The True George Washington [10th Ed.] by Paul Leicester Ford

Produced by John R. Bilderback and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team. The True George Washington By Paul Leicester Ford Author of “The Honorable Peter Stirling” Editor of “The Writings of Thomas Jefferson” and “The Sayings of Poor Richard” “That I have foibles, and perhaps many of them, I shall not deny. I should esteem myself,
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Produced by John R. Bilderback and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.


The True George Washington

Paul Leicester Ford

Author of “The Honorable Peter Stirling” Editor of “The Writings of Thomas Jefferson” and “The Sayings of Poor Richard”

“That I have foibles, and perhaps many of them, I shall not deny. I should esteem myself, as the world would, vain and empty, were I to arrogate perfection.”


“Speak of me as I am; nothing extenuate, nor set down aught in malice.”



_Tenth Edition_

Electrotyped and Printed by J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia, U




In every country boasting a history there may be observed a tendency to make its leaders or great men superhuman. Whether we turn to the legends of the East, the folk-lore of Europe, or the traditions of the native races of America, we find a mythology based upon the acts of man gifted with superhuman powers. In the unscientific, primeval periods in which these beliefs were born and elaborated into oral and written form, their origin is not surprising. But to all who have studied the creation of a mythology, no phase is a more curious one than that the keen, practical American of to-day should engage in the same process of hero-building which has given us Jupiter, Wotan, King Arthur, and others. By a slow evolution we have well-nigh discarded from the lives of our greatest men of the past all human faults and feelings; have enclosed their greatness in glass of the clearest crystal, and hung up a sign, “Do not touch.” Indeed, with such characters as Washington, Franklin, and Lincoln we have practically adopted the English maxim that “the king can do no wrong.” In place of men, limited by human limits, and influenced by human passions, we have demi-gods, so stripped of human characteristics as to make us question even whether they deserve much credit for their sacrifices and deeds.

But with this process of canonization have we not lost more than we have gained, both in example and in interest? Many, no doubt, with the greatest veneration for our first citizen, have sympathized with the view expressed by Mark Twain, when he said that he was a greater man than Washington, for the latter “couldn’t tell a lie, while he could, but wouldn’t” We have endless biographies of Franklin, picturing him in all the public stations of life, but all together they do not equal in popularity his own human autobiography, in which we see him walking down Market Street with a roll under each arm, and devouring a third. And so it seems as if the time had come to put the shadow-boxes of humanity round our historic portraits, not because they are ornamental in themselves, but because they will make them examples, not mere idols.

If the present work succeeds in humanizing Washington, and making him a man rather than a historical figure, its purpose will have been fulfilled. In the attempt to accomplish this, Washington has, so far as is possible, been made to speak for himself, even though at times it has compelled the sacrifice of literary form, in the hope that his own words would convey a greater sense of the personality of the man. So, too, liberal drafts have been made on the opinions and statements of his contemporaries; but, unless the contrary is stated or is obvious, all quoted matter is from Washington’s own pen. It is with pleasure that the author adds that the result of his study has only served to make Washington the greater to him.

The writer is under the greatest obligation to his brother, Worthington Chauncey Ford, not merely for his numerous books on Washington, of which his “Writings of George Washington” is easily first in importance of all works relating to the great American, but also for much manuscript material which he has placed at the author’s service. Hitherto unpublished facts have been drawn from many other sources, but notably from the rich collection of Mr. William F. Havemeyer, of New York, from the Department of State in Washington, and from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. To Mr. S.M. Hamilton, of the former institution, and to Mr. Frederick D. Stone, of the latter, the writer is particularly indebted for assistance.















List of Illustrations with Notes


Painted for Washington in 1795, and presented by him to Nelly (Calvert) Stuart, widow of John Parke Custis, Washington’s adopted son. Her son George Washington Parke Custis, in whose presence the sittings were made, often spoke of the likeness as “almost perfect.”


The injury of the effigy of Laurence Washington and the entire disappearance of the effigy of Amee antedate the early part of the present century, and probably were done in the Puritan period. Since the above tracing was made the brasses of the eleven children have been stolen, leaving nothing but the lettering and the shield of the Washington arms.


Painted about 1750, and erroneously alleged to be by Copley. Original in the possession of Mr. R. Byrd Lewis, of Marmion, Virginia.


Original in the possession of General G.W. Custis Lee, of Lexington, Virginia.


From the miniature by Gilbert Stuart, in the possession of her grandson, Edward Parke Lewis Custis, of Hoboken, New Jersey.


The lettering reads, “Done from an original Drawn from the Life, by Alex’r Campbell of Williamsburg in Virginia. Published as the act directs 9 Sept’r 1775 by C. Shepherd.” It is the first engraved portrait of Washington, and was issued to satisfy the English curiosity concerning the new commander-in-chief of the rebels. From the original print in the possession of Mr. W.F. Havemeyer, of New York.


The sheet from which Washington modelled his handwriting, and to which his earliest script shows a marked resemblance. From the original in the possession of the author.


Showing changes and corrections made by Washington at a later date. From original copy-book in the Washington MSS. in the Department of State.


From the original formerly in the possession of Mr. Frederick Philipse.


Alleged to have been painted by Woolaston about 1757. It has been asserted by Mr. L.W. Washington and Mr. Moncure D. Conway that this is a portrait of Betty Washington Lewis, but in this they are wholly in error, as proof exists that it is a portrait of Mrs. Washington before her second marriage.


Made by Washington as a boy, and one of the earliest specimens of his work. The small drawing of the house represents it as it was before Washington enlarged it, and is the only picture of it known. Original in the Department of State.


From the original in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


Painted by Edward Savage about 1795, and issued as a large engraving in 1798. The original picture is now in the possession of Mr. William F. Havemeyer, of New York.


The official invitation while President, from the original in the possession of the author.


This gives only the first few names, many more following. The original was formerly in the possession of Mr. Thomas Biddle, of Philadelphia.


This is a slight variation from the true Washington coat of arms, the changes being introduced by Washington. From the original in the possession of the author.


Washington’s birthplace. The survey was made in 1743, on the property coming into the possession of Augustine Washington (second) from his father, with the object of readjusting the boundary-lines. Original in the possession of Mr. William F. Havemeyer, of New York.


This record, with the exception of the interlined note concerning Betty Washington Lewis, is in the handwriting of George Washington, and was written when he was about sixteen years old. Original in the possession of Mrs. Lewis Washington, of Charlestown, West Virginia.


By an unknown artist. From the original in the possession of General G.W. Custis Lee, of Lexington, Virginia.


On a fly-leaf of the volume to which this title belongs is written, “This autograph of Genl. Washington’s name is believed to be the earliest specimen of his writing, when he was probably not more than 8 or 9 years of age.” This is a note by G.C. Washington, to whom Washington’s library descended. Original in the possession of the Boston Athenaeum.


First page of Washington’s boyish transcript, written when he was about thirteen years of age. Used here by courtesy of Mr. S.M. Hamilton and “Public Opinion,” who are preparing a fac-simile edition of the entire rules.


Taken by Houdon in October, 1785. From the replica in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


Of this first edition but two copies are known. From the original in the Lenox Library.


Philadelphia offered to furnish the house for the President during the time Congress sat in that city, but Washington “wholly declined living in any public building,” and rented this house from Robert Morris. Though it was considered one of the finest in the city, Washington several times complained of being cramped.




Although Washington wrote that the history of his ancestors was, in his opinion, “of very little moment,” and “a subject to which I confess I have paid very little attention,” few Americans can prove a better pedigree. The earliest of his forebears yet discovered was described as “gentleman,” the family were granted lands by Henry the Eighth, held various offices of honor, married into good families, and under the Stuarts two were knighted and a third served as page to Prince Charles. Lawrence, a brother of the three thus distinguished, matriculated at Oxford as a “generosi filius” (the intermediate class between sons of the nobility, “armigeri filius,” and of the people, “plebeii filius”), or as of the minor gentry. In time he became a fellow and lector of Brasenose College, and presently obtained the good living of Purleigh. Strong royalists, the fortunes of the family waned along with King Charles, and sank into insignificance with the passing of the Stuart dynasty. Not the least sufferer was the rector of Purleigh, for the Puritan Parliament ejected him from his living, on the charge “that he was a common frequenter of ale-houses, not only himself sitting dayly tippling there … but hath oft been drunk,”–a charge indignantly denied by the royalists, who asserted that he was a “worthy Pious man, … always … a very Modest, Sober Person;” and this latter claim is supported by the fact that though the Puritans sequestered the rich living, they made no objection to his serving as rector at Brixted Parva, where the living was “such a Poor and Miserable one that it was always with difficulty that any one was persuaded to accept of it.”

Poverty resulting, John, the eldest son of this rector, early took to the sea, and in 1656 assisted “as second man in Sayleing ye Vessel to Virginia.” Here he settled, took up land, presently became a county officer, a burgess, and a colonel of militia. In this latter function he commanded the Virginia troops during the Indian war of 1675, and when his great-grandson, George, on his first arrival on the frontier, was called by the Indians “Conotocarius,” or “devourer of villages,” the formidable but inappropriate title for the newly-fledged officer is supposed to have been due to the reputation that John Washington had won for his name among the Indians eighty years before.


Both John’s son, Lawrence, and Lawrence’s son, Augustine, describe themselves in their wills as “gentlemen,” and both intermarried with the “gentry families” of Virginia. Augustine was educated at Appleby School, in England, like his grandfather followed the sea for a time, was interested in iron mines, and in other ways proved himself far more than the average Virginia planter of his day. He was twice married,–which marriages, with unconscious humor, he describes in his will as “several Ventures,”–had ten children, and died in 1743, when George, his fifth child and the first by his second “Venture,” was a boy of eleven. The father thus took little part in the life of the lad, and almost the only mention of him by his son still extant is the one recorded in Washington’s round school-boy hand in the family Bible, to the effect that “Augustine Washington and Mary Ball was Married the Sixth of March 17-30/31. Augustine Washington Departed this Life ye 12th Day of April 1743, Aged 49 Years.”

The mother, Mary Washington, was more of a factor, though chiefly by mere length of life, for she lived to be eighty-three, and died but ten years before her son. That Washington owed his personal appearance to the Balls is true, but otherwise the sentimentality that has been lavished about the relations between the two and her influence upon him, partakes of fiction rather than of truth. After his father’s death the boy passed most of his time at the homes of his two elder brothers, and this was fortunate, for they were educated men, of some colonial consequence, while his mother lived in comparatively straitened circumstances, was illiterate and untidy, and, moreover, if tradition is to be believed, smoked a pipe. Her course with the lad was blamed by a contemporary as “fond and unthinking,” and this is borne out by such facts as can be gleaned, for when his brothers wished to send him to sea she made “trifling objections,” and prevented his taking what they thought an advantageous opening; when the brilliant offer of a position on Braddock’s staff was tendered to Washington, his mother, “alarmed at the report,” hurried to Mount Vernon and endeavored to prevent him from accepting it; still again, after Braddock’s defeat, she so wearied her son with pleas not to risk the dangers of another campaign that Washington finally wrote her, “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.” After he inherited Mount Vernon the two seem to have seen little of each other, though, when occasion took him near Fredericksburg, he usually stopped to see her for a few hours, or even for a night.

Though Washington always wrote to his mother as “Honored Madam,” and signed himself “your dutiful and aff. son,” she none the less tried him not a little. He never claimed from her a part of the share of his father’s estate which was his due on becoming of age, and, in addition, “a year or two before I left Virginia (to make her latter days comfortable and free from care) I did, at her request, but at my own expence, purchase a commodious house, garden and Lotts (of her own choosing) in Fredericksburg, that she might be near my sister Lewis, her only daughter,–and did moreover agree to take her land and negroes at a certain yearly rent, to be fixed by Colo Lewis and others (of her own nomination) which has been an annual expence to me ever since, as the estate never raised one half the rent I was to pay. Before I left Virginia I answered all her calls for money; and since that period have directed my steward to do the same.” Furthermore, he gave her a phaeton, and when she complained of her want of comfort he wrote her, “My house is at your service, and [I] would press you most sincerely and most devoutly to accept it, but I am sure, and candor requires me to say, it will never answer your purposes in any shape whatsoever. For in truth it may be compared to a well resorted tavern, as scarcely any strangers who are going from north to south, or from south to north, do not spend a day or two at it. This would, were you to be an inhabitant of it, oblige you to do one of 3 things: 1st, to be always dressing to appear in company; 2d, to come into [the room] in a dishabille, or 3d to be as it were a prisoner in your own chamber. The first you’ld not like; indeed, for a person at your time of life it would be too fatiguing. The 2d, I should not like, because those who resort here are, as I observed before, strangers and people of the first distinction. And the 3d, more than probably, would not be pleasing to either of us.”

Under these circumstances it was with real indignation that Washington learned that complaints of hers that she “never lived soe poore in all my life” were so well known that there was a project to grant her a pension. The pain this caused a man who always showed such intense dislike to taking even money earned from public coffers, and who refused everything in the nature of a gift, can easily be understood. He at once wrote a letter to a friend in the Virginia Assembly, in which, after reciting enough of what he had done for her to prove that she was under no necessity of a pension,–“or, in other words, receiving charity from the public,”–he continued, “But putting these things aside, which I could not avoid mentioning in exculpation of a presumptive want of duty on my part; confident I am that she has not a child that would not divide the last sixpence to relieve her from real distress. This she has been repeatedly assured of by me; and all of us, I am certain, would feel much hurt, at having our mother a pensioner, while we had the means of supporting her; but in fact she has an ample income of her own. I lament accordingly that your letter, which conveyed the first hint of this matter, did not come to my hands sooner; but I request, in pointed terms, if the matter is now in agitation in your Assembly, that all proceedings on it may be stopped, or in case of a decision in her favor, that it may be done away and repealed at my request.”

Still greater mortification was in store for him, when he was told that she was borrowing and accepting gifts from her neighbors, and learned “on good authority that she is, upon all occasions and in all companies, complaining … of her wants and difficulties; and if not in direct terms, at least by strong innuendoes, endeavors to excite a belief that times are much altered, &c., &c., which not only makes _her_ appear in an unfavorable point of view, but _those also_ who are connected with her.” To save her feelings he did not express the “pain” he felt to her, but he wrote a brother asking him to ascertain if there was the slightest basis in her complaints, and “see what is necessary to make her comfortable,” for “while I have anything I will part with it to make her so;” but begging him “at the same time … to represent to her in delicate terms, the impropriety of her complaints, and _acceptance_ of favors, even when they are voluntarily offered, from any but relations.” Though he did not “touch upon this subject in a letter to her,” he was enough fretted to end the renting of her plantation, not because “I mean … to withhold any aid or support I can give from you; for whilst I have a shilling left, you shall have part,” but because “what I shall then give, I shall have credit for,” and not be “viewed as a delinquent, and considered perhaps by the world as [an] unjust and undutiful son.”

In the last years of her life a cancer developed, which she refused to have “dressed,” and over which, as her doctor wrote Washington, the “Old Lady” and he had “a small battle every day.” Once Washington was summoned by an express to her bedside “to bid, as I was prepared to expect, the last adieu to an honored parent,” but it was a false alarm. Her health was so bad, however, that just before he started to New York to be inaugurated he rode to Fredericksburg, “and took a final leave of my mother, never expecting to see her more,” a surmise that proved correct.

Only Elizabeth–or “Betty”–of Washington’s sisters grew to womanhood, and it is said that she was so strikingly like her brother that, disguised with a long cloak and a military hat, the difference between them was scarcely detectable. She married Fielding Lewis, and lived at “Kenmore House” on the Rappahannock, where Washington spent many a night, as did the Lewises at Mount Vernon. During the Revolution, while visiting there, she wrote her brother, “Oh, when will that day arrive when we shall meet again. Trust in the lord it will be soon,–till when, you have the prayers and kind wishes for your health and happiness of your loving and sincerely affectionate sister.” Her husband died “much indebted,” and from that time her brother gave her occasional sums of money, and helped her in other ways.

Her eldest son followed in his father’s footsteps, and displeased Washington with requests for loans. He angered him still more by conduct concerning which Washington wrote to him as follows:

“Sir, Your letter of the 11th of Octor. never came to my hands ’till yesterday. Altho’ your disrespectful conduct towards me, in coming into this country and spending weeks therein without ever coming near me, entitled you to very little notice or favor from me; yet I consent that you may get timber from off my Land in Fauquier County to build a house on your Lott in Rectertown. Having granted this, now let me ask you what your views were in purchasing a Lott in a place which, I presume, originated with and will end in two or three Gin shops, which probably will exist no longer than they serve to ruin the proprietors, and those who make the most frequent applications to them. I am, &c.”


Other of the Lewis boys pleased him better, and he appointed one an officer in his own “Life Guard.” Of another he wrote, when President, to his sister, “If your son Howell is living with you, and not usefully employed in your own affairs, and should incline to spend a few months with me, as a writer in my office (if he is fit for it) I will allow him at the rate of three hundred dollars a year, provided he is diligent in discharging the duties of it from breakfast until dinner–Sundays excepted. This sum will be punctually paid him, and I am particular in declaring beforehand what I require, and what he may expect, that there may be no disappointment, or false expectations on either side. He will live in the family in the same manner his brother Robert did.” This Robert had been for some time one of his secretaries, and at another time was employed as a rent-collector.

Still another son, Lawrence, also served him in these dual capacities, and Washington, on his retirement from the Presidency, offered him a home at Mount Vernon. This led to a marriage with Mrs. Washington’s grandchild, Eleanor Custis, a match which so pleased Washington that he made arrangements for Lawrence to build on the Mount Vernon estate, in his will named him an executor, and left the couple a part of this property, as well as a portion of the residuary estate.

As already noted, much of Washington’s early life was passed at the homes of his elder (half-) brothers, Lawrence and Augustine, who lived respectively at Mount Vernon and Wakefield. When Lawrence developed consumption, George was his travelling companion in a trip to Barbadoes, and from him, when he died of that disease, in 1752, came the bequest of Mount Vernon to “my loveing brother George.” To Augustine, in the only letter now extant, Washington wrote, “The pleasure of your company at Mount Vernon always did, and always will afford me infinite satisfaction,” and signed himself “your most affectionate brother.” Surviving this brother, he left handsome bequests to all his children.

Samuel, the eldest of his own brothers, and his junior by but two years, though constantly corresponded with, was not a favorite. He seems to have had extravagant tendencies, variously indicated by five marriages, and by (perhaps as a consequence) pecuniary difficulties. In 1781, Washington wrote to another brother, “In God’s name how did my brother Samuel get himself so enormously in debt?” Very quickly requests for loans followed, than which nothing was more irritating to Washington. Yet, though he replied that it would be “very inconvenient” to him, his ledger shows that at least two thousand dollars were advanced, and in a letter to this brother, on the danger of borrowing at interest, Washington wrote, “I do not make these observations on account of the money I purpose to lend you, because all I shall require is that you return the net sum when in your power, without interest.” Better even than this, in his will Washington discharged the debt.

To the family of Samuel, Washington was equally helpful. For the eldest son he obtained an ensigncy, and “to save Thornton and you [Samuel] the expence of buying a horse to ride home on, I have lent him a mare.” Two other sons he assumed all the expenses of, and showed an almost fatherly interest in them. He placed them at school, and when the lads proved somewhat unruly he wrote them long admonitory letters, which became stern when actual misconduct ensued, and when one of them ran away to Mount Vernon to escape a whipping, Washington himself prepared “to correct him, but he begged so earnestly and promised so faithfully that there should be no cause for complaint in the future, that I have suspended punishment.” Later the two were sent to college, and in all cost Washington “near five thousand dollars.”

An even greater trouble was their sister Harriot, whose care was assumed in 1785, and who was a member of Washington’s household, with only a slight interruption, till her marriage in 1796. Her chief failing was “no disposition … to be careful of her cloathes,” which were “dabbed about in every hole and corner and her best things always in use,” so that Washington said “she costs me enough!” To her uncle she wrote on one occasion, “How shall I apologise to my dear and Honor’d for intruding on his goodness so soon again, but being sensible for your kindness to me which I shall ever remember with the most heartfelt gratitude induces me to make known my wants. I have not had a pair of stays since I first came here: if you could let me have a pair I should be very much obleiged to you, and also a hat and a few other articles. I hope my dear Uncle will not think me extravagant for really I take as much care of my cloaths as I possibly can.” Probably the expense that pleased him best in her case was that which he recorded in his ledger “By Miss Harriot Washington gave her to buy wedding clothes $100.”

His second and favorite brother, John Augustine, who was four years his junior, Washington described as “the intimate companion of my youth and the friend of my ripened age.” While the Virginia colonel was on the frontier, from 1754 to 1759, he left John in charge of all his business affairs, giving him a residence at and management of Mount Vernon. With this brother he constantly corresponded, addressing him as “Dear Jack,” and writing in the most intimate and affectionate terms, not merely to him, but when John had taken unto himself a wife, to her, and to “the little ones,” and signing himself “your loving brother.” Visits between the two were frequent, and invitations for the same still more so, and in one letter, written during the most trying moment of the Revolution, Washington said, “God grant you all health and happiness. Nothing in this world could contribute so to mine as to be fixed among you.” John died in 1787, and Washington wrote with simple but undisguised grief of the death of “my beloved brother.”

The eldest son of this brother, Bushrod, was his favorite nephew, and Washington took much interest in his career, getting the lad admitted to study law with Judge James Wilson, in Philadelphia, and taking genuine pride in him when he became a lawyer and judge of repute. He made this nephew his travelling companion in the Western journey of 1784, and at other times not merely sent him money, but wrote him letters of advice, dwelling on the dangers that beset young men, though confessing that he was himself “not such a Stoic” as to expect too much of youthful blood. To Bushrod, also, he appealed on legal matters, adding, “You may think me an unprofitable applicant in asking opinions and requiring services of you without dousing my money, but pay day may come,” and in this he was as good as his word, for in his will Washington left Bushrod, “partly in consideration of an intimation to his deceased father, while we were bachelors and he had kindly undertaken to superintend my Estates, during my military services in the former war between Great Britain and France, that if I should fall therein, Mt. Vernon … should become his property,” the home and “mansion-house farm,” one share of the residuary estate, his private papers, and his library, and named him an executor of the instrument.

Of Washington’s relations with his youngest brother, Charles, little can be learned. He was the last of his brothers to die, and Washington outlived him so short a time that he was named in his will, though only for a mere token of remembrance. “I add nothing to it because of the ample provision I have made for his issue.” Of the children so mentioned, Washington was particularly fond of George Augustine Washington. As a mere lad he used his influence to procure for him an ensigncy in a Virginia regiment, and an appointment on Lafayette’s staff. When in 1784 the young fellow was threatened with consumption, his uncle’s purse supplied him with the funds by which he was enabled to travel, even while Washington wrote, “Poor fellow! his pursuit after health is, I fear, altogether fruitless.” When better health came, and with it a renewal of a troth with a niece of Mrs. Washington’s, the marriage was made possible by Washington appointing the young fellow his manager, and not merely did it take place at Mount Vernon, but the young couple took up their home there. More than this, that their outlook might be “more stable and pleasing,” Washington promised them that on his death they should not be forgotten. When the disease again developed, Washington wrote his nephew in genuine anxiety, and ended his letter, “At all times and under all circumstances you and yours will possess my affectionate regards.” Only a few days later the news of his nephew’s death reached him, and he wrote his widow, “To you who so well know the affectionate regard I had for our departed friend, it is unnecessary to describe the sorrow with which I was afflicted at the news of his death.” He asked her and her children “to return to your old habitation at Mount Vernon. You can go to no place where you can be more welcome, nor to any where you can live at less expence and trouble,” an offer, he adds, “made to you with my whole heart.” Furthermore, Washington served as executor, assumed the expense of educating one of the sons, and in his will left the two children part of the Mount Vernon estate, as well as other bequests, “on account of the affection I had for, and the obligation I was under to their father when living, who from his youth attached himself to my person, and followed my fortunes through the vicissitudes of the late Revolution, afterwards devoting his time for many years whilst my public employments rendered it impracticable for me to do it myself, thereby affording me essential services and always performing them in a manner the most filial and respectful.”

Of his wife’s kith and kin Washington was equally fond. Both alone and with Mrs. Washington he often visited her mother, Mrs. Dandridge, and in 1773 he wrote to a brother-in-law that he wished “I was master of Arguments powerful enough to prevail upon Mrs. Dandridge to make this place her entire and absolute home. I should think as she lives a lonesome life (Betsey being married) it might suit her well, & be agreeable, both to herself & my Wife, to me most assuredly it would.” Washington was also a frequent visitor at “Eltham,” the home of Colonel Bassett, who had married his wife’s sister, and constantly corresponded with these relatives. He asked this whole family to be his guests at the Warm Springs, and, as this meant camping out in tents, he wrote, “You will have occasion to provide nothing, if I can be advised of your intentions, so that I may provide accordingly.” To another brother-in-law, Bartholomew Dandridge, he lent money, and forgave the debt to the widow in his will, also giving her the use during her life of the thirty-three negroes he had bid in at the bankruptcy sale of her husband’s property.

The pleasantest glimpses of family feeling are gained, however, in his relations with his wife’s children and grandchildren. John Parke and Martha Parke Custis–or “Jack” and “Patsey,” as he called them–were at the date of his marriage respectively six and four years of age, and in the first invoice of goods to be shipped to him from London after he had become their step-father, Washington ordered “10 shillings worth of Toys,” “6 little books for children beginning to read,” and “1 fashionable-dressed baby to cost 10 shillings.” When this latter shared the usual fate, he further wrote for “1 fashionable dress Doll to cost a guinea,” and for “A box of Gingerbread Toys & Sugar Images or Comfits.” A little later he ordered a Bible and Prayer-Book for each, “neatly bound in Turkey,” with names “in gilt letters on the inside of the cover,” followed ere long by an order for “1 very good Spinet” As Patsy grew to girlhood she developed fits, and “solely on her account to try (by the advice of her Physician) the effect of the waters on her Complaint,” Washington took the family over the mountains and camped at the “Warm Springs” in 1769, with “little benefit,” for, after ailing four years longer, “she was seized with one of her usual Fits & expired in it, in less than two minutes, without uttering a word, or groan, or scarce a sigh.” “The Sweet Innocent Girl,” Washington wrote, “entered into a more happy & peaceful abode than she has met with in the afflicted Path she has hitherto trod,” but none the less “it is an easier matter to conceive than to describe the distress of this family” at the loss of “dear Patsy Custis.”


The care of Jack Custis was a worry to Washington in quite another way. As a lad, Custis signed his letters to him as “your most affectionate and dutiful son,” “yet I conceive,” Washington wrote, “there is much greater circumspection to be observed by a guardian than a natural parent.” Soon after assuming charge of the boy, a tutor was secured, who lived at Mount Vernon, but the boy showed little inclination to study, and when fourteen, Washington wrote that “his mind [is] … more turned … to Dogs, Horses and Guns, indeed upon Dress and equipage.” “Having his well being much at heart,” Washington wished to make him “fit for more useful purposes than [a] horse racer,” and so Jack was placed with a clergyman, who agreed to instruct him, and with him he lived, except for some home visits, for three years. Unfortunately, the lad, like the true Virginian planter of his day, had no taste for study, and had “a propensity for the [fair] sex.” After two or three flirtations, he engaged himself, without the knowledge of his mother or guardian, to Nellie Calvert, a match to which no objection could be made, except that, owing to his “youth and fickleness,” “he may either change and therefore injure the young lady; or that it may precipitate him into a marriage before, I am certain, he has ever bestowed a serious thought of the consequences; by which means his education is interrupted.” To avoid this danger, Washington took his ward to New York and entered him in King’s College, but the death of Patsy Custis put a termination to study, for Mrs. Washington could not bear to have the lad at such a distance, and Washington “did not care, as he is the last of the family, to push my opposition too far.” Accordingly, Jack returned to Virginia and promptly married.

The young couple were much at Mount Vernon from this time on, and Washington wrote to “Dear Jack,” “I am always pleased with yours and Nelly’s abidance at Mount Vernon.” When the winter snows made the siege of Boston purely passive, the couple journeyed with Mrs. Washington to Cambridge, and visited at head-quarters for some months. The arrival of children prevented the repetition of such visits, but frequent letters, which rarely failed to send love to “Nelly and the little girls,” were exchanged. The acceptance of command compelled Washington to resign the care of Custis’s estate, for which service “I have never charged him or his sister, from the day of my connexion with them to this hour, one farthing for all the trouble I have had in managing their estates, nor for any expense they have been to me, notwithstanding some hundreds of pounds would not reimburse the moneys I have actually paid in attending the public meetings in Williamsburg to collect their debts, and transact these several matters appertaining to the respective estates.” Washington, however, continued his advice as to its management, and in other letters advised him concerning his conduct when Custis was elected a member of the Virginia House of Delegates. In the siege of Yorktown Jack served as an officer of militia, and the exposure proved too much for him. Immediately after the surrender, news reached Washington of his serious illness, and by riding thirty miles in one day he succeeded in reaching Eltham in “time enough to see poor Mr. Custis breath his last,” leaving behind him “four lovely children, three girls and a boy.”

Owing to his public employment, Washington refused to be guardian for these “little ones,” writing “that it would be injurious to the children and madness in me, to undertake, _as a principle_, a trust which I could not discharge. Such aid, however, as it ever may be with me to give to the children especially the boy, I will afford with all my heart, and on this assurance you may rely.” Yet “from their earliest infancy” two of Jack’s children, George Washington Parke and Eleanor Parke Custis, lived at Mount Vernon, for, as Washington wrote in his will, “it has always been my intention, since my expectation of having issue has ceased, to consider the grandchildren of my wife in the same light as my own relations, and to act a friendly part by them.” Though the cares of war prevented his watching their property interests, his eight years’ absence could not make him forget them, and on his way to Annapolis, in 1783, to tender Congress his resignation, he spent sundry hours of his time in the purchase of gifts obviously intended to increase the joy of his homecoming to the family circle at Mount Vernon; set forth in his note-book as follows:

“By Sundries bo’t. in Phil’a.

A Locket L5 5
3 Small Pockt. Books 1 10
3 Sashes 1 5 0
Dress Cap 2 8
Hatt 3 10
Handkerchief 1
Childrens Books 4 6
Whirligig 1 6
Fiddle 2 6
Quadrille Boxes 1 17 6.”

Indeed, in every way Washington showed how entirely he considered himself as a father, not merely speaking of them frequently as “the children,” but even alluding to himself in a letter to the boy as “your papa.” Both were much his companions during the Presidency. A frequent sight in New York and Philadelphia was Washington taking “exercise in the coach with Mrs. Washington and the two children,” and several times they were taken to the theatre and on picnics.

For Eleanor, or “Nelly,” who grew into a great beauty, Washington showed the utmost tenderness, and on occasion interfered to save her from her grandmother, who at moments was inclined to be severe, in one case to bring the storm upon himself. For her was bought a “Forte piano,” and later, at the cost of a thousand dollars, a very fine imported harpsichord, and one of Washington’s great pleasures was to have her play and sing to him. His ledger constantly shows gifts to her ranging from “The Wayworn traveller, a song for Miss Custis,” to “a pr. of gold eardrops” and a watch. The two corresponded. One letter from Washington merits quotation:

[Illustration: ELLANOR (NELLY) CUSTIS]

“Let me touch a little now on your Georgetown ball, and happy, thrice happy, for the fair who assembled on the occasion, that there was a man to spare; for had there been 79 ladies and only 78 gentlemen, there might, in the course of the evening have been some disorder among the caps; notwithstanding the apathy which _one_ of the company entertains for the ‘_youth_’ of the present day, and her determination ‘Never to give herself a moment’s uneasiness on account of any of them.’ A hint here; men and women feel the same inclinations towards each other _now_ that they always have done, and which they will continue to do until there is a new order of things, and _you_, as others have done, may find, perhaps, that the passions of your sex are easier raised than allayed. Do not therefore boast too soon or too strongly of your insensibility to, or resistance of, its powers. In the composition of the human frame there is a good deal of inflammable matter, however dormant it may lie for a time, and like an intimate acquaintance of yours, when the torch is put to it, _that_ which is _within you_ may burst into a blaze; for which reason and especially too, as I have entered upon the chapter of advices, I will read you a lecture from this text.”

Not long after this was written, Nelly, as already mentioned, was married at Mount Vernon to Washington’s nephew, Lawrence Lewis, and in time became joint-owner with her husband of part of that place.

As early as 1785 a tutor was wanted for “little Washington,” as the lad was called, and Washington wrote to England to ask if some “worthy man of the cloth could not be obtained,” “for the boy is a remarkably fine one, and my intention is to give him a liberal education.” His training became part of the private secretary’s duty, both at Mount Vernon and New York and Philadelphia, but the lad inherited his father’s traits, and “from his infancy … discovered an almost unconquerable disposition to indolence.” This led to failures which gave Washington “extreme disquietude,” and in vain he “exhorted him in the most parental and friendly manner.” Custis would express “sorrow and repentance” and do no better. Successively he was sent to the College of Philadelphia, the College of New Jersey, and that at Annapolis, but from each he was expelled, or had to be withdrawn. Irritating as it must have been, his guardian never in his letters expressed anything but affection, shielded the lad from the anger of his step-father, and saw that he was properly supplied with money, of which he asked him to keep a careful account,–though this, as Washington wrote, was “not because I want to know how you spend your money.” After the last college failure a private tutor was once more engaged, but a very few weeks served to give Washington “a thorough conviction that it was in vain to keep Washington Custis to any literary pursuits, either in a public Seminary or at home,” and, as the next best thing, he procured him a cornetcy in the provisional army. Even here, balance was shown; for, out of compliment and friendship to Washington, “the Major Generals were desirous of placing him as lieutenant in the first instance; but his age considered, I thought it more eligible that he should enter into the lowest grade.”

In this connection one side of Washington’s course with his relations deserves especial notice. As early as 1756 he applied for a commission in the Virginia forces for his brother, and, as already shown, he placed several of his nephews and other connections in the Revolutionary or provisional armies. But he made clear distinction between military and civil appointments, and was very scrupulous about the latter. When his favorite nephew asked for a Federal appointment, Washington answered,–

“You cannot doubt my wishes to see you appointed to any office of honor or emolument in the new government, to the duties of which you are competent; but however deserving you may be of the one you have suggested, your standing at the bar would not justify my nomination of you as attorney to the Federal District Court in preference to some of the oldest and most esteemed general court lawyers in your State, who are desirous of this appointment. My political conduct in nominations, even if I were uninfluenced by principle, must be exceedingly circumspect and proof against just criticism; for the eyes of Argus are upon me, and no slip will pass unnoticed, that can be improved into a supposed partiality for friends or relations.”

And that in this policy he was consistent is shown by a letter of Jefferson, who wrote to an office-seeking relative, “The public will never be made to believe that an appointment of a relative is made on the ground of merit alone, uninfluenced by family views; nor can they ever see with approbation offices, the disposal of which they entrust to their Presidents for public purposes, divided out as family property. Mr. Adams degraded himself infinitely by his conduct on this subject, as Genl. Washington had done himself the greatest honor. With two such examples to proceed by, I should be doubly inexcusable to err.”

There were many other more distant relatives with whom pleasant relations were maintained, but enough has been said to indicate the intercourse. Frequent were the house-parties at Mount Vernon, and how unstinted hospitality was to kith and kin is shown by many entries in Washington’s diary, a single one of which will indicate the rest: “I set out for my return home–at which I arrived a little after noon–And found my Brother Jon Augustine his Wife; Daughter Milly, & Sons Bushrod & Corbin, & the Wife of the first. Mr. Willm Washington & his Wife and 4 Children.”

His will left bequests to forty-one of his own and his wife’s relations. “God left him childless that he might be the father of his country.”



Writing to his London tailor for clothes, in 1763, Washington directed him to “take measure of a gentleman who wares well-made cloaths of the following size: to wit, 6 feet high and proportionably made–if anything rather slender than thick, for a person of that highth, with pretty long arms and thighs. You will take care to make the breeches longer than those you sent me last, and I would have you keep the measure of the cloaths you now make, by you, and if any alteration is required in my next it shall be pointed out.” About this time, too, he ordered “6 pr. Man’s riding Gloves–rather large than the middle size,”… and several dozen pairs of stockings, “to be long, and tolerably large.”

The earliest known description of Washington was written in 1760 by his companion-in-arms and friend George Mercer, who attempted a “portraiture” in the following words: “He may be described as being as straight as an Indian, measuring six feet two inches in his stockings, and weighing 175 pounds when he took his seat in the House of Burgesses in 1759. His frame is padded with well-developed muscles, indicating great strength. His bones and joints are large, as are his feet and hands. He is wide shouldered, but has not a deep or round chest; is neat waisted, but is broad across the hips, and has rather long legs and arms. His head is well shaped though not large, but is gracefully poised on a superb neck. A large and straight rather than prominent nose; blue-gray penetrating eyes, which are widely separated and overhung by a heavy brow. His face is long rather than broad, with high round cheek bones, and terminates in a good firm chin. He has a clear though rather a colorless pale skin, which burns with the sun. A pleasing, benevolent, though a commanding countenance, dark brown hair, which he wears in a cue. His mouth is large and generally firmly closed, but which from time to time discloses some defective teeth. His features are regular and placid, with all the muscles of his face under perfect control, though flexible and expressive of deep feeling when moved by emotion. In conversation he looks you full in the face, is deliberate, deferential and engaging. His voice is agreeable rather than strong. His demeanor at all times composed and dignified. His movements and gestures are graceful, his walk majestic, and he is a splendid horseman.”

Dr. James Thacher, writing in 1778, depicted him as “remarkably tall, full six feet, erect and well proportioned. The strength and proportion of his joints and muscles, appear to be commensurate with the pre-eminent powers of his mind. The serenity of his countenance, and majestic gracefulness of his deportment, impart a strong impression of that dignity and grandeur, which are his peculiar characteristics, and no one can stand in his presence without feeling the ascendancy of his mind, and associating with his countenance the idea of wisdom, philanthropy, magnanimity and patriotism. There is a fine symmetry in the features of his face, indicative of a benign and dignified spirit. His nose is straight, and his eye inclined to blue. He wears his hair in a becoming cue, and from his forehead it is turned back and powdered in a manner which adds to the military air of his appearance. He displays a native gravity, but devoid of all appearance of ostentation.” In this same year a friend wrote, “General Washington is now in the forty-seventh year of his age; he is a well-made man, rather large boned, and has a tolerably genteel address; his features are manly and bold, his eyes of a bluish cast and very lively; his hair a deep brown, his face rather long and marked with the small-pox; his complexion sunburnt and without much color, and his countenance sensible, composed and thoughtful; there is a remarkable air of dignity about him, with a striking degree of gracefulness.”

In 1789 Senator Maclay saw “him as he really is. In stature about six feet, with an unexceptionable make, but lax appearance. His frame would seem to want filling up. His motions rather slow than lively, though he showed no signs of having suffered by gout or rheumatism. His complexion pale, nay, almost cadaverous. His voice hollow and indistinct, owing, as I believe, to artificial teeth before his upper jaw, which occasions a flatness.”

From frequent opportunity of seeing Washington between 1794 and 1797, William Sullivan described him as “over six feet in stature; of strong, bony, muscular frame, without fullness of covering, well-formed and straight. He was a man of most extraordinary strength. In his own house, his action was calm, deliberate, and dignified, without pretension to gracefulness, or peculiar manner, but merely natural, and such as one would think it should be in such a man. When walking in the street, his movement had not the soldierly air which might be expected. His habitual motions had been formed, long before he took command of the American Armies, in the wars of the interior and in the surveying of wilderness lands, employments in which grace and elegance were not likely to be acquired. At the age of sixty-five, time had done nothing towards bending him out of his natural erectness. His deportment was invariably grave; it was sobriety that stopped short of sadness.”

The French officers and travellers supply other descriptions. The Abbe Robin found him of “tall and noble stature, well proportioned, a fine, cheerful, open countenance, a simple and modest carriage; and his whole mien has something in it that interests the French, the Americans, and even enemies themselves in his favor.”

The Marquis de Chastellux wrote enthusiastically, “In speaking of this perfect whole of which General Washington furnishes the idea, I have not excluded exterior form. His stature is noble and lofty, he is well made, and exactly proportionate; his physiognomy mild and agreeable, but such as to render it impossible to speak particularly of any of his features, so that in quitting him you have only the recollection of a fine face. He has neither a grave nor a familiar face, his brow is sometimes marked with thought, but never with inquietude; in inspiring respect he inspires confidence, and his smile is always the smile of benevolence.”

To this description, however, Brissot de Warville took exception, and supplied his own picture by writing in 1791, “You have often heard me blame M. Chastellux for putting too much sprightliness in the character he has drawn of this general. To give pretensions to the portrait of a man who has none is truly absurd. The General’s goodness appears in his looks. They have nothing of that brilliancy which his officers found in them when he was at the head of his army; but in conversation they become animated. He has no characteristic traits in his figure, and this has rendered it always so difficult to describe it: there are few portraits which resemble him. All his answers are pertinent; he shows the utmost reserve, and is very diffident; but, at the same time, he is firm and unchangeable in whatever he undertakes. His modesty must be very astonishing, especially to a Frenchman.”

British travellers have left a number of pen-portraits. An anonymous writer in 1790 declared that in meeting him “it was not necessary to announce his name, for his peculiar appearance, his firm forehead, Roman nose, and a projection of the lower jaw, his height and figure, could not be mistaken by any one who had seen a full-length picture of him, and yet no picture accurately resembled him in the minute traits of his person. His features, however, were so marked by prominent characteristics, which appear in all likenesses of him, that a stranger could not be mistaken in the man; he was remarkably dignified in his manners, and had an air of benignity over his features which his visitant did not expect, being rather prepared for sternness of countenance…. his smile was extraordinarily attractive. It was observed to me that there was an expression in Washington’s face that no painter had succeeded in taking. It struck me no man could be better formed for command. A stature of six feet, a robust, but well-proportioned frame, calculated to sustain fatigue, without that heaviness which generally attends great muscular strength, and abates active exertion, displayed bodily power of no mean standard. A light eye and full–the very eye of genius and reflection rather than of blind passionate impulse. His nose appeared thick, and though it befitted his other features, was too coarsely and strongly formed to be the handsomest of its class. His mouth was like no other that I ever saw; the lips firm and the under jaw seeming to grasp the upper with force, as if its muscles were in full action when he sat still.”

Two years later, an English diplomat wrote of him, “His person is tall and sufficiently graceful; his face well formed, his complexion rather pale, with a mild philosophic gravity in the expression of it In his air and manner he displays much natural dignity; in his address he is cold, reserved, and even phlegmatic, though without the least appearance of haughtiness or ill-nature; it is the effect, I imagine, of constitutional diffidence. That caution and circumspection which form so striking and well known a feature in his military, and, indeed, in his political character, is very strongly marked in his countenance, for his eyes retire inward (do you understand me?) and have nothing of fire of animation or openness in their expression.”

Wansey, who visited Mount Vernon in 1795, portrayed “The President in his person” as “tall and thin, but erect; rather of an engaging than a dignified presence. He appears very thoughtful, is slow in delivering himself, which occasions some to conclude him reserved, but it is rather, I apprehend, the effect of much thinking and reflection, for there is great appearance to me of affability and accommodation. He was at this time in his sixty-third year … but he has very little the appearance of age, having been all his life long so exceeding temperate.”

In 1797, Weld wrote, “his chest is full; and his limbs, though rather slender, well shaped and muscular. His head is small, in which respect he resembles the make of a great number of his countrymen. His eyes are of a light grey colour; and in proportion to the length of his face, his nose is long. Mr. Stewart, the eminent portrait painter, told me, that there were features in his face totally different from what he ever observed in that of any other human being; the sockets for the eyes, for instance, are larger than what he ever met with before, and the upper part of the nose broader. All his features, he observed, were indicative of the strongest and most ungovernable passions, and had he been born in the forests, it was his opinion that he would have been the fiercest man among the savage tribes.”

Other and briefer descriptions contain a few phrases worth quoting. Samuel Sterns said, “His countenance commonly carries the impression of a serious cast;” Maclay, that “the President seemed to bear in his countenance a settled aspect of melancholy;” and the Prince de Broglie wrote, “His pensive eyes seem more attentive than sparkling, but their expression is benevolent, noble and self-possessed.” Silas Deane in 1775 said he had “a very young look and an easy soldier-like air and gesture,” and in the same year Curwen mentioned his “fine figure” and “easy and agreeable address.” Nathaniel Lawrence noted in 1783 that “the General weighs commonly about 210 pounds.” After death, Lear reports that “Doctor Dick measured the body, which was as follows–In length 6 ft. 3-1/2 inches exact. Across the shoulders 1.9. Across the elbows 2.1.” The pleasantest description is Jefferson’s: “His person, you know, was fine, his stature exactly what one would wish, his deportment easy, erect and noble.”

How far the portraits of Washington conveyed his expression is open to question. The quotation already given which said that no picture accurately resembled him in the minute traits of his person is worth noting. Furthermore, his expression varied much according to circumstances, and the painter saw it only in repose. The first time he was drawn, he wrote a friend, “Inclination having yielded to Importunity, I am now contrary to all expectation under the hands of Mr. Peale; but in so grave–so sullen a mood–and now and then under the influence of Morpheus, when some critical strokes are making, that I fancy the skill of this Gentleman’s Pencil will be put to it, in describing to the World what manner of man I am.” This passiveness seems to have seized him at other sittings, for in 1785 he wrote to a friend who asked him to be painted, “_In for a penny, in for a Pound_, is an old adage. I am so hackneyed to the touches of the painter’s pencil that I am now altogether at their beck; and sit ‘like Patience on a monument,’ whilst they are delineating the lines of my face. It is a proof, among many others, of what habit and custom can accomplish. At first I was as impatient at the request, and as restive under the operation, as a colt is of the saddle. The next time I submitted very reluctantly, but with less flouncing. Now, no dray-horse moves more readily to his thills than I to the painter’s chair.” His aide, Laurens, bears this out by writing of a miniature, “The defects of this portrait are, that the visage is too long, and old age is too strongly marked in it. He is not altogether mistaken, with respect to the languor of the general’s eye; for altho’ his countenance when affected either by joy or anger, is full of expression, yet when the muscles are in a state of repose, his eye certainly wants animation.”


One portrait which furnished Washington not a little amusement was an engraving issued in London in 1775, when interest in the “rebel General” was great. This likeness, it is needless to say, was entirely spurious, and when Reed sent a copy to head-quarters, Washington wrote to him, “Mrs. Washington desires I will thank you for the picture sent her. Mr. Campbell, whom I never saw, to my knowledge, has made a very formidable figure of the Commander-in-chief, giving him a sufficient portion of terror in his countenance.”

The physical strength mentioned by nearly every one who described Washington is so undoubted that the traditions of his climbing the walls of the Natural Bridge, throwing a stone across the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg, and another into the Hudson from the top of the Palisades, pass current more from the supposed muscular power of the man than from any direct evidence. In addition to this, Washington in 1755 claimed to have “one of the best of constitutions,” and again he wrote, “for my own part I can answer, I have a constitution hardy enough to encounter and undergo the most severe trials.”

This vigor was not the least reason of Washington’s success. In the retreat from Brooklyn, “for forty-eight hours preceeding that I had hardly been off my horse,” and between the 13th and the 19th of June of 1777 “I was almost constantly on horseback.” After the battle of Monmouth, as told elsewhere, he passed the night on a blanket; the first night of the siege of York “he slept under a mulberry tree, the root serving for a pillow,” and another time he lay “all night in my Great Coat & Boots, in a birth not long enough for me by the head, & much cramped.” Besides the physical strain there was a mental one. During the siege of Boston he wrote that “The reflection on my situation and that of this army, produces many an uneasy hour when all around me are wrapped in sleep.” Humphreys relates that at Newburg in 1783 a revolt of the whole army seemed imminent, and “when General Washington rose from bed on the morning of the meeting, he told the writer his anxiety had prevented him from sleeping one moment the preceeding night.” Washington observed, in a letter written after the Revolution, “strange as it may seem, it is nevertheless true, that it was not until lately I could get the better of my usual custom of ruminating as soon as I awoke in the morning, on the business of the ensuing day; and of my surprise at finding, after revolving many things in my mind that I was no longer a public man, or had any thing to do with public transactions.”

Despite his strength and constitution, Washington was frequently the victim of illness. What diseases of childhood he suffered are not known, but presumably measles was among them, for when his wife within the first year of married life had an attack he cared for her without catching the complaint. The first of his known illnesses was “Ague and Feaver, which I had to an extremity” about 1748, or when he was sixteen.

In the sea voyage to Barbadoes in 1751, the seamen told Washington that “they had never seen such weather before,” and he says in his diary that the sea “made the Ship rowl much and me very sick.” While in the island, he went to dine with a friend “with great reluctance, as the small-pox was in his family.” A fortnight later Washington “was strongly attacked with the small Pox,” which confined him for nearly a month, and, as already noted, marked his face for life. Shortly after the return voyage he was “taken with a violent pleurise, which … reduced me very low.”

During the Braddock march, “immediately upon our leaving the camp at George’s Creek, on the 14th, … I was seized with violent fevers and pains in my head, which continued without intermission ’till the 23d following, when I was relieved, by the General’s [Braddock] absolutely ordering the physicians to give me Dr. James’ powders (one of the most excellent medicines in the world), for it gave me immediate ease, and removed my fevers and other complaints in four days’ time. My illness was too violent to suffer me to ride; therefore I was indebted to a covered wagon for some part of my transportation; but even in this I could not continue far, for the jolting was so great, I was left upon the road with a guard, and necessaries, to wait the arrival of Colonel Dunbar’s detachment which was two days’ march behind us, the General giving me his word of honor, that I should be brought up, before he reached the French fort. This _promise_, and the doctor’s _threats_, that, if I persevered in my attempts to get on, in the condition I was, my life would be endangered, determined me to halt for the above detachment.” Immediately upon his return from that campaign, he told a brother, “I am not able, were I ever so willing, to meet you in town, for I assure you it is with some difficulty, and with much fatigue, that I visit my plantations in the Neck; so much has a sickness of five weeks’ continuance reduced me.”

On the frontier, towards the end of 1757, he was seized with a violent attack of dysentery and fever, which compelled him to leave the army and retire to Mount Vernon. Three months later he said, “I have never been able to return to my command, … my disorder at times returning obstinately upon me, in spite of the efforts of all the sons of Aesculapius, whom I have hitherto consulted. At certain periods I have been reduced to great extremity, and have too much reason to apprehend an approaching decay, being visited with several symptoms of such a disease…. I am now under a strict regimen, and shall set out to-morrow for Williamsburg to receive the advice of the best physician there. My constitution is certainly greatly impaired, and … nothing can retrieve it, but the greatest care and the most circumspect conduct.” It was in this journey that he met his future wife, and either she or the doctor cured him, for nothing more is heard of his approaching “decay.”

In 1761 he was attacked with a disease which seems incidental to new settlements, known in Virginia at that time as the “river fever,” and a hundred years later, farther west, as the “break-bone fever,” and which, in a far milder form, is to-day known as malaria. Hoping to cure it, he went over the mountains to the Warm Springs, being “much overcome with the fatigue of the ride and weather together. However, I think my fevers are a good deal abated, although my pains grow rather worse, and my sleep equally disturbed. What effect the waters may have upon me I can’t say at present, but I expect nothing from the air–this certainly must be unwholesome. I purpose staying here a fortnight and longer if benefitted.” After writing this, a relapse brought him “very near my last gasp. The indisposition … increased upon me, and I fell into a very low and dangerous state. I once thought the grim king would certainly master my utmost efforts, and that I must sink, in spite of a noble struggle; but thank God, I have now got the better of the disorder, and shall soon be restored, I hope, to perfect health again.”

During the Revolution, fortunately, he seems to have been wonderfully exempt from illness, and not till his retirement to Mount Vernon did an old enemy, the ague, reappear. In 1786 he said, in a letter, “I write to you with a very aching head and disordered frame…. Saturday last, by an imprudent act, I brought on an ague and fever on Sunday, which returned with violence Tuesday and Thursday; and, if Dr. Craik’s efforts are ineffectual I shall have them again this day.” His diary gives the treatment: “Seized with an ague before 6 o’clock this morning after having laboured under a fever all night–Sent for Dr. Craik who arrived just as we were setting down to dinner; who, when he thought my fever sufficiently abated gave me cathartick and directed the Bark to be applied in the Morning. September 2. Kept close to the House to day, being my fit day in course least any exposure might bring it on,–happily missed it September 14. At home all day repeating dozes of Bark of which I took 4 with an interval of 2 hours between.”

With 1787 a new foe appeared in the form of “a rheumatic complaint which has followed me more than six months, is frequently so bad that it is sometimes with difficulty I can raise my hand to my head or turn myself in bed.”

During the Presidency Washington had several dangerous illnesses, but the earliest one had a comic side. In his tour through New England in 1789, so Sullivan states, “owing to some mismanagement in the reception ceremonials at Cambridge, Washington was detained a long time, and the weather being inclement, he took cold. For several days afterward a severe influenza prevailed at Boston and its vicinity, and was called the _Washington Influenza_.” He himself writes of this attack: “Myself much disordered by a cold, and inflammation in the left eye.”

Six months later, in New York, he was “indisposed with a bad cold, and at home all day writing letters on private business,” and this was the beginning of “a severe illness,” which, according to McVickar, was “a case of anthrax, so malignant as for several days to threaten mortification. During this period Dr. Bard never quitted him. On one occasion, being left alone with him, General Washington, looking steadily in his face, desired his candid opinion as to the probable termination of his disease, adding, with that placid firmness which marked his address, ‘Do not flatter me with vain hopes; I am not afraid to die, and therefore can bear the worst!’ Dr. Bard’s answer, though it expressed hope, acknowledged his apprehensions. The President replied, ‘Whether to-night or twenty years hence, makes no difference.'” It was of this that Maclay wrote, “Called to see the President. Every eye full of tears. His life despaired of. Dr. MacKnight told me he would trifle neither with his own character nor the public expectation; his danger was imminent, and every reason to expect that the event of his disorder would be unfortunate.”

During his convalescence the President wrote to a correspondent, “I have the pleasure to inform you, that my health is restored, but a feebleness still hangs upon me, and I am much incommoded by the incision, which was made in a very large and painful tumor on the protuberance of my thigh. This prevents me from walking or sitting. However, the physicians assure me that it has had a happy effect in removing my fever, and will tend very much to the establishment of my general health; it is in a fair way of healing, and time and patience only are wanting to remove this evil. I am able to take exercise in my coach, by having it so contrived as to extend myself the full length of it.” He himself seems to have thought this succession of illness due to the fatigues of office, for he said,–

“Public meetings, and a dinner once a week to as many as my table will hold, with the references _to and from_ the different department of state and _other_ communications with _all_ parts of the Union, are as much, if not more, than I am able to undergo; for I have already had within less than a year, two severe attacks, the last worst than the first. A third, more than probable, will put me to sleep with my fathers. At what distance this may be I know not. Within the last twelve months I have undergone more and severer sickness, than thirty preceding years afflicted me with. Put it all together I have abundant reason, however, to be thankful that I am so well recovered; though I still feel the remains of the violent affection of my lungs; the cough, pain in my breast, and shortness in breathing not having entirely left me.”

While at Mount Vernon in 1794, “an exertion to save myself and horse from falling among the rocks at the Lower Falls of the Potomac (whither I went on Sunday morning to see the canal and locks),… wrenched my back in such a manner as to prevent my riding;” the “hurt” “confined me whilst I was at Mount Vernon,” and it was some time before he could “again ride with ease and safety.” In this same year Washington was operated on by Dr. Tate for cancer,–the same disorder from which his mother had suffered.

After his retirement from office, in 1798, he “was seized with a fever, of which I took little notice until I was obliged to call for the aid of medicine; and with difficulty a remission thereof was so far effected as to dose me all night on thursday with Bark–which having stopped it, and weakness only remaining, will soon wear off as my appetite is returning;” and to a correspondent he apologized for not sooner replying, and pleaded “debilitated health, occasioned by the fever wch. deprived me of 20 lbs. of the weight I had when you and I were at Troy Mills Scales, and rendered writing irksome.”

A glance at Washington’s medical knowledge and opinions may not lack interest. In the “Rules of civility” he had taken so to heart, the boy had been taught that “In visiting the Sick, do not Presently play the Physician if you be not Knowing therein,” but plantation life trained every man to a certain extent in physicking, and the yearly invoice sent to London always ordered such drugs as were needed,–ipecacuanha, jalap, Venice treacle, rhubarb, diacordium, etc., as well as medicines for horses and dogs. In 1755 Washington received great benefit from one quack medicine, “Dr. James’s Powders;” he once bought a quantity of another, “Godfrey’s Cordial;” and at a later time Mrs. Washington tried a third, “Annatipic Pills.” More unenlightened still was a treatment prescribed for Patsy Custis, when “Joshua Evans who came here last night, put a [metal] ring on Patsey (for Fits).” A not much higher order of treatment was Washington sending for Dr. Laurie to bleed his wife, and, as his diary notes, the doctor “came here, I may add, drunk,” so that a night’s sleep was necessary before the service could be rendered. When the small-pox was raging in the Continental Army, even Washington’s earnest request could not get the Virginia Assembly to repeal a law which forbade inoculation, and he had to urge his wife for over four years before he could bring her to the point of submitting to the operation. One quality which implies greatness is told by a visitor, who states that in his call “an allusion was made to a serious fit of illness he had recently suffered; but he took no notice of it” Custis notes that “his aversion to the use of medicine was extreme; and, even when in great suffering, it was only by the entreaties of his lady, and the respectful, yet beseeching look of his oldest friend and companion in arms (Dr. James Craik) that he could be prevailed upon to take the slightest preparation of medicine.” In line with this was his refusal to take anything for a cold, saying, “Let it go as it came,” though this good sense was apparently restricted to his own colds, for Watson relates that in a visit to Mount Vernon “I was extremely oppressed by a severe cold and excessive coughing, contracted by the exposure of a harsh journey. He pressed me to use some remedies, but I declined doing so. As usual, after retiring my coughing increased. When some time had elapsed, the door of my room was gently opened, and, on drawing my bed-curtains, to my utter astonishment, I beheld Washington himself, standing at my bedside, with a bowl of hot tea in his hand.”

The acute attacks of illness already touched upon by no means represent all the physical debility and suffering of Washington’s life. During the Revolution his sight became poor, so that in 1778 he first put on glasses for reading, and Cobb relates that in the officers’ meeting in 1783, which Washington attended In order to check an appeal to arms, “When the General took his station at the desk or pulpit, which, you may recollect, was in the Temple, he took out his written address from his coat pocket and then addressed the officers in the following manner: ‘Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray, but almost blind, in the service of my country.’ This little address, with the mode and manner of delivering it, drew tears from [many] of the officers.”

Nor did his hearing remain entirely good. Maclay noted, at one of the President’s dinners in 1789, that “he seemed in more good humor than I ever saw him, though he was so deaf that I believe he heard little of the conversation,” and three years later the President is reported as saying to Jefferson that he was “sensible, too, of a decay of his hearing, perhaps his other faculties might fall off and he not be sensible of it.”

Washington’s teeth were even more troublesome. Mercer in 1760 alluded to his showing, when his mouth was open, “some defective teeth,” and as early as 1754 one of his teeth was extracted. From this time toothache, usually followed by the extraction of the guilty member, became almost of yearly recurrence, and his diary reiterates, with verbal variations, “indisposed with an aching tooth, and swelled and inflamed gum,” while his ledger contains many items typified by “To Dr. Watson drawing a tooth 5/.” By 1789 he was using false teeth, and he lost his last tooth in 1795. At first these substitutes were very badly fitted, and when Stuart painted his famous picture he tried to remedy the malformation they gave the mouth by padding under the lips with cotton. The result was to make bad worse, and to give, in that otherwise fine portrait, a feature at once poor and unlike Washington, and for this reason alone the Sharpless miniature, which in all else approximates so closely to Stuart’s masterpiece, is preferable. In 1796 Washington was furnished with two sets of “sea-horse” (_i.e._, hippopotamus) ivory teeth, and they were so much better fitted that the distortion of the mouth ceased to be noticeable.

Washington’s final illness began December 12, 1799, in a severe cold taken by riding about his plantation while “rain, hail and snow” were “falling alternately, with a cold wind.” When he came in late in the afternoon, Lear “observed to him that I was afraid that he had got wet, he said no his great coat had kept him dry; but his neck appeared to be wet and the snow was hanging on his hair.” The next day he had a cold, “and complained of having a sore throat,” yet, though it was snowing, none the less he “went out in the afternoon … to mark some trees which were to be cut down.” “He had a hoarseness which increased in the evening; but he made light of it as he would never take anything to carry off a cold, always observing, ‘let it go as it came.'” At two o’clock the following morning he was seized with a severe ague, and as soon as the house was stirring he sent for an overseer and ordered the man to bleed him, and about half a pint of blood was taken from him. At this time he could “swallow nothing,” “appeared to be distressed, convulsed and almost suffocated.”

There can be scarcely a doubt that the treatment of his last illness by the doctors was little short of murder. Although he had been bled once already, after they took charge of the case they prescribed “two pretty copious bleedings,” and finally a third, “when about 32 ounces of blood were drawn,” or the equivalent of a quart. Of the three doctors, one disapproved of this treatment, and a second wrote, only a few days after Washington’s death, to the third, “you must remember” Dr. Dick “was averse to bleeding the General, and I have often thought that if we had acted according to his suggestion when he said, ‘he needs all his strength– bleeding will diminish it,’ and taken no more blood from him, our good friend might have been alive now. But we were governed by the best light we had; we thought we were right, and so we are justified.”

Shortly after this last bleeding Washington seemed to have resigned himself, for he gave some directions concerning his will, and said, “I find I am going,” and, “smiling,” added, that, “as it was the debt which we must all pay, he looked to the event with perfect resignation.” From this time on “he appeared to be in great pain and distress,” and said, “Doctor, I die hard, but I am not afraid to go. I believed from my first attack that I should not survive it.” A little later he said, “I feel myself going. I thank you for your attention, you had better not take any more trouble about me; but let me go off quietly.” The last words he said were, “‘Tis well.” “About ten minutes before he expired, his breathing became much easier–he lay quietly–… and felt his own pulse…. The general’s hand fell from his wrist,… and he expired without a struggle or a Sigh.”



The father of Washington received his education at Appleby School in England, and, true to his alma mater, he sent his two elder sons to the same school. His death when George was eleven prevented this son from having the same advantage, and such education as he had was obtained in Virginia. His old friend, and later enemy, Rev. Jonathan Boucher, said that “George, like most people thereabouts at that time, had no education than reading, writing and accounts which he was taught by a convict servant whom his father bought for a schoolmaster;” but Boucher managed to include so many inaccuracies in his account of Washington, that even if this statement were not certainly untruthful in several respects, it could be dismissed as valueless.

Born at Wakefield, in Washington parish, Westmoreland, which had been the home of the Washingtons from their earliest arrival in Virginia, George was too young while the family continued there to attend the school which had been founded in that parish by the gift of four hundred and forty acres from some early patron of knowledge. When the boy was about three years old, the family removed to “Washington,” as Mount Vernon was called before it was renamed, and dwelt there from 1735 till 1739, when, owing to the burning of the homestead, another remove was made to an estate on the Rappahannock, nearly opposite Fredericksburg.

Here it was that the earliest education of George was received, for in an old volume of the Bishop of Exeter’s Sermons his name is written, and on a flyleaf a note in the handwriting of a relative who inherited the library states that this “autograph of George Washington’s name is believed to be the earliest specimen of his handwriting, when he was probably not more than eight or nine years old.” During this period, too, there came into his possession the “Young Man’s Companion,” an English _vade-mecum_ of then enormous popularity, written “in a plain and easy stile,” the title states, “that a young Man may attain the same, without a Tutor.” It would be easier to say what this little book did not teach than to catalogue what it did. How to read, write, and figure is but the introduction to the larger part of the work, which taught one to write letters, wills, deeds, and all legal forms, to measure, survey, and navigate, to build houses, to make ink and cider, and to plant and graft, how to address letters to people of quality, how to doctor the sick, and, finally, how to conduct one’s self in company. The evidence still exists of how carefully Washington studied this book, in the form of copybooks, in which are transcribed problem after problem and rule after rule, not to exclude the famous Rules of civility, which biographers of Washington have asserted were written by the boy himself. School-mates thought fit, after Washington became famous, to remember his “industry and assiduity at school as very remarkable,” and the copies certainly bear out the statement, but even these prove that the lad was as human as the man, for scattered here and there among the logarithms, geometrical problems, and legal forms are crude drawings of birds, faces, and other typical school-boy attempts.

From this book, too, came two qualities which clung to him through life. His handwriting, so easy, flowing, and legible, was modelled from the engraved “copy” sheet, and certain forms of spelling were acquired here that were never corrected, though not the common usage of his time. To the end of his life, Washington wrote lie, lye; liar, lyar; ceiling, cieling; oil, oyl; and blue, blew, as in his boyhood he had learned to do from this book. Even in his carefully prepared will, “lye” was the form in which he wrote the word. It must be acknowledged that, aside from these errors which he had been taught, through his whole life Washington was a non-conformist as regarded the King’s English: struggle as he undoubtedly did, the instinct of correct spelling was absent, and thus every now and then a verbal slip appeared: extravagence, lettely (for lately), glew, riffle (for rifle), latten (for Latin), immagine, winder, rief (for rife), oppertunity, spirma citi, yellow oaker,–such are types of his lapses late in life, while his earlier letters and journals are far more inaccurate. It must be borne in mind, however, that of these latter we have only the draughts, which were undoubtedly written carelessly, and the two letters actually sent which are now known, and the text of his surveys before he was twenty, are quite as well written as his later epistles.


On the death of his father, Washington went to live with his brother Augustine, in order, it is presumed, that he might take advantage of a good school near Wakefield, kept by one Williams; but after a time he returned to his mother’s, and attended the school kept by the Rev. James Marye, in Fredericksburg. It has been universally asserted by his biographers that he studied no foreign language, but direct proof to the contrary exists in a copy of Patrick’s Latin translation of Homer, printed in 1742, the fly-leaf of a copy of which bears, in a school-boy hand, the inscription:

“Hunc mihi quaeso (bone Vir) Libellum Redde, si forsan tenues repertum
Ut Scias qui sum sine fraude Scriptum.

Est mihi nomen,
Georgio Washington, George Washington,
Fredericksburg, Virginia.”

It is thus evident that the reverend teacher gave Washington at least the first elements of Latin, but it is equally clear that the boy, like most others, forgot it with the greatest facility as soon as he ceased studying.

The end of Washington’s school-days left him, if a good “cipherer,” a bad speller, and a still worse grammarian, but, fortunately, the termination of instruction did not by any means end his education. From that time there is to be noted a steady improvement in both these failings. Pickering stated that “when I first became acquainted with the General (in 1777) his writing was defective in grammar, and even spelling, owing to the insufficiency of his early education; of which, however, he gradually got the better in the subsequent years of his life, by the official perusal of some excellent models, particularly those of Hamilton; by writing with care and patient attention; and reading numerous, indeed multitudes of letters to and from his friends and correspondents. This obvious improvement was begun during the war.” In 1785 a contemporary noted that “the General is remarked for writing a most elegant letter,” adding that, “like the famous Addison, his writing excells his speaking,” and Jefferson said that “he wrote readily, rather diffusely, in an easy and correct style. This he had acquired by conversation with the world, for his education was merely reading, writing and common arithmetic, to which he added surveying at a later day.”

There can be no doubt that Washington felt his lack of education very keenly as he came to act upon a larger sphere than as a Virginia planter. “I am sensible,” he wrote a friend, of his letters, “that the narrations are just, and that truth and honesty will appear in my writings; of which, therefore, I shall not be ashamed, though criticism may censure my style.” When his secretary suggested to him that he should write his own life, he replied, “In a former letter I informed you, my dear Humphreys, that if I had _talents_ for it, I have not leisure to turn my thoughts to Commentaries. A consciousness of a defective education, and a certainty of the want of time, unfit me for such an undertaking.” On being pressed by a French comrade-in-arms to pay France a visit, he declined, saying, “Remember, my good friend, that I am unacquainted with your language, that I am too far advanced in years to acquire a knowledge of it, and that, to converse through the medium of an interpreter upon common occasions, especially with the Ladies, must appear so extremely awkward, insipid, and uncouth, that I can scarce bear it in idea.”

In 1788, without previous warning, he was elected chancellor of William and Mary College, a distinction by which he felt “honored and greatly affected;” but “not knowing particularly what duties, or whether any active services are immediately expected from the person holding the office of chancellor, I have been greatly embarrassed in deciding upon the public answer proper to be given…. My difficulties are briefly these. On the one hand, nothing in this world could be farther from my heart, than … a refusal of the appointment … provided its duties are not incompatible with the mode of life to which I have entirely addicted myself; and, on the other hand, I would not for any consideration disappoint the just expectations of the convocation by accepting an office, whose functions I previously knew … I should be absolutely unable to perform.”

Perhaps the most touching proof of his own self-depreciation was something he did when he had become conscious that his career would be written about. Still in his possession were the letter-books in which he had kept copies of his correspondence while in command of the Virginia regiment between 1754 and 1759, and late in life he went through these volumes, and, by interlining corrections, carefully built them into better literary form. How this was done is shown here by a single facsimile.

With the appointment to command the Continental Army, a secretary was secured, and in an absence of this assistant he complained to him that “my business increases very fast, and my distresses for want of you along with it. Mr. Harrison is the only gentleman of my family, that can afford me the least assistance in writing. He and Mr. Moylan,… have heretofore afforded me their aid; and … they have really had a great deal of trouble.”

Most of Washington’s correspondence during the Revolution was written by his aides. Pickering said,–

“As to the public letters bearing his signature, it is certain that he could not have maintained so extensive a correspondence with his own pen, even if he had possessed the ability and promptness of Hamilton. That he would, sometimes with propriety, observe upon, correct, and add to any draught submitted for his examination and signature, I have no doubt. And yet I doubt whether many, if any, of the letters … are his own draught…. I have even reason to believe that not only the _composition_, the _clothing of the ideas_, but the _ideas themselves_, originated generally with the writers; that Hamilton and Harrison, in particular, were scarcely in any degree his amanuenses. I remember, when at head-quarters one day, at Valley Forge, Colonel Harrison came down from the General’s chamber, with his brows knit, and thus accosted me, ‘I wish to the Lord the General would give me the heads or some idea, of what he would have me write.'”


After the Revolution, a visitor at Mount Vernon said, “It’s astonishing the packet of letters that daily comes for him from all parts of the world, which employ him most of the morning to answer.” A secretary was employed, but not so much to do the actual writing as the copying and filing, and at this time Washington complained “that my numerous correspondencies are daily becoming irksome to me.” Yet there can be little question that he richly enjoyed writing when it was not for the public eye. “It is not the letters of my friends which give me trouble,” he wrote to one correspondent; to another he said, “I began with telling you that I should not write a lengthy letter but the result has been to contradict it;” and to a third, “when I look back to the length of this letter, I am so much astonished and frightened at it myself that I have not the courage to give it a careful reading for the purpose of correction. You must, therefore, receive it with all its imperfections, accompanied with this assurance, that, though there may be inaccuracies in the letter, there is not a single defect in the friendship.” Occasionally there was, as here, an apology: “I am persuaded you will excuse this scratch’d scrawl, when I assure you it is with difficulty I write at all,” he ended a letter in 1777, and in 1792 of another said, “You must receive it blotted and scratched as you find it for I have not time to copy it. It is now ten o’clock at night, after my usual hour for retiring to rest, and the mail will be closed early to-morrow morning.”

To his overseer, who neglected to reply to some of his questions, he told his method of writing, which is worth quoting:

“Whenever I set down to write you, I read your letter, or letters carefully over, and as soon as I come to a part that requires to be noticed, I make a short note on the cover of a letter or piece of waste paper;–then read on the next, noting that in like manner;–and so on until I have got through the whole letter and reports. Then in writing my letter to you, as soon as I have finished what I have to say on one of these notes I draw my pen through it and proceed to another and another until the whole is done–crossing each as I go on, by which means if I am called off twenty times whilst I am writing, I can never with these notes before me finished or unfinished, omit anything I wanted to say; and they serve me also, as I keep no copies of letters I wrote to you, as Memorandums of what has been written if I should have occasion at any time to refer to them.”

Another indication of his own knowledge of defects is shown by his fear about his public papers. When his Journal to the Ohio was printed by order of the governor, in 1754, in the preface the young author said, “I think I can do no less than apologize, in some Measure, for the numberless imperfections of it. There intervened but one Day between my Arrival in Williamsburg, and the Time for the Council’s Meeting, for me to prepare and transcribe, from the rough Minutes I had taken in my Travels, this Journal; the writing of which only was sufficient to employ me closely the whole Time, consequently admitted of no Leisure to consult of a new and proper Form to offer it in, or to correct or amend the Diction of the old.” Boucher states that the publication, “in Virginia at least, drew on him some ridicule.”

This anxiety about his writings was shown all through life, and led Washington to rely greatly on such of his friends as would assist him, even to the point, so Reed thought, that he “sometimes adopted draughts of writing when his own would have been better … from an extreme diffidence in himself,” and Pickering said, in writing to an aide,–

“Although the General’s private correspondence was doubtless, for the most part, his own, and extremely acceptable to the persons addressed; yet, in regard to whatever was destined to meet the public eye, he seems to have been fearful to exhibit his own compositions, relying too much on the judgment of his friends, and sometimes adopted draughts that were exceptionable. Some parts of his private correspondence must have essentially differed from other parts in the style of composition. You mention your own aids to the General in this line. Now, if I had your draughts before me, mingled with the General’s to the same persons, nothing would be more easy than to assign to each his own proper offspring. You could neither restrain your _courser_, nor conceal your imagery, nor express your ideas otherwise than in the language of a scholar. The General’s compositions would be perfectly plain and didactic, and not always correct.”

During the Presidency, scarcely anything of a public nature was penned by Washington,–Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and Randolph acting as his draughtsmen. “We are approaching the first Monday in December by hasty strides,” he wrote to Jefferson. “I pray you, therefore, to revolve in your mind such matters as may be proper for me to lay before Congress, not only in your own department, (if any there be,) but such others of a general nature, as may happen to occur to you, that I may be prepared to open the session with such communication, as shall appear to merit attention.” Two years later he said to the same, “I pray you to note down or rather to frame into paragraphs or sections, such matters as may occur to you as fit and proper for general communication at the opening of the next session of Congress, not only in the department of state, but on any other subject applicable to the occasion, that I may in due time have everything before me.” To Hamilton he wrote in 1795, “Having desired the late Secretary of State to note down every matter as it occurred, proper either for the speech at the opening of the session, or for messages afterwards, the inclosed paper contains everything I could extract from that office. Aid me, I pray you, with your sentiments on these points, and such others as may have occurred to you relative to my communications to Congress.”

The best instance is furnished in the preparation of the Farewell Address. First Madison was asked to prepare a draft, and from this Washington drew up a paper, which he submitted to Hamilton and Jay, with the request that “even if you should think it best to throw the whole into a different form, let me request, notwithstanding, that my draught may be returned to me (along with yours) with such amendments and corrections as to render it as perfect as the formation is susceptible of; curtailed if too verbose; and relieved of all tautology not necessary to enforce the ideas in the original or quoted part. My wish is that the whole may appear in a plain style, and be handed to the public in an honest, unaffected, simple part.” Accordingly, Hamilton prepared what was almost a new instrument in form, though not in substance, which, after “several serious and attentive readings,” Washington wrote that he preferred “greatly to the other draughts, being more copious on material points, more dignified on the whole, and with less egotism; of course, less exposed to criticism, and better calculated to meet the eye of discerning readers (foreigners particularly, whose curiosity I have little doubt will lead them to inspect it attentively, and to pronounce their opinions on the performance).” The paper was then, according to Pickering, “put into the hands of Wolcott, McHenry, and myself … with a request that we would examine it, and note any alterations and corrections which we should think best. We did so; but our notes, as well as I recollect, were very few, and regarded chiefly the grammar and composition.” Finally, Washington revised the whole, and it was then made public.

Confirmatory of this sense of imperfect cultivation are the pains he took that his adopted son and grandson should be well educated. As already noted, tutors for both were secured at the proper ages, and when Jack was placed with the Rev. Mr. Boucher, Washington wrote: “In respect to the kinds, & manner of his Studying I leave it wholely to your better Judgment–had he begun, or rather pursued his study of the Greek Language, I should have thought it no bad acquisition; but whether if he acquire this now, he may not forego some useful branches of learning, is a matter worthy of consideration. To be acquainted with the French Tongue is become part of polite Education; and to a man who has the prospect of mixing in a large Circle absolutely necessary. Without Arithmetick, the common affairs of Life are not to be managed with success. The study of Geometry, and the Mathematics (with due regard to the limites of it) is equally advantageous. The principles of Philosophy Moral, Natural, &c. I should think a very desirable knowledge for a Gentleman.” So, too, he wrote to Washington Custis, “I do not hear you mention anything of geography or mathematics as parts of your study; both these are necessary branches of useful knowledge. Nor ought you to let your knowledge of the Latin language and grammatical rules escape you. And the French language is now so universal, and so necessary with foreigners, or in a foreign country, that I think you would be injudicious not to make yourself master of it.” It is worth noting in connection with this last sentence that Washington used only a single French expression with any frequency, and that he always wrote “faupas.”

Quite as indicative of the value he put on education was the aid he gave towards sending his young relatives and others to college, his annual contribution to an orphan school, his subscriptions to academies, and his wish for a national university. In 1795 he said,–

“It has always been a source of serious reflection and sincere regret with me, that the youth of the United States should be sent to foreign countries for the purpose of education…. For this reason I have greatly wished to see a plan adopted, by which the arts, sciences, and belles-lettres could be taught in their _fullest_ extent, thereby embracing _all_ the advantages of European tuition, with the means of acquiring the liberal knowledge, which is necessary to qualify our citizens for the exigencies of public as well as private life; and (which with me is a consideration of great magnitude) by assembling the youth from the different parts of this rising republic, contributing from their intercourse and interchange of information to the removal of prejudices, which might perhaps sometimes arise from local circumstances.”

In framing his Farewell Address, “revolving … on the various matters it contained and on the first expression of the advice or recommendation which was given in it, I have regretted that another subject (which in my estimation is of interesting concern to the well-being of this country) was not touched upon also; I mean education generally, as one of the surest means of enlightening and giving just ways of thinking to our citizens, but particularly the establishment of a university; where the youth from all parts of the United States might receive the polish of erudition in the arts, sciences and belles-lettres.” Eventually he reduced this idea to a plea for the people to “promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge,” because “in proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.” By his will he left to the endowment of a university in the District of Columbia the shares in the Potomac Company which had been given him by the State of Virginia, but the clause was never carried into effect.

It was in 1745 that Washington’s school-days came to an end. His share of his father’s property being his mother’s till he was twenty-one, a livelihood had to be found, and so at about fourteen years of age the work of life began. Like a true boy, the lad wanted to go to sea, despite his uncle’s warning “that I think he had better be put apprentice to a tinker; for a common sailor before the mast has by no means the liberty of the subject; for they will press him from a ship where he has fifty shillings a month; and make him take twenty-three, and cut and slash, and use him like a negro, or rather like a dog.” His mother, however, would not consent, and to this was due his becoming a surveyor.

From his “Young Man’s Companion” Washington had already learned the use of Gunter’s rule and how it should be used in surveying, and to complete his knowledge he seems to have taken lessons of the licensed surveyor of Westmoreland County, James Genn, for transcripts of some of the surveys drawn by Genn still exist in the handwriting of his pupil. This implied a distinct and very valuable addition to his knowledge, and a large number of his surveys still extant are marvels of neatness and careful drawing. As a profession it was followed for only four years (1747-1751), but all through life he often used his knowledge in measuring or platting his own property. Far more important is the service it was to him in public life. In 1755 he sent to Braddock’s secretary a map of the “back country,” and to the governor of Virginia plans of two forts. During the Revolution it helped him not merely in the study of maps, but also in the facility it gave him to take in the topographical features of the country. Very largely, too, was the selection of the admirable site for the capital due to his supervising: all the plans for the city were submitted to him, and nowhere do the good sense and balance of the man appear to better advantage than in his correspondence with the Federal city commissioners.

In Washington’s earliest account-book there is an item when he was sixteen years old, “To cash pd ye Musick Master for my Entrance 3/9.” It is commonly said that he played the flute, but this is as great a libel on him as any Tom Paine wrote, and though he often went to concerts, and though fond of hearing his granddaughter Nelly play and sing, he never was himself a performer, and the above entry probably refers to the singing-master whom the boys and girls of that day made the excuse for evening frolics.

Mention is made elsewhere of his taking lessons in the sword exercise from Van Braam in these earlier years, and in 1756 he paid to Sergeant Wood, fencing-master, the sum of L1.1.6. When he received the offer of a position on Braddock’s staff, he acknowledged, in accepting, that “I must be ingenuous enough to confess, that I am not a little biassed by selfish considerations. To explain, Sir, I wish earnestly to attain some knowledge in the military profession, and, believing a more favorable opportunity cannot offer, than to serve under a gentleman of General Braddock’s abilities and experience, it does … not a little contribute to influence my choice.” Hamilton is quoted as saying that Washington “never read any book upon the art of war but Sim’s Military Guide,” and an anonymous author asserted that “he never read a book in the art of war of higher value than Bland’s Exercises.” Certain it is that nearly all the military knowledge he possessed was derived from practice rather than from books, and though, late in life, he purchased a number of works on the subject, it was after his army service was over.

One factor in Washington’s education which must not go unnoticed was his religious belief. When only two months old he was baptized, presumably by the Rev. Lawrence De Butts, the clergyman of Washington parish. The removal from that locality prevented any further religious influence from this clergyman, and it probably first came from the Rev. Charles Green, of Truro parish, who had received his appointment through the friendship of Washington’s father, and who later was on such friendly terms with Washington that he doctored Mrs. Washington in an attack of the measles, and caught and returned two of his parishioner’s runaway slaves. As early as 1724 the clergyman of the parish in which Mount Vernon was situated reported that he catechised the youth of his congregation “in Lent and a great part of the Summer,” and George, as the son of one of his vestrymen, undoubtedly received a due amount of questioning.

From 1748 till 1759 there was little church-going for the young surveyor or soldier, but after his marriage and settling at Mount Vernon he was elected vestryman in the two parishes of Truro and Fairfax, and from that election he was quite active in church affairs. It may be worth noting that in the elections of 1765 the new vestryman stood third in popularity in the Truro church and fifth in that of Fairfax. He drew the plans for a new church in Truro, and subscribed to its building, intending “to lay the foundation of a family pew,” but by a vote of the vestry it was decided that there should be no private pews, and this breach of contract angered Washington so greatly that he withdrew from the church in 1773. Sparks quotes Madison to the effect that “there was a tradition that, when he [Washington] belonged to the vestry of a church in his neighborhood, and several little difficulties grew out of some division of the society, he sometimes spoke with great force, animation, and eloquence on the topics that came before them.” After this withdrawal he bought a pew in Christ Church in Alexandria (Fairfax parish), paying L36.10, which was the largest price paid by any parishioner. To this church he was quite liberal, subscribing several times towards repairs, etc.

The Rev. Lee Massey, who was rector at Pohick (Truro) Church before the Revolution, is quoted by Bishop Meade as saying that

“I never knew so constant an attendant in church as Washington. And his behavior in the house of God was ever so deeply reverential that it produced the happiest effect on my congregation, and greatly assisted me in my pulpit labors. No company ever withheld him from church. I have often been at Mount Vernon on Sabbath morning, when his breakfast table was filled with guests; but to him they furnished no pretext for neglecting his God and losing the satisfaction of setting a good example. For instead of staying at home, out of false complaisance to them, he used constantly to invite them to accompany him.”

This seems to have been written more with an eye to its influence on others than to its strict accuracy. During the time Washington attended at Pohick Church he was by no means a regular church-goer. His daily “where and how my time is spent” enables us to know exactly how often he attended church, and in the year 1760 he went just sixteen times, and in 1768 he went fourteen, these years being fairly typical of the period 1760-1773. During the Presidency a sense of duty made him attend St Paul’s and Christ churches while in New York and Philadelphia, but at Mount Vernon, when the public eye was not upon him, he was no more regular than he had always been, and in the last year of his life he wrote, “Six days do I labor, or, in other words, take exercise and devote my time to various occupations in Husbandry, and about my mansion. On the seventh, now called the first day, for want of a place of Worship (within less than nine miles) such letters as do not require immediate acknowledgment I give answers to…. But it hath so happened, that on the two last Sundays–call them the first or the seventh as you please, I have been unable to perform the latter duty on account of visits from Strangers, with whom I could not use the freedom to leave alone, or recommend to the care of each other, for their amusement.”

What he said here was more or less typical of his whole life. Sunday was always the day on which he wrote his private letters,–even prepared his invoices,–and he wrote to one of his overseers that his letters should be mailed so as to reach him Saturday, as by so doing they could be answered the following day. Nor did he limit himself to this, for he entertained company, closed land purchases, sold wheat, and, while a Virginia planter, went foxhunting, on Sunday. It is to be noted, however, that he considered the scruples of others as to the day. When he went among his western tenants, rent-collecting, he entered in his diary that, it “being Sunday and the People living on my Land _apparently_ very religious, it was thought best to postpone going among them till to-morrow,” and in his journey through New England, because it was “contrary to the law and disagreeable to the People of this State (Connecticut) to travel on the Sabbath day–and my horses, after passing through such intolerable roads, wanting rest, I stayed at Perkins’ tavern (which, by the bye, is not a good one) all day–and a meetinghouse being within a few rods of the door, I attended the morning and evening services, and heard very lame discourses from a Mr. Pond.” It is of this experience that tradition says the President started to travel, but was promptly arrested by a Connecticut tithing-man. The story, however, lacks authentication.

There can be no doubt that religious intolerance was not a part of Washington’s character. In 1775, when the New England troops intended to celebrate Guy Fawkes day, as usual, the General Orders declared that “as the Commander in chief has been apprised of a design, formed for the observance of that ridiculous and childish custom of burning the effigy of the Pope, he cannot help expressing his surprise, that there should be officers and soldiers in this army so void of common sense, as not to see the impropriety of such a step.” When trying to secure some servants, too, he wrote that “if they are good workmen, they may be from Asia, Africa, or Europe; they may be Mahometans, Jews, or Christians of any sect, or they may be Atheists.” When the bill taxing all the people of Virginia to support the Episcopal Church (his own) was under discussion, he threw his weight against it, as far as concerned the taxing of other sectaries, but