G. W. PARKE GUSTIS,
COMPILED FROM FILES OF THE NATIONAL INTELLIGINCER,
PRINTED AT WASHINGTON, D.C.
PRINTED BY WILLIAM H. MOORE.
The late G. W. Parke Custis, the author of the “RECOLLECTIONS AND PRIVATE EMOIRS OF GENERAL WASHINGTON,” whose death occurred on the 10th October, 1857, was thus spoken of by the Editors of the National Intelligencer:
DEATH OF MR. CUSTIS.
It becomes our painful duty to announce the decease of the venerable George Washington Parke Custis, the last of the members of the family of Washington.
Mr. Custis died at Arlington, near this city, after a brief illness, on the morning of the 10th instant, in the 77th year of his age. For several years he had stood alone in his relations to the Father of his Country, ever anxious, with filial reverence and affection, to illustrate his character, and from the rich stores of his never-failing memory to bring forward an annual tribute to his immortal worth. Known and honored by his fellow countrymen, his departure will awaken universally a profound regret.
Born amid the great events of the Revolution, by the death of his father, (Col. Custis, of the army, and a son of Mrs. Washington by a former marriage,) which occurred near the close of the war, he found his home during childhood and youth at Mount Vernon, where his manners were formed after the noblest models; and from the great worthies of that period, frequent guests there, he received impressions of wisdom and patriotism that were never effaced. Under the counsels of Washington he pursued his classical studies at Princeton, and when deprived by death of his great guide and father, (and soon after of his revered grandmother,) he devoted himself to literary and agricultural pursuits on his ample estate of Arlington, the gift, by will, of that illustrious man. He was early united in marriage to Miss Mary Lee Fitzhugh, of Virginia, a lady of unsurpassed excellences in all the relations of life, and whose irreparable loss, three years ago, he continued with sorrow and affectionate admiration, to his final day, profoundly to deplore. One daughter, (Mrs. Lee, wife of Col. Robert Lee, of the army) and several grandchildren survive him.
Mr. Custis was distinguished by an original genius for eloquence, poetry, and the fine arts; by a knowledge of history, particularly the history of this country; for great powers of conversation, for an ever-ready and generous hospitality, for kindness to the poor, for patriotism, for constancy of friendship, and for a more than filial devotion to the memory and character of Washington. His early speeches on the death of Gen. Lingan and the overthrow of Napoleon were everywhere read and admired, even by those who dissented from the sentiments, for the beauty of their conception and their impassioned eloquence. Those familiar with the columns of this journal will not forget how largely we and the country are indebted to the warm and ever cheerful spirit of the deceased for many invaluable reminiscences of revolutionary history, of the distinguished men of those times, and especially of the private life of their glorious chief in the retirement of the shades of his home at Mount Vernon.
Thousands from this country and from foreign lands who have visited Arlington to commune with our departed friend, and look upon the touching memorials there treasured up with care of him who was first in the hearts of his countrymen, will not forget the charm thrown over all by the ease, grace, interest, and vivacity of the manners and conversation of him whose voice, alas! is silent now. The multitudes of our fellow-citizens accustomed, in the heat of summer, to resort to the shades of Arlington will hereafter miss that old man eloquent, who ever extended to them a warm-hearted welcome and became partaker of their joy.
Long a believer in the great truths of Divine Revelation, Mr. Custis turned to these for consolation in his last days, and died in communion with the Protestant Episcopal Church.
HIS LIFE, HABITS AND MANNERS.
General WASHINGTON, during the whole of both his public and private life, was a very early riser; indeed, the Maternal Mansion, at which his first habits were formed, abhorred the character of a sluggard, as much as nature does a vacuum. Whether as Chief Magistrate or the retired Citizen, we find this man of method and labor seated in his library from one to two hours before day, in winter, and at day-break in summer. We wonder at the amazing deal of work which he performed. Nothing but a method the most remarkable and exemplary could have enabled him to accomplish an amount of labor, which might have given pretty full employment to the lives of half a dozen ordinary, and not idle men. When we consider the volume of his official papers—his vast foreign, public, and private correspondence—we are scarcely able to believe that the space of one man’s life should have comprehended the doing so many things, and doing them so well. His toilette was soon made. A single servant prepared his clothes, and laid them in readiness, also combed and tied his hair; he shaved and dressed himself, giving but very little of his precious time to matters of that sort, though remarkable for the neatness and propriety of his apparel. His clothes were made after the old-fashioned cut, of the best, though plainest materials. When President of the United States, the style of his household and equipage corresponded with the dignity of his exalted station, though avoiding as much as was possible every thing like show or parade. The expenses of his presidency, over and above the salary of government, absorbed the proceeds of the sale of a very considerable estate.
The President never appeared in military costume, unless to receive his brethren of the Cincinnati, or at reviews. He then wore the old opposition colors of England, and the regimental dress of the Volunteer corps which he commanded prior to the Revolution. With the exception of the brilliant epaulettes, we believe a present from General Lafayette, and the diamond order of the Cincinnati, presented by the seamen of the French fleet, our allies in the war of liberty, the uniform of the Commander-in-Chief of the army and navy, under the Constitution, was as plain as blue and buff could make it. The cocked hat, with the black ribbon cockade, was the only type of the heroic time which appended to the Chief; during his civil magistracy; in all other respects, he seemed studiously to merge the military into the civil characteristics of his public life.
About sunrise, General Washington invariably visited and inspected his stables. He was very fond of horses, and his equipages were always of a superior order. The horses which he rode, in the war of Independence, were said to be superb. We have a perfect remembrance of the charger which bore him in the greatest of his triumphs, when he received the sword of the vanquished, on the ever memorable 19th October, 1781. It was a chesnut, with white face and legs, and was called Nelson, after the patriotic Governor of Virginia. Far different was the fate of this favorite horse of Washington, from that of “the high mettled racer.” When the Chief had relinquished its back, it was never mounted more, but cropped the herbage in summer, was housed and well cared for in winter, often caressed by the master’s hand, and died of old age at Mount Vernon, many years after the Revolution. The library, and a visit to the stables, occupied the morning till the hour of breakfast: this meal was without change to him, whose habits were regular, even to matters which others are so apt to indulge themselves in, to endless variety. Indian cakes, honey and tea, formed this temperate repast. On rising from table, if there were guests, and it was seldom otherwise, books and papers were offered for their amusement; they were requested to take good care of themselves, and the illustrious farmer proceeded to the daily tour of his agricultural concerns. He rode upon his farms entirely unattended, opening his gates, pulling I down and putting up his fences, as he passed, visiting his laborers at their work, inspecting all the operations of his extensive agricultural establishments with a careful eye, directing useful improvements, and superintending them in their progress. He introduced many and valuable foreign, as well as domestic modes of improved husbandry, showing, by experiment, their practical utility, and peculiar adaptation to our system of rural affairs; and, by his zeal and ability, “gave a speed to the plough,” and a generous impulse to the cause of agriculture and domestic economy—those important sources of national wealth, industry, and independence.
The tour of the farms might average from ten to fifteen miles per day. An anecdote occurs to us at this moment, which, as it embraces a Revolutionary worthy, a long tried and valued friend of the Chief, and is graphic of Washington on his farm, we shall, without apology, present to our readers. We were accosted, while hunting, by an elderly stranger, who inquired whether the General was to be found at the Mansion house, or whether he had gone to visit his estate. We replied, that he was abroad, and gave directions as to the route the stranger was to pursue, observing, at the same time, you will meet, sir, with an old gentleman riding alone, in plain drab clothes, a broad brimmed white hat, a hickory switch in his hand, and carrying an umbrella with a long staff, which is attached to his saddie-bow—that personage, sir, is General Washington! The stranger, much amused at our description, observed, with a good humored smile, Thank ye, thank ye, young gentleman; I think, if I fall in with the General, I shall be rather apt to know him. At dinner, we had the pleasure of being introduced to Colonel Meade, who had been aid-de-camp to the Commander-in-Chief, in the war of the Revolution. The umbrella was not used as an article of luxury, for luxuries were to him known only by name. Being naturally of a very fair complexion, his skin was liable to be affected by the influence of the sun.
This umbrella, just as it was when last he had it down, never again to require its friendly shade, we have had the good fortune to preserve for a quarter of a century, and the happiness to present it to the Patriarch of La Grange, in whose possession it will long be treasured, as the relic of his Paternal Chief, and as an appropriate memorial of the modern Cincinnatus. Precisely at a quarter before three, the industrious farmer returned, dressed, and dined at three o’clock. At this meal he ate heartily, but was not particular in his diet, with the exception of fish, of which he was excessively fond, partook sparingly of dessert, drank a homemade beverage, and from four to five glasses of Madeira wine. When the cloth was removed, with old-fashioned courtesy he drank to the health of every person present, and then gave his toast#8212;his only toast—all our friends:—than which a nobler or a kindlier sentiment never was pledged at the board of social friendship, or “brayed out with the trumpet’s triumphs” at the “carousals” of a King.
While on the subject of toasts, we would ask permission to give one more. The late Colonel Cropper, of Accomac, was a Captain in the ninth Virginia Regiment of the line, which formed part of the Southern Division under Greene, and covered the retreat of our discomfited army at the battle of Brandywine. On the evening of that hard-fought day, Cropper marched the remains of his company into Chester, having his handkerchief fastened to a ramrod, in place of a flag. After serving his country with fidelity and distinction, Colonel Cropper retired to his estate on the Eastern Shore, where he lived to an advanced age. This worthy veteran, like his General, had but one toast, which he gave every day, and to all companies it was, “God bless General Washington.” Toasts are supposed to convey the feelings and wishes of our hearts; and if ever an aspiration, warm and direct from the heart, deserved to find favor with “Heaven’s Chancery” on high, it was when, with pious fervor, this old soldier’s prayer implored a blessing upon his revered commander.
The afternoon was usually devoted to the library. At night, his labors o’er, the venerable citizen would join his family and friends at the tea-table, arid enjoy their society for several hours—took no supper, and about nine o’clock retired to bed. When without company, he frequently read to his family extracts from the new publications of the day, and, on Sunday, sermons and other sacred writings. He read with distinctness and precision, though with a voice, the tones of which had been considerably broken by a pulmonary affection in early life, and which, when greatly excited, produced a laboring of the cheat. He would frequently, when sitting with his family, appear absent; his lips would move, his hand be raised, and he would evidently seem under the influence of thoughts, which had nothing to do with the quiescent scene around him. This peculiarity is readily accounted for, since it must be no very easy matter for one who so long had borne the cares of public life, at once to lay aside all thought for others, and become content with individual concerns.
In winter, when stress of weather prevented his taking his usual exercise, he was in the habit of walking for an hour in the portico, before retiring to rest. As the eastern portico of the Mansion House is more than ninety feet in length, this walk would comprise several miles.
Thus, in the seldom varied routine of useful industry, temperate enjoyment, and the heartfelt gratifications of domestic felicity, sped the latter days of the Father of his Country; and oh! it was luxurious to behold this “time honored man,” the race of whose glory was run, who had seized the goal of all his wishes, obtained the reward of all his toils, in the freedom and happiness of a rising Empire, resting from his mighty labors, amid the tranquil retirement of Mount Vernon.
The sedentary occupations of a President of the United States necessarily limited the opportunities for active exercise. These were principally enjoyed in occasional rides to the country, and in frequent walks to his watch-maker’s, in Second street, for the purpose of regulating his watch by the time-keeper. As he passed along, often would mothers bring their children to look on the Paternal Chief, yet not a word was heard of President of the United States; the little innocents alone were “taught to lisp the name of Washington.”
He was rather partial to children; their infantine playfulness appeared to please him, and many are the parents who at this day rejoice that his patriarchal hands have touched their offspring.
General Washington was always a strict and decorous observer of the Sabbath. He invariably attended divine service once a day, when within reach of a place of worship. His respect to the clergy, as a body, was shown by public entertainments to them, the same as to the Corps Legislative and Diplomatic, and among his bosom friends were the venerable Bishop of Pennsylvania, and the late excellent prelate and ardent friend of American liberty, Dr. Carroll, Archbishop of Baltimore.
On Sunday, no visitors were admitted to the President’s House, save the immediate relatives of the family, with only one exception: Mr. Speaker Trumbull, since Governor of Connecticut, and who had been confidential secretary to the Chief in the war of the Revolution, was in the habit of pending an hour with the President, on Sunday evenings. Trumbull practised the lesson of punctuality which he learned in the service of the olden time, with such accuracy that the porter, by consulting his clock, could tell when to stand ready to open to the Speaker’s Bell, as it was called in the family, from the circumstance of no hand, other than the Speaker’s, touching the bell on the evenings of the Sabbath.
Forty years an husband, General Washington retained an old-fashioned habit of husbands, as he always did the ease and elegance of old-fashioned manners. He wore suspended from his neck by a gold chain, and resting on his bosom, the minature portrait of his wife, from the time of his marriage until he ceased to live in nature. The letter which he wrote to her, upon his acceptance of the command of the armies of Liberty, (which letter, dated June 18, 1775, is published in this work, from the autograph,) is a proof both of his conjugal tenderness, and diffidence in receiving so important a commission; also of the purity of his heart, and of the generous and nobly disinterested motives which governed his life and actions.
The circumstances attending his first interview with his lady, we shall give from the relation of an aged gentleman, now no more. The Provincial Colonel was proceeding to Williamsburg, when he fell in with P. Chamberlayne, Esq., one of the ancient aristocracy of Virginia, who lived in a style of great hospitality at his seat, in the county of New Kent. Chamberlayne pressed the Colonel to dine with him, and stay all night, (as Virginians of those days were not in the habit of making short or ceremonious visits,) but was answered, that important business at the seat of government made a compliance, however agreeable, quite out of the question. Chamberlayne now returned to the charge, by informing his friend, that it was in his power to introduce him to a fine, young, and handsome widow, who was spending some days at his house. The gallant soldier consented to stop, but it was to dine—only to dine—while his unsaddled horses ate a mouthful, and then to be off so as to accomplish ten or fifteen miles of his journey by nightfall. Fate destined this interview to produce the long and happy union which soon followed the first meeting and mutual attachment of the parties: for the enamoured Colonel, making duty, for this time only, to yield to love, permitted the sun to set and rise again upon him, the guest of Chamberlayne, while Bishop, his old soldier and body servant, tall as his chief, and in this one instance more punctilious, had, in obeying his orders of haste, long stood at his master’s stirrup, “ready, aye, ready for the field.” The ensuing evening the Colonel departed, “nothing loth” to accept the kind bidding of his hospitable host to call again. The marriage took place about 1760, at the White House in the county of New Kent. The ceremony was performed by the Rev. Mr. Mossom, a clergyman sent out by the Bishop of London, in whose diocess the Colony of Virginia then was, to the Rectory of St. Peter’s Parish, New Kent.
Soon after his marriage, Colonel Washington became settled at Mount Vernon, and was elected frequently from the county of Fairfax to the House of Burgesses. During the reigns of the Provincial Governors, Botetourt and Eden, the Courts of Williamsburg and Annapolis displayed as much of the polish of high life as was to be found in the larger cities of Europe, with far less of their corruptions and debaucheries. It was the custom for gentlemen of fortune to have their town-houses during the sessions of the Legislature, where they lived in great splendor and hospitality. Colonel Washington was of this number: his personal attractions, not less than his early renown in arms, made him a subject of much interest to the Europeans, who were frequent visitors to the Capitals of Virginia and Maryland. Straight as an Indian arrow, he was easily distinguished in the gay crowds which appeared at the palaces of the vice-kings, by a something in his air and manner which bespoke no ordinary man. His lower limbs, being formed mathematically straight, he walked, as it were, on parallel lines, while his mode of placing and taking up his feet, resembled the step of precision and care, so remarkable in the aboriginal children of the forest. He might be termed rather a silent than a speaking member of the House of Burgesses, although he sometimes addressed the Chair, and was listened to with attention and respect, while the excellence of his judgment was put in requisition on all committees, either of important, general, or local policy.
When Colonel Washington first resided at Mount Vernon, both the Mansion-house and estate were inconsiderable. All the embellishments of the house and grounds are owing to his creative hand. Prior to the war of Independence, he was much attached to the pleasures of the chase, and is described as a bold and fearless rider. He kept hounds for a short time after the Revolution, but declined hunting altogether about 1787 or ’88.
He was never disposed to conviviality, but liked the cheerful converse of the social board; indulged in no games of chance, except in the olden times when required to make up a party at whist, in playing for a trifle; although, for many years, play of all kinds was unknown in his household. After his retirement from public life, all the time which he could spare from his library, was devoted to the improvement of his estates, and the elegant and tasteful arrangement of his house and grounds. He was his own surveyor; and the disposition and appearance of his farms, gave evident proofs that the genius of useful improvement had directed its energies with beneficial as well as ornamental effects.
As a master of slaves, General Washington was consistent, as in every other relation of his meritorious life. They were comfortably lodged, fed, and clothed; required to do a full and fair share of duty; well cared for in sickness and old age, and kept in strict and proper discipline. These, we humbly conceive, comprise all the charities of slavery. To his old servants, where long and faithful services rendered them worthy of attachment and esteem, he was most kind. His huntsman and Revolutionary attendant, Will Lee, commonly called BILLY, was specially provided for, and survived his master a good many years. Will had been a stout, active man, and a famous horseman, but, from accident, was a cripple for many years before his death, which occurred at a very advanced age. This ancient follower, both in the chase and war, formed a most interesting relic of the Chief, and received considerable largesse from the numerous visitors to Mount Vernon. The slaves were left, to be emancipated at the death of Mrs. Washington; but it was found necessary (for prudential reasons) to give them their freedom in one year after the General’s decease. Although many of them, with a view to their liberation, had been instructed in mechanic trades, yet they succeeded very badly as freemen: so true is the axiom, “that the hour which makes man a slave, takes half his worth away.”
Bishop, an English soldier, formed an interesting reminiscence of the war of ’56. He belonged to Braddock’s own regiment; and, on account of possessing superior intelligence, was detailed as a body servant to accompany that ill-fated commander on the expedition to Fort du Quesne. Bishop firmly believed in the Providence which shielded the Provincial Major, in the memorable battle of Monongahela, and observed, he was the only mounted officer left. The enemy knew him well, from their having felt him severely, the year before, at the affair of the Meadows; and the provincial military being far more obnoxious to the French and Indians than the European troops, from the marksmanship of the rangers, and their intimate knowledge of the modes of forest warfare, the fire of the enemy became singularly directed against the devoted young warrior, whom they afterwards termed “the spirit-protected man,” destined to Übecome the Chief of Nations,” and who “could not die in battle.” The hat worn on that eventful day, and which was pierced by two balls, was at Mount Vernon, and both seen and handled by several persons. long within our remembrance; yet, strange to say, it was no where to be found on the demise of the Chief. Another and invaluable relic was also missing; we mean the sword of service which was worn in action in the war of Independence. It was described to us, by one who oft had buckled it to the hero’s side, as being a kind of hauger; and we have an indistinct recollection of having been told in the family, that it was given to Greene at the close of the war. If so, it surely could not have been more worthily bestowed. Upon mentioning these circumstances to General Andrew Jackson, he was pleased to say that he would make inquiry among the descendants of Greene, who, if they possess, will, no doubt, most dearly prize so valued a gift as the Sword of the Revolution.
At the commencement of hostilities, in 1775, Bishop being too old for active service, was left at home in charge of the manufacturing establishments of the household, where the veteran would flourish his cause, exacting as perfect obedience as though he had been on parade. A comfortable house bad been built for him; he had married; and, looking no more toward his native land, he was contented to pass the remainder of his days on the domain of his patron, where he rested from labor, in the enjoyment of every possible ease and indulgence—the reward of his long and faithful services. In his comfortable homestead, and hoary with age, he would delight the young with tales of fearful interest of the Indian wars—while, his own wars ended, and at peace with the world, he feebly trimmed the lamp of life, which, having burned for more than eighty years, could but for a little while longer be kept from sinking in its socket.
Notwithstanding his perfect reverence for his patron, this old soldier would sometimes, presuming on the privilege of age and long services, chafe his protector on points of expediency, though never on those of obedience. The General would assume a lofty tone, saying, It is very well, sir; if you are at length tired of my services, you are at perfect liberty to depart. The ancient follower of Braddock, however, knew his man, and knew exactly what best to do; he wisely became silent, and the storm which appeared to be brooding quickly passed away, when a returning sunshine cheered with the warmth of its kindness the veteran of ’56.
The Washington family were subject to hereditary gout—the Chief never experienced a pang. His temperance, and the energetic employment of both his body and mind, seemed to forbid the approach of a disease, which severely afflicted several of his nearest kindred. His illnesses were of rare occurrence, but were particularly severe; his aversion to the uses of medicine was extreme: for, even when in great suffering, it was only by the entreaties of his lady, and the respectful, yet beseeching look, of his oldest friend and companion in arms, (Dr. JAMES CRAIK,) that he could be prevailed upon to take the slightest preparation of medicine. He certainly never had children. We recollect a lady who called herself his daughter. She was a fine looking woman, but without any particular likeness to the Chief; nor can we consider that as a pardonable vanity in a child, which implicates the honor of a parent.
The remarkable degree of admiration and awe that was felt by every one, upon the first approach to Washington, evidences the imposing power and sublimity which belongs to real greatness. Even the frequenters of the Courts of Princes were sensible of this exalted feeling, when in presence of the hero, who, formed for the highest destinies, bore an impress from nature, which declared him to be one among the noblest of her works.
Those who have only seen the Leader of Armies and the Chief Magistrate of the Republic, can have but an imperfect idea of the same being, when merged into the retired citizen, embosomed amid his family and friends, cultivating the social and domestic virtues, and diffusing pleasure and happiness to all around him.
Persons in general have been in error in supposing that there belonged to this awful man nothing of the gentler sort—“no tear for pity.” The Master Spirit in the direction of those vast events which gave a new empire to the world, the austerity of command could never destroy those kindlier feelings in which he delighted himself to indulge, and to dispense them to others. Stern he was to all whom he deemed wanting in those high moral requisites which dignify and adorn our natures—stern he was to the disturbers of the repose of society, the violators of those institutes which promote peace and good will among men; but he was forbearing to the imperfections of human kind, where they arose from the passions only, and not the depravities of the heart.
He was reserved to the many, but there were a chosen few, who, having passed that barrier, were wooed by his friendship to push their fortunes, till they finally gained footing in the citadel of his esteem.
He had a tear; for we have seen it shed with parental solicitude over the manifold errors and follies of our unworthy youth. He shed a tear of sorrow for his suffering country in the dark hour of her destiny, and a tear of joy and gratitude to Heaven for her deliverance—when, in 1789, he crossed the Bridge of Trenton; on which classic spot the hands of freemen “reared for him triumphal bowers,” while a choir of innocents, with seraph chaupt, “welcomed the mighty Chief once more,” and “virgins fair, and matrons grave, strewed the hero’s way with flowers.”
The journey of the first President to the seat of Government was one continued triumph; but no where was it of so feeling a character as at the bridge of Trenton. That was indeed a classic ground. It was there, on a frozen surface, that in 1776 was achieved the glorious event which restored the fast-failing fortunes of Liberty, and gave to her drooping eagles a renewed and bolder flight. What a contrast to the Chief must have been this spot in 1789, when no longer “a mercenary foe aimed ’gainst him the fatal blow;” when no more was heard the roar of combat, the shouts of the victors, the groans of the dying—but the welcome of thousands to Liberty’s great Defender, the heartfelt homage of freemen to the Deliverer of his Country. The President alighted from his carriage, and approached the bridge uncovered. As he passed under the triumphal arch, a cherub, perched amid its foliage, crowned him with laurel which will never fade, while seraph strains from angel minstrelsy sweetly filled the air, as the Hero trod on his way of flowers. Washington shed tears!
The merit of these appropriate and classical decorations were due to the late Mrs. Stockton, of Princeton, a lady of superior literary acquirements and refined taste. She was familiarly called the Duchess, from her elegance and dignity of manners; was a most ardent patriot during the war of the Revolution, and, with the Stockton family, was marked for persecution on the ruthless invasion of the Jerseys. This distinguished lady was the grandmother of Mr. Secretary Rush, who is “doubly blessed” in his Revolutionary ancestry; both his father and grand-father having signed the Declaration of Independence—a most honored distinction, and, we believe, enjoyed by no other citizen of our extensive American Empire.
THE LAST HOURS OF WASHINGTON.—1828.
Twenty-eight years have passed away since an interesting group were assembled in the death-room, and witnessed the last hours of Washington. So keen and unsparing hath been the scythe of Time, that, of all those who watched over the Patriarch’s couch, on the 13th and 14th of December, 1799, but a single personage survives.
On the morning of the 18th, the General was engaged in making some improvements in front of Mount Vernon. As was usual with him, he carried his own compass, noted his observations, and marked out the ground. The day became rainy, with sleet, and the improver remained so long exposed to the inclemency of the weather, as to be considerably wetted before his return to the house. About one o’clock, he was seized with chillness and nausea, but having changed his clothes, he sat down to his in-door work—there being no moment of his time for which he had not provided an appropriate employment.
At night, on joining his family circle, the General complained of slight indisposition, and, after a single cup of tea, repaired to his library, where he remained writing until between eleven and twelve o’clock. Mrs. Washington retired about the usual family hour, but becoming alarmed at not hearing the accustomed sound of the library door, as it closed for the night, and gave signal for rest in the well regulated mansion, she arose again, and continued sitting up, in much anxiety and suspense. At length the well known step was heard on the stair, and upon the General’s entering his chamber, the lady kindly chided him for remaining up so late, knowing himself to be unwell; to which Washington made this memorable reply: “I came so soon as my business was accomplished. You well know, that, through a long life, it has been my unvaried rule, newer to put off till the morrow the duties which should be performed to-day.”
Having first covered up the fire with care, the man of mighty labors at last sought repose; but it came not as it had long been wont to do, to comfort and restore, after the many and earnest occupations of the well-spent day. The night was passed in feverish restlessness and pain. “Tired nature’s sweet restorer, balmy sleep,” was destined no more to visit his couch; yet the manly sufferer uttered no complaint, would permit no one to be disturbed in their rest on his account, and it was only at daybreak he would consent that the overseer might be called in, and bleeding resorted to. A vein was opened, but without affording relief. Couriers were despatched to summon Dr. Craik, the family, and Drs. Dick and Brown, as consulting physicians, all of whom came with speed. The proper remedies were administered, but without producing their healing effects, while the patient, yielding to the anxious looks of all around him, waived his usual objection to medicines, and took those which were prescribed, without hesitation or remark. The medical gentlemen spared not their skill, and all the resources of their art were exhausted in unwearied endeavors to preserve this noblest work of nature.
Night approached—the last night of Washington; the weather became severely cold, while the group gathered nearer to the couch of the sufferer, hatching, with intense anxiety, for the slightest dawning of hope. He spoke but little. To the respectful and affectionate inquiries of an old family servant, as she smoothed down his pillow, how he felt himself, he answered, “I am very ill.” To Dr. Craik, his earliest companion in arms, longest tried, and bosom friend, he observed: “I am dying, sir—but am not afraid to die.” To Mrs. Washington, he said: “Go to my escritoir, and in the private drawer you will find two papers—bring them to me.” They were brought. He continued: “These are my wills—preserve this one, and burn the other:” which was immediately done. Calling to Colonel Lear, he directed: “Let my corpse be kept for the usual period of three days.”
Here we would beg leave to remind our readers, that, in a former part of this work, we have said that Washington was old-fashioned in much of his habits and manners, and in some of his opinions; nor was he the less to be admired on those accounts. The custom of keeping the dead for the scriptural period of three days, is derived from remote antiquity, and arose, not from fear of premature interment, as in more modern times, but from motives of veneration toward the deceased; for the better enabling the relatives and friends to assemble from a distance, to perform the funeral rites; for the pious watching of the corpse; and for the many sad, yet endearing ceremonials with which we delight to pay our last duties to the remains of those we have loved.
The patient bore his acute sufferings with manly fortitude, and perfect resignation to the Divine will; while, as the night advanced, it became evident that he was sinking, and he seemed fully aware that his “hour was nigh.” He inquired the time, and it was answered, a few moments twelve. He spake no more—the hand of death was upon him, and he was conscious that his “hour was come.” With surprising self-possession, he prepared to die. Composing his form at length, and folding his hands upon his bosom—without a sigh—without a groan—the Father of his Country expired, gently as though an infant died. Nor pang or struggle told when the noble spirit took its noiseless flight; while so tranquil appeared the manly features in the repose of death, that some moments had passed ere those around could believe that the Patriarch was no more.
It may be asked, and why was the ministry of religion wanting to shed its peaceful and benign lustre upon the last hours of Washington? Why was he, to whom the observances of sacred things were ever primary duties through life, without their consolations in his last moments? We answer, circumstances did not permit. It was but for a little while that the disease assumed so threatening a character as to forbid the encouragement of hopes; yet, to stay that summons which none may refuse, to give still farther length of days to him whose “time-honored life” was so dear to mankind, prayer was not wanting to the Throne of Grace. Close to the couch of the sufferer, resting her head upon-that ancient book, with which she had been wont to hold pious communion, a portion of every day, for more than half a century, was the venerable consort, absorbed in silent prayer, and from which she only arose when the mourning group prepared to bear her from the chamber of the dead. Such were the last hours of Washington.
THE BIRTH NIGHT.
The Birth Night ball was instituted at the close of the Revolutionary War, and its first celebration, we believe, was held in Alexandria. Celebrations of the birth night soon became general in all the towns and cities, the 22d of February, like the 4th of July, being considered a National Festival, while the peculiarity attending the former was, that its parade and ceremonies always closed with the birth night ball. In the larger cities, where public balls were customary, the birth night, in the olden time, as now, was the Gala Assembly of the season, attended by all the beauty and fashion, by the foreign ambassadors, and strangers of distinction at the seat of Government. The first President always attended on the birth night. The etiquette was, not to open the ball until the arrival of him in whose honor it was given; but, so remarkable was the punctuality of Washington in all his engagements, whether for business or pleasure, that he was never waited for a moment in appointments for either. Among the brilliant illustrations of a birth night of five and thirty years ago, the most unique and imposing was the groups of young and beautiful ladies, wearing in their hair bandeaus or scrolls, having embroidered thereon, in language both ancient and modern, the motto of “Live the President.”
The Minuet, (now obsolete,) for the graceful and elegant dancing of which Washington was conspicuous, in the vice-regal days of Lord Botetourt in Virginia, declined down after the Revolution. The Commander-in-Chief danced, for his last time, a minuet, in 1781, at the ball given in Fredericksburg, in honor of the French and American officers on their return from the triumphs of York-Town. The last birth night attended by the venerable Chief was in Alexandria, 22d February, 1798. Indeed he always appeared greatly to enjoy the gay and festive scence exhibited at the birth night balls, and usually to remain to a late hour; for, remarkable as he was for reserve, and the dignified gravity inseparable from his nature, Washington ever looked with most kind and favoring eye upon the rational and elegant pleasures of life.
The first President was partial to the amusements of the Theatre, and attended some five or six times in a season, more especially where some public charity was to be benefited by the performance. The habit was, for the manager to wait on the President, requesting him to command a play; the pieces so commanded partook of but little variety, but must be admitted to have been in excellent taste, the “School for Scandal,” and “Every one has his Fault,” for the plays; and of the afterpieces, there was almost a standing order for the “Poor Soldier,” and “Wignel’s Darby.” The Old American Company, comprising Hallam and Henry, Harper, Wignel, and Old Morris, first played in 1789, in the Theatre, John street, and nothing more truly shows our transcendant march to empire, than the contrast between the humble, nay, barn-like Theatre which the first President attended forty years ago, and the now various and magnificent temples of Thespis, which adorn the now great and splendid city of New York.
The company moved with the Government to Philadelphia, and performed in the old Theatre, Southwark, (in which was some scenery, said to have been painted by the interesting and unfortunate Major Andre,) until the erection of the house in Chesnut street, where we believe the curtain fell upon the exits of the last remnants of the Old American Company.
(By “particular desire,”) at the head of the play bill, always announced that the President would attend, and on those nights the house would be crowded from top to bottom, as many to see the Hero as the play. Upon the President’s entering the stage box with his family, the Orchestra struck up the President’s March, (now Hail Columbia,) composed by a German named Files, in ’89, and called the President’s March, in contradistinction to the March of the Revolution, called Washington’s March. The audience applauded on the entrance of the President, but the pit and gallery were so truly despotic in the early days of the Republic, that so soon as Hail Columbia had ceased, Washington’s March was called for by the deafening din of an hundred voices at once, and upon its being played, three hearty cheers would rock the building to its base. Indeed, five and thirty years ago there could not be gotten together any large public assembly without a considerable spice of the Revolution being among it. The soldiers and sailors of the War of Liberty abounded in all public places, and no sooner would their old Chief appear, than off came each hat, and the shout of welcome resounded, pure, spontaneous, direct from the heart.
APPLICANTS FOR OFFICE.
When Washington was appointed to his last command in the armies of his country, his acceptance was accompanied by an intimation that he should remain in his beloved retirement at Mount Vernon, till imperious circumstances should call him to the field. The Commander-in-Chief gave the necessary attention to military duties through his private secretary, while himself continued the occupation of rural affairs.
A number of the principal characters in the United States were desirous that their sons should make a first essay in arms under the Immediate auspices of the venerable Chief; among these was the Hon. Charles Carroll, of Carrollton, for whom Washington ever entertained the very warmest political as well as personal attachment and esteem. To Mr. Carroll’s application the General replied, that as it was his firm resolve, in case the enemy effected a landing, to meet them on the very threshold of the empire, he should in such an event require about his person officers of tried knowledge and experience in war; but, with a view to gratify Mr. C., that his son should be received as an extra aid-de-camp.
Among the applicants of a more veteran stamp, was Col. H, of Richmond, one of that band of ardent and youthful chivalry, which Virginia sent to the War of Independence in the very dawn of the Revolution. H. was lieutenant of Morgan’s famed corps of riflemen, which performed the memorable march across the wintry wilderness of the Kennebec in 1775, during which event of almost superhuman privation and toil, and in the subsequent assault of Quebec, H. displayed a hardihood of character, and heroism of heart, that won for him the admiration of his comrades and esteem of their intrepid commander, and elicited a cognomen that a Ney might be proud to deserve, “The most daring of all who dare.” Morgan, himself bred in the hardy school of the frontier and Indian warfare, declared of H., “He exceeds all men. During the greatest horrors of our march, when the bravest fainted and fell from exhaustion and despondency, it was H. who cheered us on, for oft have I seen him dance upon the snow, while he gnawed his moccasins for subsistence.
Yet even to the application of such a soldier, did the ever cautious mind of Washington pause, while he weighed in the balance not the past, but the present merits of the man. The General wrote to his nephew then in Richmond to this effect: “H. has applied to become a member of my military family. In the war of the Revolution I knew him well; and of a truth he was then all that could be desired in a good and gallant officer, and estimable man; but time, my dear Bushrod, often changes men as well as things. Now, the object of this letter is to inquire whether the habits of H. are unaltered, and whether I shall find him now what I knew him to be in other days.” The answer to this letter was moat satisfactory. H. was the same—good, gallant, and estimable. The Chief was content, and quickly “marked him for promotion.”
What a moral does this little private memoir impress upon
those who are high in authority, upon whose knowledge and
judgment of men and things, go often depend the destinies of
nations! How careful should chiefs be, in the choice of their
subordinates, to weigh well in the balance the present as well as
past merits of applicants for office, lest, in the words of the
venerated Washington, Time, which changes men as well as things,
may have rendered them unworthy of being “marked for promotion.”
THE BATTLE OF MONMOUTH.
JUNE 28, 1778.
The Commander-in-Chief (Washington) having completed his arrangements for bringing the enemy to a general action, proceeded slowly toward Monmouth court-house, early on the morning of the 28th of June, 1778.
In the council of war there were but two voices for risking a general engagement, Cadwallader, a gallant fellow, and devoted in his attachment to the Chief, and Anthony Wayne, who always said ay when fighting was to be had on any terms.
Washington certainly assumed a great responsibility in risking an engagement contrary to the opinions of a large majority of his generals, and notwithstanding the vast disparity of his forces when compared with those of his adversary—the disparity consisting more in the material of which the respective armies were composed than in their numerical estimates. But it is to be remembered that the two principal actions of the grand army in the preceding campaign, though bravely contested, had resulted unfortunately. Since the close of the campaign of ’77, an alliance had been formed with France, whose fleets and armies were hourly expected on our coasts, while the demands of the people, and those often loudly expressed, were for battles. Urged by these considerations, the America Chief, determined, happen what would, to fight Sir Henry Clinton, so that he should not evacuate Philadelphia, and reach his stronghold in New York unscathed. Crossing the Delaware, the American approached his formidable foe, who, trusting in his superiority of numbers, discipline and appointment, was leisurely wending his way toward Staten Island, the place of embarkation for New York.
As a soldier, Washington was by nature the very soul of enterprise; but, fortunately for his fame and for his country, this daring spirit was tempered by a judgment and prudence the most happy in their characters and effects. And yet an iIlustrious patriot and statesman of the Revolution, and most accomplished writer; (Mr. Jefferson,) has said that the Pater Patriæ was rather the Fabius than the Marcellus of war, his extreme caution fitting him better for the cool and methodical operations of seiges than for the daring strategy of surprise or the close and stubborn conflict of the field. Never was there such a misconception of a great soldier’s attributes. Did not this modern Fabius, in the very depth of winter, and after overcoming mighty obstacles, surprise his enemy at Trenton, and recall victory to his standard, when hope was almost sinking in despair? Did he not by a masterly manœuvre and midnight march surprise his enemy in Princeton, and add yet another laurel to the one acquired by the capture of the Hessians? Did he not with an army hastily raised, and defeated at Brandywine, in twenty-three days thereafter surprise the enemy at Germantown? And though victory was denied him by a force of circumstances no human power could have controlled, yet the boldness of the enterprise, and the success attending it in the outset, produced such a confidence abroad in our courage and resources as to lead to our alliance with a powerful nation. Did he not surprise the enemy at Monmouth? And although untoward events served to cripple the operations of the early part of the day, yet the setting sun shone upon the battle-field in possession of the Americans, the enemy retreating and their dead and wounded left as trophies to the victors. Such were the memorable instances in which Washington, with troops newly raised, and badly provided with every necessary of war, struck at his veteran and well appointed foe when leapt expected, producing the happiest influences upon the American cause, both at home and abroad; for it is perfectly well known that the battle of Germantown decided the ministry of France to form the alliance that so materially contributed to the conclusion of the war and the consummation of our Independence.
As the Commander-in-Chief, accompanied by a numerous suite, approached the vicinity of Monmouth court-house, he was met by a little fifer-boy, who archly observed, “they are all coming this way, your honor.” Who are coming, my little man, asked General Knox. “Why, our boys, your honor, our boys, and the British right after them,” replied the little musician. Impossible, exclaimed Washington! And giving the spur to his charger, proceeded at full gallop to an eminence a short distance ahead. There, to his extreme pain and mortification, it was discovered that the boy’s intelligence was but too true. The very elite of the American array, five thousand picked officers and men, were in full retreat, closely pursued by the enemy. The first inquiry of the Chief was for Major General Lee, who commanded the advance, and who soon appeared, when a warm conversation ensued, that ended by the major general being ordered to the rear. During this interview, an incident of rare and chivalric interest occurred. Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton, aid to the General-in-Chief, leaped from his home, and drawing his sword, addressed the General with, we are betrayed; your excellency and this army are betrayed; and the moment has arrived when every true friend of America and her cause must be ready to die in their defence. Washington, charmed with the generous enthusiasm of his favorite aid, yet deeming the same ill-timed, pointing to the colonel’s horse that was cropping the herbage, unconscious of the great scene enacting around him, calmly observed, Colonel Hamilton, you will take your horse.
The General-in-Chief now set himself in earnest about restoring the fortunes of the day. He ordered Colonel Stewart and Lieut. Colonel Ramsay, with their regiments, to check the advance of the enemy, which service was gallantly performed; while the General, in person, proceeded to form his second line. He rode on the morning of the 28th of June, and for that time only during the war, a white charger that had been presented to him. From the over-powering heat of the day, and the deep and sandy nature of the soil, the spirited horse sank under his rider, and expired on the spot. The Chief was instantly remounted upon a chestnut blood mare, with a flowing main and tail. It was upon this beautiful animal, covered with foam, that the American General flew along the line, cheering the soldiers in the familiar and endearing language ever used by the officer to the soldier of the Revolution, of “Stand fast, my boys, and receive your enemy; the southern troops are advancing to support ye.” The person of Washington, always graceful, dignified, and commanding, showed to peculiar advantage when mounted; it exhibited, indeed, the very beau ideal of a perfect cavalier. The good Lafayette, during his last visit to America, delighted to discourse of the “Times that tried men’s souls.” From that venerated friend of our country we derived a most graphic description of Washington and the field of battle. Lafayette said: “At Monmouth I commanded a division, and it may be supposed was pretty well occupied, still I took time, amid the roar and confusion of the conflict, to admire our beloved Chief, who, mounted on a splendid charger, rode along the ranks amid the shouts of the soldiers, cheering them by his voice and example, and restoring to our standard the fortunes of the fight. I thought then, as now (continued the good Lafayette) that never had I beheld so superb a man.”
Among the incidents of this memorable day may be considered, on the part of the British, the deplorable death of the Hon. Col. Monckton, a brother of Earl Galway. It is said this gallant and accomplished officer had greatly injured his fortune by the dissipations incident to a long sojourn in city quarters; and that, in consequence, he exposed himself recklessly on the 28th of June. He was much regretted in the British army.
On the part of the Americans, the fate of the young and brave Captain Fauntleroy, of the Virginia line, was remarkable. He was on horseback, at a well near a farm-house, waiving his turn, while the fainting soldiers, consumed by a thirst arising from their exertions on the hottest day supposed ever to have occurred in America, were rushing with frantic cries to the well, imploring for water. The captain, with the point of his sword resting on his boot, his arm leaning on the pommel, continued to waive his turn, when a cannon shot, bounding down the lane that led to the farm-house, struck the unfortunate officer near the hip, and hurled him to the ground a lifeless corpse. The lamented Fauntleroy was descended from one of the old and highly respected families of Virginia. Leaving the comforts of home and the delights of a large circle of friends, this gallant young soldier repaired to the standard of his country early in the campaign of 76. He was highly respected in his grade, and his untimely fate was deeply mourned in the American army.
Heedless of the remonstrances and entreaties of his officers, the Commander-in-Chief exposed his person to every danger throughout the action of the 28th of June. The night before the battle of Monmouth, a party of the general officers assembled, and resolved upon a memorial to the Chief, praying that he would not expose his person in the approaching conflict. His high and chivalric daring and contempt for danger at the battle of Princeton, and again at Germantown, where his officers seized the bridle of his horse, made his friends the more anxious for the preservation of a life so dear to all, and so truly important to the success of the common cause. It was determined that he memorial should be presented by Dr. Craik, the companion in arms of Colonel Washington in the war of ’55; but Craik at once assured the memorialists that, while their petition would be received as a proof of their affectionate regard for their General’s safety, it would not weigh a feather in preventing the exposure of his person, should the day go against them, and the presence of the Chief become important at the post of danger. Dr. Craik then related the romantic and imposing incident of the old Indian’s prophecy, as it occurred on the banks of the Ohio in 1770, observing that, bred, as he himself was, in the rigid discipline of the Kirk of Scotland, he possessed as little superstition as any one, but that really there was a something in the air and manner of an old savage chief delivering his oracle amid the depths of the forest, that time or circumstances would never erase from his memory, and that he believed with the tawny prophet of the wilderness, that their beloved Washington was the spirit-protected being described by the savage, that the enemy could not kill him, and that while he lived the glorious cause of American Independence would never die.
On the following day, while the Commander-in-Chief, attended by his officers, was reconnoitering the enemy from an elevated part of the field, a round shot from the British artillery struck but a little way from his horse’s feet, throwing up the earth over his person, and then bounding harmlessly away. The Baron Steuben, shrugging his shoulders, exclaimed “Dat wash very near,” while Dr. Craik, pleased with this instance of faith in the Indian’s prophecy, nodded to the officers who composed the party of the proceeding evening, and then pointing to Heaven, seemed to say, in the words of the savage prophet, “The Great Spirit protects him—he cannot die in battle.”
A ludicrous occurrence varied the incidents of the 28th of June. The servants of the general officers were usually well armed and mounted. Will Lee or Billy, the former huntsman and favorite body servant of the Chief, a square muscular figure, and capital horseman, paraded a corps of valets, and riding pompously at their head, proceeded to an eminence crowned by a large sycamare tree, from whence could be seen an extensive portion of the field of battle. Here Billy halted, and having unslung the large telescope that he always carried in a leathern case, with a martial air applied it to his eye, and reconnoitred the enemy. Washington having observed these manœuvres of the corps of valets, pointed them out to his officers, observing, “See those fellows collecting on yonder height; the enemy will fire on them to a certainty.” Meanwhile the British were not unmindful of the assemblage on the height, and perceiving a burly figure well mounted, and with a telescope in hand, they determined to pay their respects to the group. A shot from a six-pounder passed through the tree, cutting away the limbs, and producing a scampering among the corps of valets, that caused even the grave countenance of the General-in-Chief to relax into a smile.
Nor must we omit, among our incidents of the battle.of Monmouth, to mention the achievement of the famed Captain Molly, a nom de gerre given to the wife of a matross in Proctor’s artillery. At one of the guns of Proctor’s battery, six men had been killed or wounded. It was deemed an unlucky gun, and murmurs arose that it should be drawn back and abandoned. At this juncture, while Captain Molly was serving some water for the refreshment of the men, her husband, received a shot in the head, and fell lifeless under the wheels of the piece. The heroine threw down the pail of water, and crying to her dead consort, “lie there my darling while I revenge ye,” grasped the ramrod the lifeless hand of the poor fellow had just relinquished, sent home the charge, and called to the rnatrosses to prime and fire. It was done. Then entering the sponge into the smoking muzzle of the cannon, the heroine performed to admiration the duties of the most expert artilleryman, while loud shouts from the soldiers rang along the line: the doomed gun was no longer deemed unlucky, and the fire of the battery became more vivid than ever. The amazonian fair one kept to her post till night closed the action, when she was introduced to General Greene, who, complimenting her upon her courage and conduct, the next morning presented her to the Commander-in-Chief. Washington received her graciously, gave her a piece of gold, and assured her that her services should not be forgotten.
This remarkable and intrepid woman survived the Revolution, never for an instant laying aside the appellation she had so nobly won; and levying contributions upon both civil and military, whenever she recounted the tale of the doomed gun, and the fained Captain Molly at the battle of Monmouth.
On the night of this memorable conflict, Washington laid down in his cloak under a tree, in the midst of his brave soldiers. About midnight, an officer approached cautiously, fearful of awakening him, when the Chief called out, “Advance, sir, and deliver your errand. I laid here to think and not to sleep.”
In the morning, the American army prepared to renew the conflict, but the enemy had retired during the night, leaving their dead and many of their wounded to the care of the victors. Morgan’s mountaineers pursued on their trail, and made some captures, particularly the coach of a general officer.
The British grand army embarked from Staten Island. The number, order, and regularity of the boats, and the splendid appearance of the troops, rendered this embarkation one of the most brilliant and imposing spectacles of the Revolutionary war.
Congress passed a unanimous vote of thanks to the General-in-Chief, his officers, and soldiers, for, the promptness of their march from the Valley Forge, their surprise and defeat of the enemy, and a feu de joie was fired by the whole American army for the victory of Monmouth.
THE BATTLE OF GERMANTOWN, AND DEATH OF
OCTOBER 4, 1777.
Undismayed by his defeat at the battle of the Brandywine, Washington hovered on the march of his enemy; not with the hope of saving Philadelphia, but with the determination to strike yet another blow before the conclusion of the campaign of 1777. Charmed with the courage displayed by his undisciplined soldiers, when opposed to a superior army of veterans, in the combat at Chadsford, the American General anxiously watched for an opportunity of again measuring his sword with that of his skilful and far better appointed adversary, though vast were the advantages in favor of the latter.
Sir William Howe, flushed, with his victory over the American Grand Army, and the occupation of the then capital of the American Union, and presuming that his foe was sufficiently subdued to give him no further molestation for the remainder of the campaign, quartered a large portion of his troops in the village of Germantown, about seven miles from the city of Philadelphia, while he despatched considerable detachments towards the positions still held by the American forces on the Delaware.
Washington promptly embraced the opportunity thus offered of striking at his powerful adversary with fair hopes of success. Gathering together all the troops within his reach, and having received some reinforcements, although they consisted mostly of new levies, the American Army broke up from its encampment, about fifteen miles from Gemantown, on the night of the 3d of October, and advanced upon the enemy in three columns, in order of battle.
During the night march, several incidents occurred that might be deemed ominous of the fortunes of the coming day. The celebrated Count Pulaski, who was charged with the service of watching the enemy and gaining intelligence, was said to have been found asleep in a farm house. But, although the gallant Pole might have been overtaken by slumber from the great fatigue growing out of the duties of the advanced guard, yet no soldier was more wide awake in the moment of combat than the intrepid and chivalric Count Pulaski. The delay in the arrival of the ammunition wagons was productive of the most serious consequences in the action of the succeeding day. The general officer to whom the blame of this delay was attached was afterwards discovered in a state of intoxication, lying in the corner of a fence. Lieutenant Benjamin Grimes, of the Life Guard, grasping the delinquent by the collar, placed him on his legs, and bade him go and do his duty, This bold proceeding on the part of a subaltern towards a general officer was certainly at variance with all rules or orders of discipline; but the exigency of the moment, and the degraded spectacle that an officer of high rank had presented to the eyes of the soldiery, would seem to have warranted a proceeding that, under different circumstances, must be considered as subversive of all military discipline. Grimes was a bold, brave soldier, enthusiastically attached to the cause of his country, and foremost among the asserters of her liberties. The general officer of whom we have spoken was brought to a court martial and cashiered.
The surprise was complete. Between daybreak and sunrise the British pickets were forced, and the Light Infantry, routed in their camp, fled in confusion, leaving their camp standing. So complete was the surprise that the officers’ watches were found hanging up in their marqueés, together with their portmanteaus and trunks of clothes, the latter affording a most seasonable booty to the American soldiery. Many of the tents and marqueés were burnt, owing to a want of transportation to carry them away. Although completely routed in the onset, the British light infantry rallied under their officers, and annoyed their enemy from every house, enclosure, or other defensible position that offered in the line of their retreat; thus showing the mighty power of discipline over broken troops, and its invaluable influences amid the greatest emergencies of war.
Six companies of the 40th regiment, under their lieutenant colonel, being hard pressed by the advancing columns of the Americans, threw themselves into Chew’s house, a strongly constructed stone building, and, barricading the lower windows, opened a destructive fire from the cellars and upper windows. The Americans, finding their musketry made no impression, were in the act of dragging up their cannon to batter the walls, when a ruse de guerre was attempted, which, however, failed of success. An officer galloped up from the house and cried out, “What are you about; you will fire upon your own people.” The artillery opened, but after fifteen or twenty rounds, the pieces were found to be of too small caliber to make a serious impression, and were withdrawn.
A most daring and chivalric attempt was now made to fire the building. Lieut. Col. Laurens, aid-de-camp to the Commander-in-Chief, with a few volunteers, rushed up to the house under cover of the smoke, and applied a burning brand to the principal door, at the same time exchanging passes with the sword with the enemy on the inside. By almost a miracle, this gallant and accomplished officer escaped unharmed, although his clothes were repeatedly torn by the enemy’s shot. Another and equally daring attempt was made by Major White, aid-de-camp to General Sullivan, but without as fortunate a result. The Major, while in the act of firing one of the cellar windows, was mortally wounded, and died soon after.
Washington accompanied the leading division of Major Gen. Sullivan, and cheered his soldiers in their brilliant onset, as they drove the enemy from point to point. Arrived in the vicinity of Chew’s house, the Commander-in-Chief halted to consult his officers as to the best course to be pursued towards this fortress that had so suddenly and unexpectedly sprung up in their way. The younger officers who were immediately attached to the person of the Chief, and among the choicest spirits of the Revolution, including the high and honored names of Hamilton, of Reed, of Pinckney, of Laurens, and of Lee, were for leaving Chew’s house to itself, or of turning the seige into a blockade, by stationing in its vicinity a body of troop to watch the movements of the garrison, and pressing on with the column in pursuit of the flying enemy. But the sages of the army, at the head of whom was Major General Knox, repulsed at once the idea of leaving a fortified enemy in the rear, as contrary to the wages of war, and the most approved military authorities.
At this period of the action the fog had become so dense that objects could scarcely be distinguished at a few yards’ distance. The Americans had penetrated the enemy’s camp even to their second line, which was drawn up to receive them about the centre of Germantown. The ammunition of the right wing, including the Maryland brigades, became exhausted, the soldiers holding up their empty cartridge boxes when their officers called on them to rally and face the enemy. The extended line of operations, which embraced nearly two miles, the unfavorable nature of the ground in the environs of Germantown for the operations of troops, a large portion of whom were undisciplined, the ground being much cut up, and intersected by stone fences and enclosures of various sorts, the delay of die left wing under Greene in getting into action—all these causes, combined with an atmosphere so dense from fog and smoke as to make it impossible to distinguish friend from foe, produced a retreat in the American army at the moment when victory seemed to be within its grasp.
Washington was among the foremost in his endeavors to restore the fortunes of the day, and while exerting himself to rally his broken columns, the exposure of his person became so imminent, that his officers, after affectionately remonstrating with him in vain, seized the bridle of his horse. The retreat under all circumstances was quite as favorable as could be expected. The whole of the artillery was saved, and as many of the wounded as could be removed. The Ninth Virginia Regiment, under Col. Mathews, having penetrated so far as to be without support, after a desperate resistance, surrendered its remnant of a hundred men, including its gallant Colonel, who bed received several bayonet wounds. The British pursued but two or three miles, making prisoners of the worn-out soldiers, who, after a night march of 15 miles and an action of three hours, were found exhausted and asleep in the fields and along the roads.
While gallantly leading the North Carolina brigade, that formed part of the reserve into action, General Nash was mortally wounded. A round shot from the British artillery striking a sign-post in Germantown, glanced therefrom, and passing through his horse, shattered the General’s thigh on the opposite side. The fall of the animal hurled its unfortunate rider with considerable force to the ground. “With surpassing courage and presence of mind, General Naah covering his wound with both, of his hands, gaily called to his men, “Never mind me, I have had a devil of a tumble; rush on, my boys, rush on the enemy, I’ll be after you presently.” Human nature could do no more. Faint from loss of blood and the intense agony of his wound, the sufferer was borne to a house hard by, and attended by Dr. Craik, by special order of the Commander-in-Chief. The Doctor gave his patient but feeble hopes of recovery, even with the chances of amputation, when Nosh observed, “It may be considered unmanly to complain, but my agony is too great for human nature to bear. I am aware that my days, perhaps hours are numbered, but I do not repine at my fate. I have fallen ort the field of honor while leading my brave Carolinians to the assault of the enemy. I have a last request to make of his excellency the Commander-in-Chief, that he will permit you, my dear Doctor, to remain with me to protect me while I live, and my remains from insult.” Dr. Craik assured the General that he had nothing to fear from the enemy; it was impossible that they would harm him while living, or offer an insult to his remains; that Lord Cornwallis was by this time in the field, and that under his auspices a wounded officer would be treated with humanity and respect. The dying patriot and hero then uttered these memorable words: “I have no favors to expect from the enemy. I have been consistent in my principles and conduct since the commencement of the troubles. From the very first dawn of the Revolution I have ever been on the side of liberty and my country.”
He lingered in extreme torture between, two and three days, and died admired by his enemies, admired and lamented by his companions in arms. On Thursday, the 9th of October, the whole American army was paraded by order of the Commander-in-Chief to perform the funeral obsequies of General Nash, and never did the warrior’s last tribute peal the requiem of a braver soldier or noble patriot than of the illustrious son of North Carolina.
Taking rank with the chiefs who had fallen in the high and holy cause of a Nation’s Independence, the name of Nash will be associated with the martyr names of Warren, Montgomery, Wooster, Mercer, while the epitaph to be graven on his monumental marble should be the memorable words of the Patriot and Hero on the field of his fame: “From the very first dawn of the Revolution, I have ever been on the side of liberty and my country.”
It was not the halt at Chew’s house, it was not the denseness of the fog, that produced the unfortunate termination of the battle of the 4th of October. Time, that sheds the sober and enduring colors of truth over the events of the world, has determined that the misfortunes of the battle of Germantown are rather to be ascribed to the undisciplined character of a large proportion of the American troops, than to all other causes combined. Washington’s oldest Continental Regiments were of but little more than a year’s standing, while many of his troop had seen but a few months, and some but a few weeks’ service. With all these disadvantages, the plan of the surprise of Germantown was ably conceived and gallantly executed in the outset, and failed of complete success only from circumstances beyond all human control.
Congress passed a unanimous resolution consolatory to the feelings of the Commander-in-Chief his officers and soldiers, under their disappointment, intimating “that it was not in nature to command success,” but their brave army “had done more; it had deserved it.”
The effects resulting from the battle of Germantown were most happy both at home and abroad. The enemy were taught to respect American troops, which they had affected to despise, and Sir William Howe deemed it prudent to draw in all his outposts, and shelter himself in Philadelphia, which proved a great relief to a large and valuable portion of the adjacent country. Indeed, it becomes the duty of the historian to declare that matters might have been much worse on the 4th of October. When the Americans retreated, the second line of the enemy was in great force, having been but little impaired in the action, while the reserve, consisting of the Grenadiers, were close at hand to sustain their comrades, those chosen fellows having at the first alarm, seized their arms and ran without halting the distance from the commons of Philadelphia to Germantown. Howe’s army in 1777, without disparagement of the British service before or since that time, may be considered as the finest body of troops that ever embarked from the British dominions; yet such was the alarm and confusion into which these veterans were thrown by the masterly surprise of Germantown, and such the courage and vigor displayed by the Americans in their attacks in the early part of the day, that a rendezvous at Cheater became a measure of serious contemplation among the commanders of the British army.
But the most happy and imposing influences upon America and her cause, resulting from the battle of Germantown, were experienced abroad. Eh, mon Dieu, exclaimed the Count de Vergunnes the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, to the American Commissioners in Paris, “What is this you tell me, Messieurs; another battle, and the British grand army surprised in its camp at Germantown, Sir William and his veterans routed and flying for two hours, and a great victory only denied to Washington by a tissue of accidents beyond all human control. Ah, ah, these Americans are an elastic people. Press them down to-day, they rise to-morrow. And then, my dear sirs, these military wonders to be achieved by an army raised within a single year, opposed to the skill, discipline, and experience of European troops, commanded by generals grown gray in war. The brave Americans, they are worthy of the aid of France. They will succeed at last.”
The winter of 1777 set in early, and with unusual severity. The military operations of both armies had ceased, when a detachment of the Southern troops were seen plodding their weary way to winter quarters at the Valley Forge. The appearance of the horse-guard announced the approach of the Commander-in-Chief: the officer commanding the detachment, choosing the most favorable ground, paraded his men to pay to their General the honors of the passing salute. As Washington rode slowly up, he was observed to be eyeing very earnestly something that attracted his attention on the frozen surface of the road. Having returned the salute with that native grace, that dignified air and manner, that won the admiration of the soldiery of the old Revolutionary day, the Chief reigned up his charger, and ordering the commanding officer of the detachment to his side, addressed him as follows: “How comes it, sir, that I have tracked the march of your troops by the blood stains of their feet upon the frozen ground? Were there no shoes in the Commissary’s stores, that this sad spectacle is to be seen along the public highways?” The officer replied: “Your excellency may rest assured that this sight is as painful to my feelings as it can be to yours; but there is no remedy within our reach. When the shoes were issued, the different regiments were served in turn; it was our misfortune to be among the last to be served, and the stores became exhausted before we could obtain even the smallest supply.”
The General was observed to be deeply affected by his officer’s description of the soldiers’ privations and sufferings. His compressed lips, the heaving of his manly chest, betokened the powerful emotions that were struggling in his bosom, when, turning toward the troops with a voice tremulous yet kindly, Washington exclaimed, Poor fellows; then giving rein to his charger rode away.
During this’ touching interview every eye was bent upon the Chief, every ear was attentive to catch his words; and when those words reached the soldiers, warm from the heart of their beloved commander, and in tones of sorrow and commiseration for their sufferings, a grateful but subdued expression burst from every lip, of God bless your excellency, your poor soldiers’ friend.
In this interesting event in the life and actions of Washington, he appears in a new light. He is no longer the grave, the dignified, the awe-inspiring and unapproachable General-in-Chief of the armies of his country. All these characteristics have vanished, and the Pater Patrræ appears amid his companions in arms in all hi moral grandeur, giving vent to his native goodness of heart.
His person and personal appearance. Anecdotes of his great physical prowess.
In person Washington was unique: he looked like no one else. To a stature lofty and commanding, he united a form of the manliest proportions, limbs cast in Nature’s finest mould, and a carriage the most dignified, graceful, and imposing. No one ever approached the Pater Patriæ that did not feel his presence.
So long ago as the vice regal court at Williamsburg, in the days of Lord Botetourt, Col. Washington was remarkable for his splendid person, the air with which he wore a small sword, and his peculiar walk, that had the light elastic tread acquired by his long service on the frontier, and was a matter of much observation, especially to foreigners.
While Col. Washington was on a visit to New York in 1773, it was boasted at the table of the British Governor that a regiment just lauded from England contained among its officers some of the finest specimens of martial elegance in his Majesty’s service—in fact the most superb looking fellows ever landed upon the shores of the new world. “I wager your Excellency a pair of gloves,#8221; said a Mrs. Morris, an American lady, “that I will show you a finer man in the procession to-morrow than your Excellency can select from your famous regiment.” “Done, madam,” replied the Governor. The morrow came, (the 4th of June,) and the procession in honor of the birthday of the King advanced through Broadway to the strains of military music. As the troops defiled before the Governor, he pointed out to the lady several officers by name, claiming her admiration for their superior persons and brilliant equipments. In rear of the troops came a band of officers not on duty, of colonial officers, and strangers of distinction. Immediately on their approach, the attention of the Governor was seen to be directed toward a tall and martial figure, that marched with grave and measured tread, apparently indifferent to the scene around him. The lady now archly observed, “I perceive that your Excellency’s eyes are turned to the right object; what say you to your wager now, sir?” “Lost, madam,” replied the gallant Governor: “When I laid my wager, I was not aware that Col. Washington was in New York.”
To a question that we have been asked a thousand and one times, viz., to what individual, known to any who are yet living, did the person of Washington bear the nearest resemblance? we answer, to Ralph Izard, Senator from South Carolina, in the first Congress under the Constitution. The form of Izard cart in Nature’s manliest mould; while his air and manner were both dignified and imposing. He acquired great distinction, while pursuing his studies in England, for his remarkable prowess in the athletic exercises of that distant period.
An officer of the Life Guard has been often heard to observe, that the Commander-in-Chief was thought to be the strongest man in his army, and yet what thews and sinews were to be found in the army of the Revolution. In 1781, a company of riflemen from the county of Augusta, in Virginia, reinforced the troops of Lafayette. As the stalwart band of mountaineers defiled before the General, the astonished and admiring Frenchman exclaimed: “Mon Dieu! what a people are these Americans; they have reinforced me with a band of giants!”
Washington’s great physical powers were in his limbs: they were long, large, and sinewy. His frame was of equal breadth from the shoulders to the hips. His chest, though broad and expansive, was not prominent, but rather hollowed in the centre. He had suffered from a pulmonary affection in early life, from which he never entirely recovered. His frame showed an extraordinary development of bone and muscle; his joints were large, as were his feet; and could a cast have been preserved of his hand, to be exhibited in these degenerate days, it would be said to have belonged to the being of a fabulous age. During the last visit of Lafayette to Mount Vernon, among many and interesting relations of events that occurred in olden days, he said to the writer; “It was in this portico that you were introduced to me in 1784; you were then holding by a single finger of the good General’s remarkable hand, which was all that you could do, my dear sir, at that time.”
In the various exhibitions of Washington’s great physical prowess, they were apparently attended by scarcely any effort. When he overthrew the strong man of Virginia in wrestling, while many of the finest of the young athletes of the times were engaged in the manly games, Washington had retired to the shade of a tree, intent upon the perusal of a favorite volume; and it was only when the champion of the game strode through the ring, calling for nobler competitors, and taunting the student with the reproach that it was the fear of encountering so redoubted an antagonist that kept him from the ring, that Washington closed his book, and without divesting himself of his coat, calmly walked into the arena, observing that fear formed no part of his being; then grappling with the champion, the struggle was fierce but momentary, for, said the vanquished hero of the arena, in Washington’s lion-like grasp I became powerless, and was hurled to the ground with a force that seemed to jar the very marrow in my bones; while the victor, regardless of the shouts that proclaimed his triumph, leisurely retired to his shade, and the enjoyment of his favorite volume.
The power of Washington’s arm was displayed in several memorable instances—in his throwing a stone across the Rappahannock river below Fredericksburg, another from the bed of the stream to the top of the Natural Bridge, and yet another over the Palisades into the Hudson. While the late and venerable C. H. Peale was at Mount Vernon in 1772, engaged in painting the portrait of the provincial Colonel, some young men were contending in the exercise of pitching the bar. Washington looked on for a time, then grasping the missile in his master hand, whirled the iron through the air, which took the ground far, very far, beyond any of its former limits—the Colonel observing, with a smile, “You perceive, young gentlemen, that my ark yet retains some portion of the vigor of my earlier days.” He was then in his fortieth year, and probably in the full meridian of his physical powers; but those powers became rather mellowed than decayed by time, for “his age was like a lusty winter, frosty yet kindly,” and, up to his sixty-eighth year, he mounted a horse with surprising agility, and rode with the ease and gracefulness of his better days. His personal prowess, that elicited the admiration of a people who have nearly all passed from the stage of life, still serves as a model for the manhood of modern times.
With all its development of muscular power, the form of Washington had no appearance of bulkiness, and so harmonious were its proportions, that he did not appear so passing tall as his portraits have represented. He was rather spare than full during his whole life; this is readily ascertained from his weight. The last time he weighed was in the summer of 1799, when having made the tour of his farms, accompanied by an English gentleman, he called at his mill and weighed. The writer placed the weight in the scales. The Englishman, not so tall, but stout, square built, and fleshy, weighed heavily, and expressed much surprise that the General had not outweighed him, when Washington observed that the best weight of his best days never exceeded from 210 to 220. In the instance alluded to he weighed a little rising 210.
Of the portraits of Washington, the most of them give to his person a fulness that it did not posses, together with an abdominal enlargement greater than in the life, while his matchless limbs have in but two instances been faithfully portrayed—in the equestrian portrait by Trumbull of 1790, a copy of which is in the City Hall of New York, and in an engraving by Losier, from a painting by Coginet, French artists of distinguished merit. The latter is not an original painting, the head being from Stuart, but the delineation of the limbs is the most perfect extant.
Of the remarkable degree of awe and reference that the presence of Washington always inspired, we shall give one out of one thousand instances. During the cantonment of the American army at the Valley Forge, some officers of the 4th Pennsylvania regiment were engaged in a game of fives. In the midst of their sport they discovered the Commander-in-Chief leaning upon the enclosure and beholding the game with evident satisfaction. In a moment all things were changed. The ball was suffered to roll idly away, the gay laugh and joyous shout of excitement were hushed into a profound silence, and the officers were gravely grouped together. It was in vain the chief begged of the players that they would proceed with their game, declared the pleasure he had experienced from witnessing their skill, spoke of a proficiency in the manly exercise that he himself could have boasted of in other days. All would not do. Not a man could be induced to move, till the General, finding that his presence hindered the officers from continuing the amusement, bowed, and wishing them good sport, retired.
Many of the establishments that constituted the Headquarters in the War of the Revolution yet remain for the veneration of the Americans; At Cambridge, Morristown, Newburg, West Point, New Windsor, and other places, the buildings are still preserved, but of the Valley Forge it is doubtful whether there exists at this time any remains of the Headquarters $6 memorable in the history of the days of trial.
If the Headquarters at Morristown were bleak and gloomy, from being located in a mountainous region, and occupied in the depth of winter, the soldier was cheered amid his privations by the proud and happy remembrance of his triumphs at the close of the campaign of 1776. Not such were the associations that attended the Headquarters at Valley Forge, at the close of the campaign of 1777. The American army, defeated in two hard-fought general engagements, beheld its enemy comfortably housed in Philadelphia, while it was compelled at an inclement season to retire to a forest, there to erect hub for shelter, and where it afterwards endured the greatest extremities of human suffering. But Washington was in the midst of his faithful companions in arms, ever employed in limiting their privations, in alleviating a their miseries, and holding up to them the hopes of better fortunes. And oft in the rude wintry night, when the tempest howled among the hovels, and the shivering sentry paced his lonely round, would his eye be attracted to the taper that burned in the Headquarters, whore the man of mighty labors, watching while others slept, toiled in the cause of unborn millions.
At the Headquarters of the Valley Forge occurred some of the most memorable incidents of the War of Independence. It was there the General received the appalling intelligence that not another ration was in store to issue to his troops. It was there that he was forced, by a stern and painful necessity, to use the high powers vested in him by Congress, to seize upon provisions for the relief of his starving soldiers. It was there, while struggling with dangers and difficulties, while borne down with the cares and sorrows of his country’s cause, that Washington was informed of the cabal then agitating in Congress and the army for the removal of the Commander-in-Chief.
But with all these glooms there were glories, too, that shed their lustre upon the Headquarters of the Valley Forge. It was there first proclaimed to the army the grateful tidings of the alliance with France; and it was from that scene of so many trials and sufferings, that on the return of the genial season, the modern Fabias marched again to grapple with his formidable and well-appointed foe, and to wrest from him, after a most gallant and hard-fought conflict, a glorious victory on the plains of Monmouth.
The Headquarters were under canvass during the siege and after the surrender of Yorktown. The marqueés of the Commander-in-Chief were pitched in the rear of the grand battery, just out of the range of the enemy’s shells. There were two marquees attached to the Headquarters during all the campaigns. The larger, or banqueting tent, would contain from forty to fifty persons; the smaller or sleeping tent had an inner chamber, where, on a hard cot-bed, the Chief reposed. There is a most interesting reminiscence attached to the sleeping tent. The Headquarters, even during the summer season, were located, in a great majority of instances, in private dwellings, the sleeping tent being pitched in the yard or very near at hand. Within its venerable folds, Washington was in the habit of seeking privacy and seclusion, where he could commune with himself, and where he wrote the most memorable of his despatches in the Revolutionary war. He would remain in the retirement of the sleeping tent some times for hours, giving orders to the officer of his guard that he should on no account be disturbed, save on the arrival of an important express. The objects of his seclusion being accomplished, the Chief would appear at the canvass door of the marqueé with despatches in his hand, giving which to his secretary to copy and transmit, he would either mount his charger for a tour of inspection, or return to the Headquarters and-enjoy social converse with his officers.
The marqueés were made in Third street, Philadelphia, under the direction of Captain Moulder, of the artillery, and were first pitched on the Heights of Dorchester, in August, 1776.
The life-guard was attached to the Headquarters from the time of its formation till the end of the war. This chosen corps of picked men, with Gibbs and Colfax, and their gallant officers, was always in the finest order, proud of its being attached to the person of the Chief, and appearing smart and soldierly, even in the worst times.
In our Memoirs of the Pater Patriæ, we shall continue to introduce some mention of the distinguished pat[r]iots, statesmen, and soldiers who enjoyed his intimacy, and were dear to his affections. High on this honored list appears in bold relief the name of Jonathan Trumbull, the patriotic governor of Connecticut during the whole of the Revolution. He was, indeed, more fitted for the times in which he flourished, and such a one as revolution alone seems capable of producing. Wise to conceive, and energetic to execute, his prudence equalled his courage in the conspicuous part he was destined to bear in those momentous concerns that eventuated in the Independence of his country; yet did be “bear his high offices so meekly” that he was as deservedly beloved for the mildness of his private virtues as he was admired for, the stern unyielding integrity with which he discharged his public duties. It is enough for his fame or his epitaph that he was a man after Washington’s own heart.
When the news arrived in Connecticut of the battle of Lexington, Putnam, who was ploughing in his field, instantly repaired to the Governor for orders. “Go,” said Trumbull “to the scene of action.” “But my clothes, Governor!” “Oh, never mind your clothes,” continued Trumbull, “your military experience will be of service to your countrymen.” “But my men, Governor; what shall I do about my men?” “Oh, never mind your men,” continued the man for the times, “I’ll send your men after you.” Putnam hurried to Cambridge.
One of the most urgent appeals for assistance that ever emanated from the American Headquarters was contained in a dispatch to the Governor of Connecticut. It was dated from the camp, near the North river, in the latter years of the war.
Governor Trumbull was alone in his room of business; on the table were various letters and despatches, some just opened and others seated for immediate transmission; a cocked hat of the cut and fashion of the days of George II, the Governor’s sole insignia of office, was also on the table, while the Chief Magistrate himself was busily engaged in writing.
An aid-de-camp of the Commander-in-Chief was introduced, much worn and “travel stained” from the haste of his journey. The Governor row, and while cordially welcoming Colonel ——, inquired after the health of his excellency, and what news from the army. The aid-de-camp replied that the Genera1 was well, and the news from the army of a very sombre character, and presented a letter. The letter was very short. It contained an apology from Washington for having applied for assistance where it had been so often and so liberally rendered before, but continued that the situation of the Army was critical in the extreme, the country adjacent to the camp being completely exhausted, as well by the enemy’s as by his own foraging parties; and concluded by lamenting that, unless supplies could be speedily obtained, he should be obliged to abandon his position, and fall back in to the interior to obtain the necessary subsistence for the troops.
The Governor pondered for a moment upon the contents of the letter, then rising, and cordially grasping the Colonel by the hand, observed, in a firm, yet cheerful tone, “When you return to camp, bear with you, my dear sir, my love and duty to his excellency, and say to him that brave old Connecticut, patriotic Connecticut, is not quite exhausted, but for every barrel of provisions she has furnished to the cause of liberty, she will furnish another, and yet another to the same glorious cause; say further, that on such a day our teams may be looked for on the bank of the North river.” The aid-de-camp departed rejoicing.
And now the patriot became “every inch” the executive officer. From his-intimate acquaintance with the resources of his native State, he knew exactly where those resources were to be obtained, and their facilities for transportation, for with him every thing was done by method and regularity. His orders flew in all directions. His orders were obeyed.
Meantime the return of the aid-de-camp to Headquarters with intelligence of the promised supplies diffused a general gladness throughout the army. When the expected day arrived, many an anxious eye was turned to the road leading from the eastward to the landing on the North river; a dust is seen in the distance, and presently are beard the cries of the teamsters, urging their fine oxen, while the heavy-laden wains groan under their generous burdens. A shout rise through the American camp, and the Commander-in-Chief, attended by his officers, rode to an eminence to witness the arrival of the welcome supplies.
Governor Trumbull two sons attached to the Headquarters, John, the distinguished artist and the last of the aids-de-camp, and Jonathan,, Military Secretary to the Commander-in-chief at the siege of Yorktown.
But one attempt was made to surprise the Headquarters during the war. The army lay in Jersey. The enemy, taking advantage of their facilities for water communication, and under cover of night, landed in considerable force a short distance above the American camp, and made a spirited attack upon its outposts. The alarm soon extended to the Headquarters, where Lady Washington (always so called by the soldiers) and the ladies of several of the general officers were sojourning during the winter quarters. The life-guard rushed to the house, the windows were taken out in a moment, the doors barricaded, and the rooms and staircases filled with armed men. Cannon were dragged into the yards, and every preparation made for a vigorous defence. An aid-de-camp proposed that the ladies should be removed under an escort to a place of safety. This Washington at once refused, gallantly observing, “No, Colonel, let the ladies remain where they are, that they may see how bravely we will defend them;” and then mounted his charger, and proceeded to the scene of action. Meantime the firing was distinctly heard, and evidences of battle became painfully apparent in the wounded borne along in the arms of their comrades in search of medical assistance. After a short, but sharp skirmish, the firing ceased altogether; the enemy, finding themselves baffled in their hopes of a surprise, retreated to their boats, and gained the eastern bank of the Hudson. Day was now breaking, and the ladies were gratified in beholding the Commander-in-Chief, with his staff and the general officers, returning at full gallop to the Headquarters.
Among the great variety of persons and character that were to be found from time to time at and about the Headquarters, was the famed Captain Molly. After her heroic achievements at the battle of Monmouth, the heroine was always received with a cordial welcome at Headquarters, where she was employed in the duties of the household. She always wore an artilleryman’s coat, with the cocked hat and feather, the distinguishing costume of Proctor’s artillery. One day the Chief accosted this remarkable woman, while she was engaged in washing some clothes, pleasantly observing: “Well, Captain Molly, are you not almost tired of this quiet way of life, and longing to be once more on the field of battle?” “Troth, your Excellency,” replied the heroine, “and ye may say that; for I care not how soon I have another slap at them red coats, bad luck to them.” “But what is to become of your petticoats in such an event, Captain Molly?” “Oh, long life to your excellency, and never de ye mind them at all, at all,” continued this intrepid female. “Sure, and it is only in the artillery your Excellency know that I would sarve, and divil a fear but the smoke of the cannon will hide my petticoats.”
The name and memory of Headquarters expired not with the war of the Revolution, but was preserved in the Presidoliads of New York and Philadelphia, where hundreds of the war-worn veterans of the days of trial repaired, as they said, to Headquarters to pay their respects, and inquire after the health of his Excellency and the good Lady Washington. All were made welcome and “kindly bid to stay;” and while they quaffed a generous glass to the health of their beloved Chief, the triumphs of Trenton and Princeton, of Monmouth and Yorktown, “were freshly remembered.”
And poor Pat, too, reverently, with hat in hand, would approach the Headquarters. “To be sure, he would say, that he well knew his Excellency had no time to spare to the likes of him. He just called to inquire after his honor’s health, long life to him and to the good Lady Washington, the poor soldier’s friend.” But, taking the steward aside, with a knowing look, would observe: “Now, my darlint, if his excellency should happen to inquire who it was that called, jist tell him it was one of ould Mad Anthony’s boys. Hurray for Ameriky!” And repeating the shout that so often had rang above the battle’s roar, the veteran would go on his way rejoicing.
It may be in the course of human events, that upon the places at Morristown and the Valley Forge, where the soldier of liberty erected his cheerless hut, the domes and spires of cities may arise in the splendid progress of a mighty empire, but the patriotic American of that future day, proud of the fame of the Father of his Country, and glorying in the recollections of America’s heroic time, will pass by the palaces of pomp and power to pay homage to the mouldering ruins of the Headquarters.
Faithful to our purpose of giving, in the course of this work, brief Memoirs of the distinguished characters of the age of Washington, who were either attached to his person or stood high in his esteem, next to Nathaniel Greene and Robert Morris, we introduce Alexander Hamilton.
In this illustrious individual were united the patriot, the soldier, the statesman, the jurist, the orator, and philosopher, and he was great in them all. Born in the Island of Nevis, the first rudiments of his education were obtained in Santa Cruz, from which, at a very early age, he came to America, and completed his studies at Columbia College, in New York. In that city the Revolution found the West Indian engaged in the direction of an extensive mercantile concern, where the youthful aspirant for liberty soon laid aside his ledger, and wielded his pen, ere he drew his sword, for the natural rights of mankind.
Among the efforts then making in behalf of the royal cause in New York, were a series of able essays, published with a view to alarm the patriots as to a rupture with the mother country, urging that, in such an event, all supplies of clothing would be withheld, and thus the most serious privations be endured by the colonists. Young Hamilton wrote a powerful reply to these essays, in which he proved that resources abounded in the country; and then, for the first time in the world, it was left for this precocious genius to predict that the cotton plant could and would be grown in the southern colonies, and would yield an abundance of the raw material for the supply of our wants.
The troubles increasing, Mr. Hamilton spoke of revisiting the West, Indies, with a view to recruit his finances; this the patriots of New York would not hear of for a moment; they had witnessed the powers of his pen, and wished him to try the temper of his sword. “Well, my friends,” said the gallant youth, “if you are determined that I shall remain among ye, and take part in your just and holy cause, you must raise for me a full company of artillery.” This was done, and Captain Hamilton lost no time in enlisting the services of several veteran artillerists, and by constant drilling, soon brought his company into a very high state of order and discipline. He remained in New York diligently engaged in his military duties, until the Asia, Admiral Pandeput, fired upon the city. Retreat becoming necessary, Hamilton here displayed that noble disinterestedness and disregard of self that adorned all the subsequent actions, whether public or private, of his illustrious life. A cart, drawn by a single horse, contained the baggage of this young officer. He ordered his baggage to be abandoned, and the horse that drew it to be harnessed to the cannon.
Hamilton’s military talents were apparent in very early life. Previous to the battle of Long Island, he crossed over to Brooklyn, and thence, by examining the positions of the American forces with a military eye, he became convinced that with such materials as composed the American army, a conflict with troops which consisted of all soldiers would be hopeless of success. Filled with these ideas, Hamilton addressed an anonymous letter to the Commander-in-Chief, detailing many and forcible arguments against risking an action, and warmly recommending a retreat to the strong grounds of the main land. The letter created no little surprise in the mind of the General, but it was mixed with respect for the talent displayed by the writer. The disastrous battle of Long Island is a matter of history.
The letter of which we have made such honorable mention was forwarded to the General by M——, afterwards celebrated for having conveyed to the American commander the most important information during the occupancy of New York by the British army. The morning after Washington made his triumphal entry into the city of New York, 25th November, 1783, he breakfasted with M——, to the wonder of the Tories and the perfect horror of the Whigs.
Hamilton’s artillery joined the American army, and took part in the memorable retreat through the Jerseys. It was, as we have before related, at the passage of the Raritan, near Brunswick, that Hamilton first attracted the notice of the Commander-in-Chief, who, while posted on the river bank, and contemplating with anxiety the passage of the troops, was charmed by the brilliant courage and admiral skill displayed by a young officer of artillery, who directed a battery against the enemy’s advanced columns that pressed upon the Americans in their retreat by the ford. The General ordered Lieutenant Colonel Fitzgerald, his aid-de-camp, to ascertain who this young officer was, and bid him repair to Headquarters at the first halt of the army.
At the interview that ensued, Washington quickly discovered in the young patriot and warrior those eminent qualities of the head and heart that shed such a renown upon the actions of his after life. From that interview Washington “marked him for his own.”
The American Commander-in-Chief was peculiarly happy in the selection of the officers of his military family, of his guard, &38;.c., save in a solitary instance, and in that instance the individual served but for a very short time. The members of the military family and of the life-guard were gentlemen of the first order in intellect, patriotism, and all right soldierly qualities—they were attached to the Chief and to each other. Hamilton and Laurens were kindred spirits, brothers alike in arms, in affection, and in accomplishments, and might be styled the preux chevaliers of the American Army.
Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton was at the side of the Chief during the most eventful periods of the Revolutionary war. In the memorable campaigns of 1777 and 1778, the habit at the Headquarters was for the General to dismiss his officers at a very late hour of the night to snatch a little repose, while he, the man of mighty labors, drawing his cloak around him, and trimming his lamp, would throw himself upon a hard couch, not to sleep, but to think. Close to his master (wrapped in a blanket, but “all accoutred” for instant service) snored the stout yet active form of Billy, the celebrated body servant during the whole of the Revolutionary war.
At this late lone hour silence reigned in the Headquarters, broken only by the measured pacing of the sentinels, and the oft-repeated cry of “all’s well;” when suddenly the sound of a horse-tramp, at speed, is borne upon the night wind, then the challenging of the guard, and the passing the word of an express from the lines to the Commander-in-Chief. The despatches being opened and read, there would be heard in the calm deep tones of that voice, so well remembered by the good and the brave in the old days of our country’s trial, the command of the Chief to his now watchful attendant, “Call Colonel Hamilton.”
The remarkable conduct of the aid-de-camp during the exciting interview of Washington and Major General Lee, on the field of Monmouth, as has been related in another part of this work, caused no little sensation in the army at that time. It was, indeed, a generous burst of enthusiasm, emanating from a noble and gallant spirit, that, pure in its own devotion to the cause of liberty, viewed with indignation and abhorrence even the suspicion of treachery in another. It is somewhat singular that there were several distinguished officers of the American army, who, judging from events at the close of the campaign of 1776, anticipated some defection on the part of Lee, on his return from captivity, and rejoining his former colors; yet it was left for a member of a different cloth from the military to give the first alarm to the Commander-in-Chief on this momentous subject. The Rev. Dr. Griffith, a Welshman by birth, a warm patriot in the cause of America, and chaplain to one of the Virginia regiments, repaired to the Headquarters at a late hour of the night preceding the battle of Monmouth: and warned the chief against the employment of Major General Lee to command the advance guard on the ensuing morning—a command which that veteran officer had at first declined. Washington received the information cautiously, nay, doubtingly, when the reverend gentleman, on making his bow to retire, observed, “I am not permitted to say more at present, but your Excellency will remember my warning voice to-morrow in the battle.”
From a difficul[t]y that occurred in 1780, Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton retired from the Headquarters, and assumed his rank in the line, in the command of a battalion of light infantry, then the crack corps of the army. With this command he marched to the south in 1781. At the siege of Yorktown, it was determined to storm the two advanced redoubts of the enemy, and the selection of officers and men for this daring achievement was entrusted to Major General the Marquis de Lafayette. The Marquis lost no time in choosing as the officer who was to lead the assault Lieutenant Colonel Gimet, a gallant Frenchman, who had been attached to the Marquis’s military family. Hamilton, belonging to the division of light infantry commanded by Lafayette, was about to prefer his claim, when his warmest friends and admirers dissuaded him, owing, as they said, to the vast influence in favor of the Frenchman, from the presence of a splendid French fleet and army, and the universal desire of doing every possible honor to our generous and gallant allies. Hamilton observed, “I am aware that I have mighty influences to contend with, but I feel assured that Washington’s inflexibly just. I will not urge my claim on the plea of my long and faithful services, coeval with nearly the whole war; I will only plead my rank.” He accordingly repaired to Headquarters. The General received his former and favorite aid-de-camp with great cordiality and kindness, listened patiently to his representations, and finally granted his claims; and Lieutenant Colonel Hamilton, in presence of three armies, led the assault of the redoubt on the night of the memorable 14th of October, with a brilliancy of courage and success that could not be surpassed.
As the Americans mounted the works, the cry of the soldiers was, “Remember New London!” alluding to the cruel massacre of the American troops at Fort Griswold the year before. When the redoubt was carried, the vanquished Britons fell on their knees, momently expecting the exterminating bayonet; not a ban was injured, when no longer resisting. For Hamilton, who commanded, and Lieutenant Colonel Laurens, who participated as a volunteer on this brilliant occasion, courage and mercy have entwined a wreath of laurel that time or circumstance can never fade.
Shortly after the surrender of Yorktown, Colonel Hamilton retired from the army, preserving his rank, but declining all pay or emolument. He commenced the study of the law, and was elected to the New York legislature, and afterwards to the old Congress. While a member of the latter body, he wrote a series of essays of great ability, showing the defects of the old system of government, and recommending a convention, with a view to an entirely new constitution, Government and laws. He was elected a member of the Convention of 1787, and was one of the brightest stars in that constellation of patriots and statesmen that formed the present happy Constitution of the United States.
Hamilton’s labors by no means ended with the Convention of 1787; it required all his zeal and eloquence to stem the torrent of opposition from Governor Clinton and others, up to the time of the final adoption of the Constitution by the State of New York.
In 1789, when the first President was on his way to the seat of the new Government, he stopped in Philadelphia at the house of Robert Morris, and while consulting with that eminent patriot and benefactor of America as to the members of the first Cabinet, Washington observed, “The Treasury, Morris, will, of course, be your birth. After your invaluable services as financier of the Revolution, no one can pretend to contest the office of Secretary of the Treasury with you.” Robert Morris respectfully but firmly declined the appointment, on the ground of his private affairs, when he replied, “But, my dear General, you will be no loser by my declining the Secretaryship of the Treasury, for I can recommend to you a far cleverer fellow than I am for your Minister of Finance, in the person of your former aid-de-camp, Colonel Hamilton.” The President was amazed, and continued, “I always knew Colonel Hamilton to be a man of superior talents, but never supposed that he had any knowledge of finance;” to which Morris replied, “He knows every thing, sir; to a mind like his nothing comes amiss.” Robert Morris, indeed, had had ample proofs of Hamilton’s talents in financial matters, the financier having received from the soldier many and important suggestions, plans, and estimates touching the organization and establishment of the Bank of North America in 1780.
Thus did Alexander Hamilton, from amid the stirring duties of a camp, devote the vast and varied powers of his mind to the organization of a system of finance, as connected with banking operations, that proved of inestimable service to the cause of the Revolution.
Washington hesitated not a moment in making the appointment of Secretary of the Treasury, agreeably to the recommendation of Morris; for assuredly there was none, no, not one of the many worthies of the Revolution who stood higher in the esteem or approached Hearer to the heart of the Chief than Robert Morris, the noble and generous benefactor of America in the darkest hours of her destiny.
On the very day of the interesting event we have just related, Mr. Dallas met Hamilton in the street and addressed him with, “Well, Colonel, can you tell me who will be the members of the Cabine?” “Really, my dear, sir,” replied the Colonel, “I cannot tell you who will, but I can very readily tell you of one who will not be of the number, and that one is your humble servant.” He had not at this moment the remotest idea that Washington had again in peace, as in war, “marked him for his own.”
The very best eulogium that can be pronounced upon the Fiscal Department of the United States, as organized by Alexander Hamilton, is in the remarks of the Hon. Albert Gallatin, a political rival, and the most distinguished financier of the successors of the first Secretary of the Treasury. Mr. Gallatin has magnanimously declared that all Secretaries of the Treasury of the United States, since the first, enjoyed a sinecure, the genius and labors of Hamilton having created and arranged every thing that was requisite and necessary for the successful operation of the Department.
In January, 1795, Hamilton resigned his seat in the Cabinet and retired to private life. It was our good fortune to be almost domesticated in the family of this great man, and to see and know much of him in the olden time. Among the many and imposing recollections of the great age of the Republic that are graven upon our memory, and mellowed by time, cheer by the venerable and benign influences our evening of life, we call up with peculiar pleasure a reminiscence of the days of the first Presidency, embracing the resignation of Alexander Hamilton.
It was at the Presidential mansion that the ex-Secretary of the Treasury came into the room where Mr. Lear, Major Jackson, and the other gentlemen of the President’s family were sitting. With the usual smile upon his countenance, he observed: “Congratulate me, my good friends, for I am no longer a public man; the President has at length consented to accept my resignation, and I am once more a private citizen.” The gentlemen replied that they could perceive no cause for rejoicing in an event that would deprive the Government and the country of the late Secretary’s valuable services. Hamilton continued: “I am not worth exceeding five hundred dollars in the world; my slender fortune and the best years of my life have been devoted to the service of my adopted country; a rising family hath its claims.” Glancing his eye upon a small book that lay on the table, he took it up and observed: “Ah, this is the Constitution. Now, mark my words: So long as we are a young and virtuous people, this instrument will bind us together in mutual interests, mutual welfare, and mutual happiness, but when we become old and corrupt it will bind us no longer.”
Such were the prophetic words of Alexander Hamilton, uttered half a century ago, and la the very dawn of our existence as a nation. Let the Americans write them in their books and treasure them in their hearts. Another half century, and they will be regarded as truths.
What a spectacle does this touching reminiscence present to the Americans and their posterity! A great man of the Revolution, the native of a foreign isle, who had employed his pen and drawn his sword in the cause of liberty before a, heard had grown upon his chin; renowned alike in Senates and in the field, in the halls of legislation and the “ranks of death,” proudly acknowledging his honorable poverty, the result of his many and glorious services, and resigning one of the highest and most dignified offices in the Government, to retire as a private citizen to labor for the support of a rising family.
Of a truth, upon the Roman model, ay, arid that of the purest and palmiest days of the mistress of the ancient world, were formed the patriots, statesmen, and warriors of the American Revolution. Worthy, indeed, are they to be ranked with the purest and noblest models of ancient virtue and heroism, whom generations yet unborn will hail as the fathers of liberty and founders of an empire.
With these reminiscences, endeared to as by many venerable associations of bur other days, and which we offer as an humble tribute to the fame and memory of him who was a master-spirit among the great and renewed that adorned the age Washington, we close our brief memoir.
COMMENCEMENT OF THE CONSTITUTIONAL GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED STATES.—WASHINGTON’S RESIDENCE AND FINAL DEPARTURE FROM NEW YORK.
On the 30th of’ April, 1789, the Constitutional Government of the United States began, by the inauguration of George Washington as President of the United States, in the city of New York.
In the than limited extent and improvement of the city, there was some difficulty in selecting a mansion for the residence of the Chief Magistrate and a household suitable to his rank and station. Osgood’s house, a mansion of very moderate extent, was at length fixed upon, situated in Cherry street. There the President became domiciled. His domestic family consisted of Mrs. Washington, the two adopted children, Mr. Lear, as principal secretary, Colonel. Humphreys, with Messrs. Lewis and Nelson, secretaries, and Major Wm. Jackson, aid-de-camp.
Persons visiting the house in Cherry street at this time of day will wonder how a building so small could contain the many and mighty spirits that thronged its halls in olden days. Congress, cabinet, all public functionaries in the commencement of the Government, were selected from the very elite of the nation. Pure patriotism, commanding talent, eminent services, were the proud and indispensable requisites for official station in the first days of the Republic. The first Congress was a most enlightened and dignified body. In the Senate, were several of the members of the Congress of 1776 and signers of the Declaration of Independence—Richard Henry Lee, who moved the Declaration, John Adams, who seconded it, with Sherman, Morris, Carroll, &c.
The levees of the first President were attended by these illustrious patriots and statesmen, and by many others of the patriots, statesmen, and soldiers, who could say of the Revolution “magna pars sui;” while numbers of foreigners and strangers of distinction crowded to the seat of the General Government, all anxious to witness the grand experiment that was to determine how much rational liberty mankind is capable of enjoying, without said liberty degenerating into licentiousness.
Mrs. Washington’s drawing-rooms, on Friday nights, were attended by the grace and beauty of New York. On one of these occasions an incident occurred which might have been attended by serious consequences. Owing to the lowness of the ceiling in the drawing-room, the ostrich feathers in the head-dress of Miss McIver, a belle of New York, took fire from the chandelier, to the no small alarm of the company. Major Jackson, aid-de-camp to the President, with great presence of mind, and equal gallantry, flew to the rescue of the lady, and, by clapping the burning plumes between his hands, extinguished the flame, and the drawing-room went on as usual.
Washington preserved the habit, as well in public as in private life, of rising at four o’clock and retiring to bed at nine. On Saturdays he rested somewhat from his labors, by either riding into the country, attended by a groom, or with his family in his coach drawn by six horses.
Fond of horses, the stables of the President were always in the finest order, and his equipage excellent, both in taste and quality. Indeed, so long ago as the days of the vice regal court of Lord Botetourt, at Williamsburg, in Virginia, we find that there existed a rivalry between the equipages of Col. Byrd, a magnate of the old regime, and Col. Washington, the grays against the bays. Bishop, the celebrated body servant of Braddock, was the master of Washington’s stables; and there were what was termed muslin horses in those old days. At cock-crow the stable-boys were at work; at sunrise Bishop stalked into the stables, a muslin handkerchief in his hand, which he applied to the coats of the animals, and, if the slightest stain was perceptible upon the muslin, up went the luckless wights of the stable boys, and punishment was administered instanter; for to the veteran Bishop, bred amid the iron discipline of European armies, mercy for anything like a breach of duty was altogether out of the question.
The President’s stables in Philadelphia were under the direction of German John, and the grooming of the white chargers will rather surprise the moderns. The night before the horses were expected to be rode they were covered entirely over with a paste, of which whiting was the principal component part; then the animals were swathed in body-cloths, and left to sleep upon clean straw. In the morning the composition bad become hard, wag well rubbed in, and curried and brushed, which process gave to the coats a beautiful, glossy, and satin-like appearance. The hoofs were then blacked and polished, the mouths washed, teeth picked and cleaned; and, the leopard-skin housings being properly adjusted, the white chargers were led out for service, Such was the grooming of ancient times.
There was but one theatre in New York in 1789, (in John street,) and so email were its dimensions that the whole fabric might easily be placed on the stage of one of our modern theatres. Yet, humble as was the edifice, it possessed an excellent company of actors and actresses, including old Morris, who was the associate of Garrick in the very outset of that great actor’s career at Goodmansfields. The stage boxes were appropriated to the President and Vice President, and were each of them decorated with emblems, trophies, &c. At the foot of the playbills were always the words “Vivat Respublica” Washington often visited this theatre, being particularly gratified by Wignell’s performance of Darby, in the Poor Soldier.
It was in the theatre in John street that the now national air of “Hail Columbia,” then called the President’s March, was first played. It was composed by a German musician, named Fyles, the leader of the orchestra, in compliment to the President. The national air will last as long as the nation lasts, while the meritorious composer has been long since forgotten.
It was while residing in Cherry street that the President was attacked by a severe illness, that required a surgical operation. He was attended by the elder and younger Drs. Bard. The elder being somewhat doubtful of his nerves, gave the knife to his son, bidding him cut away—deeper, deeper still; don’t be afraid; you see how well he bears it. Great anxiety was felt in New York at this time, as the President’s case was considered extremely dangerous. Happily, the operation proved successful, and the patient’s recovery removed all cause of alarm. During the illness a chain was stretched across the street, and the sidewalks laid with straw. Soon after his recovery, the President set out on his intended tour through the New England States.
The President’s mansion was so limited in accommodation that three of the Secretaries were compelled to occupy one room—Humphreys, Lewis, and Nelson. Humphreys, aid-de-camp to the Commander-in-Chief at Yorktown, was; most estimable man, and at the same time a poet. About this period he was composing his “Widow of Malabar.” Lewis and Nelson, both young men, were content, after the labors of the day, to enjoy a good night’s repose. But this was often denied them; for Humphreys, when in the vein, would rise front his bed at any hour, and, with stentorian voice, recite his verses. The young men, roused from their slumbers, and rubbing their eyes, beheld a great burly figure “en chemise,” striding across the floor, reciting with great emphasis particular passages from his poem, and calling on his room-mates for their approbation. Having in this way for a considerable time “murdered the sleep” of his associates, Humphreys at length, wearied by his exertions, would sink upon his pillow in a kind of dreamy languor. So sadly were the young secretaries annoyed by the frequent outbursts of the poet’s imagination, that it was remarked of them by their friends, that from 1789 to the end of their lives, neither Robert Lewis nor Thomas Nelson were ever known to evince the Slightest taste for poetry.
The mansion in Cherry street proving so very inconvenient, induced the French Ambassador to give up his establishment—McComb’s new house in Broadway—for the accommodation of the President. It was from this house in 1790 that Washington took his final departure from New York. It was always his habit to endeavor, as much as possible, to avoid the manifestations of affection and gratitude that met him everywhere. He strove in vain; he was closely watched, and the people would have their way. He wished to have slipped off unobserved from New York, and thus steal a march upon his old companions in arms. But there were too many of the dear glorious old veterans of the Revolution at that time of day in and near New York to render such an escape even possible.
The baggage had all been packed up; the horses, carriages, and servants ordered to be over the Ferry to Paulus Hook by daybreak, and nothing was wanting for departure but the dawn. The lights were yet burning, when the President came into the room where his family were assembled, evidently much pleased in the belief that all was right, when, immediately under the windows, the band of the artillery struck up Washington’s March. “There,” he exclaimed, “it’s all over; we are found out. Well, well, they must have their own way.” New York soon after appeared as if taken by storm; troops and persons of all descriptions hurrying down Broadway toward the place of embarkation, all anxious to take a last look on him whom so many could never expect to see again.
The embarkation was delayed until all the complimentary arrangements were completed. The President, after taking leave of many dear and cherished friends, and many an old companion in arms, stepped into the barge that was to convey him from New York forever. The coxswain gave the word “let fall; the spray from the oars sparkled in the morning sunbeams; the bowman shoved off from the pier, and, as the barge swung round to the tide, Washington rose, uncovered, in the stern, to bid adieu to the masses assembled on the shore; he waived his hat, and in a voice tremulous from emotion, pronounced farewell. It may be supposed that Major Bauman, who commanded the artillery on this interesting occasion, who was first Captain of Lamb’s regiment, and a favorite officer of the war of the Revolution, would, when about to pay his last respects to his beloved commander, load his pieces with something more than mere blank cartridges. But ah! the thunders of the cannon were completely hushed when the mighty shout of the people arose that responded to the farewell of Washington. Pure from the heart it came; right up to Heaven it went, to call down a blessing upon the Father of his Country.
The barge had scarcely gained the middle of the Hudson, when the trumpets were heard at Paulus Hook, where the Governor and the chivalry of Jersey were in waiting to welcome the chief to those well-remembered shores. Escorts of cavalry relieved each other throughout the whole route, up to the Pennsylvania line; every village, and even hamlet, turned out its population to greet with cordial welcome the man upon whom all eyes were fixed, and in whom all hearts rejoiced.
What must have been the recollections that crowded on the mind of Washington during this triumphant progress? Newark, Brunswick, Princeton, Trenton! What a contrast between the glorious burst of sunshine that now illumined and made glad everything around these memorable spots, with the gloomy and desolate remembrances of —76! Then his country’s champion, with the wreck of a shattered host, was flying before a victorious and well-appointed foe, while all around him was shrouded in the darkness of despair; now; in his glorious progress over the selfsame route, his firm footstep presses upon the soil of an infant empire, reposing in the joys of peace, independence, and happiness.
Among the many who dwelled his triumph, the most endeared to the heart of the Chief were the old associates of his toils, his fortunes, and his fame. Many of the Revolutionary veterans were living in 1796, and, by their presence, gave a dignified tone and character to all public assemblages; and, when you saw a peculiarly fine looking soldier in those old days, and would ask, “to what corps of the American army did you belong?”—drawing himself up to his full height, with a martial air, and back of’ the hand thrown up to his forehead, the veteran would reply, “Life Guard, your honor.”
And proud and happy were these veterans in again beholding their own good Lady Washington. Greatly was she beloved in the army—her many intercessions with the Chief for the pardon of offenders; her kindness to the sick and wounded—all of which caused her annual arrival in camp to be hailed as an event that would serve to dissipate the gloom of the winter quarters.
Arrived at the line, the Jersey escort was relieved by the cavalry of Pennsylvania, and when near to Philadelphia, the President was met by Governor Mifflin and a brilliant cortege of officers, and escorted by a squadron of horse to the city. Conspicuous among the Governor’s suite, of well for his martial bearing as for the manly beauty of his person, was General Walter Stewart, a son of Erin, and a gallant and distinguished officer of the Pennsylvania line. To Stewart, as to Cadwallader, Washington was most warmly attached; indeed, those officers were among the very choicest of the contributions of Pennsylvania to the army and cause of independence. Mifflin, small in stature, was active, alert, “every inch a soldier.” He was a patriot of great influent in Pennsylvania in the “times that tried men’s souls,” and nobly a did he exert that influence in raising troops, with which to reinforce the wreck of the grand army at the close of the campaign of ’76.
Arrived within the city, the crowd became intense; the President left his carriage and mounted the white charger; and, with the Governor on his right, proceeded to the City Tavern in Third street, where quarters were prepared for him, the light infantry, after some time, having opened a. passage for the carriages. At the City Tavern the President was received by the authorities of Philadelphia, who welcomed the Chief Magistrate to their city as to his home for the remainder of his Presidential term. A group of old and long-tried friends were also in waiting. Foremost among these, and first to grasp the hand of Washington, was one who was always nearest to his heart, a patriot and public benefactor, Robert Morris.
After remaining a short time in Philadelphia, the President speeded on his, journey to that home where he ever found rest from his mighty labors, and enjoyed the sheets of rural and domestic happiness amid his farms and at his fireside of Mount Vernon.
Onward, still onward, whirls the tide of time. The few who yet survive that remember the Father of his Country are fast fading away. A little while, and their gray heads will all have dropped into the grave. May the reminiscences of one whom Washington adopted in infancy, cherished in youth, and who grew up to manhood under his parental care, continue to find favor with the American people!
ANNIVERSARY OF THE BIRTIIDAY OF GENERAL
WASHINGTON, FEB. 22, 1848.
WASHINGTON’S RETIREMENT AFTER THE PEACE OF 1788.
BISHOP, THE. OLD BODY SERVANT.
After the sublime and touching event of the “Resignation of the Commission,” at Annapolis, on the 23d of December, 1783, Washington hastened to his beloved retirement, hung up his sword, and prepared to enjoy the delights of rural and domestic life.
The same exact and economical distribution of time, the same methodical and active habits of business, that had so triumphantly borne, the Commander of Armies through the mighty labors of an eight years’ war, were now destined in the work of peace alike to distinguish the illustrious farmer of Mount Vernon.
After so long an absence, the retired General, on returning to his home, found that there was much to create. Previous to the war, the establishment of Mount Vernon was upon a very limited scale. The Mansion house was small, having but four room on a floor, and there was wanting nearly all of the present outbuildings and offices.
Washington was his own architect and builder, laying off every thing himself—the buildings, gardens, and grounds all arose to ornament and usefulness under his fostering hand.
His landed estate, comprising eight thousand acres, underwent many and important changes and improvements. It was divided into farms, with suitable enclosures; hedges were planted, and excellent farm-buildings were erected, from European models. Devoting much time and attention to these various objects, Washington accomplished the most important of his improvements in the very short space of from four to five years.
Nor was his time exclusively allotted to business; he had a “time for all things.” He enjoyed the pleasures of the chase, visited his friends, and received and entertained the numerous guests who crowded to his hospitable mansion. Indeed, in the retirement at Mount Vernon, from ’83 to , were probably passed the very happiest days of this great man’s life. Glorying in the emancipation of his country from foreign thraldom; surrounded by many and dear friends; hailed with love and gratitude by his countrymen wherever he appeared among them; receiving tokens of esteem and admiration from the good, the gifted, and the great of the most enlightened nations of the civilized world; engaged in the pursuits of agriculture—pusuits that were always most congenial to his tastes and wishes—amid so many blessings, we may well believe that in the retirement at Mount Vernon Washington was happy.
On leaving Annapolis the General accompanied by two of the officers of his former staff, Colonels Pumphreys and Smith, who remained for several years at Mount Vernon, engaged in arranging the vast mass of papers and documents that had accumulated during the war of Independence. Humphreys was a man of letters and a poet, and, together with Colonel Smith, served in the staff of the Commander-in-chief on some of the most important occasions of the Revolutionary War.
At a short distance from the Mansion house, in a pleasant and sheltered situation, rose the homestead of Bishop, the old body servant. Thomas Bishop, born in England, attended General Braddock to the continent during the Seven Years’ War, and afterwards embarked with that brave and unfortunate Commander for America in 1755.
On the morning of the 9th of July—the day of the memorable battle of the Monongahela—Bishop was present when Colonel Washington urged upon the English General for the last time the propriety of permitting him (the Colonel) to advance with the Virginia woodsmen and a band of friendly Indians, and open the way to Fort du Quesne. Braddock treated the proposal with scorn; but, turning to his faithful follower, observed: “Bishop, this young man is determined to go into action to-day, although he is really too much weakened by illness for any such purpose. Have an eye to him, and render him any assistance that may be necessary.” Bishop had only time to reply, “Your honor’s orders shall be obeyed,” when the troops were in motion and the action soon after commenced.
Sixty-four British officers were killed and wounded, and Washington was the only mounted officer on the field. His horse being shot, Bishop was promptly at hand to offer him a second; and so exhausted was the youthful hero from his previous illness and his great exertions in the battle, that he was with difficulty extricated from his dying charger, and was actually lifted by the strong arms of Bishop into the saddle of the second horse.
It was at this period of the combat that, in the glimpses of the smoke, the gallant Colonel was seen bravely dashing amid the ranks of death, and calling on the colonial woodsmen, who alone maintained the fight, “Hold your ground, my brave fellows, and draw your sights for the honor of old Virginia!” It was at this period, too, of the battle that the famed Indian commander, pointing to Washington, cried to his warriors: “Fire at him no more; see ye not that the Great Spirit protects that Chief; he cannot die in battle.”
His second horse having fallen, the Provincial Colonel made his way to the spot where the commanding general, though mortally stricken, raging like a wounded lion, and yet breathing defiance to the foe, was supported in the arms of Bishop. Braddock grasped the hand of Washington, exclaiming, “Oh, my dear Colonel, had I been governed by your advice, we never should have come to this!” When he found his last moments approaching, the British General called his faithful end long-tried follower and friend to his side, and said, “Bishop, you are getting too old for war; I advise you to remain in America and go into the service of Colonel Washington. Be but as faithful to him as you have been to me, and rely upon it the remainder of your days will be prosperous and happy.”
Bishop took the advice of his old master, and at the close of the campaign returned with the Colonel to Mount Vernon. As body servant, Bishop attended Colonel Washington at the time of his marriage, and was installed as chief of the stables and the equipage in Williamsburg, in the bright and palmy days of that ancient capital. Finally, the old body servant settled on the banks of the Potomac, married, and was made overseer of one of the farms of the Mount Vernon estate.
At the commencement of the Revolutionary War, Bishop was considered as too old for actual service, and was left in charge of the home establishment, where the veteran soldier’s rigid discipline and strict attention to every thing committed to his care caused affairs immediately relating to the Mansion home to be kept in first-rate order. Upon the General’s return after the peace of 1788, the ancient body servant had passed fourscore, had been relieved from all active service, and having lost his wife, he, with his daughter and only child, was settled down in a comfortable homestead that had been built expressly as an asylum for his old age.
Although very infirm, yet, when the bright skies and balmy breath of spring renovated all Nature, the veteran soldier and faithful follower of two masters, would grasp his staff and wend his way to a spot by which he knew the General would pass in taking his morning ride. As Washington approached, the veteran, by aid of his staff, would draw himself up to his full height, and with a right soldierly air uncover. A few silver locks were scattered about his temples, his visage was deeply furrowed by the hand of time, while his bent and shrunken frame was but the shadow of a form once so tall and manly. The General would rein up his home and kindly inquire, “How are you, old man, I am glad to see you abroad; is there anything you want?” The veteran would reply: “Good morning to your honor; I am proud and happy to see your honor looking so brave acid hearty. I thank God I am as well as can he expected at my years. What can I want while in your honor’s service? Whenever the choicest meats are killed for your honor’s own table, the good lady will send to old Bishop a part. God bless your honor, the madam, and all your good family!” Washington would continue his morning ride, while the old body servant, made happy by the interview, grasped his staff and strode manfully away to his comfortable home.
Of the two form& aids-de-camps, now secretaries, in their hours of relaxation from business, Humphreys as in the habit of strolling to unfrequented places, there to recite his verses to the echoes. Smith, too, would take the air after the labors of the writing-desk.
One evening Colonel Smith in his rambles came suddenly upon the homestead of the old body servant, whose daughter was milking at a short distance from the house. She was a slightly-built girl, and, in endeavoring to raise the pail, found it too much for her strength. Colonel Smith gallantly stepped forward, and offered his services, saying, “Do, miss, permit my strong arms to assist you.” Now, the veteran’s daughter had often heard from her father the moat awful tales of those sad fellows, the young, and particularly the handsome British officers, and how their attentions to a maiden must inevitably result in her ruin. Filled with these ideas, Miss Bishop did not draw any line of distinction between British and American officers, and Smith, being a peculiarly fine handsome fellow, the milkmaid threw down her pail and ran screaming to the house. The Colonel followed, making every possible apology, when suddenly he was brought up all standing by the appearance of the veteran, who stood, in all his terrors, at the door of his domicil. The affrighted girl ran into her father’s arms, while the old body servant rated the Colonel in no measured terms upon the enormity of the attempt to insult his child. Poor Smith, we1 bespattered by the contents of the milk pail, in vain endeavored to excuse, himself to the enraged veteran, who declared that he would carry the affair up to his honor, aye, and to the madam, too. At the mention of the latter personage, the unfortunate Colonel felt something like an ague chill to pas over his frame. Smith in vain essayed to propitiate the old man by assuring him that the affair was one of the most common gallantry; that his object was to assist, and not to insult the damsel. Bishop replied, “Ah! Colonel Smith, I know what you dashing young officers are. I am an old soldier, and have seen some things in my long day. I am sure his honor, after my services, will not permit my child to be insulted; and, as to the madam, why the madam as good as brought up my girl.” So saying, the old body servant retired into his castle, and closed the door.
The unfortunate Colonel wended his way to the mansion house, aware of the scrape he had got into; and pondering as to the mode by which he might be able to get out of it. At length he bethought himself of Billy, the celebrated servant of the Commander-in-Chief, during the whole of the war of the Revolution, and well known to all of the officers of the headquarters.
A council-of war was held, and Billy expressed great indignation that Bishop should attempt to carry a complaint against his friend, Colonel Smith, up to the General, and that, it was perfectly monstrous that such a tale should reach the ears of the madam; but, continued Billy, that is a terrible old fellow, and he has been much spoiled on account of his services to the General in Braddock’s war. He even says, that we of the Revolutionary army are but half soldiers, compared with the soldiers that he served with in the outlandish countries. Smith observed, it is bad enough, Billy, for this story to get to the General’s ears, but to those of the lady will never do; and, then there’s Humphreys, he will be out upon me in a d—d long poem that will spread my misfortunes from Data to Beersheba. At length the Colonel determined, by the advice of his privy counsel, to dispatch Billy as a special ambassador, to endeavor to propitiate the veteran, or, at any rate, to prevent his visit to the Mansion house.
Meantime the old body servant was not idle. He ransacked a large worm-eaten trunk, and brought forth a mat that had not seen the light for many long years; it was of the cut and fashion of the days of George II; then a vest, and lastly a hat, Cumberland cocked, with a huge riband cockade, that had seen service in the Seven Years’ War; his show underwent a polish, and were covered by large silver buckles. All these matters being carefully dusted and brushed, the veteran flourished his staff and took up his line of march for the Mansion house.
Billy met the old soldier in full march, and a parley ensued. Bill harangued with great force upon the impropriety of the veteran’s conduct in not receiving the Colonel’s apology; for, continued the ambassador, my friend Colonel Smith is both an officer and a gentleman; and then, old man, you have no business to have such a handsome daughter, (a grim smile passing over the veteran’s countenance at this compliment to the beauty of his child,) for you know young fellows will be young fellows. He continued by saying, it was not to be thought of, that any such matter should reach the madam’s ears, and concluded by recommending to the veteran to drop the affair and return to his home.
The old body servant, fully accoutred for his expedition, had cooled off a little during his march. A soldierly respect for an officer of Colonel Smith’s rank and (standing, and a fear that he might carry the matter a little too far, determined him to accept the Colonel’s assurance that there could be no harm where “no harm was intended,” came to the right-about, and retraced his steps to his home.
The ambassador returned to the anxious Colonel, and informed him that he had met the old fellow, “en grand costume,” and in full march for the Mansion house, but that by a powerful display of eloquence he had brought him to a halt, and induced him to listen to reason, and drop the affair altogether. The ready guinea was quickly in the ambassador’s pouch, while the gallant Colonel, happy in his escape from what might have resulted in a very unpleasant affair, was careful to give the homestead of the old body servant a good berth in all future rambles.
The pleasurable routine of Washington’s life, in his retirement, was a little varied by his call to the Convention of 1787. But in 1788, when the Constitution became ratified by the States, letters, addresses, and memorials, from his compatriots and old companions in arms, poured in from all parts of the country, all praying him who had been “FIRST IN WAR” to become “first in peace” as the Chief Magistrate of the new Government. These testimonials of affection made deep impression upon the retired General, as they showed him that he stood “first in the hearts of his countrymen.”
In April, 1789, the doors of Mount Vernon opened to receive, and Washington hastened to embrace, the venerable Charles Thompson, the Secretary to the Revolutionary Congress, and signer of the Declaration of Independence. He came charged with the honored duty of announcing to the retired General his unanimous election to the office of President of the United States. The tall attenuated form, the simple yet dignified manners of Secretary Thompson, made him a most favored guest at a board where had been welcomed many of the wise, the good, the brave, and renowned.
The unanimous election of Washington to the Chief Magistracy of a new Empire by a people who had hungered for an opportunity of elevating the man of their hearts to the highest gift in their power to bestow, called forth from the Chief acknowledgments of profound gratitude. Washington turned a last fond lingering look upon his retired home, where he had passed so many peaceful and happy days; upon his extensive circle of friends, to whom he was attached, by many and most endearing associations; upon his improvements, which he had so much delighted to rear, and which had grown up to useful and ornamental maturity under his fostering hand; he bode adieu to them all, and hastened to obey the call of his country.
THE LAST DAYS AT MOUNT VERNON.
On the 4th of March, 1797, Washington, be a private citizen, attended the dignified ceremonial of the Inauguration, as it was conducted in the ancient time, and was the first to pay his respects to the second President of the United States.
During the preparations for his departure from the seat of Government, the ex-President enjoyed an interchange of farewell visits with those in Philadelphia whom he had known so long and loved so well. Two new members were now added to the domestic family of Washington, in the persons of George Washington Lafayette, and his tutor and friend, M. Frestel. In 1796, these interesting Frenchmen sought refuge in the United States from the troubles of their native land. Presenting themselves to the President in Philadelphia, he received the young Lafayette with a warm embrace, saying to him, consider General Washington as your father, protector, and friend while you remain in this country; reasons of State prevent me, as President, from receiving you, gentlemen, at this time, as members of my domestic family. Arrangements will be made for your comfortable sojourn in New Jersey, for the short time that will intervene between this and the termination of my official duties; then, upon my retirement from all public affairs, you will be domesticated among the most cherished members of my family and fireside at Mount Vernon.
Several of the most distinguished of the French emigrants, some of them bringing letters from French officers who had served in the war of Independence, sought in vain to be received by the first President: among these were the celebrated Talleyrand, the Duc de Liancourt, Louis Philippe, then Due d’Orleans, and his two brothers, Montpensier and Bojolais. The first President adhered to his rule, that upon mature consideration he had laid down for his government during the wars and troubles of European nations, viz: Respect and consideration for our own affairs, with non-intervention in the affairs of others.
Louis Philippe and brothers visited the retired Chief during the “Last Days at Mount Vernon.” The amiable Duc de Liancourt bore his reverse of fortune with great magnanimity. He used to say: “In the days of my power and affluence, under the ancient regime of France, I kept fifty servants, and yet my coat was never as well brushed as it is now, when I brush it myself.”
Many articles, both for useful and ornamental purposes; were forwarded from Philadelphia; and that the retired Chief was in full employment upon his return to his ancient and beloved mansion, may be gathered from the following extract of a letter to the author of the Recollections, dated April 3, 1797: “We are all in the midst of litter and dirt, occasioned by joiners, masons, painters, and upholsterers, working in the house, all parts of which, as well as the out-buildings, are much out of repair.” Mount Vernon, it is known, resembles a village, from there being some fourteen or fifteen buildings detached from each other; and, being nearly all constructed of wood, it may well be supposed that decay had made considerable progress, more especially when the master’s absence during the War of the Revolution and the first Presidency amounted to sixteen years.
An event occurred on the 22d February, 1799, that, while it created an unusual bustle in the ancient halls, shed a bright gleam of sunshine on the “Last Days at Mount Vernon.” It was the marriage of Major Lewis, a favorite nephew, with the adopted daughter of the Chief. It was the wish of the young bride that the General of the Armies of the United States should appear in the splendidly embroidered uniform (the costume assigned him by the board of general officers) in honor of the bridal; but alas, even the idea of wearing a costume bedizzened with gold embroidery, had never entered the mind of the Chief, he being content with the old Continental blue and buff, while the magnificent white plumes presented to him by Major General Pinckney he gave to the young bride, preferring the old Continental cocked hat, with the plain black riband cockade, a type of the brave old days of ’76.
The venerable master, on returning to his home, found, indeed, many things to repair, with an ample field for improvement before him. With a body and mind alike sound and vigorous in their maturity, did he bend his energies to the task, while the appearance of every thing gave proofs of the taste and energy in the improvements that marked the last days at Mount Vernon.
A portrait of the illustrious farmer, as he rode on his farm it the last days, may not be unacceptable to our readers. Fancy to yourself a fine, noble-looking old cavalier, well mounted, sitting firm and erect in his saddle, the personification of power, mellowed yet not impaired by time, the equipments of his steed all proper land in perfect order, his clothes plain and those of a gentleman, a broad-brimmed white hat, with a small gold buckle in front, a riding switch cut from the forest, entirely unattended, and thus you have Washington on his farm, in the last days at Mount Vernon.
His rides on his extensive estates would be from eight to twelve or fourteen miles; he usually moved at a moderate pace, passing through his fields and inspecting every thing; but when behind time, the most punctual of men would display the horsemanship of his better days, and a hard gallop bring him up to time, so that the sound of his horse’s hoofs and the first dinner bell should be heard together at a quarter to three o’clock.
During the maritime war with France, the armed merchantmen that sailed from Alexandria would salute on passing Mount Vernon. On the report of the first gun, the General would leave his library, and, taking a position in the portico that fronts the river, remain there uncovered till the firing ceased.
And yet another salute awakened the echoes around the shores of Mount Vernon; another act of homage was paid to the retired chief, and this was an homage of the heart, for it was paid by an old companion in arms, while its echoes called up the memories of the past: A small vessel would be seen to skim along the bosom of the Potomac; nearing the shore, the little craft furled her sails, let go her anchor, and discharged a small piece of ordnance, then a boat put off and pulled to the shore, and soon a messenger appeared, bearing a fine rock or drum fish, with the compliments of Benjamin Grimes, who resided some fifty miles down the river, and who was a gallant officer of the Life Guard in the War of the Revolution.
His great employment, and a constant stream of company, gave the General but little time to go abroad; still he occasionally visited his old and long-remembered friends in Alexandria. He attended a martial exhibition, representing an invasion by the French, which ended in an old-fashioned sham battle and the capture of the invaders; it was handsomely gotten up, Alexandria at that time possessing a numerous and well-appointed military, and the whole went off with great eclat.
Among many interesting relics of the past to be found in the Last Days at Mount Vernon, was old Billy, the famed body-servant of the Commander-in-Chief during the whole of the War of the Revolution. Of a stout athletic form, he had from an accident become a cripple, and, haying lost the power of motion, took up the occupation of a shoemaker for sake of employment. Billy carefully reconnoitered the visitors as they arrived, and when a military title was announced, the old body-servant would send his compliments to the soldier, requesting an interview at his quarters; it was never denied, and Billy, after receiving a warm grasp of the hand, would say, “Ah, Colonel, glad to see yon; we of the army don’t see one another often these peaceful times. Glad to see your honor looking so well; remember you at headquarters. The new-time people don’t know what we old soldiers did and suffered for the country in the old war. Was it not cold enough at Valley Forge? Yes, was it; and I am sure you remember it was hot enough at Monmouth. Ah, Colonel, I am a poor cripple; can’t ride now, so I make shoes and think of the old times; the General often stops his horse here to inquire if I want any thing. I want for nothing, thank God, but the use of my limbs.”
These interviews were frequent, as many veteran officers called to pay their respects to the retired chief, and all of them bestowed a token of remembrance upon the old body-servant of the Revolution.
It was in November of the last days that the General visited Alexandria upon business, and dined with a few friends at the City Hotel. Gadsby, the most accomplished of hosts, requested the General’s orders for dinner, premising that there was good store of canvass-back ducks in the larder. Very good, sir, replied the Chief, give us some of them, with a chafing-dish, some hominy, and a bottle of good Madeira, and we shall not complain.
No sooner was it known in town that the General would stay to dinner, than the cry was for the parade of a new company, called the Independent Blues, commanded by Captain Piercy, an officer of the Revolution; the merchant closed his books, the mechanic laid by his tools, the drum and fife went merrily round, and in the least possible time the Blues had fallen into their ranks, and were in full march for the headquarters.
Meantime the General had dined, had given his only toast of “All our friends,” and finished his last glass of wine, when an officer of the Blues was introduced, who requested, in the name of Captain Peircy, that the Commander-in-Chief would do the Blues the honor to witness a parade of the corps. The General consented, and repaired to the door of the hotel, looking toward the public square, accompanied by Col. Fitzgerald, Dr. Craik, Mr. Keith, Mr. Herbert, and several other gentlemen. The troops went through many evolutions with great spirit, and concluded by firing several volleys. When the parade was ended, the General ordered the author of the Recollections to go to Capt. Piercy and express to him the gratification which he, the General, experienced in the very correct and soldierly evolutions, marchings, and firing of the Independent Blues. Such commendation, from such a source, it may well be supposed, was received with no small delight by the young soldiers, who marched off in fine spirits, and were soon after dismissed. Thus the author of the Recollections had the great honor of bearing the last military order issued in person by the Father of his Country.
Although much retired from the busy world, the chief was by no means inattentive to the progress of public affairs. When the post-bag arrived, he would select the letters, and lay them by for perusal in the seclusion of his library. The journals he would peruse while taking his single cup of tea, (his only supper,) and would read aloud passages of peculiar interest, making remarks upon the same. These evenings with his family always ended precisely at nine o’clock, when Washington bade every one good night, and retired to rest to rise again at four, and to renew the same routine of labor and enjoyment that distinguished his last days at Mount Vernon.
The Revolutionary Letter.
MORRISTOWN, January 22, 1777.
DEAR SIR: Your letter of the 7th came to my bands a few days ago, and brought with it the pleasing reflection of your still holding me in remembrance.
The misfortune of short enlistments and the unhappy dependence upon militia have shown their baneful influence almost upon every occasion throughout the whole course of this war. At no time nor upon no occasion were they ever more exemplified than since Christmas; for, if we could have got in the militia in time, or prevailed upon those troops whose times expired, as they generally did, on the first of this instant, to have continued, (not more than 1,000 or 1,200 agreeing to stay,) we might, I am persuaded, have cleared the Jerseys entirely of the enemy. Instead of this, all our movements have been made with inferior numbers, and with a mixed motley crew, who were here to-day, gone to-morrow, without assigning a reason or even apprizing you of it. In a word, I believe I may with truth add, that I do not think that any officer since the creation ever had such a variety of difficulties and perplexities to encounter as I have. How we shall be able to rub along till the new army is raised I know not; Providence has heretofore saved us in a remarkable manner, and on this we must principally rely.
Every person in every State should exert himself in the raising and marching of the new regiments to the army with all possible expedition. Those who want faith to believe the accounts of the shocking wastes committed by Howe’s army, of their ravaging, plundering, and abuse of women, may be convinced to their sorrow perhaps, if a check cannot be put to their progress. It is painful to me to hear of such illiberal reflections upon the Eastern troops as you say prevails in Virginia. I always have and always shall say, that I do not believe that any of the States produce better men or persona capable of making better soldiers, and we have found that wherever regiments are well officered, the men behave well; where the reverse, ill. Equal injustice is done them in depriving them of merit in other respects, for no people fly to arms readier, or come better equipped, or with more regularity into the field, than they.
I refer you to my letter to Lund Washington, which gives the late occurrences, and with love to Nelly and respects to Mr. Calvert’s family, I am yours affectionately,
To JOHN PARKE CUSTIS, Esq.,
The Paternal Letter.
PHILADELPHIA, November 28, 1796.
DEAR WASHINGTON: In a few hasty lines covering your sister’s letter on Saturday last, I promised to write more fully to you by the post of this day; I am now in the act of performing that promise.
The assurances you give me of applying diligently to your studies, and fulfilling those obligations which are enjoined by your Creator add due to his creatures, are highly pleasing and satisfactory to me. I rejoice in it on two accounts: First, as it is the sure means of laying the foundation of your own happiness, and rendering you, if it should please God to spare your life, a useful member of society hereafter; and, secondly, that I may, if I live to enjoy the pleasure, reflect that I have been in some degree instrumental in effecting these purposes.
You are now entering into that stage of life when good or bad habits are formed—when the mind will be turned to things useful and praiseworthy, or to dissipation and vice. Fix in whichever it may, it will stick by you; for you know it has been said, and truly, “that as the twig is bent” so will it grow. This in a strong point of view shows the propriety of letting your inexperience be directed by maturer advice, and in placing guards upon the avenues that lead to idleness and vice. The latter will approach like a thief working upon your passions, encouraged perhaps by bad examples, the propensity to which will increase in proportion to the practice of it, and our yieldings. This admonition proceeds from the purest affection for you, but I do not mean by it that you are to become a stoic, or to deprive yourself in the intervals of study of any recreation or manly exercise which reason approves.
It is well to be on good terms with all your fellow students, and I am pleased to hear that you are so; but while a courteous behavior is due to all, select the most deserving only for your friendship, and before this becomes intimate weigh their dispositions and characters well. True friendship is a plant of slow growth; to be sincere there must be a congeniality of temper and pursuits. Virtue and vice cannot be allied, nor can industry and idleness, of course. If you resolve to adhere to the two former of these extremes, an intimacy with those who incline to the latter of them would be extremely embarrassing to you; it would be a stumbling block in your way, and act like a millstone hung to your neck; for it is the nature of idleness and vice to obtain as many votaries as they can.
I would guard you, too, against imbibing hasty and unfavorable impressions of any one; let our judgment always balance well before you decide, and even then, where there is no occasion for expressing an opinion, it is best to be silent; for there is nothing more certain than that it is at all times more easy to make enemies than friends. Besides, to speak evil of any one, unless there is unequivocal proofs of their deserving it, is an injury for which there is no adequate reparation. Keep another thing also in mind, that scarcely any change would be agreeable to you at first, from the sudden transition, and from never having been accustomed to shift or to rough it, and, moreover, that if you meet with collegiate fare, it will be unmanly to complain. My paper reminds me that it is time to conclude, which I do, by subscribing myself affectionately, your sincere friend,
Mr. GEO. WASHINGTON PARKE CUSTIS.
THE LAST DAYS AT MOUNT VERNON.
The year 1799 was in its last month; Washington had nearly completed his sixty-eighth year; the century was fast drawing to a close, and with it this great man’s life. Yet the #8220;winter” of his age had shed its snows “so kindly” upon him as to mellow without impairing his faculties, both physical and mental, and to give fair promise of additional length of days.
Now was Washington unmindful of the sure progress of time, and of his liability to be called at any moment to “that bourne from which no traveller returns.” He had for years kept a will by him, and after mature reflection had so disposed of his large property as to be satisfactory to himself and to the many who were so fortunate and happy as to share in his testamentary remembrance.
The last days, like those that preceded them in the course of a long and well-spent life, were devoted to constant and useful employment. After the active exercise of the morning in attention to agriculture and rural affairs, in the evening came the post bag, loaded with letters, papers, and pamphlets. His correspondence, both at home and abroad, was immense; yet was it promptly and fully replied to. No letter was unanswered. One of the best bred men of his time, Washington deemed it a grave offence against the rules of good manners and propriety to leave letters unanswered. He wrote with great facility, and it would be a difficult matter to find another who had written so much, who has written so well. His epistolary writings will descend to posterity as models of good taste, as well as developing superior powers of mind. General Henry Lee once observed in the Chief “We are amazed, sir, at the vast amount of work that you accomplish.” Washington replied, “Sir, 1 rise at four o’clock, and a great dea1 of my work is done while others are asleep.”
So punctual a man delighted in always having about him a good time-keeper. In Philadelphia the first President regularly walked up to his watchmaker’s (Clarke, in Second street) to compare his watch with the regulator. At Mount Vernon the active yet always punctual farmer invariably consulted the dial when returning from his morning ride and before entering his house.
The affairs of the household took order from the master’s accurate and methodical arrangement of time. Even the fisherman on the river watches for the cook’s signal when to pull in shore, so as to deliver his scaly products in time for dinner.
The establishment of Mount Vernon employed a perfect army of servants; yet to each one was assigned certain special duties, and these were required to be strictly performed. Upon the extensive estate there was rigid discipline, without severity. There could be no confusion where all was order; and the affairs of this vast concern, embracing thousands of acres and hundreds of dependants were conducted with as much ease, method, and regularity as the affairs, of an ordinary homestead.
Mrs. Washington, an accomplished Virginia housewife of the olden time, gave her constant attention to all matters of her domestic household, and by her skill and superior management greatly contributed to the comfortable reception and entertainment of the crowds of guests always to be found in the hospitable Mansion of Mount Vernon.
Invariably neat and clean in his person, with clothes of the old-fashioned cut, but made of the best materials, Washington required less waiting upon than any man of his age and condition in the world. A single body servant attended in his room to brush his clothes, comb and tie his hair, (become very thin in his last days, worn in the old-fashioned queue, and rarely with powder,) and to arrange the materials of his toilet, This toilet he made himself, in the simplest and most expeditious manner, giving the least possible amount of his precious time to any thing relative to his person. When rising at four o’clock he lighted his own candles, made up his fire, and went diligently to work, without disturbing the slumbers of his numerous household.
In the last days at Mount Vernon, desirous of riding pleasantly, the General procured from the north two horses of the Narragansett breed, celebrated as saddle horses. They were well to look at, and were pleasantly gaited under the addle, but were scary, and therefore unfitted for the service of one who liked to ride quietly on his farm, occasionally dismounting and walking in his fields to inspect his improvements. From one of them horses the General sustained a heavy fall, probably the only fall he ever had from a horse in his life. It was in November, late in the evening. The General, accompanied by Major Lewis, Mr. Peake, (a gentleman residing in the neighborhood,) the author of the Recollections, and a groom, were returning from Alexandria to Mount Vernon. Having halted for a few moments, the General dismounted, and upon rising in his stirrup again the Narragansett, alarmed at the glare from a fire near the road-side, sprang from under his rider, who came heavily to the ground. Our saddles were empty in an instant, and we rushed up to give our assistance, fearing he was hurt; it was unnecessary. The vigorous old man was upon his feet again, brushing the dust from his clothes; and after thanking us for our prompt assistance, observed that he was not hurt, that he had had a very complete tumble, and that it was owing to a cause that no horseman could well avoid or control: that he was only poised in his stirrup, and had not yet gained his saddle when the scary aninla1 sprang from under him. Meantime all of our horses had gone off at full speed. It was night, and over four miles were to be won ere we could reach our destination. The Chief observed that as our horses had disappeared, it only remained for us to take it on foot, and with manly strides led the way. We had proceeded but a short distance on our march, as dismounted cavaliers, when our horses hove in sight. Happily for us some of the servants of Mr. Peake, whose plantation was hard by, in returning home from their labor, encountered our flying steeds, captured them, and brought them to us. We were speedily remounted, and soon the lights at Mount Vernon were seen glimmering in the distance.
Upon Washington’s first retirement in 1783, he became convinced of the defective nature of the working animals employed in the agriculture of the southern States, and set about remedying the evil by the introduction of mules instead of horses, the mule being found to live longer, be less liable to diseases, require less food, and in every respect to be more serviceable and economical than the horse in the agricultural labor of the southern States. Up to 1783, scarcely any mules were to be found in the American Confederation; a few had been imported from the West Indies, but they were of diminutive size, and of little value, So soon as the views on this subject of the illustrious farmer of Mount Vernon were known abroad, he received a present from the King of Spain of a jack and two jennies, selected from the royal stud at Madrid. The jack, called the Royal Gift, was sixteen hands high, of a grey color, heavily made, and of a sluggish disposition. At the same time the Marquis de Lafayette sent out a jack and jennies from the Island of Malta; this jack, called the Knight of Malta, was a superb animal, black color, with the form of a stag and the ferocity of a tiger. Washington availed himself of the best qualities of the two jacks by crossing the breeds, and hence obtained a favorite jack, called Compound, which anima1 united the size and strength of the Gift with the high courage and activity of the Knight. The jacks arrived at Mount Vernon, if we mistake not, early in 1788. The General bred some very superior mules from his coach mares, sending them from Philadelphia for the purpose. In a few years the estate of Mount Vernon became stocked with mules of a superior order, rising to the height of sixteen hands, and of great power and usefulness, one wagon team of four mules selling at the sale of the General’s effects for eight hundred dollar.
In no portion of Washington’s various labors and improvements in agriculture was he so particularly entitled to be hailed as a public benefactor as in the introduction of mules in farming labor, those animals being at this time almost exclusively used for farming purposes in the southern States.
The General of the armies of the United States was much aided in the discharge of the duties of Commander-in-Chief by Colonel Lear, his Military Secretary. After the organization of his last army, in 1798, the General-in-Chief intrusted the details of the service more especially to the known ability and long-tried experience of Major General Hamilton and Pinckney; still reports were made to and orders issued from Headquarters, Mount Vernon. The last army of the Chief was composed of military materials of the very first order. All of the general officers, and nearly all the field were composed of Revolutionary, including the illustrious names of Hamilton, Pinckney and William Washington; while in the provisional or army of reserve were Howard, Harry Lee, and others, the history of whose martial renown was to be found on the brightest pages of our Revolutionary annals; so that, had the threatened invasion occurred, we may venture to say that the élite of Europe would have encountered in America an army every way worthy of their swords, and prepared to uphold and perpetuate the heroic fame of America’s old battle day.
It pleased Providence to permit the beloved Washington to live to witness the fruition of his mighty labors in the cause of his country and mankind, while his success in the calm and honored pursuits of agriculture and rural affairs was grateful to his heart, and shed the most benign and happy influences upon the last days at Mount Vernon.
The Revolutionary Letter.
CAMP NEAR WHITE PLAINS, 1778.
DEAR CUSTIS: I thank you for your cordial and affectionate congratulations upon our late success at Monmouth and the arrival of the French fleet at the Hook. The first, I think, might have been a glorious day if matters bad begun well in the morning; but as the court martial, which has been sitting upwards of a month for the trial of General Lee, is not yet over, I do not choose to say any thing on the subject further than that there evidently appeared a capital blunder or something else somewhere. The truth, it is to be hoped, will come out a after so long an investigation of it.
If it had not been for the long passage of the French fleet, which prevented their arrival till after the evacuation of Philadelphia, or the shallowness of the water at the entrance of the harbor at New York, which prevented their getting in there, one of the greatest strokes might have been aimed that ever was, and if successful, which I think would have been reduced to a moral certainty, the ruin of Great Britain must have followed, as both army and the fleet must undoubtedly have fallen.
Count d’Estain, with his squadron, are now at Rhode Island, to which place I have detached troops, and hope soon to hear of some favorable adventure there, as an attempt will be made upon the enemy at that place.
After the battle at Monmouth, I marched for this place, where I have been encamped more than a fortnight. We cut off by the present position of the army all land supplies to the city of New York. I had the best reasons to believe that the troops there were suffering greatly for want of provisions, but the French fleet leaving the Hook opens a door to the sea, through which no doubt they will endeavor to avail themselves.
Give my love to Nelly, Colonel Bassett and friends, and be assured I am, with sincere regard and affection, yours,
To JOHN PARKE CUSTIS, Esq.,
New Kent County, Virginia.
The Paternal Letter.
PHILADELPHIA, January 11, 1797.
DEAR WASHINGTON: I hasten to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 7th instant, but which did not get to my hand till yesterday, and to express to you the sincere pleasure I feel in finding that I had interpreted some parts of your letters erroneously.
As you have the best and most unequivocal evidence the case is susceptible of that I have no other object in view by extending my cares and advice to you than what will redound to your future respectability, honor, and future happiness in life, so be assured that while you give me reason to expect a ready submission to my counsels, and while I hear that you are diligent in pursuing the means that are to acquire these advantages, it will afford me infinite gratification.
Your last letter, replete with assurances of this nature, I place entire confidence in; they have removed all the doubts expressed in my last letter to you, and let me repeat it again, have conveyed very pleasing sensations to my mind.
It was not my wish to check your correspondence—very far from it; for with proper characters—and none surely can be more desirable than Dr. Stuart and Mr. Lear—and on proper subjects, it will give you a habit of expressing your ideas upon all occasions with facility and correctness.
I meant no more by telling you we should be contented with hearing from you once a week than that these correspondences were not to be considered as an injunction or an imposition, thereby interfering with your studies or concerns of a more important nature. So far am I from discountenancing writing of any kind, except on the principle above mentioned, that I should be pleased to hear, and you yourself might derive advantages from a short diary recorded in a book of the occurrences which happen to you, or within your sphere. Trifling as this may appear at first view, it may become an introduction to more interesting matters. At any rate, by carefully preserving these, it would give you more satisfaction in a retrospective view than what you may conceive at present.
Another thing I would recommend to you—not that I want to know how you spend your money—and that is, to keep an account book, and enter therein every farthing of your receipts and expenditures, the doing of which will initiate you into a habit from which considerable advantages would result. Where no account of this sort is kept there can be no investigation, no correction of errors, no discovery, from a recurrence thereto, where too much or too little has been appropriated to particular uses. From an early attention to these matters important ‘and lasting benefits may follow.
We are all well, and all unite in best wishes for you, and with
sincere affection, I an1 always yours,
Mr. G. WASHINGTON P. CUSTIS.
ARLINGTON HOUSE, February 21, 1854.
MY DEAR SIRS: I enclose you a Recollection for the twenty-second, which I propose shall be the last published in the journals. I commend it to your excellent press, which has published for me so long and so well, and to which I shall ever owe great obligation. The story of the Lost Letters of the Rawlins’ Book I have put off to the last. It is a painful subject to me, but it was a bounden duty upon me, as Washington’s Biographer and the last of his domestic family, to place this matter in the only light in which it can ever appear to the world. * * * *
GEORGE W. P. CUSTIS.
Messrs. GALES & SEATON.
THE LAST DAYS AT MOUNT VERNON.
On Washington’s resignation of the Presidency, in 1797, one of the first employments of his retirement as a private citizen was to arrange certain letters and papers for posthumous publication. With this view he wrote to Gen. Spotswood, in Virginia, to select a young man of respectable family, good moral habits, and superior clerkly skill to copy into a large book certain letters and papers that would be prepared for such purpose.
Now, these letters and papers were by no means of an official character; neither did they come within the range of Recollections of the Revolution or Constitutional Government; they were more especially private, and could with propriety be termed Passages, Personal and Explanatory, in the Life and Correspondence of George Washington.
Gen. Spotswood selected a young man named Albin Rawlins, of a respectable family in the county of Caroline, and well qualified for the duties he was to perform. He soon after arrived at Mount Vernon, and entered upon his employment.
The letters were delivered to Rawlins by the Chief in person, were carefully returned to him when copied, and others delivered out for copying. As the duties of the clerk lasted for a considerable time, very many of the most interesting and valuable letters that Washington ever wrote or received were copied into the Rawlins’ Book. While we repeat that these letters were not of an official character, we must observe that they were written to and received from some of the most illustrious public men who flourished in the age of Washington, and shed more light upon the true character, of the men and things of that distinguished period than any letters or papers that ever were written and published.
Washington postponed the arrangement for publication of his private memoirs to the last; all such matters lay dormant during the long and meritorious career of his public services. It only was when retired amid the shades of Mount Vernon that he thought of self, and determined in his latter days that nothing should be left undone to give to his country and the world a fair and just estimate of his life and actions.
A portion of the letters of the Rawlins’ Book were of a delicate character, seeing that they involved the reputation of the writers as consistent patriots and men of honor. These letters are no where to be found. But, although the veil of mystery has been drawn over the Lost Letters of the Rawlins’ Book that time or circumstance can never remove, our readers may rest assured that there is not a line, nay, a word, in the lost letters that Washington wrote, that, were he living, he would wish to revoke or blot out, but would readily, fearlessly submit to the perusal and decision of his countrymen and the world.
During the agitation of the public mind that grew out of the subject of the lost letters more than fifty years ago, it was contended that the rumors were groundless; that there were no such letters. Faithful to our purpose at the close of our labors, as at the commencement of our humble work more than a quarter of a century ago, to give in the Recollections and Private Memoirs of the Life and Character of the Pater Patriæ only of what we were, only of what we saw, and only of what we derived from the undoubted authority of others, we do not hesitate to declare, and from an authority that cannot be questioned, that there were such letters as those described as the Lost Letters of the Rawlins’ Book.
The ancient family vault having fallen into a state of decay, the Chief surveyed and marked out a spot for a family burial place during the last days at Mount Vernon. The new situation is peculiarly unfavorable and ill chosen, being a most uncomfortable location for either the living or the dead. The executors, conceiving themselves bound by the provisions of the Will to erect a burial vault on the spot marked out, proceeded to do so to the best advantage; but all their endeavors, together with the labors of skillful mechanics, have resulted in the tomb of Washington being universally condemned as unfit for and unworthy of the purpose for which it was intended, while it serves as a matter of reproach to the crowds of pilgrims who resort thither to pay homage to the fame and memory of the Father of his Country.
It is certain that Washington never gave even a hint of his views or wishes in regard to the disposition of his remains. He no doubt believed that his ashes would be claimed as national property, and be entombed with national honors; hence his silence on a subject that has agitated the American public for more than half a century. On the decease of the Chief, the high authorities of the nation begged his remains for public interment at the seat of the National Government. They were granted by the venerable relict, conditioned that her own remains should be interred by the aide of her husband in the national tomb. This memorable compact, so solemn in itself, is still in fall force and binding on the nation, inasmuch as no subsequent authority could alter or annul it.
On the faith of this compact, Col. Monroe, when President of the United States, ordered two crypts or vaults to be formed in the basement story of the centre of the Capitol for the reception of the remains of the Chief and his consort, agreeably to the arrangement of 1799, which vaults are untenanted to this day.
Surely it cannot be denied that Mrs. Washington had the right, the only right, to the disposal of the remains of the Chief, and by virtue of this right she granted them to the prayer of the nation as expressed by its highest authority.
On her death-bed the venerable Lady called the author of the Recollections, her grandson and executor, to her side, and said: “Remember, Washington, to have my remains placed in a leaden coffin, that they may be removed with those of the General at the command of the Government.”
And yet we hear of the right of a State! No one State can appropriate to itself that which, belongs to the whole. Of the glorious Old Thirteen, little Delaware has as much right to the remains of the beloved Washington as either of her larger sisters; for, though small in size, she was great in value in the “times that tried men’s souls,” and in proportion to her resources furnished as much courage, privation, and blood to the combats of liberty as those that were far larger than she. From Long Island to Eutaw, from the first to the last of the War of Independence, her banner was ever in the field, and ever floated mid the “bravest of the brave.”
It is high time the subject of the remains and the remains themselves
were at rest. Presuming that Government should purchase
Mount Vernon, and determine that the ashes of the Chief should
there find lasting repose, we would respectfully suggest that a
sepulchre be erected on the site of the ancient family vault, a magnificent
location, having an extensive view of the surrounding
country and of the noble Potomac that washes its base; the massive
structure to be formed of white American marble, in blocks
each of a ton weight, a dome of copper, surmounted by an eagle
in bronze, a bronze door, and for inscription two words only, that
will speak volumes to all time—Pater Patriæ—the key of the
receptacle to be always in custody of the President of the United
States for the time being. This done, and if done, “—tis well it
were done quickly,” the tomb of Washington would cease to be
a reproach among nations. The pilgrim from distant lands, as
he journeys through a mighty Empire with his heart filled with
veneration of the fame and memory of America’s illustrious son,
when he arrives at the National Sepulchre, that casts its broad
shadow o’er the Potomac’s wave, will become awed by the solemn
grandeur of the spot. The American of generations yet to come
will behold, will filial reverence, the “time honored receptacle
that contains the ashes of the Father of his Country;” the enduring
marble mellowed by age, the inscription freshly preserved
in never-dying bronze; when, proud of such a monument erected
by the piety of his ancestors, the future American may exclaim,
in the words of the immortal Bard:
Such honors Ilion to her Hero paid,
And peaceful sleeps the mighty Hector’s shade.
Another object claimed the attention of the Chief during the Last Days at Mount Vernon—the complete survey and remodeling of his farms, with a view to their improvement. These surveys he made in person, the calculations and estimates drawn out by his own hand; and indeed it was a rare spectacle to behold this venerable man, who had attained the very topmost height of human greatness, carrying his own compass, the emblem of the employment of his early days.
His correspondence with Sir John Sinclair and other eminent characters in Europe gave a great deal of information touching the improvements in agriculture and domestic economy in the Old World. This valuable information was carefully digested by the Tanner of Mount Vernon, with a view to its adaptation to the climate and resources of the United States. Nothing that tended to public benefit was too vast to be undertaken by this man of mighty labors. The whole of his public as well as private career was marked by usefulness. His aim was good to his country and mankind, and to effect this desirable end untiring were his energies and onward his course as a public benefactor.
Washington ceased to be a sportsman after 1787, when he gave up the hunting establishment. True, be bred the blood horse, and a favorite colt of his, named Magnolia, was entered and ran for a purse; but this was more to encourage the breeding of fine horses than from any attachment to the sports of the turf. All the time that he could spare for active exercise in his latter days was devoted to riding about his farm and inspecting his improvements. In this he was ably assisted by several of his stewards and managers, who were Europeans, and who had brought from their own countries habits of industry and a knowledge of improved agriculture and rural affairs; so that, had the Farmer of Mount Vernon been spared but a few years longer, his estate would have exhibited a series of model farms, examples to neighboring improvers and to the country at large.
Mount Vernon, in the olden time, was celebrated for the luxuries of the table. The fields, the forest, and the river, each in their respective seasons, furnished the most abundant resources for good living. Among the picturesque objects on the Potomac to be seen from the eastern portico of the Mansion house, was the light canoe of Father Jack, the fisherman to the establishment. Father Jack was an African negro, an hundred years of age, and, although greatly enfeebled in body by such a vast weight of years, his mind possessed uncommon vigor. And be would tell of days long past, of Afric’s clime, and of Afric’s wars, in which he (of course the son of a king) was made captive, and of the terrible battle in which his royal sire was slain, the village consigned to the flames, and he to the slave ship.
Father Jack possessed in an eminent degree the leading quality of all his race, somnolency. By looking through a spy-glass you would see the canoe fastened to a stake, with the old fisherman, bent nearly double, enjoying a nap, which was only disturbed by the hard jerking of the white perch that became entangled by his hook.
But the slumbers of Father Jack were occasionally attended by some inconvenience. The domestic duties at Mount Vernon were governed by clock time. Now, the cook required that the fish should be forthcoming at a certain period, so that they might be served smoking on the board precisely at three o’clock. He would repair to the river bank and make the accustomed signals; but, alas, there would be no response; the old fisherman was seen quietly reposing in his canoe, rocked by the gentle undulations of the stream, and dreaming no doubt of events “long time ago.” The unfortunate artiste of the culinary department, grown furious by delay, would now rush down to the water’s edge, and, by dint of loud shouting, at length the canoe would be seen to turn its prow to the shore. Father Jack, indignant at its being even supposed that he was asleep on his post, would rate those present on his landing with “What you all meek such a debil of a noise for, hey; I want sleep, only noddin.”
Poor Father Jack! No more at early dawn will he be seen, as with withered arms he paddled his light canoe on the broad surface of the Potomac, to return with the finny spoils and boast of famous fish taken “on his own hook.” His canoe has long since rotted on the shore, his paddle hangs idly in his cabin, his “occupation’s gone,” and Father Jack, the old fisherman of Mount Vernon, “sleeps the sleep that knows no waking.”
A hunter too was attached to the household establishment. Tom Davis and his great Newfoundland dog, Gunner, were as important characters in the department for furnishing game and wild fowl as Father Jack in that of fish. So vast were the numbers of the canvass-back duck on the Potomac in the ancient time that a single discharge of Tom Davis’s old British musket would procure as many of those delicious birds as would supply the larder for a week.
George Washington Lafayette, and his tutor and friend, M. Frestel, became members of the Mount Vernon family during the last days. These estimable Frenchmen, driven by persecution from their native country, found refuge in America.
While reasons of State prevented Washington as President from receiving emigrés, so soon as he became the private citizen he warmly, joyfully welcomed to his heart and his home the son of his old companion in arms, bidding the young Lafayette consider George Washington as a friend and father. The French gentlemen, from their superior intelligence, together with their highly accomplished and amiable manners, endeared themselves to all who knew them during their sojourn in the United States. They remained members of the family of Mount Vernon until a change in European affairs enabled them to embark for their native land.
The sentinel placed on the watch-tower by Fate to guard the destinies of Washington might have cried all’s well during the last days at Mount Vernon. All was well. All things glided gently and prosperously down the stream of time, and all was progressive. Two blades of grass had been made to “grow where but one grew before,” and a garden “bloomed where flowers had once grown wild.”
The best charities of life were gathered around the Pater Patriæ in the last days at Mount Vernon. The love and veneration of a whole people for his illustrious services; his generous and untiring labors in the cause of public utility; his kindly demeanor to his family circle, his friends, and numerous dependents; his courteous and cordial hospitality to his guests, many of them strangers from far distant lands; these charities, all of which sprung from the heart, were the ornament of his declining years, and gave benignant radiance to his setting sun; and that scene, the most sublime in nature, where human greatness reposes on the bosom of human happiness, was to be admired on the banks of the Potomac in the Last Days at Mount Vernon.
Extracts from the Revolutionary Letters.
FREDERICKSBURG, (N.Y.,) October 26, 1778.
DEAR JACK: The enemy still continues to keep us in suspense and baffle all conjecture. They have five or six thousand men actually on board transports lying in New York, and a fleet of more than one hundred sail left the Hook on the 20th instant for England, said to contain invalids, officers of reduced corps, &c. This fleet comprehended empty provision ships, merchant ships, and private adventurers taking the benefit of convoy. Admiral Byron, with fourteen or fifteen sail of the line and some frigates, sailed from the Hook, it is supposed, with design to look at the French squadron at Boston, and keep them shut in there till the transports can get well advanced to their respective places of destination.
It remains a matter of great uncertainty whether the enemy mean to evacuate New York or not. I do not think myself that they will, but can give no better reason for their staying than that they ought to go. Their uniform practice is to run counter to all expectation. I am therefore justified in my conclusion in the present instance.
Sincerely and affectionately, yours,
JOHN PARKE CUSTISE, Esq.
P.S. When you come or send to Mount Vernon let my mare be brought.
CAMP NEAR DOBB’S FERRY, July 25, 1781.
DEAR CUSTIS: That so few of our countrymen have joined the enemy is a circumstance as pleasing to me as it must be mortifyingly evincive to them of the fallacy of their assertion that two-thirds of the people were in their interest and ready to join them when opportunity offered. Had this been the case the Marquis’s force and the other third must have abandoned the country.
I am much pleased with your choice of a Governor. He is an honest man, active, spirited, and decided, and will, I am persuaded, suit the times as well as any person in the State. You were lucky, considering the route by which the enemy retreated to Williamsburg, to sustain so little damage. I am of opinion that Lord Cornwallis will establish a strong post at Portsmouth, detach a part of his force to New York, an go with the residue to South Carolina.
I returned yesterday from reconnoitering (with Count Rochambeau and the engineers of both armies) the enemy’s works near King’s bridge. We lay close to them two days and a night without any attempt on their part to prevent it; they begun and continued a random kind of cannonade, but to very little effect. I am waiting impatiently for the men the States (this way) have been called upon for, that I may determine on my plans and commence my operations.
My best wishes attend Nelly, who I hope is perfectly recovered. My love to the little girls, compliments to friends.
Sincerely and affectionately, yours,
JOHN PARKE CUTIS, Esq.
POWLES’ HOOK, WEST POINT, August 24, 1779.
DEAR CUSTIS: Our affairs at present put on a pleasing aspect, especially in Europe and the West Indies, and bid us, I think, hope for the final accomplishment of our independence. But as peace depends upon our allies as well as ourselves, and Great Britain has refused the mediation of Spain, it will puzzle, I conceive, the best politicians to point out with certainty the limitation of our warfare.
We have given the enemy another little stroke in the surprise of Powles’ Hook, (within cannon shot of New York,) and bringing off seven officers and one hundred and fifty-one men. This was a brilliant transaction, and performed by a detachment of Virginians and Marylanders, under the command of Major Henry Lee,* of the light dragoons, with the loss of not more than ten or a dozen men. The colors of the garrison were also brought off. “Remember me affectionately to Nelly and the children, and be assured that, with the truest regard, I am ours,
JOHN PARKE CUSTIS, Esq.
THE MYSTERIES OF THE REVOLUTION.
It was Saturday night, the 27th of June, 1778, when the American army, after a toilsome march in a tropical heat, halted for rest and refreshment in the county of Monmouth, State of New Jersey. The weary soldiers were gathered in groups, some preparing the evening meal, while others, exhausted by their march, threw themselves on the ground to seek repose. The short night of June was waning away, the watch-fires burned dimly, and silence reigned around. Not so at Headquarters. There lights were seen, while the Chief, seated at a table, wrote or dictated dispatches, which were folded and directed by aid-decamp and secretaries, while near at hand were expresses, seated like statues upon their drowsy horses, awaiting orders, and ever and anon an officer would approach them with the words. “This for Major General ——; ride with speed, and spare not the spur;” and in a moment the horseman would disappear in the surrounding gloom. Suddenly a stranger appeared on the scene. He wore no martial costume, neither had he the measured tread of the soldier; in truth his appearance was any thing but military. On being challenged by the sentinel, he answered: “Dr. Griffith, chaplain and surgeon in the Virginia line, on business highly important with the Commander-in-Chief.” The cry of “officer of the guard” brought forth that functionary, so necessary a personage in a night camp. The officer shook his head, and waiving his hand said, “No, sir, no; impossible; intensely engaged; my orders positive; can’t be seen on any account.” The reverend gentleman quailed not, but said to the officer who barred his passage, “Present, sir, by humble duty to his Excellency, and say that Dr. Griffith waits upon him with secret and important intelligence, and craves an audience of only five minutes’ duration.”
The high respect in which the clergy of the American army was held by Washington was known to every officer and soldier in its ranks. This, together with the imposing nature of the chaplain’s visit, induced the officer of the guard to enter the Headquarters, and report the circumstances to the General. He, quickly returning, ushered the chaplain into the presence of the Commander-in-Chief.
Washington, still with pen in hand, received his midnight visitor courteously, when Griffith observed: “The nature of the communication I am about to make to your Excellency must be my apology for disturbing you at this hour of the night. While I am not permitted to indulge the names of the authorities from whom I have obtained my information, I can assure you they are of the very first order, whether in the point of character or attachment to the cause of American Independence. I have sought this interview to warn your Excellency against the conduct of Major General Lee in to-morrow’s battle. My duty is fulfilled, and I go now to pray to the God of Battles for success to our arms, and that he may always have your Excellency in his holy keeping.” The chaplain retired, the officer of the guard (by signal from the Chief) accompanying the reverend gentleman to the line of the sentinels.
When the warning became known in the army, it created many conjectures as to the sources from whence the chaplain acquired his information. Nothing ever transpired, and the secret died, while the mystery remains to the present time.
The conduct of General Lee in the battle of Monmouth very fairly justified the warning of the chaplain. It is certain that the brave and skillful Commander had no leaning toward the enemy, but it is thought that he expected by throwing things into confusion, to lessen the merits of Washington in the public estimation, and thus himself aspire to the command of the army.
The interview between the Generals has been but imperfectly narrated by the chroniclers of the events of the heroic age. We have our relation from the venerable James Craik, who, as physician-general to the staff, was always in the suite of the Commander-in-Chief in the moment of battle. He said: “The meeting was abrupt: when Washington, with warmth, demanded of the Major General why the advanced guard of the army was in retreat before the enemy, having made little or no resistance; Lee replied in language explanatory, but decorous and officer-like. The Chief then said, ‘Will you, sir, command on this ground?’ To which Lee replied, ’Your Excellency’s orders shall be obeyed, and I will be among the last to leave the field’.”
But the poetry of this memorable interview was in the chivalric ardor of Alexander Hamilton. He sprung from his horse, and leaving the animal to itself, drew his sword, and addressing the Chief, said, “Generel, we are betrayed, and the moment has arrived when every true friend of this country should be prepared to die in her defence.” Washington, though inwardly pleased with the heroic devotion of his favorite aid, yet deeming it inappropriate to the battle-field, in the then uncertain fortunes of the fight, ca[l]mly observed to the youthful enthusiast, “Colonel Hamilton, you will take your horse”—the animal quietly cropping the herbage hard by, unconscious of the scene that was enacted so near it, in which such great spirits were the actors. Dr. Griffith survived the war, and became rector of a parish in which Washington worshiped. He was elected first bishop of Virginia under the new regime, and when about to embark for Europe for consecration, sickened and died in Philadelphia. He was a ripe scholar, a pious minister, and an ardent enthusiast in the cause of American Independence.
Rivington, the King’s Printer, and the Secret Service of the American General.
Of all the mysteries that occurred in the American Revolution the employment of Rivington, editor of the Royal Gazette, in the secret service of the American Commander, is the most astounding.
The time that this remarkable connection took place is, of course, unknown. There is much probability that it may have commenced as early as the closing of the campaign of 1776, as it is known that about that period Robert Morris borrowed of a Quaker five hundred guineas in gold for the secret service of Washington’s army, and that intelligence of vital and vast importance was obtained from the disbursement of the Quaker loan.
The worthy Quaker said to Morris: “How can I, friend Robert, who am a man of peace, lend thee money for the purposes of war? Friend George is, I believe, a good man and fighting in a good cause; but I am opposed to fighting of any sort.” Morris, however, soon managed to quiet old Broadbrim’s scruples; the gold was dug up from his garden, and handed over to the Commander-in-Chief, whose application of it to the secret service produced the happiest effects upon the cause of the Revolution in that critical period of our destiny.
Rivington proved faithful to his bargain, and often would intelligence of great importance, gleaned in convivial moments at Sir William’s or Sir Henry’s table, be in the American camp before the convivialists had slept off the effects of their wine.
The business of the secret service was so well managed that even a suspicion never arose as to the medium through which intelligence of vast importance was continually being received in the American camp from the very Headquarters of the British army; and had suspicion arose, the King’s printer would probably have been the last man suspected, for during the whole of his connection with the secret service, his Royal Gazette literally piled abuse of every sort upon the American General and the cause of America.
In 1783 this remarkable mystery was solved. When Washington entered New York a conqueror, on the evacuation by the British forces, he said one morning to two of his officers: “Suppose, gentlemen, we walk down to Rivington’s bookstore; he is said to be a very pleasant kind of fellow.” Amazed, as the officers were, at the idea of visiting such a man, they of course prepared to accompany the Chief. When arrived at the bookstore, Rivington received his visitors with great politeness; for he was indeed one of the most elegant gentlemen and best bred men of the age. Escorting the party into a parlor, he begged the officers to be seated, and then said to the Chief, “Will your Excellency do me the honor to step into the adjoining room for a moment, that I may show you a list of the agricultural works I am about to order out from London for your special use?” They retired. The locks on the doors of the houses in New York more than three-score years ago were not so good as now. The door of Rivington’s private room closed very imperfectly, and soon became ajar, when the officers distinctly heard the chincking of two heavy purses of gold as they were successively placed on the table.
The party soon returned from the inner-room, when Rivington pressed upon his guests a glass of Madeira, which he assured them was a prime article, having imported it himself, and it having received the approbation of Sir Henry, and the most distinguished bon vivants of the British army.
The visitors now rose to depart. Rivington, on taking leave of the Chief, whom he escorted to the door, said: “Your Excellency may rely upon my especial attention being given to the agricultural works, which, on their arrival, will be immediately forwarded to Mount Vernon, where I trust they will contribute to your gratification amid the shades of domestic retirement.” Rivington remained for several years in New York after the peace of 1783, then returned to England, and there died. He was never called to account by his Government for the affair of the secret service. It was the general opinion at that time that if Rivington had been closely pressed on the delicate subject of the secret service, characters of greater calibre might have appeared on the tapis than the King’s Printer.
When the famous Rivington espionage became known there were many speculations as to the amount paid for the secret service. Some went so far as to calculate how many guineas the capacious pockets of an officer’s coat, made in the old fashion, would contain. The general result was that, including the Quaker’s loan, and payments made up to the final payment in full, made by the Chief in person, from a thousand to fifteen hundred guineas would be a pretty fair estimate.
It was a cheap, a dog cheap bargain; for, although gold was precious in the days of the Continental currency, yet the gold paid for the secret service was of inestimable value, when it is remembered how much it contributed to the safety and success of the army of Independence.
Note by the Author of the “Recollections.”—We are prepared at all times to give the authorities from which we have gathered the many Recollections, Memoirs, and Mysteries touching the life and character of Washington and the History of the Revolution, and which we have published to the American people and the world for half a century. The incident of the Warning we obtained from the late Colonel Nicholas, an officer of the life-guard—a corps attached to the person of the Commander-in-Chief, more especially on the eve of battle. The story of the secret service was related to us by the late General Henry Lee, who had it from one of the officers that accompanied the Chief in the visit to Rivington’s bookstore in 1783. The story of the worthy Quaker, who, although a man of peace, and opposed to all fighting, yet loaned his gold to Friend George, believing that the man of war was fighting in a good cause—this story was no mystery in Philadelphia sixty-five years ago, when the man of peace was then living, perfectly well known, and deservedly esteemed, and enjoying the peace, liberty, and happiness his gold had contributed to accomplish for his native land!
A Pilgrim to the Approaching Inauguration on the Fourth of March, 1857.
On the 4th of March, and on Pennsylvania avenue, apart from the crowd, might have been seen an aged man plodding his way to the Capitol Hill, a pilgrim to the Inauguration.
Since the Inaugurations have occurred at the city of Washington, this individual has made pilgrimages to them, by visiting a certain spot near the Capitol, where once was a large stone, on which that pilgrim would sit during the performance of the ceremonies in the building, and when the first gun announced that the ceremonies were complete the pilgrim would rise, and, pronouncing the name of the new President, and the date in the order of succession of the Chief Magistrates, the old man would remark, “What next?” and then take up his line of march for his home in Virginia.
This pilgrim has had the rare honor of personally knowing, taking by the hand, and breaking bread with all the Presidents of the United States. Brought up in his youth at the then seat of the National Government, he enjoyed the most distinguished opportunities of seeing and knowing much of the great men and great things that illustrated and adorned the early age of the Republic, dignified to all time as the age of Washington, storing his mind at that auspicious period of his life with recollections the most imposing of the olden time and the glorious memories of the past.
On the Inauguration of Mr. Madison, in 1809, the pilgrim departed from his usual habit of being merely a “looker-on in Vienna,” and took a somewhat remarkable part in the events of the day. When the President retired from the Capitol, on rushed the crowd to the worship of the rising sun. The avenue was nearly deserted, while the hum of the multitude faded in the distance; then appeared on horseback, and entirely alone, Thomas Jefferson. The old pilgrim pointed out this spectacle to two Revolutionary officers, Col. Thomas Parker and Major Butler, (who were lookers-on,) saying, “See, gentlemen, how soon a great man becomes neglected and his services forgotten in America when he ceases to be the fountain of patronage and power! Whatever may be the Revolutionary patriot and statesman’s politics now, they were of the right sort in 1776, and led to the Independence of his country. Honor to whom honor is due.” The Revolutionary veterans now begged to be introduced, and the small party falling into line, the retired Chief Magistrate was escorted on his route, down the avenue, by a trio of his political opponents.
The pilgrim’s stone has been removed for some years, to make way for the improvements of the grounds about the palace of the National Legislature, but the pilgrim will be somewhere near the ancient spot, and while the sounds of artillery still linger about the echoes of the Capitol, the old man will say, “James Buchanan, fifteenth President of the United States! What next?” And then having in all probability performed his last pilgrimage to an Inauguration, the old fellow will take up his line of march for his home in Virginia.
* Afterwards commanded the celebrated Partisan Legion in the campaigns of the Carolinas.