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GEO (EORGE WASHINGTON was born at Pope's Creek,
a small tributary to the Potomac River, Westmoreland County, Virginia, February 22, 1732. His ancestors were well-born Englishmen, though, as Edward Everett says of him, “He throws back far greater glory than he can inherit.” The first to come to America was John Washington, who settled in Westmoreland County, Virginia, in 1657. He became known soon as a successful planter, held the office of county magistrate, and rose to the rank of colonel in the Indian wars. His grandson, Augustine, was the father of George Washington. Augustine Washington was married twice. George was the first child of Mary Ball, the second wife. Soon after George Washington was born, his father moved from Westmoreland County to Stafford County on the east bank of the Rappahannock River opposite Fredericksburg. Here he died in 1743.
Young Washington's training and education were, therefore, early left in the hands of his mother. She was, however, a woman of the greatest energy and good sense, and was well fitted to discharge her responsibilities. The schools of America were in those days very crude and inefficient, and most Americans of means were in the habit of sending their sons to England to be educated. This had been done in the case of George Washington's elder half-brothers, but whether because she was so fond of him as to object to his leaving her, or whether for some other reason, Mrs. Washington decided that she would keep George at home. He was sent first to a little school kept by a man by the name of Hobby, who was one of his father's tenants, and also the sexton of the parish. He studied here reading, arithmetic, and penmanship. He seems to have shown unusual skill in the last subject, for his books of exercises are still exhibited as examples of neatness and care. After his father's death, George went to live with his half-brother Augustine at the old homestead at Pope's Creek. Here he attended a school kept by a Mr. Williams, and studied, in addition to the subjects he had previously pursued, bookkeeping, geometry, and surveying.
During his school days he was fond of all sorts of athletic sports. He played soldier, loved to run, jump, and wrestle; he was known early as a bold and skilful horseback rider, and though he wished always to be the leader in whatever sport he was engaged, his reputation for truth and fairness made him a popular one. Before he finished his school life, which closed in his sixteenth year, it was thought to send him to the English navy. A midshipman's warrant was obtained for him, but Mrs. Washington could not bring herself to consent, and the plan was abandoned.
On leaving school Washington went to live with his brother Lawrence, who had just bought a place on Hunting Creek, to which he had given the name of Mount Vernon, in honor of his friend, Admiral Vernon. Lawrence Washington had married the daughter of Mr. William Fairfax, a near relative of Lord Fairfax. Lord Fairfax had large estates in Virginia, and it was necessary that these should be surveyed. He became much interested in Washington, and finally employed him to look after the work of surveying his land. It was not an easy task for a sixteen-year-old boy, for there were both dangers to be met and hardships to be endured. He suggests some of these in a letter which he wrote to a friend. He says: “Since
letter of October last, I have not slept above three or four nights
in a bed; but after walking a good deal all the day, I have lain down before the fire upon a little hay, straw, fodder, or a bear-skin,- whichsoever was to be had, with man, wife, and children, like dogs and cats; and happy is he who gets the berth nearest the fire. ... I have never had my clothes off, but have lain and slept in them, except the few nights I have been in Fredericksburg." For three years he stuck to this work, and obtained a commission as a public surveyor, which made it possible for him to enter his surveys in the county offices as legally valid.
His experience on the frontier had given him an interest in military affairs. The French and the Indians were becoming restless, and the colonists thought best to prepare for emergencies. The province of Virginia was therefore divided into several military districts, and in one of these Washington received the appointment of adjutant-general, with the rank of major. His work was to inspect and exercise the militia, and to train them for actual service. Before he had begun this service, however, he was compelled to go with his brother Lawrence to the West Indies in the hope that his brother's health might be benefited. He remained here four months, during which time he had an attack of smallpox. In the summer of 1752 Lawrence Washington returned, and soon after died, leaving George as one of his executors. Governor Dinwiddie renewed his appointment as adjutantgeneral, and gave him charge of one of the large military divisions of the colony.
War between France and England was now most likely to occur; the French were establishing posts everywhere along the Ohio. Governor Dinwiddie determined to send a remonstrance to the commander of the French, to ask his purposes, and to find out by what authority he was invading the English territory. It was no easy matter, however, to find a messenger. The distance to be travelled was nearly six hundred miles, and it was a journey beset with the greatest dangers. There were no roads, and the route led over mountains, across rivers, and through the territory of savage tribes. Those to whom Governor Dinwiddie first proposed the service refused to accept it, but Washington did not hesitate. He set out the last day of November, 1753, and was absent about six weeks, having endured all sorts of dangers and privations. He delivered to Governor Dinwiddie the reply of the French commander, and in addition furnished him with other valuable information.
In the war which soon followed, Washington had a leading part. By the death of Colonel Fry, he was left in full command of the first expedition which set out against the French, and which in May, 1754, resulted in the battle of Great Meadows. When General Braddock was sent over by England in 1755, Washington accepted a place on his staff. General Braddock did not see fit to follow the advice which the young American gave him, and his defeat and death at the battle of the Monongahela are no doubt attributable to this fact. Washington is said at this battle to have shown "the greatest courage and resolution." On his return from the expedition he was put in command of a force of two thousand troops raised by the order of the Virginia Assembly. He resigned his commission before the end of the war, and returned to private life.
He was married in January, 1759, to Mrs. Martha Custis, a young widow about his own age, whom he had recently met. She was the mother of two children, a boy and a girl, and possessed, in her own right, what was then considered a large fortune. With his family he took up his residence at Mount Vernon, which had come into his possession by the death of his niece, and spent his time for the next fifteen years in looking after his estates, and in attending to his duties as a member of the House of Burgesses, to which he had been elected. These years were quiet ones, but they helped to fit him for the great work which he was later to take up.
In 1774 he was elected a delegate to the first Continental Congress, and went to Philadelphia on horseback in company with Patrick Henry and Edmund Pendleton. In speaking of this meeting afterwards, Patrick Henry said of Washington that in his judgment and information he was "unquestionably the greatest man on that floor.” He was also a delegate to the second Continental Congress, and at this meeting was elected commander-in-chief of all the Continental forces. He accepted this appointment with great modesty and reluctance, and refused for his services any pay except such as would meet his bare expenses. His commission was agreed upon by Congress on June 17, the day of the battle of Bunker Hill. Washington set out at once, and arrived at Boston July 2. He established his headquarters in the old mansion now known as the Longfellow house, and took command of the army on July 3. The conditions under which he was to work were most difficult. He had to organize and train an army, raise supplies, and all of this without money or support. What he accomplished was little less than miraculous. It is impossible in so brief a sketch as this to go into the details of the Revolution; it is equally unnecessary,
for they are well known by every school child. It may be said of his command and conduct of the war as Frederick the Great said of his movements on the Delaware, that they were "the most brilliant achievements recorded in military annals." He showed skill, perseverance, endurance, courage, and wisdom of the highest order. Defeat did not daunt him, nor success make him over-confident. When at the end of the long, cruel struggle he stood on the field of Yorktown and received the surrender of Lord Cornwallis and his forces, he had well earned the right to be called “the greatest American."
The surrender of Lord Cornwallis did not, however, put an end to difficulties. There was much discontent in the army with regard to arrearages which there seemed little certainty that Congress could or would pay. For a time an insurrection and bloodshed seemed imminent. At