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George Washington by William Roscoe Thayer

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The Riverside Library

George Washington









To obviate misunderstanding, it seems well to warn the reader that
this book aims only at giving a sketch of George Washington's life
and acts. I was interested to discover, if I could, the human residue
which I felt sure must persist in Washington after all was said. Owing
to the pernicious drivel of the Reverend Weems no other great man in
history has had to live down such a mass of absurdities and deliberate
false inventions. At last after a century and a quarter the rubbish
has been mostly cleared away, and only those who wilfully prefer to
deceive themselves need waste time over an imaginary Father of His
Country amusing himself with a fictitious cherry-tree and hatchet.

The truth is that the material about George Washington is very
voluminous. His military records cover the eight years of the
Revolutionary War. His political work is preserved officially in
the reports of Congress. Most of the public men who were his
contemporaries left memoirs or correspondence in which he figures.
Above all there is the edition, in fourteen volumes, of his own
writings compiled by Mr. Worthington C. Ford. And yet many persons
find something that baffles them. They do not recognize a definite
flesh and blood Virginian named Washington behind it all. Even so
sturdy an historian as Professor Channing calls him the most elusive
of historic personages. Who has not wished that James Boswell could
have spent a year with Wellington on terms as intimate as those he
spent with Dr. Johnson and could have left a report of that intimacy?

In this sketch I have conceived of Washington as of some superb
athlete equipped for every ordeal which life might cause him to face.
The nature of each ordeal must be briefly stated; brief also, but
sufficient, the account of the way he accomplished it. I have quoted
freely from his letters wherever it seemed fitting, first, because in
them you get his personal authentic statement of what happened as he
saw it, and you get also his purpose in making any move; and next,
because nothing so well reveals the real George Washington as those
letters do. Whoever will steep himself in them will hardly declare
that their writer remains an elusive person beyond finding out or
understanding. In the course of reading them you will come upon many
of those "imponderables" which are the secret soul of statecraft.

And so with all humility--for no one can spend much time with
Washington, and not feel profound humility--I leave this little sketch
to its fate, and hope that some readers will find in it what I strove
to put in it.






_Channing_ = Edward Channing: _History of the United States_. New
York: Macmillan Company, III, IV. 1912.

_Fiske_ = John Fiske: _The Critical Period of American History,
1783-1789_. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1897.

_Ford_ = Worthington C. Ford: _The Writings of George Washington_. 14
vols. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons. 1889-93.

_Ford_ = Worthington C. Ford: _George Washington_. 2 vols. Paris:
Goupil; New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. 1900.

_Hapgood_ = Norman Hapgood: _George Washington_. New York: Macmillan
Company. 1901.

_Irving_ = Washington Irving: _Life of George Washington_. New York:
G.P. Putnam. 1857.

_Lodge_ = Henry Cabot Lodge: _George Washington_. 2 vols. American
Statesman Series. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company. 1889.

_Marshall_ = John Marshall: _The Life of George Washington_. 5 vols.
Philadelphia. 1807.

_Sparks_ = Jared Sparks: _The Life of George Washington_. Boston.

_Wister_ = Owen Wister: _The Seven Ages of Washington_. New York:
Macmillan Company. 1909.




Zealous biographers of George Washington have traced for him a most
respectable, not to say distinguished, ancestry. They go back to
the time of Queen Elizabeth, and find Washingtons then who were
"gentlemen." A family of the name existed in Northumberland
and Durham, but modern investigation points to Sulgrave, in
Northamptonshire, as the English home of his stock. Here was born,
probably during the reign of Charles I, his great-grandfather, John
Washington, who was a sea-going man, and settled in Virginia in 1657.
His eldest son, Lawrence, had three children--John, Augustine, and
Mildred. Of these, Augustine married twice, and by his second
wife, Mary Ball, whom he married on March 17, 1730, there were six
children--George, Betty, Samuel, John Augustine, Charles, and Mildred.
The family home at Bridges Creek, near the Potomac, in Westmoreland
County, was Washington's birthplace, and (February 11, Old Style)
February 22, New Style, 1732, was the date. We hear little about his
childhood, he being a wholesomely unprecocious boy. Rumors have it
that George was coddled and even spoiled by his mother. He had very
little formal education, mathematics being the only subject in which
he excelled, and that he learned chiefly by himself. But he lived
abundantly an out-of-door life, hunting and fishing much, and playing
on the plantation. His family, although not rich, lived in easy
fashion, and ranked among the gentry.

No Life of George Washington should fail to warn the reader at the
start that the biographer labors under the disadvantage of having to
counteract the errors and absurdities which the Reverend Mason L.
Weems made current in the Life he published the year after Washington
died. No one, not even Washington himself, could live down the
reputation of a goody-goody prig with which the officious Scotch
divine smothered him. The cherry-tree story has had few rivals in
publicity and has probably done more than anything else to implant an
instinctive contempt of its hero in the hearts of four generations of
readers. "Why couldn't George Washington lie?" was the comment of a
little boy I knew, "Couldn't he talk?"

Weems pretended to an intimacy at Mount Vernon which it appears he
never had. In "Blackwood's Magazine" John Neal said of the book, "Not
one word of which we believe. It is full of ridiculous exaggerations."
And yet neither this criticism nor any other stemmed the outpouring
of editions of it which must now number more than seventy. Weems
doubtless thought that he was helping God and doing good to Washington
by his offensive and effusive support of rudimentary morals.

Weems had been dead a dozen years when another enemy sprang up. This
was the worthy Jared Sparks, an historian, a professor of history, who
collected with much care the correspondence of George Washington and
edited it in a monumental work. Sparks, however, suffered under the
delusion that something other than fact can be the best substance of
history. According to his tastes, many of Washington's letters were
not sufficiently dignified; they were too colloquial, they even let
slip expressions which no man conscious that he was the model of
propriety, the embodiment of the dignity of history, could have used.
So Mr. Sparks without blushing went through Washington's letters and
substituted for the originals words which he decided were more seemly.
Again the public came to know George Washington, not by his own words,
but by those attributed to him by an overzealous stylist-pedant. Well
might the Father of his Country pray to be delivered from the parsons.

One of the earliest records of Washington's youth is the copy, written
in his beautiful, almost copper-plate hand, of "Rules of Civility &
Decent Behavior, In Company and Conversation." These maxims were taken
from an English book called "The Young Man's Companion," by W. Mather.
It had passed through thirteen editions and contained information upon
many matters besides conduct Perhaps Washington copied the maxims as a
school exercise; perhaps he learned them by heart.

They are for the most part the didactic aphorisms which greatly
pleased our worthy ancestors during the middle of the eighteenth
century and later. Some of the entries referred to simple matters of
deportment: you must not turn your back on persons to whom you talk.
Others touch morals rather than manners. One imagines that the parson
or elderly uncles allowed themselves to bestow this indisputably
correct advice upon the youths whom they were interested in. A boy
brought up rigidly on these doctrines could hardly fail to become a
prig unless he succeeded in following the last injunction of all:
"Labor to keep alive in your heart, that little spark of celestial
fire called conscience."

When he was eleven years old, Washington's father died, and his older
half-brother, Lawrence, who inherited the estate now known as Mount
Vernon, became his guardian. Lawrence had married the daughter of a
neighbor, William Fairfax, agent for the large Fairfax estate. Fairfax
and he had served with the Colonial forces at Cartagena under Admiral
Vernon, from whom the Washington manor took its name. Lord Fairfax,
William's cousin and head of the family, offered George work on the
survey of his domain. George, then a sturdy lad of sixteen, accepted
gladly, and for more than two years he carried it on. The Fairfax
estate extended far into the west, beyond the immediate tidewater
district, beyond the fringe of sparsely settled clearings, into the
wilderness itself. The effect of his experience as surveyor lasted
throughout George Washington's life. His self-reliance and his courage
never flagged. Sometimes he went alone and passed weeks among the
solitudes; sometimes he had a companion whom he had to care for as
well as for himself. But besides the toughening of his character which
this pioneer life assured him, he got much information, which greatly
influenced, years later, his views on the development, not only of
Virginia, but of the Northwest. Perhaps from this time there entered
into his heart the conviction that the strongest bond of union must
sometime bind together the various colonies, so different in resources
and in interests, including his native commonwealth.

From journals kept during some of his expeditions we see that he was
a clear observer and an accurate reporter; far from bookish, but a
careful penman, and conscious of the obligation laid upon him to
acquire at least the minimum of polite knowledge which was expected of
a country gentleman such as he aspired to be.

Here is an extract in which he describes the squalid conditions under
which he passed some of his life as a woodsman and surveyor.

We got our suppers and was lighted into a Room and I not being
so good a woodsman as ye rest of my company, striped myself very
orderly and went into ye Bed, as they calld it, when to my
surprize, I found it to be nothing but a little straw matted
together without sheets or any thing else, but only one thread
bare blanket with double its weight of vermin, such as Lice,
Fleas, etc. I was glad to get up (as soon as ye light was carried
from us). I put on my cloths and lay as my companions. Had we not
been very tired, I am sure we should not have slep'd much that
night. I made a Promise not to sleep so from that time forward,
chusing rather to sleep in ye open air before a fire, as will
appear hereafter.

Wednesday 16th. We set out early and finish'd about one o'clock
and then Travelled up to Frederick Town, where our Baggage came to
us. We cleaned ourselves (to get rid of ye game we had catched ye
night before), I took a Review of ye Town and then return'd to our
Lodgings where we had a good Dinner prepared for us. Wine and Rum
Punch in plenty, and a good Feather Bed with clean sheets, which
was a very agreeable regale.

The longest of Washington's early expeditions was the "Journey over
the Mountains, began Fryday the 11th of March 1747/8." The mountains
were the Alleghanies, and the trip gave him a closer acquaintance than
he had had with Indians in the wilds. On his return, he stayed with
his half-brother, Lawrence, at Mount Vernon, or with Lord Fairfax, and
enjoyed the country life common to the richer Virginians of the time.
Towns which could provide an inn being few and far between, travellers
sought hospitality in the homes of the well-to-do residents, and every
one was in a way a neighbor of the other dwellers in his county. So
both at Belvoir and at Mount Vernon, guests were frequent and broke
the monotony and loneliness of their inmates. I think the reputation
of gravity, which was fixed upon Washington in his mature years, has
been projected back over his youth. The actual records are lacking,
but such hints and surmises as we have do not warrant our thinking
of him as a self-centred, unsociable youth. On the contrary, he was
rather, what would be called now, a sport, ready for hunting or
riding, of splendid physical build, agile and strong. He liked
dancing, and was not too shy to enjoy the society of young women;
indeed, he wrote poems to some of them, and seems to have been popular
with them. And still, the legend remains that he was bashful.

From our earliest glimpses of him, Washington appears as a youth very
particular as to his dress. He knew how to rough it as the extracts
of his personal journals which I have quoted show, and this passage

I seem to be in a place where no real satisfaction is to be had.
Since you received my letter in October last, I have not sleep'd
above three or four nights in a bed, but, after walking a good
deal all the day, I lay down before the fire upon a little hay,
straw, fodder, or bearskin, which ever is to be had, with man,
wife, and children, like a parcel of dogs and cats, and happy is
he who gets the berth nearest the fire. There's nothing would make
it pass off tolerably but a good reward. A doubloon is my constant
gain every day that the weather will permit my going out, and
sometimes six pistoles. The coldness of the weather will not allow
of my making a long stay, as the lodging is rather too cold for
this time of year. I have never had my clothes off but lay and
sleep in them, except the few nights I have lay'n in Frederic

[Footnote 1: Hapgood, p, 11.]

Later, when Washington became master of Mount Vernon, his servants
were properly liveried. He himself rode to hounds in the approved
apparel of a fox-hunting British gentleman, and we find in the lists
of articles for which he sends to London the names of clothes and
other articles for Mrs. Washington and the children carefully
specified with the word "fashionable" or "very best quality" added.
Still later, when he was President he attended to this matter of dress
with even greater punctilio.

One incident of this early period should not be passed by unmentioned.
Admiral Vernon offered him an appointment as midshipman in the navy,
but Washington's mother objected so strongly that Washington gave up
the opportunity. We may well wonder whether, if he had accepted it,
his career might not have been permanently turned aside. Had he served
ten or a dozen years in the navy, he might have grown to be so loyal
to the King, that, when the Revolution came, he would have been found
in command of one of the King's men-of-war, ordered to put down
the Rebels in Boston, or in New York. Thus Fate suggests amazing
alternatives to us in the retrospect, but in the actual living, Fate
makes it clear that the only course which could have happened was that
which did happen.

In 1751 the health of Washington's brother, Lawrence, became so bad
from consumption that he decided to pass the winter in a warm climate.
He chose the Island of Barbados, and his brother George accompanied
him. Shortly before sailing, George was commissioned one of the
Adjutants-General of Virginia, with the rank of Major, and the pay
of L150 a year. They sailed on the Potomac River, perhaps near Mount
Vernon, on September 28, 1751, and landed at Bridgetown on November
3d. The next day they were entertained at breakfast and dinner
by Major Clark, the British officer who commanded some of the
fortifications of the island. "We went," says George Washington, in a
journal he kept, "myself with some reluctance, as the smallpox was in
his family." Thirteen days later, George fell ill of a very strong
case of smallpox which kept him housed for six weeks and left his face
much disfigured for life with pock marks, a fact which, so far as I
have observed his portraits, the painters have carefully forgotten to

The brothers passed a fairly pleasant month and a half at the
Barbados. Major Clark, and other gentlemen and officials of the
island, showed them much attention. They enjoyed the hospitality of
the Beefsteak and Tripe Club, which seems to have been the fashionable
club. On one occasion, Washington was taken to the play to see the
"Tragedy of George Barnwell." This may have been the first time that
he went to the theatre. He refers to it in his journal with his
habitual caution:

Was treated with a play ticket by Mr. Carter to see the Tragedy
of George Barnwell acted: the character of Barnwell and several
others was said to be well perform'd there was Musick a Dapted and
regularly conducted by Mr.

But Lawrence Washington's consumption did not improve: he grew
homesick and pined for his wife and for Mount Vernon. The physicians
had recommended him to spend a full year at Barbados, in order to
give the climate and the regimen there a fair trial, but he could not
endure it so long, and he sailed from there to Bermuda, whence he
shortly returned to Virginia and Mount Vernon. George, meanwhile, had
also gone back to Virginia, sailing December 22, 1751, and arriving
February 1, 1752. Even from his much-mutilated journal, we can see
that he travelled with his eyes open, and that his interests were
many. As he mentioned in his journal thirty persons with whom
he became acquainted at the Barbados, we infer that in spite of
bashfulness he was an easy mixer. This short journey to the Barbados
marks the only occasion on which George Washington went outside of the
borders of the American Colonies, which became later, chiefly through
his genius, the United States.[1]

[Footnote 1: J.M. Toner: _The Daily Journal of Major George Washington
in 1751-2_ (Albany, N.Y., 1892).]

In July, 1752, Lawrence Washington died of the disease which he
had long struggled against. He left his fortune and his property,
including Mount Vernon, to his daughter, Sarah, and he appointed his
brother, George, her guardian. She was a sweet-natured girl, but very
frail, who died before long, probably of the same disease which
had carried her father off, and, until its infectious nature was
understood, used to decimate families from generation to generation.

To have thrust upon him, at the age of twenty, the management of a
large estate might seem a heavy burden for any young man; but George
Washington was equal to the task, and it seems as if much of his
career up to that time was a direct preparation for it. He knew every
foot of its fields and meadows, of its woodlands and streams; he knew
where each crop grew, and its rotation; he had taken great interest in
horses and cattle, and in the methods for maintaining and improving
their breed; and now, of course being master, his power of choosing
good men to do the work was put to the test. But he had not been long
at these new occupations before public duties drew him away from them.

Though they knew it not, the European settlers in North America were
approaching a life-and-death catastrophe. From the days when the
English and the French first settled on the continent, Fate ordained
for them an irrepressible conflict. Should France prevail? Should
England prevail? With the growth of their colonies, both the English
and the French felt their rivalry sharpened. Although distances often
very broad kept them apart in space, yet both nations were ready to
prove the terrible truth that when two men, or two tribes, wish
to fight each other, they will find out a way. The French, at New
Orleans, might be far away from the English at Boston; and the
English, in New York, or in Philadelphia, might be removed from the
French in Quebec; but in their hatreds they were near neighbors. The
French pushed westward along the St. Lawrence to the Great Lakes, and
from Lake Erie, they pushed southward, across the rich plains of Ohio,
to the Ohio River. Their trails spread still farther into the Western
wilderness. They set up trading-posts in the very region which the
English settlers expected to occupy in the due process of their
advance. At the junction of the Monongahela and Ohio Rivers, they
planted Fort Duquesne, which not only commanded the approach to the
territory through which the Ohio flowed westward, but served notice
on the English that the French regarded themselves as the rightful
claimants of that territory.

In 1753 Governor Dinwiddie, of Virginia, had sent a commissioner to
warn the French to cease from encroaching on the lands in the Ohio
wilderness which belonged to the King of England, but the messenger
stopped one hundred and fifty miles short of his goal. Therefore,
the Governor decided to despatch another envoy. He selected George
Washington, who was already well known for his surveying, and for his
expedition beyond the mountains, and doubtless had the backing of the
Fairfaxes and other influential gentlemen. Washington set out on the
same day he received his appointment from Governor Dinwiddie (October
31, 1753), engaged Jacob Van Braam, a Hollander who had taught him
fencing, to be his French interpreter; and Christopher Gist, the best
guide through the Virginia wilderness, to pilot the party. In spite
of the wintry conditions which beset them, they made good time.
Washington presented his official warning to M. Joncaire, the
principal French commander in the region under dispute, but he replied
that he must wait for orders from the Governor in Quebec. One object
of Washington's mission was to win over, if possible, the Indians,
whose friendship for either the French or the English depended wholly
on self-interest. He seems to have been most successful in securing
the friendship of Thanacarishon, the great Seneca Chief, known as the
Half-King. This native left it as his opinion that

the colonel was a good-natured man, but had no experience; he took
upon him to command the Indians as his slaves, and would have them
every day upon the scout and to attack the enemy by themselves,
but would by no means take advice from the Indians. He lay in
one place from one full moon to the other, without making any
fortifications, except that little thing on the meadow, whereas,
had he taken advice, and built such fortifications as I advised
him, he might easily have beat off the French. But the French in
the engagement acted like cowards, and the English like fools.[1]

[Footnote 1: Quoted by Lodge, I, 74.]

Believing that he could accomplish no more at that time, Washington
retraced his steps and returned to Williamsburg.

Governor Dinwiddie, being much disappointed with the outcome of the
expedition, urged the Virginian Legislature to equip another party
sufficiently strong to be able to capture Fort Duquesne, and to
confirm the British control of the Ohio. The Burgesses, however,
pleaded economy, and refused to grant funds adequate to this purpose.
Nevertheless, the Governor having equipped a small troop, under the
command of Colonel Fry, with Washington as second, hurried it forth.
During May and June they were near the Forks, and with the approach of
danger, Washington's spirit and recklessness increased. In a slight
skirmish, M. de Jumonville, the French commander, was killed. Fry died
of disease and Washington took his place as commander. Perceiving that
his own position was precarious, and expecting an attack by a large
force of the enemy, he entrenched himself near Great Meadows in a
hastily built fort, which he called Fort Necessity, and thought it
possible to defend, even with his own small force, against five
hundred French and Indians. He miscalculated, however. The enemy
exceeded in numbers all his expectations. His own resources dwindled;
and so he took the decision of a practical man and surrendered the
fort, on condition that he and his men be allowed to march out with
the honors of war. They returned to Virginia with little delay.

The Burgesses and the people of the State, though chagrined, did not
take so gloomy a view of the collapse of the expedition as Washington
himself did. His own depression equalled his previous exaltation. As
he thought over the affairs of the past half-year in the quiet of
Mount Vernon, the feeling which he had had from the start, that the
expedition had not been properly planned, or directed, or reenforced
in men and supplies, was confirmed. Governor Dinwiddie's notion that
raw volunteers would suffice to overcome trained soldiers had been
proved a delusion. The inadequate pay and provisions of the officers
irritated Washington, not only because they were insufficient, but
also because they fell far short of those of the English regulars.

In his penetrating Biography of Washington, Senator Lodge regards
his conduct of the campaign, which ended in the surrender of Great
Meadows, and his narrative as revealing Washington as a "profoundly
silent man." Carlyle, Senator Lodge says, who preached the doctrine of
silence, brushed Washington aside as a "bloodless Cromwell," "failing
utterly to see that he was the most supremely silent of the great men
of action that the world can show." Let us admit the justice of the
strictures on Carlyle, but let us ask whether Washington's letters at
this time spring from a "silent" man. He writes with perfect openness
to Governor Dinwiddie; complains of the military system under which
the troops are paid and the campaign is managed; he repeatedly
condemns the discrimination against the Virginian soldiers in favor of
the British regulars; and he points out that instead of attempting to
win the popularity of the Virginians, they are badly treated. Their
rations are poor, and he reminds the Governor that a continuous diet
of salt pork and water does not inspire enthusiasm in either the
stomach or the spirit. No wonder that the officers talk of resigning.
"For my own part I can answer, I have a constitution hardy enough to
encounter and undergo the most severe trials, and, I flatter myself,
resolution to face what any man durst, as shall be proved when it
comes to the test, which I believe we are on the borders of." In
several other passages from letters at this time, we come upon
sentiments which indicate that Washington had at least a sufficiently
high estimation of his own worth, and that his genius for silence had
not yet curbed his tongue. There is the famous boast attributed to him
by Horace Walpole. In a despatch which Washington sent back to the
Governor after the little skirmish in which Jumonville was killed,
Washington said: "'I heard the bullets whistle, and, believe me, there
is something charming in the sound.' On hearing of this the King said
sensibly, 'he would not say so if he had been used to hear many.'"
This reply of George II deserves to be recorded if only because it is
one of the few feeble witticisms credited to the Hanoverian Kings.
Years afterward, Washington declared that he did not remember ever
having referred to the charm of listening to whistling bullets.
Perhaps he never said it; perhaps he forgot. He was only twenty-two at
the time of the Great Meadows campaign. No doubt he was as well aware
as was Governor Dinwiddie, and other Virginians, that he was the best
equipped man on the expedition, experienced in actual fighting, and
this, added to his qualifications as a woodsman, had given him a real
zest for battle. In their discussion over the campfire, he and his
fellow officers must inevitably have criticized the conduct of the
expedition, and it may well be that Washington sometimes insisted
that if his advice were followed things would go better. Not on this
account, therefore, must we lay too much blame on him for being
conceited or immodest. He knew that he knew, and he did not dissemble
the fact. Silence came later.

The result of the expeditions to and skirmishes at the Forks of the
Ohio was that England and France were at war, although they had not
declared war on each other. A chance musket shot in the backwoods of
Virginia started a conflict which reverberated in Europe, disturbed
the peace of the world for seven years, and had serious consequences
in the French and English colonies of North America. The news of
Washington's disaster at Fort Necessity aroused the British Government
to the conclusion that it must make a strong demonstration in order
to crush the swelling prestige of the French rivals in America. The
British planned, accordingly, to send out three expeditions, one
against Fort Duquesne, another against the French in Nova Scotia, and
a third against Quebec. The command of the first they gave to General
Edward Braddock. He was then sixty years old, had been in the Regular
Army all his life, had served in Holland, at L'Orient, and at
Gibraltar, was a brave man, and an almost fanatical believer in the
rules of war as taught in the manuals. During the latter half of 1754,
Governor Dinwiddie was endeavoring against many obstacles to send
another expedition, equipped by Virginia herself, to the Ohio. Only in
the next spring, however, after Braddock had come over from England
with a relatively large force of regulars, were the final preparations
for a campaign actually made. Washington, in spite of being the
commander-in-chief of the Virginia forces, had his wish of going as
a volunteer at his own expense. He wrote his friend William Byrd, on
April 20, 1755, from Mount Vernon:

I am now preparing for, and shall in a few days set off, to serve
in the ensuing campaign, with different views, however, from those
I had before. For here, if I can gain any credit, or if I am
entitled to the least countenance and esteem, it must be from
serving my country without fee or reward; for I can truly say, I
have no expectation of either. To merit its esteem, and the good
will of my friends, is the sum of my ambition, having no prospect
of attaining a commission, being well assured it is not in Gen'l
Braddock's power to give such an one as I would accept of. The
command of a Company is the highest commission vested in his gift.
He was so obliging as to desire my company this campaign, has
honoured me with particular marks of his esteem, and kindly
invited me into his family--a circumstance which will ease me of
expences that otherwise must have accrued in furnishing
stores, camp equipages, etc. Whereas the cost will now be easy
(comparatively speaking), as baggage, horses, tents, and some
other necessaries, will constitute the whole of the charge.[1]

[Footnote 1: Ford, I, 146-49.]

The army began to move about the middle of May, but it went very
slowly. During June Washington was taken with an acute fever, in
spite of which he pressed on, but he became so weak that he had to be
carried in a cart, as he was unable to sit his horse. Braddock, with
the main army, had gone on ahead, and Washington feared that the
battle, which he believed imminent, would be fought before he came up
with the front. But he rejoined the troops on July 8th. The next day
they forded the Monongahela and proceeded to attack Fort Duquesne.
Writing from Fort Cumberland, on July 18th, Washington gave Governor
Dinwiddie the following account of Braddock's defeat. The one thing
happened which Washington had felt anxious about--a surprise by the
Indians. He had more than once warned Braddock of this danger, and
Benjamin Franklin had warned him too before the expedition started,
but Braddock, with perfect British contempt, had replied that though
savages might be formidable to raw Colonials, they could make
no impression on disciplined troops. The surprise came and thus
Washington reports it:

When we came to this place, we were attacked (very unexpectedly)
by about three hundred French and Indians. Our numbers consisted
of about thirteen hundred well armed men, chiefly Regulars, who
were immediately struck with such an inconceivable panick, that
nothing but confusion and disobedience of orders prevailed among
them. The officers, in general, behaved with incomparable bravery,
for which they greatly suffered, there being near 60 killed and
wounded--a large proportion, out of the number we had!

The Virginia companies behaved like men and died like soldiers;
for I believe out of three companies that were on the ground that
day scarce thirty were left alive. Capt. Peyroney and all his
officers, down to a corporal, were killed; Capt. Polson had
almost as hard a fate, for only one of his escaped. In short, the
dastardly behaviour of the Regular troops (so-called) exposed
those who were inclined to do their duty to almost certain death;
and, at length, in despite of every effort to the contrary, broke
and ran as sheep before hounds, leaving the artillery, ammunition,
provisions, baggage, and, in short, everything a prey to the
enemy. And when we endeavored to rally them, in hopes of regaining
the ground and what we had left upon it, it was with as little
success as if we had attempted to have stopped the wild bears of
the mountains, or rivulets with our feet; for they would break by,
in despite of every effort that could be made to prevent it.

The General was wounded in the shoulder and breast, of which he
died three days after; his two aids-de-camp were both wounded, but
are in a fair way of recovery; Colo. Burton and Sr. John St. Clair
are also wounded, and I hope will get over it; Sir Peter Halket,
with many other brave officers, were killed in the field. It is
supposed that we had three hundred or more killed; about that
number we brought off wounded, and it is conjectured (I believe
with much truth) that two thirds of both received their shot from
our own cowardly Regulars, who gathered themselves into a body,
contrary to orders, ten or twelve deep, would then level, fire and
shoot down the men before them.[1]

[Footnote 1: Ford, I, 173-74-75.]

In this admirable letter Washington tells nothing about his own
prowess in the battle, where he rode to all parts of the field, trying
to stem the retreat, and had two horses shot under him and four bullet
holes in his coat. He tried to get the troops to break ranks and to
screen themselves behind rocks and trees, but Braddock, helpless
without his rules, drove them back to regular formation with the flat
of his sword, and made them an easy mark for the volleys of the enemy.
Washington's personal valor could not fail to be admired, although his
audacity exposed him to unjustified risks.

On reaching Fort Cumberland he wrote to his brother John, on July

As I have heard, since my arrival at this place, a circumstantial
account of my death and dying speech, I take this early
opportunity of contradicting the first, and assuring you, that
I have not as yet composed the latter. But, by the all-powerful
dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all
human probability and expectation.[1]

[Footnote 1: Ibid. 175-76.]

The more he thought over the events of that day, the more was he
amazed--"I join very heartily with you in believing," he wrote Robert
Jackson on August 2d, "that when this story comes to be related in
future annals, it will meet with unbelief and indignation, for had I
not been witness to the fact on that fatal day, I should scarce have
given credit to it even _now_."[1]

[Footnote 1: Ford, I, 177.]

Although Washington was thoroughly disgusted by the mismanagement of
military affairs in Virginia, he was not ready to deny the appeals
of patriotism. From Mount Vernon, on August 14, 1755, he wrote his

Honored Madam, If it is in my power to avoid going to the Ohio
again, I shall; but if the command is pressed upon me, by the
general _voice_ of the country, and offered upon such terms as
cannot be objected against, it would reflect dishonor upon me to
refuse; and _that_, I am sure must or _ought_ to give you greater
uneasiness, than my going in an honorable command, for upon no
other terms I will accept of it. At present I have no proposals
made to me, nor have I any advice of such an intention, except
from private hands.[1]

[Footnote 1: Ibid. 180-81.]

Braddock's defeat put an end to campaigning in Virginia for some time.
The consternation it caused, not only held the people of the sparse
western settlements in alarm but agitated the tidewater towns and
villages. The Burgesses and many of the inhabitants had not yet
learned their lesson sufficiently to set about reorganizing their army
system, but the Assembly partially recognized its obligation to the
men who had fought by voting to them a small sum for losses during
their previous service. Washington received L300, but his patriotic
sense of duty kept him active. In the winter of 1758, however, owing
to a very serious illness, he resigned from the army and returned to
Mount Vernon to recuperate.

During the long and tedious weeks of sickness and recovery, Washington
doubtless had time to think over, to clarify in his mind, and to pass
judgment on the events in which he had shared during the past six or
seven years. From boyhood that was his habit. He must know the meaning
of things. An event might be as fruitless as a shooting star unless he
could trace the relations which tied it to what came before and after.
Hence his deliberation which gave to his opinions the solidity of
wisdom. Audacious he might be in battle, but perhaps what seems to us
audacity seemed to him at the moment a higher prudence. If there were
crises when the odds looked ten to one against him, he would take the
chance. He knew the incalculable value of courage. His experiences
with the British regulars and their officers left a deep impression on
him and colored his own decisions in his campaigns against the British
during the Revolutionary War. To genius nothing comes amiss, and by
genius nothing is forgotten. So we find that all that Washington saw
and learned during his years of youth--his apprenticeship as surveyor,
his vicissitudes as pioneer, tasks as Indian fighter and as companion
of the defeated Braddock--all contributed to fit him for the supreme
work for which Fate had created him and the ages had waited.



War is like the wind, nobody can tell into whose garden it may blow
desolation. The French and Indian War, generally called now the Seven
Years' War, beginning as a mere border altercation between the British
and French backwoodsmen on the banks of the upper Ohio River, grew
into a struggle which, by the year 1758, when Washington retired from
his command of the Virginia Forces, spread over the world. A new
statesman, one of the ablest ever born in England, came to control the
English Government. William Pitt, soon created Earl of Chatham, saw
that the British Empire had reached a crisis in its development.
Incompetence, inertia, had blurred its prestige, and the little
victories which France, its chief enemy, had been winning against it
piecemeal, were coming to be regarded as signs that the grandeur of
Britain was passing. Pitt saw the gloomy situation, and the still
gloomier future which it seemed to prophesy, but he saw also the
remedy. Within a few months, under his direction, English troops were
in every part of the world, and English ships of war were sailing
every ocean, to recover the slipping elements and to solidify the
British Empire. Just as Pitt was taking up his residence at Downing
Street, Robert Clive was winning the Battle of Plassey in India, which
brought to England territory of untold wealth. Two years later James
Wolfe, defeating the French commander, Montcalm, on the Plains of
Abraham, added not only Quebec, but all Canada, to the British Crown,
and ended French rivalry north of the Great Lakes. Victories like
these, seemingly so casual, really as final and as unrevisable as
Fate, might well cause Englishmen to suspect that Destiny itself
worked with them, and that an Englishman could be trusted to endure
through any difficulties to a triumphant conclusion.

Beaten at every point where they met the British, the French, even
after they had secured an alliance with Spain, which proved of little
worth, were glad to make peace. On February 10, 1763, they signed
the Treaty of Paris, which confirmed to the British nearly all their
victories and left England the dominant Power in both hemispheres.
The result of the war produced a marked effect on the people of the
British Colonies in North America. "At no period of time," says Chief
Justice Marshall, in his "Life of Washington," "was the attachment of
the colonists to the mother country more strong, or more general, than
in 1763, when the definitive articles of the treaty which restored
peace to Great Britain, France, and Spain, were signed."[1] But we
who know the sequel perceive that the Seven Years' War not only
strengthened the attachment between the Colonies and the Mother
Country, but that it also made the Colonies aware of their common
interests, and awakened among them mutual friendship, and in a very
brief time their sense of unity prevailed over their temporary
enthusiasm for England. George III, a monarch as headstrong as he was
narrow, with insanity lurking in his mind, succeeded to the throne in
1760, and he seized the first opportunity to get rid of his masterful
Minister, William Pitt. He replaced him with the Earl of Bute, a
Scotchman, and a man of ingenious parts, but with the incurable Tory
habit of insisting that it was still midnight long after the sun was
shining in the forenoon of another day.

[Footnote 1: Marshall: _The Life of George Washington_ (Philadelphia,
1805, 5 vols.), II, 68.]

Before the Treaty was signed and the world had begun to spin in a new
groove, which optimists thought would stretch on forever, an equally
serious change had come to the private life of George Washington. To
the surprise of his friends, who had begun to doubt whether he would
ever get married, he found his life's companion and married her
without delay. The notion seems to have been popular during his
lifetime, and it certainly has continued to later days, that he was
too bashful to feel easy in ladies' society. I find no evidence
for this mistaken idea. Although little has been recorded of the
intimacies of Washington's youth, there are indications of more than
one "flame" and that he was not dull and stockish with the young
women. As early as 1748, we hear of the Low-Land Beauty who had
captivated him, and who is still to be identified. Even earlier, in
his school days, he indulged in writing love verses. But we need not
infer that they were inspired by living damsels or by the Muses.

"Oh ye Gods why should my poor resistless Heart
Stand to oppose thy might and power--

* * * * *

"In deluding sleepings let my eyelids close
That in an enraptured dream I may
In a rapt lulling sleep and gentle repose
Possess those joys denied by day."[1]

[Footnote 1: Quoted by Wister, 39.]

Cavour said that it was easier for him to make Italy than to write a
poem: Washington, who was also an honest man, and fully aware of his
limitations, would probably have admitted that he could make the
American Republic more easily than a love song. But he was susceptible
to feminine charms, and we hear of Betsy Fauntleroy, and of a "Mrs.
Meil," and on his return to Mount Vernon, after Braddock's defeat, he
received the following round robin from some of the young ladies at

Dear Sir,--After thanking Heaven for your safe return I must
accuse you of great unkindness in refusing us the pleasure of
seeing you this night. I do assure you nothing but our being
satisfied that our company would be disagreeable should prevent us
from trying if our legs would not carry us to Mount Vernon this
night, but if you will not come to us tomorrow morning very early
we shall be at Mount Vernon.


Apparently Washington's love affairs were known and talked about among
his group. What promised to be the most serious of his experiences was
with Mary Philipse, of New York, daughter of Frederick Philipse, one
of the richest landowners in that Colony, and sister-in-law of Beverly
Robinson, one of Washington's Virginian friends. Washington was going
to Boston on a characteristic errand. One of the minor officers in
the Regular British Army, which had accompanied Braddock to Virginia,
refused to take orders from Washington, and officers of higher grade
in Virginia Troops, declaring that their commissions were assigned
only by Colonial officials, whereas he had his own from King George.
This led, of course, to insubordination and frequent quarrels. To
put a stop to the wrangling, Washington journeyed to Boston, to have
Governor Shirley, the Commander-in-Chief of the King's Forces in the
Colonies, give a decision upon it. The Governor ruled in favor of
Washington, who then rode back to Virginia. But he spent a week in New
York City in order to see his enchantress, Mary Philipse, and it is
even whispered that he proposed to her and that she refused him. Two
years afterwards she married Lieutenant-Colonel Roger Morris, and
during the Revolution the Morris house was Washington's headquarters;
the Morrises, who were Tories, having fled.

Persons have speculated why it was that so many of the young women
whom Washington took a fancy to, chilled and drew back when it came to
the question of marriage. One very clever writer thinks that perhaps
his nose was inordinately large in his youth, and that that repelled
them. I do not pretend to say. So far as I know, psychologists have
not yet made a sufficiently exact study of the nose as a determining
factor in matrimony, to warrant an opinion from persons who have
made no special study of the subject. The plain fact was that by his
twenty-fifth year, Washington was an unusually presentable young man,
more than six feet tall, broad-shouldered, very strong, slender and
athletic, carefully polite in his manners, a boon companion, though he
talked little, a sound and deliberate thinker; moreover, the part he
had taken in the war with the Indians and the French made him almost
a popular hero, and gave him a preeminent place among the Virginians,
both the young and the old, of that time. The possession of the
estate of Mount Vernon, which he had inherited from his half-brother,
Lawrence, assured to him more than a comfortable fortune, and yet
gossip wondered why he was not married. Thackeray intimates that
Washington was too evidently on the lookout for a rich wife, which, if
true, may account for some of the alleged rebuffs. I do not believe
this assertion, nor do I find evidence for it. Washington was always a
very careful, farseeing person, and no doubt had a clear idea of what
constitutes desirable qualifications in marriage, but I believe he
would have married a poor girl out of the workhouse if he had really
loved her. However, he was not put to that test.

One May day Washington rode off from Mount Vernon to carry despatches
to Williamsburg. He stopped at William's Ferry for dinner with his
friend Major Chamberlayne. At the table was Mrs. Daniel Parke Custis,
who, under her maiden name of Martha Dandridge, was well known
throughout that region for her beauty and sweet disposition. She was
now a widow of twenty-six, with two small children. Her late husband,
Colonel Custis, her elder by fifteen years, had left her a large
estate called White House, and a fortune which made her one of the
richest women in Virginia. From their first introduction, Washington
and she seemed to be mutually attracted. He lingered throughout the
afternoon and evening with her and went on to Williamsburg with his
despatches the next morning. Having finished his business at the
Capitol, he returned to William's Ferry, where he again saw Mrs.
Custis, pressed his suit upon her and was accepted. Characteristic
was it that he should conclude the matter so suddenly; but he had had
marriage in his intentions for many years.

During the summer Washington returned to his military duties and led
a troop to Fort Duquesne. He found the fort partly demolished, and
abandoned by the French; he marched in and took it, and gave it the
name of Fort Pitt, in recognition of the great statesman who had
directed the revival of British prestige. The fort, thus recovered to
English possession, stood on the present site of Pittsburgh. I quote
the following brief letter from Washington to Mrs. Custis, as it is
almost the only note of his to her during their engagement that has
been preserved:

We have begun our March for the Ohio. A courier is starting for
Williamsburg, and I embrace the opportunity to send a few words to
one whose life is now inseparable from mine. Since that happy hour
when we made our pledges to each other, my thoughts have been
continually going to you as another Self. That an all powerful
Providence may keep us both in safety is the prayer of your ever
faithful and affectionate friend.[1]

[Footnote 1: P.L. Ford, _The True George Washington_, 93.]

Late in that autumn Washington returned for good from his Western
fighting. On January 6, 1759 (Old Style), his marriage to Mrs. Custis
took place in St. Peter's Church, near her home at the White House.
Judging from the fine writing which old historians and new have
devoted to describing it, Virginia had seen few such elegant pageants
as upon that occasion. The grandees in official station and in social
life were all there. Francis Fauquier was, of course, gorgeous in his
Governor's robes but he could not outshine the bridegroom, in blue and
silver with scarlet trimmings, and gold buckles at his knees, with his
imperial physique and carriage. The Reverend Peter Mossum conducted
the Episcopal service, after which the bride drove back with a coach
and six to the White House, while Washington, with other gentlemen,
rode on horseback beside her acting as escort.

The bridal couple spent two or three months at the White House. The
Custis estates were large and in so much need of oversight that if
Washington had not appeared at this time, a bailiff, or manager, would
have had to be hired for them. Henceforth Washington seems to have
added the care of the White House to that of Mount Vernon, and the two
involved a burden which occupied most of his time, for he had retired
from the army. His fellow citizens, however, had elected him a member
of the House of Burgesses, a position he held for many years; going to
Williamsburg every season to attend the sessions of the Assembly.
On his first entrance to take his seat, Mr. Robinson, the Speaker,
welcomed him in Virginia's name, and praised him for his high
achievements. This so embarrassed the modest young member that he was
unable to reply, upon which Speaker Robinson said, "Sit down, Mr.
Washington, your modesty is equal to your valor, and that surpasses
the power of any language that I possess." In all his life, probably,
Washington never heard praise more genuine or more deserved. He had
just passed his twenty-seventh year. In the House of Burgesses he had
the reputation of being the silent member. He never acquired the art
of a debater. He was neither quick at rebuttal nor at repartee, but
so surely did his character impress itself on every one that when he
spoke the Assembly almost took it for granted that he had said the
final word on the subject under discussion. How careful he was to
observe the scope and effects of parliamentary speaking appears from a
letter which he wrote many years later.

Agriculture has always been a particularly fine training-ground
for statesmen. To persons who do not watch it closely, it may seem
monotonous. In reality, while the sum of the conditions of one year
tally closely with those of another, the daily changes and variations
create a variety which must be constantly watched and provided for. A
sudden freshet and unseasonable access of heat or cold, a scourge of
hail, a drought, a murrain among the cattle, call for ingenuity and
for resourcefulness; and for courage, a higher moral quality. Constant
comradeship with Nature seems to beget placidity and quiet assurance.
From using the great natural forces which bring to pass crops and the
seasons, they seem to work in and through him also. The banker, the
broker, even the merchant, lives in a series of whirlwinds, or seems
to be pursuing a mirage or groping his way through a fog. The
farmer, although he be not beyond the range of accident, deals more
continually with causes which regularly produce certain effects. He
knows a rainbow by sight and does not waste his time and money in
chasing it.

No better idea of Washington's activity as a planter can be had than
from his brief and terse journals as an agriculturist. He sets down
day by day what he did and what his slaves and the free employees did
on all parts of his estate. We see him as a regular and punctual man.
He had a moral repugnance to idleness. He himself worked steadily and
he chided the incompetent, the shirkers, and the lazy.

A short experience as landowner convinced him that slave labor was the
least efficient of all. This conviction led him very early to believe
in the emancipation of the slaves. I do not find that sentiment or
abstract ideals moved him to favor emancipation, but his sense of
fitness, his aversion to wastefulness and inefficiency made him
disapprove of a system which rendered industry on a high plane
impossible. Experience only confirmed these convictions of his, and in
his will he ordered that many slaves should be freed after the death
of Mrs. Washington. He was careful to apportion to his slaves the
amount of food they needed in order to keep in health and to work the
required stint. He employed a doctor to look after them in sickness.
He provided clothing for them which he deemed sufficient. I do not
gather that he ever regarded the black man as being essentially made
of the same clay as the white man, the chief difference being the
color of their skin. To Washington, the Slave System seemed bad, not
so much because it represented a debased moral standard, but because
it was economically and socially inadequate. His true character
appears in his making the best of a system which he recognized as most
faulty. Under his management, in a few years, his estate at Mount
Vernon became the model of that kind of plantation in the South.

Whoever desires to understand Washington's life as a planter should
read his diaries with their brief, and one might almost say brusque,
entries from day to day.[1] Washington's care involved not only
bringing the Mount Vernon estate to the highest point of prosperity
by improving the productiveness of its various sections, but also by
buying and annexing new pieces of land. To such a planter as he was,
the ideal was to raise enough food to supply all the persons who lived
or worked on the place, and this he succeeded in doing. His chief
source of income, which provided him with ready money, was the tobacco
crop, which proved to be of uncertain value. By Washington's time the
Virginians had much diminished the amount and delicacy of the tobacco
they raised by the careless methods they employed. They paid little
attention to the rotation of crops, or to manuring, with the result
that the soil was never properly replenished. In his earlier days
Washington shipped his year's product to an agent in Glasgow or in
London, who sold it at the market price and sent him the proceeds. The
process of transportation was sometimes precarious; a leaky ship might
let in enough sea water to damage the tobacco, and there was always
the risk of loss by shipwreck or other accident. Washington sent out
to his brokers a list of things which he desired to pay for out of
the proceeds of the sale, to be sent to him. These lists are most
interesting, as they show us the sort of household utensils and
furniture, the necessaries and the luxuries, and the apparel used in a
mansion like Mount Vernon. We find that he even took care to order a
fashionably dressed doll for little Martha Custis to play with.

[Footnote 1: See for instance in W.C. Ford's edition of _The Writings
of George Washington_, II, 140-69. Diary for 1760, 230-56. Diary for

The care and education of little Martha and her brother, John Parke
Custis, Washington undertook with characteristic thoroughness and
solicitude. He had an instinct for training growing creatures. He
liked to experiment in breeding horses and cattle and the farmyard
animals. He watched the growth of his plantations of trees, and he
was all the more interested in studying the development of mental and
moral capacities in the little children.

In due time a tutor was engaged, and besides the lessons they learned
in their schoolbooks, they were taught both music and dancing. Little
Patsy suffered from epilepsy, and after the prescriptions of the
regular doctors had done no good, her parents turned to a quack named
Evans, who placed on the child's finger an iron ring supposed to have
miraculous virtues, but it brought her no relief, and very suddenly
little Martha Custis died. Washington himself felt the loss of his
unfortunate step-daughter, but he was unflagging in trying to console
the mother, heartbroken at the death of the child.

Jack Custis was given in charge of the Reverend Jonathan Boucher,
an Anglican clergyman, apparently well-meaning, who agreed with
Washington's general view that the boy's training "should make him fit
for more useful purposes than horse-racing." In spite of Washington's
carefully reasoned plans, the youth of the young man prevailed over
the reason of his stepfather. Jack found dogs, horses, and guns, and
consideration of dress more interesting and more important than
his stepfather's theories of education. Washington wrote to Parson
Boucher, the teacher:

Had he begun, or rather pursued his study of the Greek language,
I should have thought it no bad acquisition; ... To be acquainted
with the French Tongue is become a part of polite education;
and to a man who has the prospect of mixing in a large circle,
absolutely necessary. Without arithmetic, the common affairs of
life are not to be managed with success. The study of Geometry,
and the mathematics (with due regard to the limits of it) is
equally advantageous. The principles of Philosophy, Moral,
Natural, etc. I should think a very desirable knowledge for a

[Footnote 1: W.C. Ford, _George Washington_ (1900), I, 136-37.]

There was nothing abstract in young Jack Custis's practical response
to his stepfather's reasoning; he fell in love with Miss Nelly Calvert
and asked her to marry him. Washington was forced to plead with the
young lady that the youth was too young for marriage by several years,
and that he must finish his education. Apparently she acquiesced
without making a scene. She accepted a postponement of the engagement,
and Custis was enrolled among the students of King's College
(subsequently Columbia) in New York City. Even then, his passion for
an education did not develop as his parents hoped. He left the college
in the course of a few months. Throughout John Custis's perversities,
and as long as he lived, Washington's kindness and real affection
never wavered. Although he had now taught himself to practice complete
self-control, he could treat with consideration the young who had it

By nature Washington was a man of business. He wished to see things
grow, not so much for the actual increase in value which that
indicated, as because increase seemed to be a proof of proper methods.
Not content, therefore, with rounding out his holdings at Mount Vernon
and Mrs. Washington's estate at the White House, he sought investment
in the unsettled lands on the Ohio and in Florida, and on the
Mississippi. It proved to be a long time before the advance of
settlement in the latter regions made his investments worth much, and
during the decade after his marriage in 1759, we must think of him
as a man of great energy and calm judgment who was bent not only
on making Mount Vernon a model country place on the outside, but a
civilized home within. In its furnishings and appointments it did not
fall behind the manors of the Virginia men of fashion and of wealth
in that part of the country. Before Washington left the army, he
recognized that his education had been irregular and inadequate, and
he set himself to make good his defects by studying and reading for
himself. There were no public libraries, but some of the gentlemen
made collections of books. They learned of new publications in England
from journals which were few in number and incomplete. Doubtless
advertising went by word of mouth. The lists of things desired which
Washington sent out to his agents, Robert Cary and Company, once a
year or oftener, usually contained the titles of many books, chiefly
on architecture, and he was especially intent on keeping up with new
methods and experiments in farming. Thus, among the orders in May,
1759, among a request for "Desert Glasses and Stand for Sweetmeats
Jellies, etc.; 50 lbs. Spirma Citi Candles; stockings etc.," he asks
for "the newest and most approved Treatise of Agriculture--besides
this, send me a Small piece in Octavo--called a New System of
Agriculture, or a Speedy Way to Grow Rich; Longley's Book of
Gardening; Gibson upon Horses, the latest Edition in Quarto." This
same invoice contains directions for "the Busts--one of Alexander the
Great, another of Charles XII, of Sweden, and a fourth of the King of
Prussia (Frederick the Great); also of Prince Eugene and the Duke of
Marlborough, but somewhat smaller." Do these celebrities represent
Washington's heroes in 1759?

As time went on, his commissions for books were less restricted to
agriculture, and comprised also works on history, biography, and

But although incessant activity devoted to various kinds of work was a
characteristic of Washington's life at Mount Vernon, his attention to
social duties and pleasures was hardly less important. He aimed to be
a country gentleman of influence, and he knew that he could achieve
this only by doing his share of the bountiful hospitality which was
expected of such a personage. Virginia at that time possessed no large
cities or towns with hotels. When the gentry travelled, they put up
overnight at the houses of other gentry, and thus, in spite of very
restricted means of transportation, the inhabitants of one part of the
country exchanged ideas with those of another. In this way also the
members of the upper class circulated among themselves and acquired
a solidarity which otherwise would hardly have been possible. We are
told that Mount Vernon was always full of guests; some of these being
casual strangers travelling through, and others being invited friends
and acquaintances on a visit. There were frequent balls and parties
when neighbors from far and near joined in some entertainment at the
great mansion. There were the hunt balls which Washington himself
particularly enjoyed, hunting being his favorite sport. Fairfax
County, where Mount Vernon lay, and its neighboring counties, Fauquier
and Prince William, abounded in foxes, and the land was not too
difficult for the hunters, who copied as far as possible the dress
and customs of the foxhunters in England. Possibly there might be a
meeting at Mount Vernon of the local politicians. At least once a year
Washington and his wife--"Lady," as the somewhat florid Virginians
called her--went off to Williamsburg to attend the session of the
House of Burgesses. Washington seldom missed going to the horse-races,
one of the chief functions of the year, not only for jockeys and
sporting men, but for the fashionable world of the aristocracy. Thanks
to his carefulness and honesty in keeping his accounts, we have his
own record of the amounts he spent at cards--never large amounts, nor
indicative of the gamester's passion.

Thus Washington passed the first ten years of his married life. A
stranger meeting him at that time might have little suspected that
here was the future founder of a nation, one who would prove himself
the greatest of Americans, if not the greatest of men. But if you had
spent a day with Washington, and watched him at work, or listened to
his few but decisive words, or seen his benign but forcible smile,
you would have said to yourself--"This man is equal to any fate that
destiny may allot to him."



Meanwhile the course of events was leading toward a new and unexpected
goal. Chief Justice Marshall said, as I have quoted, that 1763, the
end of the French-Indian War, marked the greatest friendship and
harmony between the Colonies and England. The reason is plain. In
their incessant struggles with the French and the Indians, the
Colonists had discovered a real champion and protector. That
protector, England, had found that she must really protect the
Colonies unless she was willing to see them fall into the hands of
her rival, France. Putting forth her strength, she crushed France in
America, and remained virtually in control not only of the Colonies
and territory from the Atlantic to the Mississippi, but also of
British America. In these respects the Colonies and the Mother Country
seemed destined to be bound more closely together; but the very spirit
by which Britain had conquered France in America, and France in India,
and had made England paramount throughout the world, prevented the
further fusion, moral, social, and political, of the Colonies with the
Mother Country.

That spirit was the Imperial Spirit, which Plassey and Quebec had
called to life. The narrow Hanoverian King, who now ruled England,
could not himself have devised the British Empire, but when the Empire
crystallized, George III rightly surmised that, however it had come
about, it meant a large increase in power for him. The Colonies and
Dependencies were to be governed like conquered provinces. Evidently,
the Hindus of Bengal could hardly be treated in the same fashion as
were the Colonists of Massachusetts or Virginia. The Bengalese knew
that there was no bond of language or of race between them and their
conquerors, whereas American Colonists knew that they and the British
sprang from the same race and spoke the same language. One of the
first realizations that came to the British Imperialists was that the
ownership of the conquered people or state warranted the conquerors in
enriching themselves from the conquered. But while this might do very
well in India, and be accepted there as a matter of course, it would
be most ill-judged in the American Colonies, for the Colonists were
not a foreign nor a conquered people. They originally held grants of
land from the British Crown, but they had worked that land themselves
and settled the wilderness by their own efforts, and had a right to
whatever they might earn.

The Tory ideals, which took possession of the British Government when
Lord Bute succeeded to William Pitt in power, were soon applied to
England's relations to the American Colonies. The Seven Years' War
left England heavily in debt. She needed larger revenues, and being
now swayed by Imperialism, she easily found reasons for taxing the
Colonies. In 1765 she passed the Stamp Act which caused so much bad
feeling that in less than a year she decided to repeal it, but new
duties on paper, glass, tea, and other commodities were imposed
instead. In the North, Massachusetts took the lead in opposing what
the Colonists regarded as the unconstitutional acts of the Crown. The
patriotic lawyer of Boston, James Otis, shook the Colony with his
eloquence against the illegal encroachments and actual tyranny of the
English. Other popular orators of equal eminence, John and Samuel
Adams and Josiah Quincy, fanned the flames of discontent. Even the
most radical did not yet whisper the terrible word Revolution, or
suggest that they aspired to independence. They simply demanded their
"rights" which the arrogant and testy British Tories had shattered and
were withholding from them. At the outset rebels seldom admit that
their rebellion aims at new acquisitions, but only at the recovery of
the old.

Next to Massachusetts, Virginia was the most vigorous of the Colonies
in protesting against British usurpation of power, which would deprive
them of their liberty. Although Virginia had no capital city like
Boston, in which the chief political leaders might gather and discuss
and plan, and mobs might assemble and equip with physical force the
impulses of popular indignation, the Old Dominion had means, just as
the Highland clans or the Arab tribes had, of keeping in touch with
each other. Patrick Henry, a young Virginia lawyer of sturdy Scotch
descent, by his flaming eloquence was easily first among the spokesmen
of the rights of the Colonists in Virginia. In the "Parsons Cause," a
lawsuit which might have passed quickly into oblivion had he not seen
the vital implications concerned in it, he denied the right of the
King to veto an act of the Virginia Assembly, which had been passed
for the good of the people of Virginia. In the course of the trial
he declared, "Government was a conditional compact between the King,
stipulating protection on the one hand, and the people, stipulating
obedience and support on the other," and he asserted that a violation
of these covenants by either party discharged the other party from its
obligations. Doctrines as outspoken as these uttered in court, whether
right or wrong, indicated that the attorney who uttered them, and the
judge who listened, and the audience who applauded, were not blind
worshippers of the illegal rapacity of the Crown.

Patrick Henry was the most spectacular of the early champions of the
Colonists in Virginia, but many others of them agreed with him. Among
these the weightiest was the silent George Washington. He said little,
but his opinions passed from mouth to mouth, and convinced many. In
1765 he wrote to Francis Dandridge, an uncle of Mrs. Washington:

The Stamp Act imposed on the colonies by the Parliament of Great
Britain, engrosses the conversation of the speculative part of the
colonists, who look upon this unconstitutional method of taxation,
as a direful attack upon their liberties, and loudly exclaim
against the violation. What may be the result of this, and of
some other (I think I may add) ill-judged measures, I will not
undertake to determine; but this I may venture to affirm, that the
advantage accruing to the mother country will fall greatly short
of the expectations of the ministry; for certain it is, that an
whole substance does already in a manner flow to Great Britain,
and that whatsoever contributes to lessen our importations must
be hurtful to their manufacturers. And the eyes of our people,
already beginning to open, will perceive, that many luxuries,
which we lavish our substance in Great Britain for, can well be
dispensed with, whilst the necessaries of life are (mostly) to
be had within ourselves. This, consequently, will introduce
frugality, and be a necessary stimulation to industry. If Great
Britain, therefore, loads her manufacturies with heavy taxes,
will it not facilitate these measures? They will not compel us, I
think, to give our money for their exports, whether we will or
not; and certain I am, none of their traders will part from them
without a valuable consideration. Where then, is the utility of
the restrictions? As to the Stamp Act, taken in a single view, one
and the first bad consequence attending it, I take to be this,
our courts of judicature must inevitably be shut up; for it
is impossible, (or next of kin to it), under our present
circumstances, that the act of Parliament can be complied with,
were we ever so willing to enforce the execution; for, not to say,
which alone would be sufficient, that we have not money to pay the
stamps, there are many other cogent reasons, to prevent it; and if
a stop be put to our judicial proceedings, I fancy the merchants
of Great Britain, trading to the colonies, will not be among the
last to wish for a repeal of it.[1]

[Footnote 1: Ford, II, 209-10.]

This passage would suffice, were there not many similar which might be
quoted, to prove that Washington was from the start a loyal American.
A legend which circulated during his lifetime, and must have been
fabricated by his enemies, for I find no evidence to support it either
in his letters or in other trustworthy testimony, insinuated that he
was British at heart and threw his lot in with the Colonists only when
war could not be averted. In 1770 the merchants of Philadelphia
drew up an agreement in which they pledged themselves to practise
non-importation of British goods sent to America. Washington's wise
neighbor and friend, George Mason, drafted a plan of association of
similar purport to be laid before the Virginia Burgesses. But Lord
Botetourt, the new Royal Governor, deemed some of these resolutions
dangerous to the prerogative of the King, and dissolved the Assembly.
The Burgesses, however, met at Anthony Hay's house and adopted
Mason's Association. Washington, who was one of the signers of the
Association, wrote to his agents in London: "I am fully determined to
adhere religiously to it."

Five years had now elapsed since the British Tories attempted to fix
on the Colonies the Stamp Act, and although they had withdrawn
that hateful law, the relations between the Mother Country and the
Colonists had not improved. Far from it. The English issued a series
of irritating provisions which convinced the Colonists that the
Government had no real desire to be friendly, and that, on the
contrary, it intended to make no distinction between them and the
other conquered provinces of the Crown. Then and always, the English
forgot that the Colonists were men of their own stock, equally
stubborn in their devotion to principles, and probably more accessible
to scruples of conscience. So they were not likely to be frightened
into subjection. The governing class in England was in a state of mind
which has darkened its judgment more than once; the state of mind
which, when it encounters an obstacle to its plans, regards that
obstacle as an enemy, and remarks in language brutally frank, though
not wholly elegant: "We will lick him first and then decide who is
right." In 1770 King George III, who fretted at all seasons at the
slowness with which he was able to break down the ascendency of the
Whigs, manipulated the Government so as to make Lord North Prime
Minister. Lord North was a servant, one might say a lackey, after
the King's own heart. He abandoned lifelong traditions, principles,
fleeting whims, prejudices even, in order to keep up with the King's
wish of the moment. After Lord North became Prime Minister, the
likelihood of a peaceful settlement between the crown and the Colonies
lessened. He ran ahead of the King in his desire to serve the King's
wishes, and George III, by this time, was wrought up by the persistent
tenacity of the Whigs--he wished them dead, but they would not
die--and he was angered by the insolence of the Colonists who showed
that they would not shrink from forcibly resisting the King's command.
On both sides of the Atlantic a vehement and most enlightening debate
over constitutional and legal fundamentals still went on. Although
the King had packed Parliament, not all the oratory poured out at
Westminster favored the King. On the contrary, the three chief masters
of British eloquence at that time, and in all time--Edmund Burke,
William Pitt, and Charles James Fox--spoke on the side of the
Colonists. Reading the magnificent arguments of Burke to-day, we ask
ourselves how any group in Parliament could have withstood them. But
there comes a moment in every vital discussion when arguments and
logic fail to convince. Passions deeper than logic controlled motives
and actions. The Colonists contended that in proclaiming "no taxation
without representation," they were appealing to a principle of
Anglo-Saxon liberty inherent in their race. When King George, or any
one else, denied this principle, he denied an essential without which
Anglo-Saxon polity could not survive, but neither King George nor Lord
North accepted the premises. If they had condescended to reply at all,
they might have sung the hymn of their successors a hundred years

"We don't want to fight,
But by jingo! if we do,
We've got the men, we've got the ships,
We've got the money too."

Meanwhile, the Virginia Planter watched the course of events, pursued
his daily business regularly, attended the House of Burgesses when it
was in session, said little, but thought much. He did not break
out into invective or patriotic appeals. No doubt many of his
acquaintances thought him lukewarm in spirit and non-committal; but
persons who knew him well knew what his decision must be. As early as
April 5, 1769, he wrote his friend, George Mason:

At a time, when our lordly masters in Great Britain will be
satisfied with nothing less than the deprivation of American
freedom, it seems highly necessary that something should be done
to avert the stroke, and maintain the liberty, which we have
derived from our ancestors. But the manner of doing it, to answer
the purpose effectually, is the point in question.

That no man should scruple, or hesitate a moment, to use a--ms in
defence of so valuable a blessing, on which all the good and evil
of life depends, is clearly my opinion. Yet a--ms, I would beg
leave to add, should be the last resource, the dernier resort.
Addresses to the throne, and remonstrances to Parliament, we have
already, it is said, proved the inefficiency of. How far, then,
their attention to our rights and privileges is to be awakened or
alarmed, by starving their trade and manufacturers, remains to be

[Footnote 1: Ford, II, 263-64.]

Thus wrote the Silent Member six years before the outbreak of
hostilities, and he did not then display any doubt either of his
patriotism, or of the course which every patriot must take. To his
intimates he spoke with point-blank candor. Years later, George Mason
wrote to him:

I never forgot your declaration, when I had last the pleasure of
being at your house in 1768, that you were ready to take your
musket upon your shoulder whenever your country called upon you.

Some writers point out that Washington excelled rather as a critic of
concrete plans than of constitutional and legal aspects. Perhaps this
is true. Assuredly he had no formal legal training. There were many
other men in Massachusetts, in Virginia, and in some of the other
Colonies, who could and did analyze minutely the Colonists' protest
against taxation without representation, and the British rebuttal
thereof; but Washington's strength lay in his primal wisdom, the
wisdom which is based not on conventions, even though they be laws and
constitutions, but on a knowledge of the ways in which men will react
toward each other in their primitive, natural relations. In this
respect he was one of the wisest among the statesmen.

He does not seem to have joined in such clandestine methods as those
of the Committees of Correspondence, which Samuel Adams and some of
the most radical patriots in the Bay State had organized, but he said
in the Virginia Convention, in 1774: "I will raise one thousand men,
subsist them at my own expense and march myself at their head for the
relief of Boston."[1] The ardor of Washington's offer matched the
increasing anger of the Colonists. Lord North, abetted by the British
Parliament, had continued to exasperate them by passing new bills
which could have produced under the best circumstances only a
comparatively small revenue. One of these imposed a tax on tea. The
Colonists not only refused to buy it, but to have it landed. In Boston
a large crowd gathered and listened to much fiery speech-making.
Suddenly, a body of fifty men disguised as Mohawk Indians rushed
down to the wharves, rowed out to the three vessels in which a large
consignment of tea had been sent across the ocean, hoisted it out of
the holds to the decks and scattered the contents of three hundred and
forty chests in Boston Harbor.

[Footnote 1: _John Adams's Diary_, August 31, 1774, quoting Lynch.]

The Boston Tea Party was as sensational as if it had sprang from
the brain of a Paris Jacobin in the French Revolution. It created
excitement among the American Colonists from Portsmouth to Charleston.
Six more of the Colonies enrolled Committees of Correspondence,
Pennsylvania alone refusing to join. In every quarter American
patriots felt exalted. In England the reverse effects were signalized
with equal vehemence. The Mock Indians were denounced as incendiaries,
and the town meetings were condemned as "nurseries of sedition."
Parliament passed four penal laws, the first of which punished Boston
by transferring its port to Salem and closing its harbor. The second
law suspended the charter of the Province and added several new and
tyrannical powers to the British Governor and to Crown officials.

On September 5, 1774, the first Continental Congress met in
Philadelphia. Except Georgia, every Colony sent delegates to it. The
election of those delegates was in several cases irregular, because
the body which chose them was not the Legislature but some temporary
body of the patriots. Nevertheless, the Congress numbered some of
the men who were actually and have remained in history, the great
engineers of the American Revolution. Samuel Adams and John Adams went
from Massachusetts; John Jay and Philip Livingston from New York;
Roger Sherman from Connecticut; Thomas Mifflin and Edward Biddle from
Pennsylvania; Thomas McKean from Delaware; George Washington, Patrick
Henry, Peyton Randolph, Edmund Pendleton, and Richard H. Lee from
Virginia; and Edward and John Rutledge from South Carolina. Although
the Congress was made up of these men and of others like them, the
petitions adopted by it and the work done, not to mention the freshets
of oratory, were astonishingly mild. Probably many of the delegates
would have preferred to use fiery tongues. Samuel Adams, for instance,
though "prematurely gray, palsied in hand, and trembling in voice,"
must have had difficulty in restraining himself. He wrote as viciously
as he spoke. "Damn that Adams," said one of his enemies. "Every dip of
his pen stings like a horned snake." Patrick Henry, being asked when
he returned home, "Who is the greatest man in Congress," replied: "If
you speak of eloquence, Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina is by far the
greatest orator; but if you speak of solid information and sound
judgment, Colonel Washington is unquestionably the greatest man on
that floor." The rumor had it that Washington said, he wished to God
the Liberties of America were to be determined by a single Combat
between himself and George. One other saying of his at this time is
worth reporting, although it cannot be satisfactorily verified.
"_More blood will be spilled on this occasion_, if the ministry are
determined to push matters to extremity, _than history has ever yet
furnished instances of_ in the annals of North America." The language
and tone of the "Summary View"--a pamphlet which Thomas Jefferson had
issued shortly before--probably chimed with the emotions of most of
the delegates. They adopted (October 14, 1774) the "Declaration
of Rights," which may not have seemed belligerent enough for the
Radicals, but really leaves little unsaid. A week later Congress
agreed to an "Association," an instrument for regulating, by
preventing, trade with the English. Having provided for the assembling
of a second Congress, the first adjourned.

As a symbol, the First Congress has an integral importance in the
growth of American Independence. It marked the first time that the
American Colonies had acted together for their collective interests.
It served notice on King George and Lord North that it repudiated the
claims of the British Parliament to govern the Colonies. It implied
that it would repel by force every attempt of the British to exercise
an authority which the Colonists refused to recognize. In a very real
sense the Congress thus delivered an ultimatum. The winter of 1774/5
saw preparations being pushed on both sides. General Thomas Gage, the
British Commander-in-Chief stationed at Boston, had also thrust upon
him the civil government of that town. He had some five thousand
British troops in Boston, and several men-of-war in the harbor.
There were no overt acts, but the speed with which, on more than one
occasion, large bodies of Colonial farmers assembled and went swinging
through the country to rescue some place, which it was falsely
reported the British were attacking, showed the nervous tension under
which the Americans were living. As the enthusiasm of the Patriots
increased, that of the Loyalists increased also. Among the latter were
many of the rich and aristocratic inhabitants, and, of course, most
of the office-holders. Until the actual outbreak of hostilities they
upheld the King's cause with more chivalry than discretion, and then
they migrated to Nova Scotia and to England, and bore the penalty of
confiscation and the corroding distress of exile. In England during
this winter, Pitt and Burke had defended the Colonies and the Whig
minority had supported them. Even Lord North used conciliatory
suggestions, but with him conciliation meant that the Colonies should
withdraw all their offensive demands and kneel before the Crown in
penitent humiliation before a new understanding could be thought of.

Meanwhile Colonel Washington was in Virginia running his plantations
to the best of his ability and with his mind made up. He wrote to his
friend Bryan Fairfax (July 20, 1774):

As I see nothing, on the one hand, to induce a belief that the
Parliament would embrace a favorable opportunity of repealing
acts, which they go on with great rapidity to pass, and in order
to enforce their tyrannical system; and on the other, I observe,
or think I observe, that government is pursuing a regular plan at
the expense of law and justice to overthrow our constitutional
rights and liberties, how can I expect any redress from a measure,
which has been ineffectually tried already? For, Sir, what is it
we are contending against? Is it against paying the duty of three
pence per pound on tea because burthensome? No, it is the right
only, we have all along disputed, and to this end we have already
petitioned his Majesty in as humble and dutiful manner as subjects
could do[1]....

And has not General Gage's conduct since his arrival, (in stopping
the address of his Council, and publishing a proclamation more
becoming a Turkish bashaw, than an English governor, declaring it
treason to associate in any manner by which the commerce of Great
Britain is to be affected) exhibited an unexampled testimony of
the most despotic system of tyranny, that ever was practised in
a free government? In short, what further proofs are wanted to
satisfy one of the designs of the ministry, than their own acts,
which are uniform and plainly tending to the same point, nay, if I
mistake not, avowedly to fix the right of taxation? What hope then
from petitioning, when they tell us, that now or never is the time
to fix the matter? Shall we after this, whine and cry for relief,
when we have already tried it in vain? Or shall we supinely sit
and see one province after another fall a prey to despotism?[2]

[Footnote 1: Ford, II, 421-22.]

[Footnote 2: _Ibid_., 423-24.]

In the early autumn Washington wrote to Captain Robert MacKenzie, who
was serving in the Regular British Army with Gage at Boston:

I think I can announce it as a fact, that it is not the wish or
intent of that government, (Massachusetts) or any other upon this
continent, separately or collectively, to set up for independence;
but this you may at the same time rely on, that none of them will
ever submit to the loss of these valuable rights and privileges,
which are essential to the happiness of every free state, and
without which, life, liberty, and property are rendered totally

[Footnote 1: _Ibid_., 443.]

In the following spring the battles of Lexington and Concord, on April
19th, began the war of the American Revolution. A few weeks later, a
Second Continental Congress met in Philadelphia. The delegates to it,
understanding that they must prepare for war, proceeded to elect
a Commander-in-Chief. There was some jealousy between the men of
Virginia and those of Massachusetts. The former seemed to think that
the latter assumed the first position, and indeed, most of the angry
gestures had been made in Boston, and Boston had been the special
object of British punishment. Still, with what may seem unexpected
self-effacement, they did not press strongly for the choice of a
Massachusetts man as Commander-in-Chief. On June 15, 1775, Congress
having resolved "that a general be appointed to command all the
continental forces raised or to be raised for the defence of American
liberty," proceeded to a choice, and the ballots being taken, George
Washington, Esq., was unanimously elected. On the next day the
President of the Congress, Mr. John Hancock, formally announced the
election to Colonel Washington, who replied:

Mr. President, though I am truly sensible of the high honor
done me in this appointment, yet I feel great distress from a
consciousness that my abilities and military experience may not
be equal to the extensive and important trust. However, as the
Congress desire it, I will enter upon the momentous duty and exert
every power I possess in the service and for the support of the
glorious cause. I beg they will accept my most cordial thanks for
this distinguished testimony of their approbation. But lest some
unlucky event should happen unfavorable to my reputation, I beg it
may be remembered by every gentleman in the room, that I this day
declare with the utmost sincerity I do not think myself equal to
the command I am honored with.

As to pay, Sir, I beg leave to assure the Congress, that as no
pecuniary consideration could have tempted me to accept this
arduous employment at the expense of my domestic ease and
happiness, I do not wish to make any profit from it. I will keep
an exact account of my expenses. Those I doubt not they will
discharge, and that is all I desire.[1]

[Footnote 1: Ford, II, 477-78-79, 480-81.]

Accompanied by Lee and Schuyler and a brilliant escort, he set forth
on June 21st for Boston. Before they had gone twenty miles a messenger
bringing news of the Battle of Bunker Hill crossed them. "Did the
Militia fight?" Washington asked. On being told that they did, he
said: "Then the liberties of the country are safe." Then he pushed on,
stopping long enough in New York to appoint General Schuyler military
commander of that Colony, and so through Connecticut to the old Bay
State. There, at Cambridge, he found the crowd awaiting him and some
of the Colonial troops. On the edge of the Common, under a large elm
tree broad of spread, he took command of the first American army. It
was the second of July, 1775.



Thus began what seems to us now an impossible war. Although it had
been brooding for ten years, since the Stamp Act, which showed that
the ties of blood and of tradition meant nothing to the British
Tories, now that it had come, the Colonists may well have asked
themselves what it meant. Probably, if the Colonists had taken a poll
on that fine July morning in 1775, not one in five of them would have
admitted that he was going to war to secure Independence, but all
would have protested that they would die if need be to recover their
freedom, the old British freedom, which came down to them from
Runnymede and should not be wrested from them.

A British Tory, at the same time, might have replied: "We fight, we
cannot do less, in order to discipline and punish these wretches who
assume to deny the jurisdiction of the British Crown and to rebel
against the authority of the British Parliament." A few years before,
an English general had boasted that with an army of five thousand
troops he would undertake a march from Canada, through the Colonies,
straight to the Gulf of Mexico. And Colonel George Washington, who had
seen something of the quality of the British regulars, remarked that
with a thousand seasoned Virginians he would engage to block the five
thousand wherever he met them. The test was now to be made.

The first thing that strikes us is the great extent of the field of
war. From the farthest settlements in the northeast, in what is now
Maine, to the border villages in Georgia was about fifteen hundred
miles; but mere distance did not represent the difficulty of the
journey. Between Boston and Baltimore ran a carriage road, not always
kept in good repair. Most of the other stretches had to be traversed
on horseback. The country along the seaboard was generally well
supplied with food, but the supply was nowhere near large enough to
furnish regular permanent subsistence for an army. A lack of munitions
seriously threatened the Colonists' ability to fight at all, but the
discovery of lead in Virginia made good this deficiency until the year
1781, when the lead mine was exhausted.

More important than material concerns, however, was the diversity
in origin and customs among the Colonists themselves. The total
population numbered in 1775 nearly two and one half million souls. Of
these, the slaves formed about 500,000. The three largest Colonies,
Virginia, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania contained 900,000
inhabitants, of which a little more than one half were slaves.
Pennsylvania, the third Colony, had a total of 300,000, mostly white,
while South Carolina had 200,000, of whom only 65,000 were white.
Connecticut, on the other hand, had 200,000 with scarcely any blacks.
The result was a very mottled population. The New Englanders had
already begun to practise manufacturing, and they continued to raise
under normal conditions sufficient food for their subsistence. South
of the Mason and Dixon line, however, slave labor prevailed and the
three great staples--tobacco, indigo, and rice--were the principal
crops. Where these did not grow, the natives got along as best they
could on scanty common crops, and by raising a few sheep and hogs. As
the war proceeded, it taught with more and more force the inherent
wastefulness of slave labor in the South. It was inefficient, costly,
and unreliable.

The Battle of Bunker Hill was at once hailed as a Patriot victory,
but the rejoicing was premature, for the Americans had been forced
to retreat, giving up the position they had bravely defended.
Nevertheless, the opinion prevailed that they had won a real victory
by withstanding through many hours of a bloody fight some of the best
of the British regiments.

Washington took command of the American army at Cambridge, he was
faced with the great task of organizing it and of forming a plan
of campaign. The Congress had taken over the charge of the army at
Boston, and the events had so shaped themselves that the first
thing for Washington to do was to drive out the British troops. To
accomplish this he planned to seal up all the entrances into the town
by land so that food could not be smuggled in. The British had a
considerable fleet in Boston Harbor, and they had to rely upon it to
bring provisions and to keep in touch with the world outside.

Washington had his headquarters at the Craigie House in Cambridge,
some half a mile from Harvard Square and the College. He was now
forty-three years old, a man of commanding presence, six feet three
inches tall, broad-shouldered but slender, without any signs of the
stoutness of middle age. His hands and feet were large. His head was
somewhat small. The blue-gray eyes, set rather far apart, looked out
from heavy eyebrows with an expression of attentiveness. The most
marked feature was the nose, which was fairly large and straight and
vigorous. The mouth shut firmly, as it usually does where decision
is the dominant trait. The lips were flat. His color was pale but
healthy, and rarely flushed, even under great provocation.

All that had gone before seemed to be strangely blended in his
appearance. The surveyor lad; the Indian fighter and officer; the
planter; the foxhunter; the Burgess; you could detect them all. But
underlying them all was the permanent Washington, deferent, plain of
speech, direct, yet slow in forming or expressing an opinion. Most
men, after they had been with him awhile, felt a sense of his majesty
grow upon them, a sense that he was made of common flesh like them,
but of something uncommon besides, something very high and very

Washington found that he had sixteen thousand troops under his
command near Boston. Of these two thirds came from Massachusetts, and
Connecticut halved the rest. During July Congress added three thousand
men from Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia. They lacked everything.
In order to give them some uniformity in dress, Washington suggested
hunting-shirts, which he said "would have a happier tendency to unite
the men and abolish those Provincial Distinctions which lead to
jealousy and dissatisfaction." Among higher officers, jealousy, which
they made no attempt to dissemble or to disguise, was common. Two of
the highest posts went to Englishmen who proved themselves not only
technically unfit, but suspiciously near disloyalty. One of these
was Charles Lee, who thought the major-generalship to which Congress
appointed him beneath his notice; the other was also an Englishman,
Horatio Gates, Adjutant-General. A third, Thomas, when about to retire
in pique, received from Washington the following rebuke:

In the usual contests of empire and ambition, the conscience of a
soldier has so little share, that he may very properly insist
upon his claims of rank, and extend his pretensions even to
punctilio;--but in such a cause as this, when the object is
neither glory nor extent of territory, but a defense of all that
is dear and valuable in private and public life, surely every
post ought to be deemed honorable in which a man can serve his

[Footnote 1: Ford, _George Washington_, I, 175.]

Besides the complaints which reached Washington from all sides, he had
also to listen to the advice of military amateurs. Some of these had
never been in a battle and knew nothing about warfare except from
reading, but they were not on this account the most taciturn. Many
urged strongly that an expedition be sent against Canada, a design
which Washington opposed. His wisdom was justified when Richard
Montgomery, with about fifteen hundred men, took Montreal--November
12, 1775--and after waiting several weeks formed a junction with
Benedict Arnold near Quebec, which they attacked in a blinding
snowstorm, December 31, 1775. Arnold had marched up the Kennebec River
and through the Maine wilderness with fifteen hundred men, which were
reduced to five hundred before they came into action with Montgomery's
much dwindled force. The commander of Quebec repulsed them and sent
them flying southward as fast as the rigors of the winter and the
difficulties of the wilderness permitted.

By the end of July, meanwhile, Washington had brought something like
order into the undisciplined and untrained masses who formed his
army, but now another lack threatened him: a lack of gunpowder. The
cartridge boxes of his soldiers contained on an average only nine
charges of ball and gunpowder apiece, hardly enough to engage in
battle for more than ten minutes. Washington sent an urgent appeal
to every town, and hearing that a ship at Bermuda had a cargo of
gunpowder, American ships were despatched thither to secure it. In
such straits did the army of the United Colonies go forth to war. By
avoiding battles and other causes for using munitions, they not only
kept their original supply, but added to it as fast as their appeals
were listened to. Washington kept his lines around Boston firm. In the
autumn General Gage was replaced, as British Commander-in-Chief, by
Sir William Howe, whose brother Richard, Lord Howe, became Admiral of
the Fleet. But the Howes knew no way to break the strangle hold of the
Americans. How Washington contrived to create the impression that
he was master of the situation is one of the mysteries of his
campaigning, because, although he had succeeded in making soldiers of
the raw recruits and in enforcing subordination, they were still a
very skittish body. They enlisted for short terms of service, and even
before their term was completed, they began to hanker to go home. This
caused not only inconvenience, but real difficulty. Still, Washington
steadily pushed on, and in March, 1776, by a brilliant manoeuvre at
Dorchester Heights, he secured a position from which his cannons could
bombard every British ship in Boston Harbor. On the 17th of March all
those ships, together with the garrison of eight thousand, and with
two thousand fugitive Loyalists, sailed off to Halifax. Boston has
been free from foreign enemies from that day to this.



Howe's retreat from Boston freed Massachusetts and, indeed, all New
England from British troops. It also gave Washington the clue to his
own next move. He was a real soldier and therefore his instinct told
him that his next objective must be the enemy's army. Accordingly
he prepared to move his own troops to New York. He passed through
Providence, Norwich, and New London, reaching New York on April 13th.
Congress was then sitting in Philadelphia and he was requested to
visit it.

He spent a fortnight during May in Philadelphia where he had
conferences with men of all kinds and seems to have been particularly
impressed, not to say shocked, by the lack of harmony which he
discovered. The members of the Congress, although they were ostensibly
devoting themselves to the common affairs of the United Colonies, were
really intriguing each for the interests of his special colony or
section. Washington thought this an ominous sign, as indeed it was,
for since the moment when he joined the Revolution he threw off all
local affiliation. He did his utmost to perform his duty, clinging as
long as he could to the hope that there would be no final break with
England. Throughout the winter, however, from almost every part of the
country the demands of the Colonists for independence became louder
and more urgent and these he heard repeated and discussed during his
visit to the Congress. On May 31st he wrote his brother John Augustine

Things have come to that pass now, as to convince us, that we have
nothing more to expect from the justice of Great Britain; also,
that she is capable of the most delusive acts; for I am satisfied,
that no commissioners ever were designed, except Hessians and
other foreigners; and that the idea was only to deceive and throw
us off our guard. The first has been too effectually accomplished,
as many members of Congress, in short, the representation of whole
provinces, are still feeding themselves upon the dainty food
of reconciliation; and though they will not allow, that the
expectation of it has any influence upon their judgment, (with
respect to their preparations for defence,) it is but too obvious,
that it has an operation upon every part of their conduct, and is
a clog to their proceedings. It is not in the nature of things to
be otherwise; for no man, that entertains a hope of seeing this
dispute speedily and equitably adjusted by commissioners, will go
to the same expense and run the same hazards to prepare for the
worst event, as he who believes that he must conquer, or submit to
unconditional terms, and its concomitants, such as confiscation,
hanging, etc. etc.[1]

[Footnote 1: Ford, iv, 106.]

The Hessians to whom Washington alludes were German mercenaries
hired by the King of England from two or three of the princelings of
Germany. These Hessians turned a dishonest penny by fighting in behalf
of a cause in which they took no immediate interest or even knew what
it was about. During the course of the Revolution there were thirty
thousand Hessians in the British armies in America, and, as their
owners, the German princelings, received L5 apiece for them it was a
profitable arrangement for those phlegmatic, corpulent, and braggart
personages. The Americans complained that the Hessians were brutal and
tricky fighters; but in reality they merely carried out the ideals of
their German Fatherland which remained behind the rest of Europe in
its ideals of what was fitting in war. Being uncivilized, they could
not be expected to follow the practice of civilized warfare.

When Washington returned to his headquarters in New York, he left the
Congress in Philadelphia simmering over the question of Independence.
Almost simultaneously with Washington's return came the British fleet
under Howe, which passed Sandy Hook and sailed up New York Harbor. He
brought an army of twenty-five thousand men. Washington's force was
nominally nineteen thousand men, but it was reduced to not more than
ten thousand by the detachment of several thousand to guard Boston
and of several thousand more to take part in the struggle in Canada,
besides thirty-six hundred sick. The Colonists clung as if by
obsession to their project of capturing Quebec. The death of
Montgomery and the discomfiture of Benedict Arnold, which really gave
a quietus to the success of the expedition, did not suffice to crush
it. Only too evident was it that Quebec could be taken. Canada would
fall permanently into American control, and cease to be a constant
menace and the recruiting ground for new expeditions against the
central Colonies.

August was drawing to a close when the two armies were in a position
to begin fighting. The British, who had originally camped upon Staten
Island where Nature provided them with a shelter from attack, had now
moved across the bay to Long Island. There General Sullivan, having
lost eleven or twelve hundred men, was caught between two fires and
compelled to surrender with the two thousand or more of his army which
remained after the attack of the British. Washington watched the
disaster from Brooklyn, but was unable to detach any regiments to
bring aid to Sullivan, as it now became clear to him that his whole
army on Long Island might easily be cut off. He decided to retreat
from the island. This he did on August 29th, having commandeered every
boat that he could find. He ferried his entire force across to the
New York side with such secrecy and silence that the British did not
notice that they were gone. A heavy fog, which settled over the water
during the night, greatly aided the adventure. The result of
the Battle of Long Island gave the British great exultation and
correspondingly depressed the Americans. On the preceding fourth
of July they had declared their Independence; they were no longer
Colonies but independent States bound together by a common interest.
They felt all the more keenly that in this first battle after their
Independence they should be so ignominiously defeated. They might have
taken much comfort in the thought that had Howe surprised them on
their midnight retreat across the river, he might have captured most
of the American army and probably have ended the war. Washington's
disaster sprang not from his incompetence, but from his inadequate
resources. The British outnumbered him more than two to one and they
had control of the water; an advantage which he could not offset. One
important fact should not be forgotten: New York, both City and State,
had been notoriously Loyalist--that is, pro-British--ever since the
troubles between the Colonists and the British grew angry. Governor
Tryon, the Governor of the State, made no secret of his British
preferences; indeed, they were not preferences at all, but downright
British acts.

Having won the Battle of Long Island, Lord Howe thought the time
favorable for acting in his capacity as a peacemaker, because he had
come over with authority to negotiate a peaceful settlement of the
Colonists' quarrel. He appealed, therefore, to the Congress of
Philadelphia, which appointed a committee of three--Benjamin Franklin,
John Adams, and Edward Rutledge to confer with Lord Howe. The
conference, which exhibited the shrewd quality of John Adams and of
Franklin, the politeness of Rutledge, and the studied urbanity of Lord
Howe, simply showed that there was no common ground on which they
could come to an agreement. The American Commissioners returned to
Philadelphia and Lord Howe to New York City and there were no further
attempts at peacemaking.

Having brought his men to New York, Washington may well have debated
what to do next. The general opinion seemed to be that New York must
be defended at all costs. Whether Washington approved of this plan, I
find it hard to say. Perhaps he felt that if the American army could
hold its own on Manhattan for several weeks, it would be put into
better discipline and prepared either to risk a battle with the
British, or to retreat across the Hudson toward New Jersey. He decided
that for the moment at least he would station his army on the heights
of Harlem. From the house of Colonel Morris, where he made his
headquarters, he wrote on September 4, 1776, to the President of the
Congress: "We are now, as it were, upon the eve of another dissolution
of our army." The term of service of most of the soldiers under
Washington would expire at the end of the year, and he devoted the
greater part of the letter to showing up the evils of the military
system existing in the American army.

A soldier [he said] reasoned with upon the goodness of the cause
he is engaged in, and the inestimable rights he is contending
for, hears you with patience, and acknowledges the truth of your
observations, but adds that it is of no more importance to him
than to others. The officer makes you the same reply, with this
further remark, that his pay will not support him and he cannot
ruin himself and family to serve his country, when every member of
the community is equally interested, and benefited by his labors.
The few, therefore, who act upon principles of disinterestedness,
comparatively speaking, are no more than a drop in the ocean.

It becomes evident to me then, that, as this contest is not
likely to be the work of a day, as the war must be carried on
systematically, and to do it you must have good officers, there
are in my judgment no other possible means to obtain them but by
establishing your army upon a permanent footing and giving your
officers good pay. This will induce gentlemen and men of character
to engage; and, till the bulk of your officers is composed of such
persons as are actuated by principles of honor and a spirit of
enterprise, you have little to expect from them.[1]

[Footnote 1: Ford, IV, 440.]

Washington proceeds to argue that the soldiers ought not to be engaged
for a shorter time than the duration of the war, that they ought to
have better pay and the offer of a hundred or a hundred and fifty
acres of land. Officers' pay should be increased in proportion. "Why
a captain in the Continental service should receive no more than five
shillings currency per day for performing the same duties that an
officer of the same rank in the British service receives ten shillings
for, I never could conceive." He further speaks strongly against the
employment of militia--"to place any dependence upon [it] is assuredly
resting upon a broken staff."

Washington wrote thus frankly to the Congress which seems to have read
his doleful reports without really being stimulated, as it ought to

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