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who by his will had directed that the proceeds of all the property of her children should be at her disposal until they should respectively come of age. This excellent woman had the happiness to see all her children come forward with a fair promise into lise, filling the sphere allotted to them with equal honor to themselves and to the parent who had been the only guide of their principles, conduct, and habits. She lived to witness the noble career of her eldest son, till he was raised to the head of a nation, and applauded and revered by the world. Her death took place at the age of eighty-two, at her residence in Fredericsburg, Virginia, August 25, 1789.
Under the colonial governments, particularly in those of the south, the means of education were limited. Those young men who were destined for the learned professions were occasionally sent to England, when their parents were sufficiently wealthy to bear the expenses; while the planters generally were satisfied with such a home education for their sons as would fit them for the duties of practical life, by means of a private tutor, or a teacher of the common schools then in existence. The simplest elements of knowledge only, such as reading, writing, arithmetic, and keeping accounts, were taught at schools of this description, to one of which George Washington was sent, and to such slender advantages was he indebted for all the aids his mind received in his juvenile years.
While at school he was noted for an inquisitive, docile, and diligent disposition, but displaying military propensities and passion for active sports. He formed his playmates into companies, who paraded, marched, and fought mimic baitles, in which he was always the commander of one of the parties. He had also a fondness for running, jumping, wrestling, and other active sports and feats of agility.
His early proficiency in some branches of study is shown by his manuscript schoolbooks, which, from the time he was thirteen years old, have been preserved. These books begin with geometry, and he had already become familiar with arithmetic in the most difficult parts. Many pages of the manuscript in question are filled with what he calls Forms of writing, such as notes of hand, bills of exchange, bonds, land-warrants, leases, deeds, and wills, written out with care, and in a clerk's hand. Then follow selections in poetry of a moral and religious cast, and Rules of Behavior in Company and Conversation, which code of rules it is believed had an influence upon his whole life. Of an ardent temperament and strong passions, it was his constant effort and ultimate triumph, through the varied scenes of his evenisul life, to check the one and subdue the other. His intercourse with men, private and public, in every walk and station, was marked with a consistency, a fitness to occasions, a dignity, decorum, condescension, and mildness, which were at once the dictales of his own good sense and judgment, and the fruits of unwearied discipline.
The last two years which he passed at school were devoted to the study of geometry, trigonometry, and surveying, for which he had a decided partiality. He thus qualified himself for his subsequent profession as a surveyor, in the practice of which he had an opportunity of acquiring information respecting vacant lands, and of forming those opinions concerning their future value which afterward greatly contributed to increase his private fortune. Except the above branches of the mathematics, his acquirements did not extend beyond the subjects usually taught to boys of his age at the common schools. It is even doubtful whether he received any instructions in the principles of language. By practice, reading, and study in after-life, he gradually overcame his early defects in composition till at length he wrote with accuracy, purity of idiom, and a striking appropriateness of phraseology and clearness of style. No aid was derived from any other than his native tongue. He never even commenced the study of the ancient classics. While in the army, after the French officers had joined the Americans, he bestowed some attention on the French language, but at no time could he write or converse in it, or indeed translate any paper.*
In the year 1746, while he was yet at school, a midshipman's warrant was obtained for him in the British army, by his eldest brother, Lawrence, who had been an officer in the British service, and served at the siege of Carthagena and in the West Indies. George, who was then fourteen years of age, was desirous thus early of embracing the opportunity presented for a naval lise, but the interference of an affectionate mother deferred the commencement and changed the course of his military career.
Soon after leaving school, in his sixteenth year, he went to reside with his brother Lawrence, at his seat on the Potomac river, which had been called Mount Vernon, in compliment to the admiral of that name. The winter passed in the study of mathematics and in the exercise of practical surveying. At this time he was introduced to Lord Fairfax, and other members of the Fairfax family, established in that part of Virginia. With this family, his brother Lawrence was connected by marriage, and to his intimate acquaintance with them was George Washington mainly indebted for the opportunities of performing those acts which laid the foundation of his subsequent successes and advancement.
Lord Fairfax was possessed of large tracts of wild lands in the valleys of the Allegany mountains, which had not been surveyed; and so favorable an opinion had he formed of the abilities and attainments of young Washington, that he intrusted to him the responsible service of surveying and laying out the lands in question. He set off on this surveying expedition soon after he had attained his sixteenth year, accompanied by George Fairfax, a young man who was a relative of Lord Fairfax. The enterprise was arduous, and attended with privations and fatigues, but the
* Sparks's Life of Washington.
ask was executed in such a manner as to give satisfaction to his employer, and establish his reputation as a surveyor. Having received a commission or appointment as a public surveyor, he devoted three years to this pursuit, which at that time was lucrative and important.
At the age of nineteen he was appointed one of the adjutant-generals of Virginia, with the rank of major. His military propensities had increased with his years, and he prepared himself by the study of books on the military art and by the manual exercise for the life of a soldier. But he had scarcely engaged in this service, when he was called upon to accompany his brother Lawrence on a voyage to the West Indies for his health. They sailed for Barbadoes in September, 1751, and soon after landing on that island, George was seized with the smallpox. The disease was severe, but with good medical attendance he was able to go abroad in three weeks. Leaving his brother Lawrence to embark for Bermuda, he returned to Virginia in February, having been absent over four months. His brother soon followed him, without recovering his health, and died the following summer. Large estates were left hy the deceased brother to the care and management of George, who was appointed one of the executors, with a contingent interest in the estate of Mount Vernon and other lands. But his private employments did not prevent his attention to his public duties as adjutant-general, the sphere of which office was enlarged by new arrangements.
The plan formed by France for connecting her extensive dominions in America, by uniting Canada with Louisiana, now began to develop itself. Possession was taken by the French of a tract of country then deemed to be within the province of Virginia, and a line of posts was commenced from Canada to the Ohio river. The attention of Lieutenant-Governor Dinwiddie, of Virginia, was attracted by these movements, and he deemed it his duty to send a messenger to the French officers and demand, in the name of the king of Great Britain, that they should desist from the prosecution of designs which violated, as he thought, the treaties between the two crowns. Washington, at his own desire, was selected for this hazardous enterprise, and he engaged in it with alacrity, commencing his journey the day on which he was commissioned, in October, 1753. His course was through a dreary wilderness, inhabited for the most part only by Indians, many of whom were hostile to the English. Conducted by guides over the Allegany mountains, he suffered many hardships, and experienced many narrow escapes, but succeeded in reaching the French forts on the Allegany branches of the Ohiv. After delivering the lieutenant-governor's letter to St. Pierre, the French commanding officer, and receiving an answer, he returned, with infinite fatigue and much danger, from the hostile Indians, to Williamsburg. The manner in which he performed his duty on this occasion raised him much in public opinion, as well as in that of the lieutenant-governor. His journal, which extended
to sixty days, was published by authority, and laid the foundation of Washington's fame, as it gave strong evidence of his sagacity, fortitude, and sound judgment.
As the French commandant on the Ohio showed no disposition, in his answer sent by Washington, to withdraw his forces from that country, the assembly of Virginia determined to authorize the governor and council to raise a regiment of three huudred men, to be sent to the frontier, for the purpose of maintaining the rights of Great Britain to the territory, invaded by the French. The command of this regiment was given to Colonel Fry. Major Washington was appointed lieutenant-colonel, and obtained permission to march with two companies in advance of the other troops to the Great Meadows. In a dark rainy night, May 28, 1754, Colonel Washington surrounded and surprised a detachment of the French troops, a few miles west of the Great Meadows. The Americans fired about daybreak upon the French, who immediately surrendered. One man only escaped, and the commanding officer of the party, M. de Jumonville, and ten of his men were killed. Being soon after joined by the residue of the regiment, also by two companies of regulars, and Colonel Fry having died, the command devolved on Colonel Washington. This body of men, numbering less than four hundred, were, in the following month of July, attacked by about fifteen hundred French and Indians, at Fort Necessity, situated at the Great Meadows, and after a contest which lasted a whole day, the French offered terms of capitulation, and articles were signed, by which the fort was surrendered, and the garrison allowed the honors of war, and permitted to return unmolested into the inhabited parts of Virginia. Great credit was given to Colonel Washington by his countrymen, for the courage displayed on this occasion, and the legislature were so satisfied with the conduct of the party as to vote their thanks to him and the officers under his command. They also ordered three hundred pistoles to be distributed among the soldiers, as a reward for their bravery.
Soon after this campaign, Washington retired from the militia service, in consequence of an order from the war department in England, which put those of the same military rank in the royal army over the heads of those in the provincial forces. This order created great dissatisfaction in the colonies, and Washington, while refusing to submit to the degradation required, declared that he would serve with pleasure when he should be enabled to do so without dishonor.
The unfortunate expedition of General Braddock followed in 1755. The general, being informed of the merit of Washington, invited him to enter into his family as a volunteer and aid-de-camp. This invitation Colonel Washington accepted, as he was desirous to make one campaign under an officer supposed to possess some knowledge in the art of war. The disastrous result of Braddock's expedition is well known. In the battle of the Monongahela, in which General Braddock was killed, Wash
ington had two horses shot under him, and four balls passed through his coat, as his duty and situation exposed him to every danger. Such was the general confidence in his talents, that he may be said to have conducted the retreat.
Soon after his return to his home at Mount Vernon, Colonel Washington was appointed by the legislature of the colony, commander-in-chief of all the forces raised and to be raised in Virginia, which appointment he accepted, and for about three years devoted his time to recruiting and organizing troops for the defence of the colony. In the course of his duties in this service, he had occasion to visit Boston on business with General Shirley, who was then the British commander-in-chief in America. This journey of five hundred miles, Washington, accompanied by his aid and another officer, performed on horseback in the winter of 1756. He stopped several days in the principal cities on the route, where his military character and services in the late campaign procured for him much notice.
While in New York he was entertained at the house of Mr. Beverly Robinson, between whom and himself an intimacy subsisted till it was broken off by their opposite fortune twenty years afterward in the revolution. The sister of Mrs. Robinson, Miss Mary Phillips, was an inmate of the family, and being a young lady of rare accomplishments, her charms made a deep impression upon the heart of the Virginia colonel. He imparted his secret to a confidential friend whose letters kept him insormed of every important event. He soon learned that a rival was in the field, and was advised to renew his visits; but he never saw the lady again, till she was married to that same rival, Captain Morris, his former associ. ate in arms, and one of Braddock's aids-de-camp.*
In 1758, Colonel Washington commanded an expedition to Fort Du Quesne, which terminated successfully, and the French retired from the western frontier. By gaining possession of the Ohio the great object of the war in the middle colonies was accomplished, and having abandoned the idea he had entertained of making an attempt to be united to the British establishment, he resigned his commission in the colonial service, in December, 1758, after having been actively engaged in the service of his country more than five years.
Having paid his addresses successfully the preceding year to Mrs. Martha Custis, Colonel Washington was married to that lady on the sixth of January, 1759. She was three months younger than himself, and was the widow of John Parke Custis, and daughter of John Dandridge. Distinguished alike for her beauty, accomplishments, and wealth, she was possessed also of those qualities which adorn the female character, and contribute to render domestic life attractive and happy. Mr. Custis, her first husband, had lest large landed estates, and forty-five thousand pounds
* Sparks's Life of Washington.