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EORGE WASHINGTON was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on the 22d of February 1732. He was the eldest son, by a second marriage, of Augustine Washington, a gentleman of large property, the descendant of John Washington, an Englishman who had
emigrated to America during the government of Oliver Cromwell. The name of Washington's mother was Mary Ball. Her husband dying suddenly in the year 1743, the charge of educating a large family, consisting of two surviving
sons of her husband by his former wife, and five surviving children of her own, devolved upon her, George Washington was eleven years of age at the time of his father's
Although cut off in the prime of life, Augustine Washington left all his children well provided for. Lawrence, the eldest, was left an estate of twenty-five hundred acres, besides shares in iron-works in Maryland and Virginia; Augustine, who was
next oldest, inherited an estate in Westmoreland ; George inherited the house and lands in Stafford County, where his father resided at the time of his death; his three younger brothers had each a plantation of six or seven hundred acres assigned him; and provision was otherwise made for the sister. By the will of her husband, Mrs Washington was intrusted with the sole management of the property of her five children, until they should respectively come of age. Being a woman of singular prudence and strength of character, she fulfilled this important charge with great success. She lived to see her eldest son at the height of his greatness.
The means of education were at that time very limited in the American colonies. Wealthy persons, who wished their sons to receive a liberal education, were under the necessity of sending them home to the mother country for that purpose; but most of the planters were satisfied with the plain elementary education which their sons could obtain at the nearest school. Sometimes a man of superior qualifications would settle down as a schoolmaster in Virginia; but the majority of the schoolmasters pretended to nothing more than being qualified to teach reading, writing, arithmetic, and book-keeping. It was under a person of this kind that George Washington acquired all the school education that he ever received; and he appears to have left school altogether before arriving at the age of sixteen. From all that can be learned of this early period
of his life, he seems to have been characterised by great docility and rectitude of disposition. His schoolfellows, it is said, used to refer all their disputes to his judgment. As a boy, he was exceedingly fond of such athletic exercises as leaping, wrestling, throwing the hammer, swimming, &c.; and his military propensity developed itself in the delight which he took in arranging his schoolfellows in companies, making them parade like soldiers, attack imaginary forts, and fight mimic battles. The best 'insight, however, which we obtain into Washington's character and pursuits when a boy, is derived from fragments of his juvenile copy-books and manuscripts which have been preserved. They are all written in a neat and careful hand, with great attention to method and arrangement. The greater number contain exercises in arithmetic and practical geometry, especially landsurveying; and the diagrams which are drawn to illustrate the geometrical exercises are remarkable for their accuracy and beauty. The earliest of the manuscripts is a folio one, entitled “Forms of Writing,"containing copies of bills of exchange, receipts, bonds, indentures, bills of sale, land warrants, leases, deeds, and wills, written out with care, the prominent words in large and varied characters, in imitation of a clerk's hand. These “Forms of Writing” are followed by quotations in verse, more remarkable, his biographer tells us, for the soundness of the sentiments which they express, than for their poetical
merit; and these quotations, again, are followed by “ Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation.” The rules are a hundred and ten in number, and appear to have been either copied entire out of one book, or collected out of several. We may quote two or three as specimens. Rule 2. “In the presence of others, sing not to yourself with a humming noise, nor drum with your fingers or feet.” Rule 12. " Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.” Rule 29. “Utter not base and frivolous things amongst grave and learned men; nor very difficult questions or subjects amongst the ignorant; nor things hard to be believed.” Rule 40. “Think before you speak; pronounce not imperfectly, nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly." Rule 57. “ Labour to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience."
The methodical habits which we see so clearly manifested in these juvenile copybooks, were Washington's characteristics through life.
Grammar, or the study of languages, was no part of Washington's education when a boy. His early letters are sometimes faulty in point of grammar and expression, and it was only by practice in writing and conversation that he acquired the accurate and distinct style which he afterwards wrote. When considerably advanced in life, he made an attempt to learn French, but appears to have succeeded but poorly.
When Washington was fourteen years of age, a proposal was made with his own consent, which, if carried into effect, would have opened up for him a very different career from that which he was destined to follow. Observing his liking for adventure and active exercise, his brother Lawrence exerted his interest to procure for him a midshipman's warrant in the British navy. The warrant was procured, and the boy was pleased with a prospect which was at that time as promising as one in his circumstances could desire; but as nothing could overcome Mrs Washington's reluctance to let her son go to sea, the project was at length abandoned : George Washington remained at school, and some other boy obtained the midshipman's berth.
After leaving school, at the age of sixteen, Washington resided some time with his brother Lawrence on his estate of Mount Vernon; so called in honour of Admiral Vernon, who was a friend of Lawrence Washington, and under whose command George was to have served. Lawrence Washington had married Miss Fairfax, the daughter of his near neighbour William Fairfax, a person of wealth and political station in the colony, and a distant relative of Lord Fairfax--a nobleman of literary tastes and somewhat eccentric habits, who had left England and come to reside in Virginia, where he was the proprietor of a vast tract of country lying between the Potomac and Rapahannoc
rivers, and stretching across the Alleghany mountains. At the time of George Washington's residence with his brother at Mount Vernon, Lord Fairfax was on a visit at the house of William Fairfax, the father-in-law of Lawrence; and between the two families a constant intercourse was kept up. As young Washington was continually employed in his favourite pursuit of land-surveying, putting his art in practice on his brother's estate, it occurred to Lord Fairfax to engage him in surveying his own vast property. Various circumstances were rendering such a survey absolutely necessary: Settlers were squatting down on the most fertile spots on the extremity of his lordship’s lands, without leave being, asked or given; and to put a stop to such proceedings, it was essential that the boundaries of the lands should be defined, and the remoter districts accurately divided into lots. Our young surveyor was intrusted with this very responsible office; and accordingly, in the month of March 1748, he set out on his surveying expedition to the valleys of the Alleghanies, accompanied by George Fairfax, the son of William Fairfax. The tour lasted two months, and, from the entries in Washington's journal, the labour appears to have been pretty arduous. On the 15th of March he writes" Worked hard till night, and then returned. After supper, we were lighted into a room, and I not being so good a woodsman as the rest, stripped myself very orderly, and went into the bed, as they called it, when, to my surprise, I found it to be nothing but a little straw matted together, without sheet or anything else, but only one threadbare blanket, covered with vermin. I was glad to get up and put on my clothes, and lie as my companions did.”.
For three years Washington pursued the profession of landsurveyor in the neighbourhood of Mount Vernon, making occasional journeys as far as the Alleghanies. As he had received a commission as public surveyor, which gave his surveys authority, and as there were very few of the profession at that time in Virginia, his practice was extensive and lucrative. In writing to a friend, describing the hardships and exposures which he had to undergo in his surveying tours to the west, he says, “ Nothing could make it pass off tolerably but a good reward. A doubloon is my constant gain every day that the weather will permit of my going out, and sometimes six pistoles.” In another letter written during the same period to a friend, whom he addresses as Robin," and who appears to have been his confidant, he says, “ My place of residence at present is at his lordship’s (Lord Fairfax's), where I might, were my heart disengaged, pass my time very pleasantly, as there is a very agreeable young lady in the same house Colonel George Fairfax's wife's sister. But that only adds fuel to the fire, as being often and unavoidably in company with her revives my former passion for your Lowland beauty; whereas, were I to live more retired from young women, I might in some measure alleviate my sorrow by burying that chaste and trouble