Friday, October 18, 2013
OLD STORY COMES FORWARD
Men are like books. They have a beginning, so on the 22nd day of February in the year of 1732, George Washington, one of the greatest heroes of American history, was born at Bridges Creek, Virginia, about five and one-half miles south of where Washington now stands. He was the son of Augustine and Mary Ball Washington and the second of two sons having an elder brother named Lawrence, who died in young manhood. His father, soon after the birth of George, removed to an estate on the Rappahannock opposite Fredericksburg. Nothing remains of the old homestead at Bridges Creek, but a stone slab marks the site of the house and bears this inscription, “Here the 11th day of February 1732 George Washington was born.” Difference in reckoning of time now makes 11th the 22nd. Washington's great-grandfather, John Washington immigrated from the old Cavalier families who fought in behalf of Charles I during English Civil War. George Washington received a fair English education but nothing more. He was associated with the Episcopalian Church. He excelled in athletic sports and horsemanship and was fond of life in the woods. In young manhood he became a skillful surveyor and found the work highly profitable. Throughout his life he used his influence in every way to build roads and canals and to open up and settle the west or what was then known as the west. Washington's mission to the French Fort at Venango first brought him into public notice. In 1753 the Governor of Virginia determined to send a messenger to Venango and knowing who ever undertook such a journey must travel at least three hundred miles on foot, over mountain ranges, cross rivers and risk his life among hostile Indians. After due deliberation, he decided to entrust this difficult and dangerous task to George Washington, then a young man of twenty-one and being a skilled surveyor knew all about life in the wilderness and did not know what fear meant. The name of that young man may still be read on a lofty limestone cliff at Natural Bridge in the mountains of western Virginia where, when a lad he climbed up higher than any of his companions dared to go and cut his name with his hunting knife.
On January 17, 1759 he was married to Mrs. Martha Custis, a widow with two children at Williamsburg, Virginia.
During the Revolutionary War Washington was appointed as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army by Congress. As a warrior he was incapable of fear, but made no merit of defying danger. He fought for a cause, but not for personal renown. To study the life of Washington it is necessary to enter into the campaigns of the Revolution, even where Washington was not present in person, for his spirit pervaded and directed the whole and a general knowledge of the whole is necessary to appreciate the sagacity, forecast, enduring fortitude and comprehensive wisdom with which he conducted it.
He himself has signified to one who aspired to write his biography, that any memoirs of his life, distinct and unconnected with the history of the Revolution would be unsatisfactory. In treating of the War we must consider the greatness of the object and the scantiness of the means. To keep in mind the prevailing poverty of resources, neglects, the squalid miseries of all kinds, with which its champions had to contend in their expeditions through trackless wildernesses, beneath scorching sun, or inclement skies; their wintry marches to be traced by bloody footprints on snow and ice. Their desolate wintry encampments rendered still more desolate by nakedness and famine. It was in the patience and fortitude with which these ills were sustained by a half disciplined yeomanry, voluntary exiles from their homes, destitute of all the 'pomp and circumstance' of war to excite them, and animated solely by their patriotism, that we read the noblest and most affecting characteristic of that great struggle for human rights.
It was just eight years from the first outbreak of the war, April 19, 1775 to the virtual disbanding.
During the war, after a dissolution of the combined forces had taken place and Washington having attended in person to the distribution of ordnance and stores, the departure of prisoners and the embarkation of the troops, then Washington returned to Eltham, the home of his stepson. He arrived just in time to receive the last breath of Mrs. Washington's son, John Parke Custis, so he had several years previously rendered tender and pious offices at the death bed of John's sister, Miss Custis. John Parke Custis had been an object of Washington's care from childhood and been cherished by him with paternal affection. Formed under Washington's guidance and instructions, John was fitted to take a part in the public concerns of his country and had acquitted himself with the credit as a member of the Virginia Legislature.
He was but twenty-eight years of age at the time of his death and left a widow and four young children. It was an unexpected event and the dying scene was rendered peculiarly affecting from the presence of the mother and wife of the deceased. Washington remained several days at Eltham to comfort them in their affliction. As a consolation to Mrs. Washington in her bereavement Washington adopted the two youngest children of the deceased, a boy and a girl who thenceforth formed a part of his immediate family.
From Eltham Washington proceeded to Mt. Vernon, but public care gave him little leisure to attend to his private concerns. We have seen how repeatedly his steady mind had been exercised in the darkest days of the Revolutionary struggle, in buoying up the public heart when sinking into despondency. He now had an opposite task to perform, to guard against an overwhelming confidence inspired by recent triumphs. He knew congress must be stimulated to military preparations. Washington continued with his precautions until there was news of peace and he knew the army was to be discharged. After Washington had returned to Mt. Vernon he desired to retire from public life, he was envious of none and was determined to be pleased with all. During the winter months after his return he anticipated the time when the return of the sun would enable him to welcome his friends to partake of his hospitality. His manner of living was plain, he is quoted as saying, “A glass of wine and a bit of mutton are always ready; and such as will be content to partake of them are always welcome. Those who expect more will be disappointed.” Some degree of economy was necessary for his financial concerns had suffered during the war, and the products of his estate had fallen off during his long absence. As spring advanced Mt. Vernon as had been anticipated began to attract numerous visitors. They were received in the frank, unpretending style Washington had determine upon. It was truly edifying to behold how easily and contentedly he subsided from the authoritative Commander in Chief of armies into the quiet country gentleman. He seemed to be his natural element.
Mrs. Washington too, who had presided with quiet dignity as head quarters and cheered the wintry gloom of Valley Forge with her presence, presided with equal amenity and grace at the simple board of Mt. Vernon. In entering upon the outdoor management of his estate, Washington was but doing in person what he head long been doing through others.
He had never ceased to be the agriculturist. Throughout all his campaigns he had kept himself informed of the course of rural affairs at Mt. Vernon. By means of maps on which every field was laid down and numbered, he was enabled to give directions, for their cultivation and receive accounts of their several crops. Washington owned 63,000 acres in five farms, lying in what are now seven states and the District of Columbia. They were called Union Farm. Surveyor, soldier, general, president, gentleman, but always a farmer, his favorite vocation. Yet as spring returned and he resumed his rides about the beautiful neighborhood of this haven of his hopes, he must have been mournfully sensible, now and then, of the changes which time and events had effected there. A diagram of the plan in which he had laid out his grounds, still remains among his papers at Mt. Vernon, the places are marked on it for particular tree and shrubs. Some of those tree and shrub are still to be found in the places thus assigned to them. In the present neglected state of Mt. Vernon, its walks are overgrown and vegetation runs wild; but it is deeply interesting still to find traces of these tails in which Washington delighted.