L. G Stahl.

True stories of renowned men & women online

. (page 1 of 13)
Online LibraryL. G StahlTrue stories of renowned men & women → online text (page 1 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook





■s-., './^zif'y^f '>^f'i-^'«o




the Class of 1901

' founded by








Copyright, I'iXj'S




F^J^^si^ I.



Broad-minded, higher-souled, there is but one

Who was all this and ours, and all men's — Washington.

— Lowell.

i ^•j OING down the Potomac river by steamer from Washington
I '^TT to Norfolk, the most interesting sight by the way, if you
V_-J~- have a gleam of historical imagination, is Mount Vernon,
associated as it is with so much that is tender and beautiful in the
domestic life of Washington, and hallowed as the place of his burial.
Though he spent many sorrowful years away from it in the service of
his country, this was the home to which his heart fondly turned through
all the years of his manhood.

A few miles below Mount Vernon you will begin to strain your
eyes for another spot, dear to every American, the place where
Washington was born. It is now more than a century and a half
since it ceased to be his home, and the house has entirely disap-
peared, but a few old-fashioned garden shrubs and one or two leafless
fig-trees suggest the spot where Washington was once a child and
enable us to rebuild in fancy the home in which the greatest of Amer-
icans found birth. The house was a low, one-story frame building
with four rooms below and an old-fashioned attic under the steep
roof. The site is marked by a small stone tablet.

Here George Washington was born, February 22, 1732, one
year before Georgia, the youngest of the thirteen colonies which he
was to unite into a nation, was settled.


He showed his characteristic good judgment in his choice of
parents. His father, Augustine Washington, was a man of high
character. His mother, whose maiden name was Mary Ball, was an

,T-T 'fi-


_, /

jH ^% t\


intelligent and ""
beautiful woman,
worthy in every
respect of the
honor which George
Washington paid her ;;-=
when he became her
son. George was his
mother's eldest boy,
but there were two
older half-brothers, mount vernon and the tomb of Washington.
Lawrence and Au-
gustine, Mary Ball having been a second wife. Three younger
brothers and two sisters came in the course of a few years to com-
plete the family.



When George was still a very young child, the Washington
family removed to an estate near Fredericksburg, on the Rappahan-
nock river. The house, like the one on the Potomac, has long since
tumbled to ruins. Here his father died when George was about
eleven years old. It is probable that the training which he had given
his son had done much to start him in the right direction and make
him the great man ^

he came to be. The ^^^^ ^j- ''

story of the cherry
tree and others of
its kind are not now
generally believed
by scholars. It
would be a great
pity to give them
up, but it would be
a still greater pity
to make sport of
them, as some peo-
ple are fond of
doing; for if they
are not literally
true, still they are
true in a very high
and noble sense,
much as the para-
bles of the Bible
are true, although
the actual events
which they record may never have taken place. The story of
the cherry tree proves the belief of Augustine Washington's neigh-
bors that he was a man who placed a high regard upon truth and
truth-telling. It shows that, in the opinion of those who knew
him best, he trained his son to that high ideal, and that the son,
even at that tender age, had begun to show the results of his

Mary Ball had been a beauty and a belle in her girlhood. She



became a woman fit to be trusted with the education of a boy whom
the country would need for high uses by and by.

Augustine Washington was a rich man, according to the ideas of
his time. He willed the farm on the Rappahannock to his son
George. Mount Vernon he left to his eldest son, Lawrence, who died
young, and, after the early death of his daughter, Mount Vernon
passed to George. The farm on the Rappahannock remained the
family home during all of George's boyhood.

It often seems as if it were an advantage to a boy to be born
poor. Many of our Presidents and other famous men and women
have begun life under very hard circumstances and have had to fight
poverty through many weary years. This sometimes makes it seem
as if it required poverty and hardship to make a great man. This
advantage George Washington did not have, and it was given him to
prove that a rich boy as well as a poor one may rise to high places and
fill them nobly. ' ' A man may live nobly though in a palace, " said the
old Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius. Washington's opportunities
were of a very different kind from those of Lincoln, but no one can
find much fault with the result in either case. Perhaps any kind of
circumstances may be an advantage to a boy if he is only the right
kind of boy to begin with.

There were few schools in those early days in Virginia, and the
Washington children were taught mainly at home. We read of a
number of different tutors who had charge of George's education at
different times. He seems to have been careful and painstaking in
all his work, as is shown by his copybooks and other exercises, many
of which have been preserved. When he was about thirteen he
wrote out a hundred and ten sayings, which he called ' ' Rules of
Courtesy and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation."
Where he obtained these rules is not known. Many of them are
written in boyish language, and some have therefore thought them
his own composition ; but, on the other hand, others seem over wise
and old for a boy of his age. This, however, might have been due
to the character of his reading and companions. His mother often
read to him from a serious and thoughtful book called ' ' Contempla-
tions, Moral and Divine, by Sir Matthew Hale. " He spent a great
deal of his time with Lord Fairfax, a distant relative, a man of fine


education, who wrote well and had been the friend of Addison, a
great master of the Enghsh language. He was very fond of George,
and took a deep interest in his education. Perhaps it was from this


friend that Washington learned that exact use of English which
enabled him in later life to express whatever he had in mind in the
clearest way. It seems a httle strange that he was not given the


advantages of a college training. He never became a man of great
learning. But he was thoroughly at home in the branches of a com-
mon English education, and read many of the best books.

It was early settled in the Washington family that George was
to make his own way in life just as if he had no property. Indeed,
neither he nor any one else seems ever to have thought of anything

When he was about fourteen years of age he began to have a
longing for a sailor's life, and for a time his mother thought seriously
of permitting him to go to sea. There is a pretty story to the effect
that he was about to start, and that his trunk had been sent on board
ship, when, finding his mother in tears, he resolved to abandon his
plan and ordered his trunk recalled. The truth is that Mrs. Wash-
ington was advised by her brother against this course, and withdrew
her consent. This again does not destroy the tradition, but simply
gives it point. The story would never have been thought of in con-
nection with a boy who was not kind and obedient to his mother, and
it would not have been believed and repeated if it had not fitted the
character of the boy. Whenever in the interest of truth we have to
throw a story away, it will be worth while to look behind it and see
if it does not mean something that is really worth saving.

It was not more than a year after this that he became acquainted
with a young lady whom he called ' ' The Lowland Beauty, " to whom
he addressed some rather poor poetry. Here are some sample lines
chosen at random, and copied exactly, capitals and all :

*' Oh, ye Gods why should my Poor Resistless Heart
Stand to oppose thy might and Power
At Last surrender to cupid's feather'd Dart,
And now lays Bleeding every Hour."

If you would like to see the rest of it, you will find it in Edward
Everett Hale's Life of George Washington. He was very wretched
about this time, and thought he should never be happy again. It is
surprising to find that he afterwards met several other young ladies
whom he greatly admired, and that he at a still later period became
very much attached to another beautiful woman and married her.
But, of course, George Washington was different from other young


men. A young person of our day would never recover from such a
blow. Besides, the poetry helped to make him less "miserable. The
writing of poetry is a kind of lightning-rod, a harmless conductor of
emotions which might otherwise rend and torture the young soul. It
is not certainly known who "The Lowland Beauty" was, but it is
believed that she was the lady who afterwards married Richard
Henry Lee, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence.
If this is true, she had the good fortune to become the mother of the
gallant and dashing "Light-Horse Harry," of Revolutionary fame,
and now still further famous as the father of General Robert E.

Washington had still other resources in his trouble, hard work
and hard fare, for he began soon after this to study and practice
surveying. He learned his business so well that he was made sur-
veyor of Culpepper County, Virginia, when he was only seventeen
years old. He did his work of surveying the county so well that later
surveyors have not had to do it over again.

And now we begin to come upon stirring times.

The French and English both claimed the land west of the Alle-
ghany mountains, and the French were beginning to build forts in
the valley of the Ohio. The English regarded this as trespassing on
their property, and Governor Dinwiddie, of Virginia, decided to
send a messenger to find out what the French intended to do. He
wanted the bravest and wisest man he could find for this expedition.
He chose Gecrrge Washington, then a youth of twenty-one years,
who was afterwards ^spoken of by Thomas Carlyle in his ' ' Life of
Frederick the Great, " as "a steady-going, considerate, close-mouthed
young gentleman, who came to great distinction in the end." It was
a dangerous journey of eight or nine hundred miles, through a wilder-
ness full of hostile Indians, in the depth of winter. He started out
with seven companions, accomplished his mission and returned home
in safety after three months of terrible hardship. "From that
moment, " says Washington Irving, who has written a charming life
of Washington, "he was the rising boy of Virginia."

The time had now come when the question whether the French
or the English were to rule this continent must be settled. It took
the " Seven Years' War " to decide it. In this war George Washing-


ton gave the first command and fired the first bullet. In writing an
account of a skirmish in which he had been engaged, he said, "The
whistle of bullets was like music." This account reached England,
and the king was inclined to make sport of it, saying, "If he had

heard more
he would
not have
thought so. "

Years after,
when some-

n e asked
him if he
had ever
made such
a remark,
replied, "If

1 did so, it
must have
been when
I was very
voung. "

He bore
an active
and honor-
able part
the entire
vvar. Before
it ended he
_^^ .-^ .^^^,^ -^ had met


C u s 1 1 s, a
young Virginian widow of much beauty and many accompHshments,
and had engaged himself to marry her. The marriage took place
as soon as peace was restored and the French had gone over the sea,
and Washington settled down at Mt. Vernon, which had now become




his property, to the quiet hfe of a southern planter. This was to last
until the next great war. But his state could not give up his services
entirely during those years of peace. Every year for fifteen years
he was sent to the Virginia assembly to help make the laws. At the


first meeting of the assembly after peace had been made, Mr. Robin-
son, the Speaker of the House, made a speech in which he* thanked
Washington for his services during the war. It was unexpected, and
the young soldier was embarrassed. He stammered and blushed, but


said nothing. '<Sit down, Mr. Washington." said the speaker.
• « Your modesty is equal to your valor, and that surpasses the power


of any language that I possess." He was by nature a man of action
rather than a man of words. Yet he persevered in public speakmg,


and long before the fifteen years of peace were over, he had become a
powerful speaker.


Meantime, trouble was brewing between England and her colo-
nies. The second Continental Congress came together at Philadel-
phia in May, 1775, to provide ways and means of resisting tyranny.


The battle of Lexington had already taken place. Many great
speeches were made. Washington said little, but he came every day
and wore the uniform which he had cast aside sixteen years ago.
Perhaps that was the greatest war speech that was made. And when
they wanted a commander-in-chief, the choice of nearly everybody,
except two men who wanted the position themselves, was Washing-
ton. He received the trust with much modesty and a painful sense
of responsibility, saying in his speech of acceptance, ' ' I beg it may
be remembered by every gentleman in this room that I this day de-
clare^ with the utmost sincerity, I do not think myself equal to the
command I am honored with." He took command of the army
under the famous elm at Cambridge. This tree is greatly treasured
by the people of Cambridge. It is believed that it is three hundred
years old. A stone tablet has been placed beneath it, bearing the
inscription: "Under this tree Washington first took command of
the American army, July 3, 1775." A year and a day from this event
Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence.

At Cambridge, Washington had his headquarters in the now
celebrated Craigie house, since then the home of the poet Longfellow
for many years, and now owned and occupied by his daughter. Miss
Alice Longfellow. Mrs. Washington came and spent the winter here,
doing much by her cheerful presence and the social entertainments
which she provided to keep up the courage of General Washington
and his officers.

It is hard for us to imagine the difficulties against which Wash-
ington had to struggle. The army which was given him at Cambridge
was small and untrained, and he had very little ammunition. It is
said that at one time he had but nine rounds for each of his men.
He had to send as far as to the Bahamas and Bermudas for powder,
and he was forced to do this secretly because he did not wish either the
Americans or the British to know how little he had. The next
spring he drove the British out of Boston, but after that he tried to
keep out of battle until he should be strong enough to meet the
enemy. For several years he did more planning than fighting. He
was so cautious that he was called the American Fabius, after that
Roman Fabius who led the Carthaginians hither and yon for fifteen
years in Italy while he "hung on the heights like a thundercloud,"


avoiding battle but harassing the enemy and giving Rome an oppor-
tunity to get her forces together for the great struggle.

But some of the people began to find fault with Washington for
this cautious policy. That was during the terrible winter which he
spent with his army at Valley Forge. His men were hungry and
without sufficient clothing. Some were bareheaded and barefooted


and made a path in the snow with their bleeding feet as they walked.
The paper money with which Congress was obliged to pay the
soldiers was so nearly worthless that six months' pay would scarcely
buy a soldier a pair of boots. There was a cabal, or ring, in Con-
gress to remove Washington from command, and put General Gates,
an unprincipled man without the slightest military ability, in his place.


It was hard for Washington to see his men starving and dying of
cold and hardship. He saw a great many dark hours during that
winter, but he never doubted the right would win.


The next year, things began to look brighter. Already Bur-
goyne's large army had been conquered at the battle of Saratoga, the
great battle of the war, and one of the greatest conflicts of history.
And although Washington was not present at the battle, yet by


keeping another great British army from going to the aid of Burgoyne,
he did more than anyone else to bring about a British defeat.

The next year, in consequence of the efforts of Benjamm
Frankhn, France came to our aid. This brought great encourage-
ment, if not a great amount of actual military assistance. After that
there was no question which way events would turn, and if King



George III. had been a little wiser or his advisers a little stronger, the
war would have ended then and many lives would have been saved.
As it was, the war lagged on until the siege of Yorktown, in 1781,
and peace was not formally declared until 1783.

During the later years of the war, the public confidence in
Washington was completely restored. He was now everywhere
regarded as the savior of his country. The wish was expressed by


some that he should become king of the country he had freed from
foreign control, but Washington indignantly rejected the idea.

As soon as possible he bade a kind farewell to his officers and
soldiers, and retired once more to Mount Vernon, which he had
visited but once in more than eight years.


He spent the next five years in managing his neglected estates
and enjoying the free life of the country, entertaining a great number
of guests with generous Southern hospitality. He hoped that he
might never have to leave his home again for public duties, but the
people could not spare him yet.

In 1787 he was made President of the Convention which met in
Philadelphia, and drew up the Constitution under which we now


live. It was a trying place and he filled it with great wisdom. He
was twice elected President by the unanimous voice of the people,
and would have been chosen the third time if he had consented. At
the close of his second term of office the love of the entire people
again followed him to Mount Vernon.

Even this time he was not allowed a long quiet. Troubles arose
with France and war was feared. This was in 1 798. Washington
was again made commander-in-chief of the army. But this time the
war-cloud passed over, and he was saved the strain of another

In the last month of the last year of the century, Washington
was stricken with his last illness. He had been riding all day on his
estate. The day was snowy and cold. He reached home about
three o'clock in the afternoon. He would not allow a servant to be
sent out on an errand, saying the day was too bad, but appeared to
take no notice of his own exposure. The next day he found that he
had taken cold, but was able to walk out in the grounds in the after-
noon. He failed rapidly and died the next day, December 14,

The story has been told that Mrs. Washington, or Lady Wash-
ington, as the people of her day loved to call her, shut herself up
with her grief and never left her room after her husband's death. I
am glad to say that her diaries and account-books prove the story
untrue. She was a woman of too much good sense and conscience to
neglect her duties to the living in her devotion to the dead. She
lived until 1802.

The highest honors were paid to Washington, both in this
country and in Europe. Some of the greatest men in the nation
were called upon to deliver funeral orations. One of the most
remarkable of these was the one given by General Henry Lee. It
was in this address that the expression was first used, now so familiar
to everyone, ' * First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of
his countrymen."

Washington was a man of fine appearance and commanding
presence. He was six feet high and had clear blue eyes and brown
hair. He was careful of his personal appearance, usually having his
clothes imported from England. He has been accused of bein^^ cold


and reserved to strangers. The truth is that he never quite over-
came his natural shyness. No one could have been more genial and
gracious in manner than he when among his friends. He was fond
of young people, particularly of his wife's children and his nephews
and nieces. He had no children of his own.

He had a hot temper, but he kept it under strong control except
when it came unexpectedly and took him unawares. And in such
cases his sense of justice soon returned. An instance of this occurred
at Cambridge. He had just learned that most of the barrels which
he had supposed to contain powder, were really filled with sand.
They had been stored in the magazine before his arrival for the sake
of preventing the discouragement which would have followed had the
soldiers known how small was the actual supply of ammunition. He
sent Colonel Glover to Marblehead for a new supply. When he
returned, General Washington met him with the question, "Have
you got the powder ? " " No sir, " was the reply. Washington burst
into a terrible rage, and, after a torrent of wrath, inquired, ' ' Why
did you come back, sir, without it ? " " Sir, there is not a kernel of
powder in Marblehead. " The General was silent for a moment, then
reached out his hand, saying, ' ' Colonel Glover, here is my hand, if
you will take it and forgive me. The greatness of our danger made
me forget what is due to you and to myself. "

Washington was a great man, but not a perfect one. He had
faults, but they never had the upper hand of him for long at a time,
for he made it his first business to master them. We read in one
of his letters that he had bought some lottery tickets and wanted to
know whether they had drawn a prize. We have found that when
very much provoked he sometimes used violent language. But he
set a guard over himself and almost always kept his hot temper under
control. Before we blame him too much for the few times when it
escaped him, we ought to remember that most of the time he mas-
tered it. Temper is like lightning, which tears and destroys when
it is loose, but, when it is harnessed, runs our errands like an obe-
dient servant. So that fiery spirit which would have made a wreck
of Washington's life if he had not held it in check, was a part of that
very strength of character which helped to make him the great man
he was.


There was one reason for his success which we are in danger of
overlooking. He was ahvays sure that his work, whatever it chanced
to be, was worth doing just as well as he could possibly do it. He was
never afraid of putting too much work into a task or too many hours
into a day. And that was just as true of him when he was surveying
in the backwoods of Virginia roasting his own potatoes in the ashes
and eating them off of chips as it was when he had, risen to the
highest place in the nation. I
am aware that a great many nice
young ladies and gentlemen who
are just starting out in life to
make their fortunes, do not agree
with him on this point. At least
they think it would be entirely
out of place to ask them to do
their work as faithfully as he did
his. And so no doubt it would
be. And that is one of the
greatest differences between
them and Washington. But
they will never believe me until
it is too late.

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryL. G StahlTrue stories of renowned men & women → online text (page 1 of 13)