George Washington is more responsible for the creation of America than anyone else in our nation’s incredible history. He was the right man with the right set of qualities and talents at just the right time. It is hard to imagine that the USA could happen without his presence.
His American story begins in 1656, when John Washington emigrated from Northamptonshire, England, to the colony of Virginia. John was the son of an English clergyman who came to Virginia as a mate on the British ship Sea Horse of London. Seeing the possibilities of improvement for a hardworking person, John decided to stay in the new world.
John, George’s great-grandfather, soon married and began acquiring land in the Northern Neck of Virginia. By 1668, John had acquired over 5,000 acres, including what would become the Mount Vernon estate. These land purchases would be the foundation of the Washington family’s wealth.
George’s father, Augustine Washington, known to his friends as Gus, possessed tremendous strength and stood over six feet tall, clearly passing his genes on to George. He was the middle child of Lawrence Washington and therefore did not receive the majority of the family fortune. This means that when Augustine came of age in 1715, he was granted 1,740 acres of good planting land in northern Virginia.
Augustine’s first wife, Jane Butler, with whom he had three children, died in 1729. He quickly remarried, this time to Mary Ball, an orphan whose parents died when she was twelve but left Mary a substantial estate. The newlyweds made their home on Pope’s Creek in Westmoreland County, Virginia. There, on February 22, 1732, they had their first child together, a healthy, strapping boy whom they named George. According to George Eskridge, the prominent lawyer who raised Mary Ball after her parents died, Augustine was a justice of the peace and considered young. a person grows by repeatedly adding to his property. He became a successful tobacco planter and built and operated a furnace for iron production. In 1735 Augustine moved his family to Little Hunting Creek on the banks of the Potomac River and three years later to Ferry Farm near Fredericksburg.
When Augustine died unexpectedly in 1743, George’s older half-brother Lawrence inherited Little Hunting Creek, which he later named Mount Vernon. Lawrence was fourteen years older than George and a war hero, and George adored him. George inherited a ferry farm located on the north bank of the Rappahannock River, named for a ferry that ran nearby.
Within two months of Augustine’s death, Lawrence married Anne Fairfax, the niece of Lord William Fairfax, the richest and most powerful man in the Northern Neck of Virginia. This union placed Washington in the upper echelon of Virginia society and would be a boon to young George.
Although Augustine had sent two of George’s older half-brothers to England for a classical education, his unexpected death in 1743 prevented George from following in their footsteps. Consequently, George’s education fell into the hands of private tutors and his own studies.
In addition to reading and writing, Washington studied geometry and trigonometry in preparation for his surveying career, and interestingly, he also studied manners. Specifically, he copied 110 “Rules of Politeness and Proper Behavior in Company and Conversation.” Its lessons clearly influenced the formation of Washington’s later character.
He also showed an early interest in former military leaders, studying ancient legends Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar, as well as contemporary heroes Charles XII of Sweden and Frederick the Great of Prussia. The lessons learned from these men proved valuable to Washington in the face of adversity during the American Revolution.
At the age of 15, Washington completed his formal education and began his first career as a surveyor. With the help of his relative Lord Fairfax, George was appointed surveyor of Culpeper County in 1749. His experience in this position hardened and tempered his body and taught him to be self-reliant at an early age. It also sparked his interest in the western lands, which he never lost.
In September 1751, Lawrence, who had been ill for several years, decided to sail to Barbados for the warmer climate and supposed healing properties. He asked George to accompany him, and George readily agreed. This trip would be the only time in George’s life that he was away from America.
Unfortunately, the change of scenery didn’t do the trick, and Lawrence continued to struggle with his health. George did not fare well in Barbados either, contracting smallpox soon after his arrival. The disease left George’s face scarred, but made him immune to the disease, which would prove to be a blessing during the American Revolution.
George decided to return home and arrived in January 1752. After a brief stop in Bermuda, Lawrence returned to Virginia in June 1752 and died of tuberculosis a month later. He left his wife Ann, a lifelong interest in Mount Vernon, and most of his estate to his young daughter Sarah. Lawrence also stipulated that if Sarah died childless, Mount Vernon would revert to George when Anne
died. When Sarah died in 1754, George took over Mount Vernon at the age of 22, and when Anne passed away in 1761, George Washington became the master of the estate that was to become synonymous with his name.
Next week we will discuss how Colonel George Washington started the war.
Until next time, may your motto be “Ducit Amor Patriae”, Love of country leads me.
Tom Hand is a West Point graduate and Army veteran. See more at www. americanacorner.com.