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George Washington

by | Feb 15, 2021

The Father of our Country was born on Feb. 22, 1732, and he died on Dec. 14, 1799, at 67 years of age. He was a proud Virginian, fourth generation. His father Augustine married twice, and George was the eldest child by the second wife.

Augustine died when George was 11, and, thereafter, he became a ward of his half-brother, Lawrence. As a child, George did not receive a full education, not unusual for a young Virginian.

John Adams said of George Washington, “That Washington was not a scholar was certain. That he was too illiterate, unread, unlearned for his station is equally past dispute.”

One thing George did learn and took to heart was a French Jesuit priest’s list of 110 “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation,” that at the age of 13 young George copied onto pages, memorized, and worked hard to apply to his own life. He wrote,

“Every Action done in Company, ought to be with some Sign of Respect, to those that are present.”

“Sleep not when others Speak, Sit not when others Stand, Speak not when you should hold your Peace.” “At Play and at Fire it’s Good manners to Give Place to the last to arrive.”

“Let your countenance be pleasant, but in serious matters somewhat grave.”

His lack of formal education though did not hinder his ambition. The historian Paul Johnson said, “There was a powerful drive in this big young man to better himself. He developed a good, neat, legible hand.” His collected works include 17,000 letters that have survived, but no memoir.

Johnson also said, “He neither gambled nor drank immoderately. From early youth he imposed upon himself a severe code of conduct which formed a kind of frame into which he fitted himself.”

As a young man, Washington felt severe disappointment when he came to understand that British military officers looked down upon him, and considered his experience and skill worthless, because he was a colonial military officer. His ambition to receive a royal military commission was crushed.

Yet, “He knew that he was a first-class officer with the talent and temperament to go right to the top.” He chose to forge ahead and would soon create his own army and his own rank.

In 1751, George, with his brother Lawrence who was suffering from tuberculosis, sailed to the Barbados Islands, for Lawrence’s health. While there, George came down with small pox, that left his face scarred. This was George’s single journey outside the 13 colonies.

After Lawrence passed away in July of 1752, George inherited Mount Vernon, plus eighteen slaves. He loved farming this land, and said, “No estate in America is more pleasantly situated than this.”

George married Martha Custis, a well-to-do widow with two small children, on Jan. 6, 1759. George so impressed one of his slaves that he said of him,

“So tall, so straight! And with such an air! Ah, sir; he was like no one else! Many of the grandest gentlemen in their gold lace were at the wedding, but none looked like the man himself.”

Martha brought to the marriage 15,000 acres and dozens of slaves. For the most part, George refused to sell any slave, and said, “I am principled against this kind of traffic in the human species.” His oversight and correction was mild, and thus few slaves ran away.

When delegates from twelve colonies convened in Philadelphia at the 2nd Continental Congress in May of 1775, George took his seat dressed in full uniform, hoping to receive a military appointment. By a unanimous vote on June 14, the delegates appointed him commander-in-chief.

Over the next six and a half years, George demonstrated a hard resolve. Johnson says, “He was no great field commander, but he was a strategist. He realized that his supreme task was to train an army, keep it in the field, supply it, and pay it.” And to not lose a decisive and final battle. In the meanwhile,

“Legislatures functioned, courts sat, taxes were raised, the new independent government carried on. The British were up against an embodied nation, and in the end the point sank home.”

Washington defeated Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia, in Oct. of 1781, and the war ended.

In early December, Washington met his officers at Francis’ Tavern on Pearl Street in New York City, to bade them a fond farewell. He said, “I now take leave of you. I most devoutly wish that your latter days may be as prosperous and happy as your former ones have been glorious and honorable.”

“I cannot come to each of you, but shall feel obliged if you will come and take me by the hand.”

George retired to Mount Vernon, but in 1789, voters elected him the new nation’s first president, and he served two terms, until 1797.

In Dec. of 1800, a year after George’s passing, Martha Washington signed a deed that freed her deceased husband’s slaves. They would be emancipated on Jan. 1, 1801.