Eugene Parsons.

George Washington, a character sketch online

. (page 1 of 12)
Online LibraryEugene ParsonsGeorge Washington, a character sketch → online text (page 1 of 12)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


3 3433 08241152 5

?•■ i




t\ \'


Great Americans of History

George Washington




Lecturer on American History


G. MERCER ADAM ^ ^ > '

Late Editor of "Self-Culture" Magazinte^. ^Vc., E^x>!'->5 ' "j ,-> * ^ 5 >

»■> * ,0 , T J ^



of Yale University j ' ''\ V,

o V "J » ■" '






Thomas Jeffkrson, by Edward S.
KUis. A. M . Author of "The
I'eople's Standard History of the
Inited States*," etc. With Sup-
plementary Kssay by G. Mercer
Adam. Late Kdilor of "Self-Cult-
ure" Mapazine, with an Account
of the liOuisiana Purchase, to-
gether with Anecdotes, Charac-
teristics, Chronology and Say-

Jamks Otis, by John Clark Rid-
path, LL. !>.. Airhor of "Kid-
paih's History of the United
States." etc. With Supplemen-
tary Essay by (i. Mercer Adam,
],ate Editor of ' Self-Culture"
Mitgazine; tot'ether with Anec-
dotes, Characteristics, and Chro-

John Hancock by John R. Musick,
Author of -The Columbian His-
tori al Novels." etc. With Sup-
plementary Essay by G. Mercer
Adam. Late F:dit6r of "Self-Cul-
tuie" Magazine; together with
Anecdotes, Characteristics, and

Samiel Adams, bj' Samuel Fallows,
1). D., LL. D., Ex-Siipt. of Pub-
lic Instruction of Wisconsin;
1<>-Pres. Illinois Wesleyan Uni-
versity. With Supplementary
Essay'by G Mercer Adam, Late

• rtdit4)r yf "Self-Culture" Maga-

*, /i lie ^ totre VI ^r* J\'Jt Ik* Anecdotes,

I^AJ A.MfcN V'RVj3-ft4* • by P'lank
Strong. Ph. 1)..* L'^cturer on
Cii.tfePJ'twtg* History, Yale Uni-
■•(•iMfcy, Ngw IJaven. Conn. With
, ,3uVii*'»neBtal3-:ssay by G. Mercer
.Ada^it. r«tc Etlitorof " Self-Cul-

/^tinirt'i ,^b1^9zin^, etc., and a

< 4 'h«r^(«f)^»nd\iby Prof. Charles

'. K k?(Cumif5 PhtD ,of Johns Hop-

Rifls^_i•ilie^•^^^\J: together with

Anecdotes, Characteristics, and


JuH.v Adams, by Samuel Willard,
LL D . Author of '-Synopsis of
History." etc. With Supplemen-
tary E-sny by G. Mercer Adam,
Late Editor-" of "Self-t-ulture"
Mairnzinp; together with Anec-
diitps Charaeteiistics, and Chro-

iJ5i.oo per Volume.

Alexander Hamil~on. by Edward
S. Ellis, A. M , Author of "The
People's Standard History of the
United State.s." etc. With Sup-
plementary Essay by G. Mercer
Adam, Late Editor of ".Self-Cul-
ture" Magazine, etc ; together
with Anecodotes, Charactcria-
tics,and Chronology.

Gkorgk Washington, by Eugene
Parsons, Ph. D., Lecturer on
American Hi.story, etc. With
Supplementary Essay by G. Mer-
cer Adam, Late ?:ditor of -'Self-
(;ulture" Magazine; and an Ar-
ticle t)y p. of. Henry Wade
Rogers, LL. D., of Yale Univer-
sitj'; togf'tlier with Anecdotes,
Characteristics. and Chronolog.v.
John Randolph, by Richard Heath
Dabney. M. A., Ph D., Professor
of History. University of Vir
ginia. With Supplementary
Essay bv G. Mercer Adam, Late
Editor of "Self-Culture" Maga-
zine; together with Anecdotes.
Characteristics, and Chronology.

Daniel Webster, by Elizalieth A.
Reed, A. M., L. H. D.. Ex Pres.
Illinois Woman's P'ess Associa-
tion. With Supplementary Es-
say by G. Mercer .Adam Late Edi-
tor of "Self-Culture" Magazine;
together with Anecdot*-s. Char-
acteristics, and Chronology.

Henry Clay, by H. W. (Caldwell.
A. M , Pii. B., Professor of Ameri-
can History. L'niversity of Ne-
braska. With Supplementary
Essay by G. Mercer Adam. Late
Editor of "Self-Culture" Maga-
zine; together with Ancedotes
Characteristics, and Chronology.

ABRAHAM LiNiOLN. by Robert Dick-
inson Sheppard, D D., Professor
of American and Englith His-
tory. Northwestern U'dversity
With Supplementary Essay by G.
Mercer Adam. Late Editor of
" Self-Qiilture ' Magazine, etc.
also Suggestions from the Life
of Lincoln by Prof. F'lancis W,
Shepardson, I'h D . or the Uni-
versity of Chicago. Together
with Anecdotes. Characteristics,
and Chronology.

^ll.OO per Sit.



Copyright, i8y8,

Copyright, K/jj,


THE name and fame of Washington are immortal.
When all due allowance is made for hero-worship,
his is a superlative w^orth. To him rightly belongs the
place of pre-eminence among colonial leaders.

The colonies could, indeed, boast of many men of con-
spicuous ability and unswerving patriotism, men of af-
fairs, men of genius for finance and g^oyerryneni, but; nqrAi
of them fulfilled the requirements or:i^|iopi\Mf hero ad (ii'd.
Washinoton. His is an all-round PTeatn.^S6 tfigl notic of
his contemporaries had. :**.«"'*'

There were other patriots of Washihg|§ji''K'time w|io
were truly great and noble, whose service' to' their coun-
try are gratefully remembered, but his is an incompara-
ble glory. His was a devotion to a sacred cause that
counted not the cost, and his was an enthusiasm tem-
pered by judgment. His is a character that stands the
test of time. His was a moral grandeur, joined with
practical wisdom, never surpassed among the most re-
nowned figures in the world's history.

Washington was idolized in his day, and his memory
has been cherished as a priceless possession by succeed-


ing generations. And the good of other lands, lovers of
liberty and friends of justice in the Old World, have paid
spontaneous tribute to his exalted merit.

By common consent, Washington is regarded as the
best type of American that our country has yet produced.
No other, unless it be Lincoln, is deemed worthy of a
place beside him. He was not only the central figure
among the founders of the American republic — he stands
as the representative of western ideas as opposed to mon-
archical views of government. Such is the verdict of
the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries; a verdict that
the centuries to come will not reverse.

It is not every man that has in him the making of a
successful farmer, a wise legislator, a superb general, and
an admirable president. Washington steadily rose in the
/fw^^rld, ^lJlgh^r^.allCl^^4gher, by dint of his superior fitness.
tl'e wa^ am'-bi'tioufe^'lC) rise and put forth strenuous, well-
direefed;'<^i?cfrti'^0 better his condition. Though aided by
favoring (circumstances, the way w^as by no means easy.
Succe33':\V^s'1?.i's, -because he won it and deserved it. He
w^as prudent and energetic, painstaking and conscientious.

In all of his official acts, as well as in the relations of
private life, he was characterized by fidelity to duty and
loyalty to principle. His were the qualities that com-
mand respect and confidence, that lead to fortune and to
positions of honor and responsibility. It was by no ac-
cident or series of accidents that he reached the highest
place in the nation.

When but a mere stripling, George Washington was
known far and wide in the Old Dominion, as Virginia



was then called. Here was a youth who had forged to
the front by force of will and native endowments. At
the age of nineteen he was a person of prominence and
influence. Thenceforth he was a public character, an
actor in the chief events that make up the history of our


Washington as a Young Man.

country for nearly half a century. To write the story of
his life is to write the history of his times. It is a thrill-
ing and inspiring record, of which his countrymen may
well feel proud.

The Washingtons of Virginia were of English descent.
Their ancestors were formerly of the yeomanry of York-


shire, England; not Saxons, but of Danish blood. The
founder of the Washington family in England, who lived
in the eleventh century, is said to have been a descendant
of the celebrated Odin. The two brothers, Eaurence
and John Washington, of whom not much is known, em-
igrated to Virginia in 1659 and settled in Westmoreland
County, near Bridges Creek, between the Potomac and
Rappahannock rivers. Col. John Washington, a man
evidently of some means and enterprise, was the great
grandfather of George Washington.

Augustine Washington (born in 1694) was married
(17 1 5) to Jane Butler, wdiodied in 1728, leaving two sons
— Eaurence (1728) and Augustine (1720) — and one
daughter (who died in 1735). His second marriage took
place March 6, 1731. Being a man of more than aver-
age attractions, he had the good fortune to win the hand
of a very estimable young lady. Miss Mary Ball.
They had six children: George, born at Wakefield (as
the Washington homestead was then called), Feb. 22,
1732; Betty (1733-97), Samuel (1734-81); John (1736-87);
Charles (1738-99); and Mildred (1739-40).

The house where George was born, not far from Pope's
Creek, burned down in 1735. Of Washington's birth-
place one has written:

"This house commanded a beautiful view over many
miles of the Potomac, and opposite shore of Maryland; it
contained four rooms on the ground floor, and others in
the attic. Such was the birthplace of our great and loved
Washington. Not a vestige more remains of it; only a
stone placed there by a wife's grandson, George Wash-


ington Parke Custis, marks the site of the 'old low-pitched
farm house.' "

The father then moved his family to his plantation
near Fredericksburgh, where the childhood and youth of
Washington was chiefly spent.

The Father of his Country was blessed with excellent
parents. His father was no ordinary man; his mother
was no ordinary woman.

Though a gentleman, Augustine Washington led the
active life of a planter-frontierman. It was an indepen-
dent, simple, honest sort of life, by no means easy and
luxurious. There was not much leisure for books or
sports. He died April 12, 1743. Being a large landed
proprietor, he left farms to each of his children. He be-
queathed the estate of Mount Vernon to his eldest son
Laurence, while George inherited the house and lands
on the Rappahannock.

The elder Washington was not the type of man de-
scribed in W^eems' ''Life of Washington." The hatchet
story told in this remarkable book was long ago discred-
ited, with some other "curious anecdotes" seriously re-
lated by this extravagant but not over-trustworthy biog-
rapher. Doubtless, the importance of truthfulness was
emphasized by both father and mother. They laid the
foundations of George Washington's reputation for verac-
ity. The father's impress on his son was enduring,
though he died when George was only eleven years old.

The name of Mary Washington is universally revered
and beloved. Upon her devolved the task of looking af-
ter the wants of a large household, and she faithfully per-



formed the arduous duties of a busy house-wife and mat-
ron. She was deeply attached to her children, and con-
sulted their welfare wnth earnest solicitude. She exacted
obedience and regard from them, and allowed no famil-
iarity. Her will was law, and servants and business
agent's knew it. There Vv^as a strain of Puritan sternness

Tomb of Washington's Mother, Fredericksburg, Va.

and strictness in her make-up, that showed itself in the
son. "Honored Madam," he addressed her in his letters,
even when a man. She was not, however, without ten-
derness. She had been a beautiful girl, and as }-ears
went by, developed into a dignified woman of striking




appearance, grave and reserved in manner. She died
1 August 25, 1789, at the ripe age of eighty-two. George
' Washington owed a great debt to his mother.

During his school days, which were over in his six-
j teenth year, the youthful George received what was then
considered a good common-school education. Tradition
has it that he soon acquired all that his first teacher
knew, which was no more than the merest rudiments of
the three R's. George was his brightest pupil.

Later he went to an academy near his brother's home
at Bridge's Creek. He early showed an aptitude for fig-
ures and made marked progress in mathematics. It
must be confessed that his knowledge of spelling and
of grammar was exceedingly defective, judged by the
standards of the present. In these days many a boy of
twelve knows more of books and the world than Wash-
ington did at sixteen. His reading w^as limited in boy-
hood, as in later life.

But the country lad who has his eyes open, learns a
vast deal not written in books. In the fields and woods
George had been observant and gained a fund of infor-
mation that w^as afterward of incalculable value to him
/as a farmer and soldier. He was familiar with all the
routine of a plantation of those times. He knew all
about taking care of stock, breaking horses, mending fen-
ces, etc. He was a good shot with the rifle, and was fond
of hunting. Large and powerful for his age, he excelled
in swimming, running, wrestling, and other manly exer-
cises, that rounded his muscles and hardened his rugged
frame. He tried his hand, too, at playing soldier, drill-


ing a company of youngsters. He insisted on being cap-
tain, and displayed the true spirit of a commander.

The growing boy was an expert horseman, and had a
local reputation for mastering fractious steeds. The story
of his killing Sorrel, the finest colt on his mother's farm,
though told with dramatic detail by Custis, is believed to
be of doubtful authenticity. There are other suspicious ^
narratives of his wonderful feats of strength and dexteri ■
ty in early manhood. They must have had some basis oj I
fact, for he was a youth of mettle and daring, sturdy and i
agile. 1

Occasionally an English merchant-ship sailed up the \
Potomac, bringing supplies from London to the planters
along the river, and bearing away the crop of tobacco to
England. Naturally the sight of a trading ship or a
man-of-war would impress a healthy boy and fill his
mind with longing for a sea-life. At one time, it is re-
lated, George Washington seriously thought of becoming
a midshipman. He was then about fifteen and eager tc i
enter upon the career of a seaman. When ready to leav
home, he was dissuaded from going by his mother —
decision that entirely changed the course, it may be, (\
his after life. Her opinion was strengthened by a lettei I
of advice from her brother in the old country, wdio •
thought his nephew's chances of rising in the King's'
Navy were very slight. \ J

After the death of his father, Georofc was often at tL ' 1
home of his half-brother Laurence, whose influence overl
him was marked for good. The wife of Laurence Wash- j
ington \vas Annie Fairfax, the daughter of an English }^'

> I


gentleman then living at Belvoir, not far away from tliel

Washington homestead. Circumstances had brought

hither Lord Fairfax, who owned immense estates in Vir

ginia. It was exceedingly fortunate for the youth to be

come acquainted with this Englishman of talent and cul-;

ture, w^ho became interested in his education, and had

... 1

much to do with launching Washington on the careeii

of a surveyor. i

Having given up the idea of going to sea, Georgd,
turned his attention to land-surveying, which promisee
to be a lucrative calling, one for which he was except
ionally fitted by his mental and physical qualifications '•
Having thoroughly studied the elements of geometry ano ^
trigonometry, he was well equipped for the work of sur -
veying the lands of Lord Fairfax in theValley of the Vir-*
ginia. In company wnth George Fairfax, a relative o.-f
the nobleman, he set out on his first expedition of the
kind, in March, 1748. He was then only sixteen, yet h?
proved to be a capable surveyor and performed his diffi-
cult task to the entire satisfaction of his employer. .
The Journal that Washington kept, while engaged in
surveying the Shenandoah property of Lord Fairfax ,
mentions some interesting experiences that he had while, >
roughing it in the wilderness, as much of the country
then was. The document is also valuable as an index
of his intellectual advancement. He wrote a neat hand
and expressed himself fluently and naturally. A few ex-
tracts from this diary (the earliest of his literary efforts)
are given, co^Died literally, with the errors of spelling and
punctuation. They help us in forming a picture of the


,real George Washington. As Dr. Toner has said: "The
time has come when the people want to know intimately
knd without glamour or false coloring, the father of his

'tountry as he actually lived and labored, and to possess
his writings, just as he left them, on every subject which
engaged his attention." The memorandum of his surveys
is entitled:

"journal of my journey over the mountains.

While surveying for Lord Thomas Fairfax, Baron of
Cameron, in the Northern Neck of Virginia, beyond the
Bhie Ridge, in 1747-48.

"Friday March nth 1747-8. Began my Journey in Company
with George P^airfax, Esqr.; we travell'd this day 40 Miles to Mr.
George Neavels in Prince William County.

"Tuesday 15th We set out out early with Intent to Run round
ye sd Land but being taken in a Rain & it Increasing very fast
obliged us to return, it clearing about one o Clock & our time being
too Precious to Loose we a second time ventured out & Worked
hard till Night & then return'd to Penningtons we got our Suppers
& was Lighted into a Room & I not being so good a Woodsman as
ye rest of my Company striped myself very orderly & went in to ye
Bed as they called it when to my Surprize I found it to be nothing
but a Little Straw — Matted together without Sheets or anything else
but only one thread Bear blanket with double its Weight of Vermin
such as Lice Fleas &c I was glad to get up (as soon as y Light was
carried from us) I put on my Cloths and Lays as my Companions.
Had we not have been very tired I am sure we should not have
slep'd much that night I made a Promise not to Sleep so from that
time forward chusing rather to sleep in y. open air before a fire as
will appear hereafter.

"Wednesday 23d Rain'd till about two o Clock & Clear'd when

|we were agreeably surpris'd at y. sight of thirty odd Indians coming

from War with only one Scalp. We had some Liquor with us of

(which we gave them Part it elevating there Spirits put them in y.

/Humour of Dauncing of whom we had a War Daunce there manner

lof Dauncing is as follows Viz They clear a Large Circle & make a

Great Fire in y. middle then seats themselves around it y. Speaker

makes a grand Speech telling them in what Manner they are to

iD2tunce after he has finish'd y. best Dauncer Jumps up as one


awaked out of a Sleep & Runs & Jumps about y. Ring in a mo!
comicle Manner he is followed by y. Rest then begins there Musj
cians to play ye Musick is a Pot half of Water with a Ueersk
streched over it as tight as it can & a goard with some Shott in it
Rattle & a Piece of an horses Tail tied to it to make it look fine
one keeps Rattling and y. other Drumming all y. while y. others

"Saturday 26 Travelld up ye Creek to Solomon Hedges Esq.
one of his Majestys Justices of ye Peace for ye County of Frederick
where we camped when we came to Supper there was neither a Cloth
upon ye Table nor a knife to eat with but as good luck would have it
we had Knives of own.

"Tuesday 29th This Morning went out & Survey'd five Hundred
Acres of Land & went down to one Michael Stumps on ye So Fork
of ye Branch on our way Shot two Wild Turkies.

"Monday 4th this morning Mr. Fairfax left us with Intent to go
down to ye Mouth of ye Branch we did two Lots & was attended by
a great Company of People Men Women & Children that attended
us through ye Woods as we went showing there Antick tricks I real-
ly think they seem to be as Ignorant a Set of People as the Indians
they would never speak English but when spoken to they speak all
Dutch this day our Tent was blown down by ye Violentness of ye

"Wednesday ye 13th of April 1748 Mr. Fairfax got safe home
and I myself safe to my Brothers which concludes my Journal"

It may be noted in passing, that Washington followed
the practice of double dating, between January i, and
March 25, as was the custom before the Gregorian calen-
dar was adopted in England in 1752. By some, March
25 was considered the beginning of the legal or civil

This expedition of Washington's, in the employment
of Lord Fairfax, w^as the beginning of his fortunes. Tht
work was done so w^ell that his services as a surveyo
were wanted by others. The boy-surveyor made a naml
for himself, being unusually careful and accurate, aslatei*
surveys have shown. Thus he was engaged the n aext
two and a half years. In the summer of 1749, he ^cwas


^appointed county-surveyor of Culpeper County, Virginia.
'In securing this position he was aided by the influence
'of his friend, Lord Fairfax, but his experience and per-
sonal fitness were his best recommendation.

An early sketch of Washington says he "first set out
in the world as surveyor of Orange Country, an appoint-
ment of about half the value of a Virginia Rectory — i,
e. perhaps 100 1. a year."

This was a considerable income for a young man in
those days, when money was scarce in the colonies.
Washington was thrifty and prudent in his expeditures,
and made shrewd investments of his earnings in real es-
tate. Land was then more plentiful than money, and
was frequently offered for sale at a low price. The work
of surveying gave him an excellent opportunity to see
the country, and he purchased several choice tracts of
land for himself and for his brother Laurence.

Thus Washington by industry, economy and foresight,
laid the foundations for his after career of prosperity as
a farmer and public man. But strenuous endeavor and
business judgment do not account for the high degree of
success that he obtained. He had given attention to
character-building as something important as well as get-
ting on in the world.

When a boy in his teens he copied and studied with
levident care a list of more than a hundred rules of con-
' jduct. It is said that he found them in a book that fell
Wintohis hands, Mather's "Young Man's Companion." It
(shows how much thought he gave to the matter of de-
portment. Here are a few of the precepts in his "rules


of civility and decent behavior in company and conver-
sation." They may well be pondered and followed by
young people to-day.

1. "Every action in company ought to be with some
sign of respect to those present.

2. "In the presence of others sing not to yourself with
a humming noise, nor drum with your fingers or feet.

3. "Sleep not when others speak, sit not wdien others
stand, speak not when you should hold your peace, walk
not wdien others stop.

4. "Turn not your back to others, especially in speak-
ing; jog not the table or desk on which another reads
or writes; lean not on any one.

5. "Be no flatterer; neither play with any one that de-
lights not to be played with.

6. "Read no letters, books, or papers in company; but
when there is a necessity for doing it, you must ask leave.
Come not near the books or writings of any one so as to
read them, unless desired, nor give 3'our opinion of thein
unasked; also, look not nigh wdien another is writing a
letter. ;

7. "Let your countenance be pleasant, but in serious
matters somewhat grave.

8. "Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of anoth-
er, though he were your enemy. r

9. "When you meet with one of greater quality thanV
yourself, stop and retire, especially if it be at a door oil
any straight place, to give way for him to pass. j

10. "They that are in dignity, or in office, have in a^^
places precedency; but whilst they are young they ouglif.


to respect those that are their equals in birth, or other
qualities, though they have no public charge."

Says Lodge: "The one thought that runs through all
the sayings is to practice self-control, and no man ever
displayed that most difficult of virtues to such a degree
as George Washington."

An important factor in the training of George Wash-

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Online LibraryEugene ParsonsGeorge Washington, a character sketch → online text (page 1 of 12)