The Life of George Washington, Esq. By his pastor
(Excerpted from The Christian Heritage
of our Nation History Curriculum –
Landmarks copyright 1997 by Catherine Millard)
Perhaps the most revealing - and certainly the most intimate sketch of Washington’s life and character, is that penned by his own pastor and biographer in 1800. This unique historical account begins with a dedication to Martha Washington, the Illustrious Relict of General George Washington.
Very honored Madam,
The author hopes he shall escape the charge of presumption for dedicating this little book to you, as it treats of one, to whom, you, of all on earth, were, and still are, the most tenderly related. One of my reasons for writing this sketch of your husband’s life and virtues, is derived from those virtues themselves, which are such true brilliants as to assure me, that even in my simple style, like diamonds on the earth, they will so play their part at sparkling, that many an honest youth shall long to place them in the casket of his own bosom. Should it contribute, in any wise, to diffuse the spirit of Washington – in any degree to promote those virtues, which rendered him the greatest, because the most serviceable of mankind. Should it serve to soothe the sorrows of Washington’s dear Relict, during her short separation from that best of husbands, how brightest of saints. And O! Should it be so favoured as to suggest to the children, now that their father is dead, the great duty of burying their quarrels, and of heartily being united to love, and to promote each other’s good; it will be matter of great joy to one, who can sincerely subscribe himself the lover of all, who, fear God, honor the President (Adams and Jefferson), revere the laws, and are not given to change. May God’s everlasting consolations attend the bosom friend of Washington, is the prayer of orphan’d America; and the prayer of, Honored Madam,
February 22nd, 1800.
It continues as follows:
The Life of George Washington, Esq.
This truly great man, the third son of Mr. Augustine Washington, was born in Westmoreland County, Virginia on the 22nd day of February, 1732. He was the first Son of a second marriage; a circumstance which ought, in all conscience, to quiet the minds of those who have their doubts in respect to the lawfulness of second marriages. His education was of the private and proper sort. Dead languages, pride and pedantry, had no charms for him who always preferred sense to sound, the kernel to the shell. A Grammatical knowledge of his mother tongue, the mathematics, geography, history, natural and moral philosophy, were the valuable objects of his youthful studies: And In these he made the proficiency of one who always loved to go deep. At school he was remarkable for good nature and candour; qualities which acquired him so entirely the hearts of his young companions, that a reference to him was the usual mode of deciding all differences. After leaving his tutor he acted for a few years, as a county surveyor, in which profession, his industry, as also the neatness and regularity with which he did everything, were universally admired.
In 1753, the French and Indians began to make inroads on our western frontiers along the Ohio. Governor Dinwiddie was very desirous to get a letter of remonstrance to their Commander in Chief. He had applied to several young gentlemen of his acquaintance; but they were all so exceedingly tender of their night-caps, that they could not be prevailed on, for love or money, to venture out among the savages. Washington happening to hear of it, instantly waited on his excellency, and offered his services, but not without being terribly afraid lest his want of a beard should go against him. However, the Governor was so charmed with his modesty and manly air, that he never Asked him a syllable about his age, but, after thinking him for ‘a noble youth,’ and Insisting on his taking a glass of wine with him, slipped a commission into his hand. The next day, accompanied by an interpreter and a couple of servants, he set out on his expedition, which was, from start to pole, as disagreeable and dangerous as anything Hercules himself could have wished. Soaking rains, chilling blasts, roaring floods, pathless woods, and the mountains clad in snows opposed his course; but opposed in Vain. The glorious ambition to serve his country imparted an animation to his nerves, which rendered him superior to all difficulties, and happier far than the little souls he left behind in Williamsburg, carousing and card-playing in the Rawleigh.* Returning homewards, he was waylaid and shot at by a French Indian, and though the copper-coloured ruffian was not 15 steps distant when he fired at him, yet not even so much as the smell of lead passed on the clothes of our young hero; so true still is the promise on record in the good old book, viz. “The hosts of God encamp around the dwellings of the just; And mighty angels wait on all, who in His mercy trust.”
On his return to Williamsburg, it was found that he had executed his negociations, both with the French and Indians, with so much fidelity and judgment, that he received that heartfelt thanks of the Governor and council for the very important services he had done his country…He was now (in the 20th year of his age) appointed major and adjutant-general of the Virginia forces. Soon after this, the French continuing their encroachments, orders were given by the English government for the colonies to arm and unite in one confederacy. Virginia took the lead, and raised a regiment of 400 men, at the head of which she placed her darling Washington. With this handful of brave fellows, Col. Washington, not yet 23, boldly pushed out into the Indian country and there, for a considerable time, Hannibal-like, maintained the war against three times the number of French and Indians…Hence one of his European friends advised him to quit a scene of danger to which he had such slender ties, and fly with him to the safe and pleasant shores of Europe. “What, replied Washington, shall I forsake my Mother, because she is in danger?” The other observed that Col. Washington had not perhaps duly appreciated the pleasures he was renouncing, the dangers he was incurring. “God forbid,” rejoined Washington, “What I should ever appreciate pleasure, opposite to duty, or shrink from dangers when my country calls. No! I had rather suffer with her, than reign with her oppressors.” His conduct was agreeable to his principles. In the ever memorable 1775, he embraced his weeping consort, and went forth to Leonidas of his country resolving to fix her liberties or find a glorious grave. For seven long years he kept the field of iron war, with no dainties, but common soldiers’ fare; no music but clashing arms and thundering guns; no pleasures, but his toils and watching for us. At any period of this long conflict, he might no doubt, have exchanged our liberties for myriads of shining gold, or highest feats of purpled honor. But Washington was not born to blast the hope of millions, or bid the genius of his country hang her head and weep…
*Note: A famous tavern in Williamsburg, christened
Rawleigh, in honor I suppose,
of the great Sir Walter.