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our steps backward, as is possible in most cases, over
the road by which the world has travelled since
those days. We are compelled to take a long leap
mentally in order to land ourselves securely in the
Virginia which honored the second George, and
looked up to Walpole and Pitt as the arbiters of
its fate.

We live in a period of great cities, rapid com-
munication, vast and varied business interests,
enormous diversity of occupation, great industries,
diffused intelligence, farming by steam, and with
everything and everybody pervaded by an unrest-
ing, high-strung activity. We transport ourselves
to the Virginia of Washington's boyhood, and find
a people without cities or towns, with no means of
communication except what was afforded by rivers
and wood roads ; having no trades, no industries,
no means of spreading knowledge, ov\j one occu-
pation, clumsily performed ; and living a quiet,
monotonous existence, which can now hardly be
realized. It is " a far cry to Loch- Awe," as the


Scotch proverb lias it; and this okl Virginian soci-
ety, although we should find it sorry work living in
it, is both pleasant and picturesque in the pages of

The population of Virginia, advancing toward
half a million, and divided pretty equally between
the free whites and the enslaved blacks, was densest,
to use a most inappropriate word, at the water's
edge and near the mouths of the rivers. Thence
it crept backwards, following always the lines of
the watercourses, and growing ever thinner and
more scattered until it reached the Blue Ridge.
Behind the mountains was the wilderness, haunted,
as old John Lederer said a century earlier, by mon-
sters, and inhabited, as the eighteenth-century Vir-
ginians very well knew, by savages and wild beasts,
much more real and dangerous than the hobgob-
lins of their ancestors.

The population, in pro23ortioii to its numbers, was
very widely distributed. It was not collected in
groups, after the fashion with which we are now
familiar, for then there were no cities or towns in
Virginia. The only place which could pretend to
either name was Norfolk, the solitary seaport,
which, with its six or seven thousand inhabitants,
formed the most glaring exception that any rule
solicitous of proof could possibly desire. Wil-
liamsburg, the capital, was a straggling village,
somewhat overweighted with the public buildings
and those of the college. It would light up into
life and vivacity during the season of politics and


society, and tlien relapse again into the country
stillness. Outside of Williamsburg and Norfolk
there were various points which passed in the cata-
logue and on the map for towns, but which in real-
ity were merely the shadows of a name. The most
populous consisted of a few houses inhabited
by storekeepers and traders, some tobacco ware-
houses, and a tavern, clustered about the church or
court-house. Many others had only the church, or,
if a county seat, the church and court-house, keep-
ing solitary state in the woods. There once a week
the sound of prayer and gossip, or at longer inter-
vals the voices of lawyers and politicians, and the
shouts of the wrestlers on the green, broke through
the stillness which with the going down of the sun
resumed its sway in the forests.

There was little chance here for that friction
of mind with mind, or for that quick interchange
of thought and sentiment and knowledge which
are familiar to the dwellers in cities, and which
have driven forward more rapidly than all else
what we call civilization. Kare meetings for spe-
cial objects with persons as solitary in their lives
and as ill-informed as himself, constituted to the
average Virginian the world of society, and there
was nothing from outside to supply the deficiencies
at home. Once a fortnight a mail crawled down
from the North, and once a month another crept on
to the South. George Washington was four years
old when the first newspaper was published in the
colony, and he was twenty when the first actors


appeared at Williamsburg. What was not brought
was not sought. The Virginians did not go down
to the sea in ships. They were not a seafaring
race, and as they had neither trade nor commerce
they were totally destitute of the inquiring, enter-
prising spirit, and of the knowledge brought by
those pursuits which involve travel and adventure.
The English tobacco-ships worked their way up the
rivers, taking the great staple, and leaving their
varied goods, and their tardy news from Europe,
wherever they stopped. This was the sum of the
information and intercourse which Virginia got
from across the sea, for travellers were practically
unknown. Few came on business, fewer still from
curiosity. Stray peddlers from the North, or trap-
pers from beyond the mountains with their packs
of furs, chiefly constituted what would now be
called the travelling public. There were in truth
no means of travelling except on foot, on horse-
back, or by boat on the rivers, which formed the
best and most expeditious highways. Stage-coaches,
or other public conveyances, were unknown. Over
some of the roads the rich man, with his six horses
and black outriders, might make his way in a lum-
bering carriage, but most of the roads were little
better than woodland paths ; and the rivers, inno-
cent of bridges, offered in the uncertain fords
abundance of inconvenience, npt unmixed with
peril. The taverns were execrable, and only the
ever-ready hospitality of the people made it pos-
sible to get from place to place. The result was


that the Virginians stayed at home, and sought
and welcomed the rare stranger at their gates as if
they were well aware that they were entertaining

It is not difficult to sift this home-keeping peo-
ple, and find out that portion which was Virginia,
for the mass was but an appendage of the small
fraction which ruled, led, and did the thinking
for the whole community. Half the people were
slaves, and in that single wretched word their his-
tory is told. They were, on the whole, well and
kindly treated, but they have no meaning in history
except as an institution, and as an influence in the
lives, feelings, and character of the men who made
the state.

Above the slaves, little better than they, but sep-
arated from them by the wide gulf of race and
color, were the indented white servants, some con-
victs, some redemptioners. They, too, have their
story told when we have catalogued them. We
cross another gulf and come to the farmers, to the
men who grew wheat as well as tobacco on their
own land, sometimes working alone, sometimes the
owners of a few slaves. Some of these men were
of the class well known since as the " poor whites "
of the South, the weaker brothers who could not
resist the poison of slavery, but sank under it into
ignorance and poverty. They were contented be-
cause their skins were white, and because they were
thereby part of an aristocracy to whom labor was
a badge of serfdom. The larger portion of this


middle class, however, were thrifty and industrious
enough. Including as they did in their ranks the
hunters and pioneers, the traders and merchants,
all the freemen in fact who toiled and worked, they
formed the mass of the white population, and fur-
nished the bone and sinew and some of the intel-
lectual power of Virginia. The only professional
men were the clergy, for the lawyers were few, and
growing to importance only as the Revolution be-
gan ; while the physicians were still fewer, and as
a class of no importance at all. The clergy were
a picturesque element in the social landscape, but
they were as a body very poor representatives of
learning, religion, and morality. They ranged from
hedge parsons and Fleet chaplains, who had slunk
away from England to find a desirable obscurity in
the new world, to divines of real learning and gen-
uine piety, who were the supporters of the college,
and who would have been a credit to any society.
These last, however, were lamentably few in num-
ber. The mass of the clergy were men who worked
their own lands, sold tobacco, were the boon com-
panions of the planters, hunted, shot, drank hard,
and lived well, performing their sacred duties in a
perfunctory and not always in a decent manner.

The clergy, however, formed the stepping-stone
socially between the farmers, traders, and small
planters, and the highest and most important class
in Virginian society. The great planters were the
men who owned, ruled, and guided Virginia. Their
vast estates were scattered along the rivers from


the seacoast to the mountains. Each plantation
was in itself a small village, with the owner's
house in the centre, surrounded by outbuildings and
negro cabins, and the pastures, meadows, and fields
of tobacco stretching away on all sides. The rare
traveller, pursuing his devious way on horseback or
in a boat, would catch sight of these noble estates
opening up from the road or the river, and then the
forest would close in around him for several miles,
until through the thinning trees he would see again
the white cabins and the cleared fields of the next

In such places dwelt the Virginian planters, sur-
rounded by their families and slaves, and in a soli-
tude broken only by the infrequent and eagerly
welcomed stranger, by their duties as vestrymen
and magistrates, or by the annual pilgrimage to
Williamsburg in search of society, or to sit in the
House of Burgesses. They were occupied by the
care of their plantations, which involved a good deal
of riding in the open air, but which was at best an
easy and indolent pursuit made light by slave labor
and trained overseers. As a result the planters had
an« abundance of spare time, which they devoted to
cock-fighting, horse-racing, fishing, shooting, and
fox-hunting, — all, save the first, wholesome and
manly sports, but which did not demand any undue
mental strain. There is, indeed, no indication
that the Virginians had any great love for intellect-
ual exertion. When the amiable attorney-general
of Charles II. said to the Virginian commission-


ers, pleading the cause of learning and religion,
" Damn your souls ! grow tobacco ! " lie uttered a
precept which the mass of the planters seem to
have laid to heart. For fifty years there were no
schools, and down to the Revolution even the apol-
ogies bearing that honored name were few, and the
college was small and struggling. In some of the
great families, the eldest sons would be sent to Eng-
land and to the great universities : they would make
the grand tour, play a part in the fashionable soci-
ety of London, and come back to their plantations
fine gentlemen and scholars. Such was Colonel
Byrd, in the early part of the eighteenth century,
a friend of the Earl of Orrery, and the author of
certain amusing memoirs. Such at a later day was
Arthur Lee, doctor and diplomat, student and poli-
tician. But most of these young gentlemen thus
sent abroad to improve their minds and manners
led a life not materially different from that of our
charming friend, Harry Warrington, after his arri-
val in England.

The sons who stayed at home sometimes gathered
a little learning from the clergyman of the parish,
or received a fair education at the College of Wil-
liam and Mary, but very many did not have even
so much as this. There was not in truth much use
for learning in managing a plantation or raising
horses, and men get along surprisingly well with-
out that which they do not need, especially if the
acquisition demands labor. The Virginian planter
thought little and read less, and there were no


learned professions to hold out golden prizes and
stimulate the love of knowledge. The women fared
even worse, for they could not go to Europe or to
William and Mary's, so that after exhausting the
teaching capacity of the parson they settled down
to a round of household duties and to the cares of
a multitude of slaves, working much harder and
more steadily than their lords and masters ever
thought of doing.

The only general form of intellectual exertion
was that of governing. The planters managed local
affairs through the vestries, and ruled Virginia in
the House of Burgesses. To this work they paid
strict attention, and, after the fashion of their race,
did it very well and very efficiently. They were an
extremely competent body whenever they made up
their minds to do anything ; but they liked the life
and habits of Squire Western, and saw no reason
for adopting any others until it was necessary.

There were, of course, vast differences in the
condition of the planters. Some counted their
acres by thousands and their slaves by hundreds,
while others scrambled along as best they might
with one plantation and a few score of negroes.
Some dwelt in very handsome houses, picturesque
and beautiful, like Gunston Hall or Stratford, or
in vast, tasteless, and extravagant piles like Rose-
well. Others were contented with very modest
houses, consisting of one story with a gabled roof,
and flanked by two massive chimneys. In some
houses there was a brave show of handsome j^late


and china, fine furniture, and London-made car-
riages, rich silks and satins, and brocaded dresses.
In others there were earthenware and pewter, home-
spun and woollen, and little use for horses except in
the plough or under the saddle.

Buf there were certain qualities common to all
the Virginia planters. The luxury was imperfect.
The splendor was sometimes barbaric. There were
holes in the brocades, and the fresh air of heaven
would often blow through a broken window upon
the glittering silver and the costly china. It was
an easy-going aristocracy, unfinished, and frequently
slovenly in its appointments, after the fashion of
the warmer climates and the regions of slavery.

Everything was plentiful except ready money.
In this rich and poor were alike. They were all
ahead of their income, and it seems as if, from one
cause or another, from extravagance or improvi-
dence, from horses or the gaming-table, every Vir-
ginian family went through bankruptcy about once
in a generation.

When Harry Warrington arrived in England,
all his relations at Castlewood regarded the hand-
some young fellow as a prince, with his acres and
his slaves. It was a natural and pleasing delusion,
born of the possession of land and serfs, to which
the Virginians themselves gave ready credence.
They forgot that the land was so .plentiful that it
was of little value ; that slaves were the most waste-
ful form of labor ; and that a failure of the tobacco
crop, pledged before it was gathered, meant ruin,


althougli they had been reminded more than onoe
of this last impressive fact. They knew that they
had plenty to eat and drink, and a herd of people
to wait upon them and cultivate their land, as
well as obliging London merchants always ready
to furnish every luxury in return for the mortgage
of a crop or an estate. So they gave themselves
little anxiety as to the future and lived in the
present, very much to their own satisfaction.

To the communities of trade and commerce, to
the mercantile and industrial spirit of to-day, such
an existence and such modes of life appear distress-
ingly lax and unprogressive. The sages of the
bank parlors and the counting-rooms would shake
their heads at such spendthrifts as these, refuse to
discount their paper, and confidently predict that
by no possibility could they come to good. They
had their defects, no doubt, these planters and farm-
ers of Virginia. The life they led was strongly
developed on the animal side, and was perhaps
neither stimidating nor elevating. The living was
the reverse of plain, and the thinking was neither
extremely high nor notably laborious. Yet in
this very particular there is something rather rest-
ful and pleasant to the eye wearied by the sight of
incessant movement, and to the ear deafened by the
continual shout that nothing is good that does not
change, and that all change must be good. We
should probably find great discomforts and many
unpleasant limitations in the life and habits of a
hundred years ago on any part of the globe, and yet


at a time when it seems as if rapidity and move-
ment were the last words and the ultimate ideals of
civilization, it is rather agreeable to turn to such
a community as the eighteenth-century planters of
Virginia. They lived contentedly on the acres of
their fathers, and except at rare and stated inter-
vals they had no other interests than those fur-
nished by their ancestral domain. At the court-
house or the vestry, or at Williamsburg, they met
their neighbors and talked very keenly about the
politics of Europe, or the affairs of the colony.
They were little troubled about religion, but they
worshipped after the fashion of their fathers,
and had a serious fidelity to church and king.
They wrangled with their governors over appropri-
ations, but they lived on good terms with those emi-
nent persons, and attended state balls at what they
called the palace, and danced and made merry
with much stateliness and grace. Their every- day
life ran on in the quiet of their plantations as
calmly as one of their own rivers. The English
trader would come and go ; the infrequent stranger
would be received and welcomed ; Christmas would
be kept in hearty English fashion; young men
from a neighboring estate would ride over through
the darkening woods to court, or dance, or play the
fiddle, like Patrick Henry or Thomas Jefferson ;
and these simple events were all that made a ripple
on the placid stream. Much time was given to
sports, rough, hearty, manly sports, with a spice of
danger, and these, with an occasional adventurous


dash into the wilderness, kej^t them sound and
strong and brave, both in body and mind. There
was nothing languid or effeminate about the Vir-
ginian planter. He was a robust man, quite ready
to fight or work when the time came, and well fitted
to deal with affairs when he was needed. He was
a free-handed, hospitable, generous being, not much
given to study or thought, but thoroughly public-
spirited and keenly alive to the interests of Vir-
ginia. Above all things he was an aristocrat, set
apart by the dark line of race, color, and heredi-
tary servitude, as proud as the proudest Austrian
with his endless quarterings, as sturdy and vigor-
ous as an English yeoman, and as jealous of his
rights and privileges as any baron who stood by
John at Runnymede. To this aristocracy, cai^eless
and indolent, given to rough pleasures and indif-
ferent to the finer and higher sides of life, the call
came, as it comes to all men sooner or later, and in
response they gave their country soldiers, states-
men, and jurists of the highest order, and fit for
the great work they were asked to do. We must
go back to Athens to find another instance of a so-
ciety so small in numbers, and yet capable of such
an outburst of ability and force. They were of
sound English stock, with a slight admixture of the
Huguenot, the best blood of France ; and although
for a century and a half they had seemed to stag-
nate in the New World, they were strong and fruit-
ful and effective beyond the measure of ordinary
races when the hour of peril and trial was at hand.



Such was the world and such the community
which counted as a small fraction the Washington
family. Our immediate concern is with that family,
for before we approach the man we must know his
ancestors. The greatest leader of scientific thought
in this century has come to the aid of the genealo-
gist, and given to the results of the latter's some-
what discredited labors a vitality and meaning
which it seemed impossible that dry and dusty
pedigrees and barren tables of descent should ever
possess. We have always selected our race-horses
according to the doctrines of evolution, and we
now study the character of a great man by examin-
ing first the history of his forefathers.

Washington made so great an impression upon
the world in his lifetime that genealogists at once
undertook for him the construction of a suitable
pedigree. The excellent Sir Isaac Heard, garter
king-at-arms, worked out a genealogy which seemed
reasonable enough, and then wrote to the president
in relation to it. Washington in reply thanked him
for his politeness, sent him the Virginian genealogy
of his own branch, and after expressing a courteous


interest said, in his simple and direct fashion, that
he had been a bnsy man and had paid but little
attention to the subject. His knowledge about his
English forefathers was in fact extremely slight.
He had heard merely that the first of the name in
Virginia had come from one of the northern coun-
ties of England, but whether from Lancashire or
Yorkshire, or one still more northerly, he could not
tell. Sir Isaac was not thoroughly satisfied with
the correctness of his own work, but presently
Baker took it up in his history of Northampton-
shire, and perfected it to his own satisfaction and
that of the world in general. This genealogy de-
rived Washington's descent from the owners of the
manor of Sulgrave, in Northamptonshire, and thence
carried it back to the Norman knight, Sir Wil-
liam de Hertburn. According to this pedigree the
Virginian settlers, John and Lawrence, were the
sons of Lawrence Washington of Sulgrave Manor,
and this genealogy was adopted by Sparks and
Irving, as well as by the public at large. Twenty
years ago, however. Colonel Chester, by his re-
searches, broke beyond repair the most essential
link in the chain forged by Heard and Baker,
proving clearly that the Virginian settlers could
not have been the sons of Lawrence of Sulgrave,
as identified by the garter king-at-arms. Still
more recently the mythical spirit has taken violent
possession of the Washington ancestry, and an in-
genious gentleman has traced the pedigree of our
first president back to Thorfinn and thence to Odin,


which is sufficiently remote, dignified, and lofty to
satisfy the most exacting Welshman that ever lived.
Still the breach made by Colonel Chester has not
been repaired, although many writers, including
some who should know better, cling with undimin-
ished faith to the Heard pedigree. It is known
that Colonel Chester himself believed that he had
found the true line, coming, it is supposed, through
A younger branch of the Sulgrave race, but he died
before he had discovered the one bit of evidence
necessary to prove an essential step, and he was
too conscientiously accurate to leave anything to

Thus we are left with no certain knowledge of
Washington's forefathers beyond the Virginian
settlers, John and Lawrence. There can be, how-
ever, little doubt that the two emigrants came of
the Sulgrave stock, although the exact connection
has not been established. The identity of arms
and of Christian names seems to prove them scions
of that race, and the failure to connect them with
any other family of the name in England corrobo-
rates this theory.^ In that interesting land where

1 Colonel Chester (iV. E. Historical Register , vol. xxi., 1867,
p. 25) lays stress on the president's statement that his ancestor
was said to come from Lancashire or Yorkshire, or some more
northerly county, and seems to imply that this, excluding- as it
does Northamptonshire, makes against the identity of Sir Isaac
Heard's John Washington with the Virginian emigrant. I have
found a little evidence on this subject which seems to have been
hitherto unnoticed, and which tends to show that the Virginia
emigrants were not from the northerly counties. The well-known
account of the Baconian troubles, written by Mrs. Ann Cotton in


everything, according to our narrow ideas, is upside
down, it is customary, when an individual arrives
at distinction, to confer nobility upon his ancestors
instead of his children. The Washingtons offer
an interesting example of the application of this
Chinese system in the Western world, for, if they
have not been actually ennobled in recognition of
the deeds of their great descendant, they have at
least become the subjects of intense and general in-
terest. Every one of the name who could be dis-

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