundreds of miles through the wilderness, in hourly peril of life, to warn subordinates from obeying the orders of their superiors, and carrying out a well-considered, matured, and determined national policy, passes our comprehension. According to our modern lights, it seems a useless ceremonial that could lead to no possible useful result; but, according to the standard of the day, the way of doing a thing was quite as important as the doing of it. The ceremonial was an important part of the transaction.

Adjutant Washington then was selected by the Governor of Virginia for this delicate and dangerous mission. In October, 1753, he assembled a small party at the mouth of Wills Creek, on the Potomac, and pushed out toward the Ohio with Christopher Gist, an experienced woodsman and Indian fighter, as guide. His place of departure is the present city of Cumberland, in Maryland, named from the Duke of Cumberland. A great council of the Ohio Indians and the Iroquois had been called to meet at Logstown, an Indian town on the Ohio a few miles below the site of the present city of Pittsburg. Here the Virginian envoy met the chiefs in council, and, having induced them to enter into amicable relations with the English, pushed on to the French post farther west, near Lake Erie. There he delivered his message with great punctilio, and much ceremony, and was bowed out with courtly grace and diplomatic phrases, and sent back with the polite intimation that if the Virginians would mind their own business it would be better for them.

Winter was on them before they turned homeward. There would be no grass for the horses, and the tracks of the animals would mark too clear a trail on the backward march; so Gist and the major left their horses, and took to the woods on foot. Snow and ice encumbered their march, and through perils of flood, and starvation, and of Indians, they successfully pushed their way. When the country is considered—the pathless forest, the flooded rivers, the ice on the mountain, the snow in the valley—this journey shows fortitude, perseverance, and promptness extraordinary.

Leaving Venango, the French post, on Christmas day, Washington and his comrade marched up the Alleghany to the confluence of the Monongahela and the Alleghany—the present Pittsburg; then up the Monongahela and across the mountain to Wills Creek; thence down the Potomac to Mount Vernon; thence across the Rappahannock, the Pamunkey, and the Mattapony, to Williamsburgh, where they arrived on January 16th, just twenty-one days from the start. It would push two good men, and two horses, to cover the same ground now in the same time, over modern roads and with modem inns. The whole expedition was justly esteemed as an extraordinary exhibition of courage, sagacity, and skill. Washington had kept a careful and minute journal, which he submitted as his official report to the Governor, and which was published. It fixed the attention of the province upon the major commanding the Department of Northern Virginia, and thenceforward he was the hope and pride of all Virginia, trusted in trial, and her stay in the storm soon to burst.

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