The Presidents of the United States, 1789-1914/George Washington

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

George Washington[edit]


George Washington, first president of the United States, born at Pope's Creek, near Bridge's Creek, Westmoreland County, Va., February 22, 1732; died at Mount Vernon, December 14, 1799. Of his English ancestry various details are given in more than one formal biography of him, and very recently several questions of his genealogy have been satisfactorily solved by Mr. Henry F. Waters, Mr. Moncure D. Conway, and Mr. W. C. Ford, which had eluded even the labors of the late Col. J. L. Chester. It is perhaps too early to regard his English ancestry as beyond all further question. At all events, this memoir may well be allowed to begin with his American history.

His earliest ancestor in this country was John Washington, who had resided for some years at South Cave, near the Humber, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, England, and who came over to Virginia, with his brother Lawrence, in 1657. Purchasing lands in Westmoreland County and establishing his residence at Pope's Creek, not far from the Potomac, he became, in due course, an extensive planter, a county magistrate, and a member of the house of burgesses. He distinguished himself, also, as colonel of the Virginia forces in driving off a band of Seneca Indians who were ravaging the neighboring settlements. In honor of his public and private character, the parish in which he resided was called Washington. In this parish his grandson, Augustine, the second son of Lawrence Washington, was born in 1694. By his first wife Augustine had four children. Two of them died young, but two sons, Lawrence and Augustine, survived their mother, who died in 1728. On March 6, 1730, the father was again married. His second wife was Mary Ball, and George was her first child.

If tradition is to be trusted, few sons ever had a more lovely and devoted mother, and no mother a more dutiful and affectionate son. Bereaved of her husband, who died after a short illness in 1743, when George was but eleven years of age, and with four younger children to be cared for, she discharged the responsibilities thus sadly devolved upon her with scrupulous fidelity and firmness. To her we owe the precepts and example that governed George's life. The excellent maxims, moral and religious, which she found in her favorite manual—"Sir Matthew Hale's Contemplations"—were impressed on his memory and on his heart, as she read them aloud to her children; and that little volume, with the autograph inscription of Mary Washington, was among the cherished treasures of his library as long as he lived. To her, too, under God, we owe especially the restraining influence and authority that held him back, at the last moment, as we shall see, from embarking on a line of life that would have cut him off from the great career that has rendered his name immortal.

Well did Dr. Sparks, in his careful and excellent biography, speak of "the debt owed by mankind to the mother of Washington." A pleasing conjectural picture, not without some weight of testimony, has been adopted by Mr. Lossing in his "Mary and Martha," representing her at the age of twenty-three. She delighted in saying simply that "George had always been a good son"; and her own life was fortunately prolonged until she had seen him more than fulfil every hope of her heart. On his way to his first inauguration as president of the United States Washington came to bid his mother a last farewell, just before her death.

That parting scene, however, was not at his birthplace. The primitive Virginia farm-house in which he was born had long ceased to be the family residence, and had gradually fallen into ruin. The remains of a large kitchen-chimney were all that could be identified of it in 1878, by a party of which Secretary Evarts, General Sherman, and the late Mr. Charles C. Perkins, of Boston, were three, who visited the spot with a view to the erection of a memorial under the authority of congress. Not long after the birth that has rendered this spot forever memorable, Augustine Washington removed to an estate in Stafford County, on the east side of the Rappahannock, opposite Fredericksburg, and resided there with his family during the remaining years of his life. That was the scene of George's early childhood. There he first went to school, in an "old-field" school-house, with Hobby, the sexton of the parish, for his first master. After his father's death, however, he was sent back to the old homestead at Pope's Creek, to live for a while with his elder half-brother, Augustine, to whom the Westmoreland estate had been left, and who, on his marriage, had taken it for his residence. There George had the advantage of at least a better school than Hobby's, kept by a Mr. Williams. But it taught him nothing except reading, writing and arithmetic, with a little geometry and surveying. For this last study he evinced a marked preference. Many of his copy-books of that period have been preserved, and they show no inconsiderable proficiency in the surveyor's art, even before he finally left school, toward the close of his sixteenth year.

One of those manuscript books, however, is of a miscellaneous and peculiarly interesting character, containing carefully prepared forms for business papers; a few selections or, it may be, original compositions in rhyme; and a series of "Rules of Behavior in Company and Conversation," most of them translated from a French Book of "Maximes," discovered by Mr. Conway, of which the last and most noteworthy one, not in the French series, and which he may have added himself, must never be omitted from the story of Washington's boyhood: "Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire, Conscience." All these schoolboy manuscripts bear witness alike to his extreme care in cultivating a neat, clear, and elegant handwriting, and his name is sometimes written almost as if in contemplation of the great instruments and state papers to which it was destined to be the attesting signature.

Meantime he was training himself for vigorous manhood by all sorts of robust exercise and athletic sports. He played soldier, sometimes, with his school-mates, always asserting the authority of captain, and subjecting the little company to a rigid discipline. Running, leaping, and wrestling were among his favorite pastimes. He became a fearless rider, too, and no horse is said to have been too fiery for him. "Above all," as Irving well says, "his inherent probity, and the principles of justice on which he regulated his conduct, even at this early period of his life, were soon appreciated by his school-mates; he was referred to as an umpire in their disputes, and his decisions were never reversed." A crisis in Washington's life occurred before he left school. His eldest half-brother, Lawrence, had already been an officer in the English service, and was at the siege of Carthagena under Admiral Vernon, for whom he formed a great regard, and whose name he afterward gave to his estate on the Potomac. Observing George's military propensities, and thinking that the English navy would afford him the most promising field for future distinction, Lawrence obtained a midshipman's warrant for him in 1746, when he was just fourteen years old, and George is said to have been on the point of embarking on this English naval service. The earnest remonstrance of his mother was interposed, and the project reluctantly abandoned. He thereupon resumed his studies, and did not leave school till the autumn before his sixteenth year. Soon afterward he went to reside with his brother Lawrence, who had married a Fairfax of Belvoir, and had established himself at Mount Vernon.

Washington's education was now finished, so far as schools and schoolmasters were concerned, and he never enjoyed or sought the advantages of a college. Indeed, only a month after he was sixteen he entered on the active career of a surveyor of lands, in the employment of William Fairfax, the father of his brother's wife, and the manager of the great estate of his cousin, Lord Fairfax. In this work he voluntarily subjected himself to every variety of hardship and personal danger. Those Alleghany valleys and hills were then a wilderness, where difficult obstructions were to be overcome, severe exposures to be endured, and savage tribes to be conciliated or encountered. For three successive years he persevered undauntedly in this occupation, having obtained a commission from the president and master of William and Mary college as a public surveyor for Culpeper County, which entitled his surveys to a place in the county office, where they were held in high esteem for completeness and accuracy. During these three years he allowed himself but little relaxation, yet found time in the winter months for an occasional visit to his mother, and for aiding her in the management of her affairs.

And now, at nineteen years of age, he received an appointment as adjutant-general, with the rank of major, to inspect and exercise the militia in one of the districts into which Virginia was divided in view of the French encroachments and the Indian depredations with which the frontiers were menaced. Before he had fairly entered on this service, however, he was called to accompany his brother Lawrence to the West Indies, on a voyage for his brother's health, and was absent from home for more than four months, during which he had a severe attack of small-pox. His brother remained longer, and returned at last only to die, leaving George as one of his executors, and involving him in large responsibilities as well as in much personal affliction. Meantime his appointment as adjutant-general was renewed by Gov. Dinwiddie, and he was assigned to the charge of one of the grand military divisions of the colony. A wider field of service was thus opened to Washington, on which he entered with alacrity.

War between France and England was now rapidly approaching, involving a conflict for the possession of a large part of the American continent. French posts were already established on the banks of the Ohio, with a view of confining the English colonies within the Alleghany mountains. Gov. Dinwiddie, under instructions from the British ministry, resolved upon sending a commissioner to the officer commanding the French forces to inquire by what authority he was invading the king's dominions, and to ascertain, if possible, his further designs. Washington was selected for this delicate and dangerous mission, after several others had declined to undertake it. He accepted it at once, and toward the end of November, 1753, he set out from Williamsburg, without any military escort, on a journey of nearly 600 miles—a great part of it over "lofty and rugged mountains and through the heart of a wilderness." The perilous incidents of this expedition cannot be recounted here. His marvellous and providential escapes, at one time from the violence of the savages, at another from assassination by a treacherous guide, at a third from being drowned in crossing the Alleghany river on a raft, have been described in all the accounts of his early manhood, substantially from his own journal, published in London at the time. He reached Williamsburg on his return on January 16, 1754, and delivered to Gov. Dinwiddie the reply of the French commander to his message of inquiry. No more signal test could have been afforded of Washington's various talents and characteristics, which this expedition served at once to display and to develop. "From that moment," says his biographer, Irving, "he was the rising hope of Virginia."

He was then but just finishing his twenty-first year, and immediately after his return he was appointed to the chief command of a little body of troops raised for meeting immediate exigencies; but the military establishment was increased as soon as the governor could convene the legislature of Virginia, and Washington was appointed lieutenant-colonel of a regiment, with Joshua Fry, an accomplished Oxford scholar, as his colonel. Upon Washington at once devolved the duty of going forward with such companies as were enlisted, and the sudden death of Col. Fry soon left him in full command of the expedition. The much-misrepresented skirmish with the French troops, resulting in the death of Jumonville, was followed, on July 3, 1754, by the battle of the Great Meadows, where Washington held his ground, in Fort Necessity, from eleven in the morning to eight at night, against a great superiority of numbers, until the French requested a parley. A capitulation ensued, in every way honorable to Washington as it was translated and read to him, but which proved, when printed, to contain terms in the French language which he never would have signed or admitted had they not been suppressed or softened by the interpreter. [See note at end of chapter xii., vol. i., of Irving's "Life of Washington."]

The course now adopted by Gov. Dinwiddie in the reorganization of the Virginia troops, against which Washington remonstrated, and which would have reduced him to an inferior grade, led at once to his resignation, and, after a brief visit to his mother, he retired to Mount Vernon. He was soon solicited by Gov. Sharpe, of Maryland, then the commander-in-chief of the English forces, to resume his station, but under circumstances and upon conditions incompatible with his self-respect. In declining the invitation he used this memorable language: "I shall have the consolation of knowing that I have opened the way, when the smallness of our numbers exposed us to the attacks of a superior enemy; and that I have had the thanks of my country for the services I have rendered." But now Gen. Braddock was sent over from England with two regiments of regulars, and Washington did not hesitate to accept an appointment on his staff as a volunteer aide-de-camp. The prudent counsels that he gave Braddock before he set out on his ill-fated expedition, and often repeated along the road, were not followed; but Washington, notwithstanding a violent attack of fever, was with him on the bloody field of the Monongahela, behaving, as his fellow aide-de-camp, Col. Orne, testified, "with the greatest courage and resolution," witnessing at last Braddock's defeat and death, and being the only mounted officer not killed or disabled. "By the all-powerful dispensations of Providence," wrote he to his brother, "I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me, yet I escaped unhurt, although death was levelling my companions on every side." It fell to him by a striking coincidence—the chaplain being wounded—to read the funeral service at the burial of Braddock at the Great Meadows, the scene of his own capitulation the year before. In a sermon to one of the companies organized under the impulse of Braddock's defeat, and in view of the impending dangers of the country, the Rev. Samuel Davies, an eloquent and accomplished preacher, who, in 1759, succeeded Jonathan Edwards as president of Princeton college, after praising the zeal and courage of the Virginia troops, added these prophetic words: "As a remarkable instance of this, I may point out to the public that heroic youth, Col. Washington, whom I cannot but hope Providence has hitherto preserved in so signal a manner for some important service to his country."

A force of 2,000 men having now been ordered to be raised by the Virginia assembly, Washington was appointed to the chief command and established his headquarters at Winchester. He broke away from the perplexing cares of this place in February, 1756, to make a hurried visit to Gov. Shirley in Boston, where he settled successfully with him, then the commander-in-chief of the English forces on this continent, a vexatious question of precedence between the provincial officers and those appointed by the crown. On his return he devoted himself to measures for the security of the frontier. In the course of the following year he was again the subject of a violent fever, which prostrated him for several months. "My constitution," he wrote to a friend, "is much impaired, and nothing can retrieve it but the greatest care and the most circumspect course of life." Under these circumstances he seriously contemplated again resigning his command and retiring from all further public business. But his favorite measure, the reduction of Fort Duquesne, was at length to be undertaken, and, after much disappointment and delay, Washington, on November 25, 1758, was privileged to "march in and plant the British flag on the yet smoking ruins" of that fort—henceforth to be known as Fort Pitt, in honor of the great minister of England, afterward Lord Chatham.

Meantime Washington had chanced to meet on his way to Williamsburg, at the house of a hospitable Virginian with whom he dined, a charming widow, who at once won his heart. Most happily he soon succeeded in winning hers also, and on January 6, 1759, she became his wife. Martha Custis, daughter of John Dandridge and widow of John Parke Custis, was henceforth to be known in history as Martha Washington. He had now finally resigned his commission as a colonial officer, and was preparing to enjoy something of the retirement of private life. But while he was still absent on his last campaign he had been chosen a delegate to the Virginia house of burgesses, and he had hardly established himself at Mount Vernon, a few months after his marriage, when he was summoned to attend a session of that body at Williamsburg. He was not allowed, however, to enter unobserved on his civil career. No sooner did he make his appearance than the Speaker, agreeably to a previous vote of the house, presented their thanks to him, in the name of the colony, for the distinguished military service he had rendered to his country, accompanying the vote of thanks with expressions of compliment and praise which greatly embarrassed him. He attempted to make his acknowledgments, but stammered and trembled and "could not give distinct utterance to a single syllable." "Sit down, Mr. Washington," said the Speaker, with infinite address; "your modesty equals your valor, and that surpasses the power of any language I possess."

Fourteen or fifteen years more elapsed before the great struggle for American independence began, and during all this time he continued to be a member of the house of burgesses. He was punctual in his attendance at all their sessions, which were commonly at least two in a year, and took an earnest interest in all that was said and done, but "it is not known," says Sparks, "that he ever made a set speech or entered into a stormy debate." He had a passion for agricultural pursuits. He delighted in his quiet rural life at Mount Vernon with his wife and her children—he had none of his own—finding ample occupation in the management of his farms, and abundant enjoyment in hunting and fishing with the genial friends and relatives in his neighborhood. He was a vestryman of two parishes, regular in his attendance at one or the other of the parochial churches, at Alexandria or at Pohick, and both he and his wife were communicants. Meantime he was always at the service of his friends or the community for any aid or counsel that he could render them. He was often called on to be an arbitrator, and his judgment and impartiality were never questioned. As a commissioner for settling the military accounts of the colony, after the treaty of peace of 1763, he spared himself no labor in the execution of a most arduous and complicated task. In a word, he was a good citizen, an exemplary Christian, a devoted father, a kind master to the slaves who had come to him by inheritance or marriage, and was respected and beloved by all.

At length, at forty-three years of age, he was called upon to begin a career that closed only with his life, during which he held the highest and most responsible positions in war and in peace, and rendered inestimable services to his country and to mankind. To follow that career in detail would require nothing less than a history of the United States for the next five-and-twenty years. Washington was naturally of a cautious and conservative cast, and by no means disposed for a rupture with the mother country, if it could be avoided without the sacrifice of rights and principles. But as the various stages of British aggression succeeded each other, beginning with the stamp-act, the repeal of which he hailed with delight, and followed by the tea tax and the Boston port bill, he became keenly alive to the danger of submission, and was ready to unite in measures of remonstrance, opposition, and ultimately of resistance. When he heard at Williamsburg, in August, 1773, of the sufferings resulting from the port bill, he is said to have exclaimed, impulsively: "I will raise a thousand men, subsist them at my own expense, and march with them, at their head, for the relief of Boston." He little dreamed at that moment that within two years he was destined to be hailed as the deliverer of Boston from British occupation.

Washington accepted an election as a delegate to the first Continental congress in 1774, and went to the meeting at Philadelphia in September of that year, in company with Patrick Henry and Edmund Pendleton, who called for him at Mount Vernon on horseback. That congress sat in Carpenter's Hall with closed doors, but the great papers that it prepared and issued form a proud part of American history. Those were the papers and that the congress of which Chatham in the house of lords, in his memorable speech on the removal of troops from Boston, January 20, 1775, said: "When your lordships look at the papers transmitted to us from America, when you consider their decency, firmness, and wisdom, you cannot but respect their cause, and wish to make it your own. For myself, I must declare and avow that in all my reading and observation—and it has been my favorite study—I have read Thucydides, and have studied and admired the master states of the world—that for solidity of reasoning, force of sagacity, and wisdom of conclusion, under such a complication of difficult circumstances, no nation or body of men can stand in preference to the general congress at Philadelphia." The precise part taken by Washington within the closed doors of Carpenter's Hall is nowhere recorded, but the testimony of one of its most distinguished members cannot be forgotten. When Patrick Henry returned home from the meeting, and was asked whom he considered the greatest man in that congress, he replied: "If you speak of eloquence, Mr. Rutledge, of South Carolina, is by far the greatest orator; but if you speak of solid information and sound judgment, Col. Washington is unquestionably the greatest man on that floor." It is an interesting tradition that, during the prayers with which Dr. Duche opened that meeting at Carpenter's Hall on September 5, 1774, while most of the other members were standing, Washington was kneeling.

He was again a delegate to the Continental congress (the second) that assembled at Philadelphia on May 10, 1775, by which, on the 15th of June, on the motion of Thomas Johnson, a delegate of Maryland, at the earnest instigation of John Adams, of Massachusetts, he was unanimously elected commander-in-chief of all the Continental forces raised, or to be raised, for the defence of American liberty. On the next morning he accepted the appointment and expressed his deep and grateful sense of the high honor conferred upon him, "but," added he, "lest some unlucky event should happen, unfavorable to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered by every gentleman in the room that I this day declare, with the utmost sincerity, that I do not think myself equal to the command I am honored with." "As to pay," he continued, "I beg leave to assure the congress that, as no pecuniary consideration could have tempted me to accept this arduous employment, at the expense of my domestic ease and happiness, I do not wish to make any profit of it. I will keep an exact account of my expenses. Those I doubt not they will discharge, and that is all I desire." "You may believe me," he wrote to his wife at once, "when I assure you, in the most solemn manner, that so far from seeking this appointment, I have used every endeavor in my power to avoid it, not only from my unwillingness to part with you and the family, but from a consciousness of its being a trust too great for my capacity."

Washington's commission was agreed to by congress on June 17, and on the 21st he set out from Philadelphia on horseback to take command of the American army encamped around Boston, of which place the British forces were in possession. The tidings of the battle of Bunker Hill reached him at New York on the 25th, and the next day he was in the saddle again on his way to Cambridge. He arrived there on July 2, and established his headquarters in the old Vassall (afterward Craigie) mansion, which has recently been known as the residence of the poet Longfellow. On July 3 he took formal command of the army, drawing his sword under an ancient elm, which has of late years been suitably inscribed. The American army numbered about 17,000 men, but only 14,500 were fit for duty. Coming hastily from different colonies, they were without supplies of tents or clothing, and there was not ammunition enough for nine cartridges to a man. Washington's work in combining and organizing this mass of raw troops was most embarrassing and arduous. But he persevered untiringly, and after a siege of eight months succeeded in driving the British from Boston on March 17, 1776. For this grand exploit congress awarded him a splendid gold medal, which bore an admirable likeness of him on one side, and on the other side the inscription "Hostibus primo fugatis Bostonium recuperatum." Copies of this medal in silver and bronze have been multiplied, but the original gold medal has found a fit place, within a few years past, in the Boston Public Library.

The way was now opened, and the scene of the war was soon transferred to other parts of the country. The day after the evacuation of Boston, five regiments, with a battalion of riflemen and two companies of artillery, were sent to New York. But, as the British fleet was still in Nantasket road, Washington did not venture to move more of his army, or to go away himself, until the risk of a return was over. On April 13 he reached New York, and was soon summoned to Philadelphia for a conference with congress. On his return to New York, while he was anxiously awaiting an attack by the British forces, the Declaration of Independence, signed on July 4, was transmitted to him. The regiments were forthwith paraded, and the Declaration was read at the head of the army. "The General hopes," said he in the orders of the day, "that this important event will serve as a fresh incentive to every officer and soldier to act with fidelity and courage, as knowing that now the peace and safety of his country depend, under God, solely on the success of our arms." He hailed the Declaration with delight, and had written to his brother, from Philadelphia, that he was rejoiced at "the noble act" of the Virginia convention, recommending that such a declaration should be adopted. But his little army, according to the returns of August 5 following, hardly numbered more than 20,000 men, of whom six or seven thousand were sick or on furlough or otherwise absent, while the British forces were at least 24,000, supported by a large and thoroughly equipped fleet.

The battle of Long Island soon followed, with disastrous results to the Americans, and the British took possession of New York. Other reverses were not long delayed, and the strategy of Washington found its exhibition only in his skilful retreat from Long Island and through the Jerseys. But he was not disheartened, nor his confidence in ultimate success impaired. When asked what was to be done if Philadelphia were taken, he replied: "We will retreat beyond the Susquehanna, and thence, if necessary, to the Alleghany mountains." His masterly movements on the Delaware were now witnessed, which Frederick the Great is said to have declared "the most brilliant achievements recorded in military annals." "Many years later," Mr. Lossing informs us in his interesting volume on Mount Vernon and its associations, "the great Frederick sent him a portrait of himself, accompanied by the remarkable words: 'From the oldest general in Europe to the greatest general in the world!'" Meantime he had a vast work to accomplish with entirely inadequate means. But he went along with heroic fortitude, unswerving constancy, and unsparing self-devotion, through all the trials and sufferings of Monmouth and Brandywine and Germantown and Valley Forge, until the grand consummation was at last reached at Yorktown, on October 19, 1781. There, with the aid of our generous and gallant allies, be achieved the crowning victory of independence on the soil of his beloved Virginia.

The details of this protracted contest must be left to history, as well as the infamous cabal for impeaching his ability and depriving him of his command and the still more infamous treason of Arnold, in September, 1780. Standing on the field of Yorktown, to receive the surrender of Lord Cornwallis and the British army, Washington was at length rewarded for all the labors and sacrifices and disappointments he bad so bravely endured since his first great victory in expelling the British from Boston nearly seven years before. Massachusetts and Virginia were thus the scenes of his proudest successes, as they had been foremost in bringing, to a test the great issue of American independence and American liberty. The glorious consummation was at last accomplished. But two years more were to elapse before the treaty of peace was signed and the war with England ended; and during that period Washington was to give most signal illustration of his disinterested patriotism and of his political wisdom and foresight.

Discontent had for some time been manifested by officers and soldiers alike, owing to arrearages of pay, and they were naturally increased by the apprehension that the army would now be disbanded without proper provision being made by congress for meeting the just claims of the troops. Not a few of the officers began to distrust the efficiency of the government and of all republican institutions. One of them, "a colonel of the army, of a highly respectable character and somewhat advanced in life," whose name is given by Irving as Lewis Nicola, was put forward to communicate these sentiments to Washington, and he even dared to suggest for him the title of King. Washington's reply, dated Newburgh, May 22, 1782, expressed the indignation and "abhorrence" with which he had received such a suggestion, and rebuked the writer with severity. "I am at a loss to conceive," wrote he, "what part of my conduct could have given encouragement to an address which to me seems big with the greatest mischiefs that can befall my country. If I am not deceived in the knowledge of myself, you could not have found a person to whom your schemes are more disagreeable. . . . Let me conjure you, then, if you have any regard for your country, concern for yourself or posterity, or respect for me, to banish these thoughts from your mind, and never communicate, from yourself or any one else, a sentiment of the like nature." Nothing more was ever heard of making Washington a king. He had sufficiently shown his scorn for such an overture.

The apprehensions of the army, however, were by no means quieted. A memorial on the subject of their pay was prepared and transmitted to congress in December, 1782, but the resolutions that congress adopted did not satisfy their expectations. A meeting of officers was arranged, and anonymous addresses, commonly known as the Newburgh addresses, were issued, to rouse the army to resentment. Washington insisted on attending the meeting, and delivered an impressive address. Gen. Gates was in the chair, and Washington began by apologizing for having come. After reading the first paragraph of what he had prepared, he begged the indulgence of those present while he paused to put on his spectacles, saying, casually, but most touchingly, that "he had grown gray in the service of his country, and now found himself growing blind." He then proceeded to read a most forcible and noble paper, in which, after acknowledging the just claims of the army on the government and assuring them that those claims would not be disregarded, he conjured them "to express their utmost horror and detestation of the man who wishes, under any specious pretences, to overturn the liberties of our country, and who wickedly attempts to open the floodgates of civil discord and deluge our rising empire in blood."

The original autograph of this ever-memorable address, just as it came from Washington's own pen, is in the archives of the Massachusetts Historical Society, and a lithographed copy was published by them, together with the letters of eyewitnesses to the scene, as a contribution to the centennial papers of 1876. Washington retired at once from the meeting, but resolutions were forthwith unanimously adopted, on motion of Gen. Knox seconded by Gen. Putnam, reciprocating all his affectionate expressions, and concurring entirely in the policy he had proposed. "Every doubt was dispelled," says Maj. Shaw in his journal, "and the tide of patriotism rolled again in its wonted course." The treaty of peace was signed in Paris on January 20, 1783. On April 17 following, a proclamation by congress was received by Washington for the cessation of hostilities. On April 19, the anniversary of the shedding of the first blood at Lexington, which completed the eighth year of the war, the cessation was proclaimed at the head of every regiment of the army, after which, said Washington's general orders, "the chaplains of the several brigades will render thanks to Almighty God for all his mercies, particularly for his overruling the wrath of man to his own glory, and causing the rage of war to cease among the nations."

On the following 8th of June, in view of the dissolution of the army, Washington addressed a letter to the governors of the several states—a letter full of golden maxims and consummate wisdom. "The great object," he began, "for which I had the honor to hold an appointment in the service of my country being accomplished, I am now preparing to return to that domestic retirement which, it is well known, I left with the greatest reluctance—a retirement for which I have never ceased to sigh through a long and painful absence, and in which, remote from the noise and trouble of the world, I meditate to pass the remainder of my life in a state of undisturbed repose." Then, after remarking that "this is the favorable moment for giving such a tone to the Federal government as will enable it to answer the ends of its institution," he proceeded to set forth and enlarge upon the four things that he conceived to be essential to the well-being, or even the existence, of the United States as an independent power: "First, an indissoluble union of the states under one federal head; second, a sacred regard to public justice; third, the adoption of a proper peace establishment; and, fourth, the prevalence of that pacific and friendly disposition among the people of the United States which will induce them to forget their local prejudices and policies, to make those mutual concessions which are requisite to the general prosperity, and, in some instances, to sacrifice their individual advantages to the interest of the community. These are the pillars," said Washington, "on which the glorious fabric of our independency and national character must rest."

Washington took final leave of the army in general orders of November 2, in accordance with a proclamation by congress of October 18. He accompanied Gov. Clinton in a formal entry into New York, after its evacuation by the British, on November 25. On December 4, after taking affectionate leave of his principal officers at Fraunce's tavern, he set off for Annapolis, and there, on December 23, 1783, he presented himself to "the United States in congress assembled," and resigned the commission that he had received on June 17, 1775. "Having now finished," said he, "the work assigned me, I retire from the great theatre of action, and, bidding an affectionate farewell to this august body, under whose orders I have long acted, I here offer my commission, and take my leave of all the employments of public life." "You retire," replied the president of congress, "from the theatre of action with the blessings of your fellow-citizens; but the glory of your virtues will not terminate with your military command: it will continue to animate remotest ages." The very next morning, as we are informed by Irving, Washington departed from Annapolis, and "hastened to his beloved Mount Vernon, where he arrived the same day, on Christmas eve, in a frame of mind suited to enjoy the sacred and genial festival."

Once more, at the close of the fifty-second year of his age, Washington was permitted to resume his favorite occupations of a farmer and planter, and to devote himself personally to his crops and cattle. Indeed, throughout his whole military campaign, he had kept himself informed of what was going on in the way of agriculture at Mount Vernon, and had given careful directions as to the cultivation of his lands. His correspondence now engrossed not a little of his time, and he was frequently cheered by the visits of his friends. Lafayette was among his most welcome guests, and passed a fortnight with him, to his great delight. Afterward Washington made a visit to his lands on the Kanawha and Ohio rivers, travelling on horseback, with his friend and physician, Dr. Craik, nearly seven hundred miles, through a wild, mountainous country, and devising schemes of internal navigation for the advantage of Virginia and Maryland. His passion for hunting, also, was revived, and Lafayette and others of the French officers sent him out fine hounds from their kennels.


George Washington handwriting.png


Fac-simile of the last page of letter from George Washington to James Madison


But the condition of his country was never absent from his thoughts, and the insufficiency of the existing confederation weighed heavily on his mind. In one of his letters he writes: "The confederation appears to me little more than a shadow without the substance, and congress a migratory body." In another letter he says: "I have ever been a friend to adequate powers in congress, without which it is evident to me we shall never establish a national character. . . . We are either a united people under one head and for federal purposes, or we are thirteen independent sovereignties, eternally counteracting each other." In another letter, to John Jay, he uses still more emphatic language: "I do not conceive we can exist long as a nation without lodging somewhere a power which will pervade the whole Union in as energetic a manner as the authority of the state governments extends over the several states. . . . Retired as I am from the world, I frankly acknowledge I can not feel myself an unconcerned spectator. Yet, having happily assisted in bringing the ship into port, and having been fairly discharged, it is not my business to embark again on the sea of troubles."

Meantime the insurrection in Massachusetts, commonly known as "Shays's rebellion," added greatly to his anxiety and even anguish of mind. In a letter to Madison of November 6, 1786, he exclaimed: "No morn ever dawned more favorably than ours did, and no day was ever more clouded than the present. . . . We are fast verging to anarchy and confusion." Soon afterward he poured out the bitterness of his soul to his old aide-de-camp, Gen. Humphreys, in still stronger terms: "What, gracious God! is man, that there should be such inconsistency and perfidiousness in his conduct? It was but the other day that we were shedding our blood to obtain the constitutions under which we now live—constitutions of our own choice and making—and now we are unsheathing the sword to overturn them." He was thus in full sympathy with the efforts of his friends to confer new and greater powers on the Federal Government, and he yielded to their earnest solicitations in consenting to be named at the head of the Virginia delegates to the convention in Philadelphia on May 14, 1787. Of that ever-memorable convention be was unanimously elected president, and on the following 17th of September he had the supreme satisfaction of addressing a letter to congress announcing the adoption of the constitution of the United States, which had been signed on that day. "In all our deliberations on this subject," he said in that letter, "we kept steadily in our view that which appears to us the greatest interest of every true American—the consolidation of our Union—in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, and perhaps our national existence."

This constitution having passed the ordeal of congress and been ratified and adopted by the people, through the conventions of the states, nothing remained but to organize the government in conformity with its provisions. As early as July 2, 1788, congress had been notified that the necessary approval of nine states had been obtained, but not until September 13 was a day appointed for the choice of electors of president. That day was the first Wednesday of the following January, while the beginning of proceedings under the new constitution was postponed until the first Wednesday of March, which chanced in that year to be the 4th of March. Not, however, until April 1 was there a quorum for business in the house of representatives, and not until April 6 was the senate organized. On that day, in the presence of the two houses, the votes for president and vice-president were opened and counted, when Washington, having received every vote from the ten states that took part in the election, was declared president of the United States. On April 14 he received at Mount Vernon the official announcement of his election, and on the morning of the 16th he set out for New York. "Reluctant," as he said, "in the evening of life to exchange a peaceful abode for an ocean of difficulties," he bravely added: "Be the voyage long or short, although I may be deserted by all men, integrity and firmness shall never forsake me." Well does Bancroft exclaim, after recounting these details in his "History of the Constitution": "But for him the country could not have achieved its independence; but for him it could not have formed its Union; and now but for him it could not set the government in successful motion."

Reaching New York on the 23d, after a continuous triumphal journey through Alexandria, Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, and Trenton, he was welcomed by the two houses of congress, by the governor of the state, the magistrates of the city, and by great masses of the people. The city was illuminated in his honor. But he proceeded on foot from the barge that had brought him across the bay to the house of the president of the late confederation, which had been appointed for his residence. John Adams had been installed in the chair of the senate, as vice-president of the United States, on April 21, but congress could not get ready for the inauguration of the president until the 30th. On that day the oath of office was administered to Washington by Robert R. Livingston, chancellor of the state of New York, in the presence of the two houses of congress, on a balcony in front of the hall in which congress held its sittings, where a statue has recently been placed. Washington then retired to the senate-chamber and delivered his inaugural address. "It would be peculiarly improper to omit," said he, "in this first official act, my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect—that his benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a government instituted by themselves. . . . No people can be bound to acknowledge the invisible hand which conducts the affairs of man more than the people of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency. . . . These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me, I trust, in thinking that there are none under the influence of which the proceedings of a new and free government can more auspiciously commence." In accordance with those sentiments, at the close of the ceremony, Washington and both branches of congress were escorted to St. Paul's chapel, at the corner of Broadway and Fulton street, where the chaplain of the senate read prayers suited to the occasion, after which they all attended the president to his mansion near Franklin square.

Thus began the administration of Washington, as first president of the United States, on April 30, 1789. This is a date never to be forgotten in American history, and it would be most happy if the 30th of April could be substituted for the 4th of March as the inauguration-day of the second century of our constitutional existence. It would add two months to the too short second session of congress, give a probability of propitious weather for the ceremony, and be a perpetual commemoration of the day on which Washington entered upon his great office, and our national government was practically organized. An amendment to the constitution making this change has several times been formally proposed and has passed the U. S. senate, but has failed of adoption in the house of representatives. From first to last, Washington's influence in conciliating all differences of opinion in regard to the rightful interpretation and execution of the new constitution was most effective. The recently printed journal of William Maclay, a senator from Pennsylvania in the 1st congress, says, in allusion to some early controversies: "The president's amiable deportment, however, smoothes and sweetens everything." Count Moustier, the French minister, in writing home to his government, five weeks after the inauguration, says: "The opinion of Gen. Washington was of such weight that it alone contributed more than any other measure to cause the present constitution to be adopted. The extreme confidence in his patriotism, his integrity, and his intelligence forms to-day its principal support. . . . All is hushed in presence of the trust of the people in the saviour of the country."

Washington had to confront not a few of the same perplexities that all his successors have experienced in a still greater degree in regard to appointments to office. But at the earliest moment he adopted rules and principles on this subject which might well be commended to presidents and governors in later days. In a letter to his friend James Bowdoin, of Massachusetts, bearing date May 9, 1789, less than six weeks after his inauguration, he used language that might fitly serve as an introduction to the civil-service reform manual of the present hour. "No part of my duty," he says, "will be more delicate, and in many instances more unpleasing, than that of nominating or appointing persons to office. It will undoubtedly often happen that there will be several candidates for the same office, whose pretensions, ability, and integrity may be nearly equal, and who will come forward so equally supported in every respect as almost to require the aid of supernatural intuition to fix upon the right. I shall, however, in all events, have the satisfaction to reflect that I entered upon my administration unconfined by a single engagement, uninfluenced by any ties of blood or friendship, and with the best intentions and fullest determination to nominate to office those persons only who, upon every consideration, were the most deserving, and who would probably execute their several functions to the interest and credit of the American Union, if such characters could be found by my exploring every avenue of information respecting their merits and pretensions that it was in my power to obtain."

Appointing Thomas Jefferson, of Virginia, as his secretary of state; Alexander Hamilton, of New York, as his secretary of the treasury; and Henry Knox, of Massachusetts, as his secretary of war, he gave clear indication at the outset that no sectional interests or prejudices were to control or shape his policy. Under Jefferson, the foreign affairs of the country were administered with great discretion and ability. Under Hamilton, the financial affairs of the country were extricated from the confusion and chaos into which they had fallen, and the national credit was established on a firm basis. The preamble of the very first revenue bill, signed by Washington on July 4, 1789, was a notable expression of the views entertained in regard to the powers and duties of the new government in the regulation of trade and the laying and collecting of taxes: "Whereas, it is necessary for the support of government, for the discharge of the debts of the United States, and the encouragement and protection of manufacturers, that duties be laid on goods, wares, and merchandise imported, Be it enacted, etc." The incorporation of a national bank and kindred measures of the highest interest soon followed. The supreme court of the United States was organized with John Jay as its first chief justice. Important amendments to the constitution were framed and recommended to the states for adoption, and congress continued in session till the close of September.


George Washington by John Trumbull - B&W.jpg

GEORGE WASHINGTON

From the painting, 1790, by John Trumbull in the City Hall, New York


But in the course of the summer Washington had a severe illness, and for some days his life was thought to be in danger. Confined to his bed for six weeks, it was more than twelve weeks before he was restored. With a view to the re-establishment of his health, as well as for seeing the country, he then set off on a tour to the eastern states, and visited Boston, Portsmouth, New Haven, and other places. He was welcomed everywhere with unbounded enthusiasm. No "royal progress" in any country ever equalled this tour in its demonstrations of veneration and affection. A similar tour with the same manifestations was made by him in the southern states the next year. As the four years of his first term drew to an end, he was seriously inclined to withdraw from further public service, but Jefferson and Hamilton alike, with all their respective followers, while they differed widely on so many other matters, were of one mind in earnestly remonstrating against Washington's retirement. "The confidence of the whole country," wrote Jefferson, "is centred in you. . . . North and south will hang together if they have you to hang on." "It is clear," wrote Hamilton, "that if you continue in office nothing materially mischievous is to be apprehended; if you quit, much is to be dreaded. . . . I trust, and I pray God, that you will determine to make a further sacrifice of your tranquillity and happiness to the public good." Washington could not find it in his heart to resist such appeals, and allowed himself to be again a candidate. He was chosen unanimously by the electors, and took the oath of office again on March 4, 1793.

He had just entered on this second term of the presidency when the news reached him that France had declared war against England and Holland. He lost no time in announcing his purpose to maintain a strict neutrality toward the belligerent powers, and this policy was unanimously sustained by his cabinet. His famous proclamation of neutrality was accordingly issued on April 22, and soon became the subject of violent partisan controversy throughout the Union. It gave occasion to the masterly essays of Hamilton and Madison, under the signatures of "Pacificus" and "Helvidius," and contributed more than anything else, perhaps, to the original formation of the Federal and Republican parties. The wisdom of Washington was abundantly justified by the progress of events, but he did not escape the assaults of partisan bitterness. Mr. Jay, still chief justice, was sent to England as minister early in 1794, and his memorable treaty added fuel to the flame.

Meantime a tax on distilled spirits had encountered much opposition in various parts of the country, and in August, 1794, was forcibly resisted and defied by a large body of armed insurgents in the western counties of Pennsylvania. Washington issued a proclamation calling out the militia of the neighboring states, and left home to cross the mountains and lead the troops in person. But the insurrection happily succumbed at his approach, and his presence became unnecessary. The arrogant and offensive conduct of the French minister, M. Genet, irreconcilable dissensions in the cabinet, and renewed agitations and popular discontents growing out of the Jay treaty, gave Washington no little trouble in these latter years of his administration, and he looked forward with eagerness to a release from official cares. Having made up his mind unchangeably to decline another election as president, he thought it fit to announce that decision in the most formal manner. He had consulted Madison at the close of his first term in regard to an address declining a second election. He now sought the advice and counsel of Alexander Hamilton, no longer a member of the cabinet, and the farewell address was prepared and published nearly six months before his official term had expired. That immortal paper has often been printed with the date of September 17, 1796, and special interest has been expressed in the coincidence of the date of the address with the date of the adoption of the constitution of the United States. But, as a matter of fact, the address bears date September 19, 1796, as may be seen in the autograph original now in the Public library, New York. Mr. James Lenox purchased that precious original from the family of the printer Claypoole, by whom it was published in Philadelphia, and to whom the manuscript, wholly in Washington's handwriting, with all its interlineations, corrections, and erasures, was given by Washington himself.

On the following 4th of March, Washington was present at the inauguration of his successor, John Adams, and soon afterward went with his family to Mount Vernon, to resume his agricultural occupations. Serious difficulties with France were soon developed, and war became imminent. A provisional army was authorized by congress to meet the exigency, and all eyes were again turned toward Washington as its leader. President Adams wrote to him: "We must have your name, if you will permit us to use it. There will be more efficacy in it than in many an army." Hamilton urged him to make "this further, this very great sacrifice." And thus, on July 3, 1798, Washington, yielding to the entreaty of friends and a sense of duty to his country, was once more commissioned as "Lieutenant-General and Commander-in-chief of all the armies raised, or to be raised, in the United States." The organization and arrangement of this new army now engrossed his attention. Deeply impressed with the great responsibility that had been thrust upon him, and having selected Alexander Hamilton as his chief of staff, to the serious disappointment of his old friend Gen. Knox, he entered at once into the minutest details of the preparation for war, with all the energy and zeal of his earlier and more vigorous days.

Most happily this war with our late gallant ally was averted. Washington, however, did not live to receive the assurance of a result that he so earnestly desired. Riding over his farms, on December 12, to give directions to the managers of his estate, he was overtaken by showers of rain and sleet, and returned home wet and chilled. The next day he suffered from a hoarse, sore throat, followed by an ague at night. His old physician and surgeon, Dr. Craik, who had been with him in peace and in war, was summoned from Alexandria the next morning, and two other physicians were called into consultation during the day. At four o'clock in the afternoon he requested his wife, who was constantly at his bedside, to bring him two papers from his study, one of which he gave back to her as his will. At six o'clock he said to the three physicians around him: "I feel myself going; I thank you for your attentions, but I pray you to take no more trouble about me." He had previously said to Dr. Craik: "I die hard, but I am not afraid to go." About ten o'clock he succeeded with difficulty in giving some directions about his funeral to Mr. Lear, his secretary, and on Mr. Lear's assuring him that he was understood, he uttered his last words: "It is well." And thus, between ten and eleven o'clock on Saturday night, December 14, 1799, the end came, and his spirit returned to God who gave it.

The funeral took place on the 18th. Such troops as were in the neighborhood formed the escort of the little procession; the general's favorite horse was led behind the bier, the Freemasons performed their ceremonies, the Rev. Thomas Davis read the service and made a brief address, a schooner lying in the Potomac fired minute-guns, the relatives and friends within reach, including Lord Fairfax and the corporation of Alexandria, were in attendance, and the body was deposited in the vault at Mount Vernon. At Mount Vernon it has remained to this day. Virginia would never consent to its removal to the stately vault prepared for it beneath the capitol at Washington. Congress was in session at Philadelphia, and the startling news of Washington's death only reached there on the day of his funeral. The next morning John Marshall, then a representative from Virginia, afterward for thirty-four years chief justice of the supreme court of the United States, announced the death in the house of representatives, concluding a short but admirable tribute to his illustrious friend with resolutions prepared by General Henry Lee, which contained the grand words that have ever since been associated with Washington: "First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his fellow-citizens." Gen. Lee pronounced a eulogy, by order of both houses of congress, on December 26, in which he changed the last word of his own famous phrase to "countrymen," and it is so given in the eulogy as published by congress.

Meantime congress adopted a resolution recommending to the people of the United States to assemble on the following February 22, in such manner as should be convenient, to testify publicly by eulogies, orations, and discourses, or by public prayers, their grief for the death of George Washington. In conformity with this recommendation, eulogies or sermons were delivered, or exercises of some sort held, in almost every city, town, village, or hamlet, throughout the land. Such was the first observance of Washington's birthday;—thenceforth to be a national holiday. But not in our own land only was his death commemorated. Napoleon Bonaparte, then first consul, announced it to the army of France, and ordered all the standards and flags throughout the republic to be bound with crape for ten days, during which a funeral oration was pronounced in presence of the first consul and all the civil and military authorities, in what is now the Hotel des Invalides. More striking still is the fact, mentioned by Jared Sparks, that the British fleet, consisting of nearly sixty ships of the line, which was lying at Torbay, England, under the command of Lord Bridport, lowered their flags half-mast on hearing the intelligence of Washington's death.

In later years the tributes to the memory of Washington have been such as no other man of modern or even of ancient history has commanded. He has sometimes been compared, after the manner of Plutarch, with Epaminondas or Timoleon, or Alfred the Great of England. But an eminent living English historian has recently and justly said that the place of Washington in the history of mankind "is well-nigh without a fellow." Indeed, the general judgment of the world has given ready assent to the carefully weighed, twice repeated declaration of Lord Brougham: "It will be the duty of the historian and sage in all ages to let no occasion pass of commemorating this illustrious man; and, until time shall be no more, will a test of the progress which our race has made in wisdom and virtue be derived from the veneration paid to the immortal name of Washington!" Modest, disinterested, generous, just, of clean hands and a pure heart, self-denying and self-sacrificing, seeking nothing for himself, declining all remuneration beyond the reimbursement of his outlays, scrupulous to a farthing in keeping his accounts, of spotless integrity, scorning gifts, charitable to the needy, forgiving injuries and injustice, fearless, heroic with a prudence ever governing his impulses and a wisdom ever guiding his valor, true to his friends, true to his whole country, true to himself, fearing God, believing in Christ, no stranger to private devotion or public worship, or to the holiest offices of the church to which he belonged, but ever gratefully recognizing a divine aid and direction in all that he attempted and in all that he accomplished—what epithet, what attribute, could be added to that consummate character to commend it as an example above all other characters in merely human history?

Washington's most important original papers were bequeathed to his favorite nephew, Bushrod Washington, and were committed by him to Chief-Justice John Marshall, by whom an elaborate life, in five volumes, was published in 1804. Abridged editions of this great work have been published more recently. "The Writings of Washington," with a life, were published by Jared Sparks (12 vols., Boston, 1834-'7). A new edition of Washington's complete works in 14 vols., edited by Worthington C. Ford, containing many letters and papers now published for the first time, has recently been completed (New York, 1888-'93). Biographies have also been published by Mason L. Weems, David Ramsay, James K. Paulding, Charles W. Upham, Joel T. Headley, Caroline M. Kirkland, and Edward Everett Hale. Benson J. Lossing made an interesting contribution to the illustration of the same theme by his "Mount Vernon and its Associations" in 1859. Meanwhile the genius of Washington Irving has illuminated the whole story of Washington's life, public and private, and thrown around it the charms of exquisite style and lucid narrative (5 vols., New York, 1855-'9). An abridgment and revision of Irving's work, by John Fiske (New York, 1888), and "General Washington," by Bradley T. Johnston (1894), have recently appeared. A sketch was prepared by Edward Everett, at the request of Lord Macaulay, for the eighth edition of the "Encyclopædia Britannica" (1853-1860), which was afterward published in a separate volume. To Edward Everett, too, belongs the principal credit of having saved Mount Vernon from the auctioneer's hammer, and secured its preservation, under the auspices of the Ladies' Mount Vernon Association, as a place of pilgrimage. He wrote fifty-two articles for the New York "Ledger," and delivered his lecture on Washington many times, contributing the proceeds to the Mount Vernon fund.


Bust of George Washington by Houdon.jpg

GEORGE WASHINGTON

Bust of the Statue by Houdon in the Capitol, Richmond, Va.


The marble statue in the capitol at Richmond, Va., by the French sculptor Houdon, from life, must be named first among the standard likenesses of Washington. Excellent portraits of him by John Trumbull, by both the Peales, and by Gilbert Stuart, are to be seen in many public galleries. Stuart's head leaves nothing to be desired in the way of dignity and grandeur. Among the numerous monuments that have been erected to his memory may be mentioned the noble column in Baltimore; the colossal statue in the Capitol grounds at Washington, by Horatio Greenough; the splendid group in Richmond, surmounted by an equestrian statue, by Thomas Crawford; the marble statue in the Massachusetts state-house, by Sir Francis Chantrey; the equestrian statue in the Boston public garden by Thomas Ball; the equestrian statue in Union square, New York, by Henry K. Brown; and, lastly, the matchless obelisk at Washington, of which the corner-stone was laid in 1848, upon which the cap-stone was placed, at the height of 555 feet, in 1884, and which was dedicated by congress on February 21, 1885, as Washington's birthday that year fell on Sunday. The engraving, which appears as a frontispiece to this volume, is from Stuart's original in the Boston Athenaeum. The vignette of Mrs. Washington given among the portraits of the wives of presidents is from the painting by the same distinguished artist.

Martha[edit]

His wife, Martha, born in New Kent County, Va., in May, 1732; died at Mount Vernon, Va., May 22, 1802, was the daughter of Col. John Dandridge, a planter in New Kent County. Martha was fairly educated by private tutors, and became an expert performer on the spinet. She was introduced to the vice-regal court, during the administration of Sir William Gooch, at fifteen years of age, and in June, 1749, married Daniel Parke Custis, a wealthy planter, with whom she removed to his residence, the White House, on Pamunkey river. They had four children, two of whom died in infancy, and in 1757 Mr. Custis also died, leaving his widow one of the wealthiest women in Virginia. About a year after her husband's death she met Col. Washington, who was visiting at the house of Maj. William Chamberlayne, where she too was a guest. In May, 1758, they became engaged, but the marriage was delayed by Col. Washington's northern campaign, and it was not till January, 1759, that it was solemnized, at St. Peter's church, New Kent County, the Rev. John Mossum performing the ceremony. The wedding was one of the most brilliant that had ever been seen in a church in Virginia. The bridegroom wore a suit of blue cloth, the coat lined with red silk, and ornamented with silver trimmings; his waistcoat was embroidered white satin, his knee-buckles were of gold, and his hair was powdered. The bride was attired in a white satin quilted petticoat, a heavily corded white silk over-dress, diamond buckles, and pearl ornaments. The governor, many members of the legislature, British officers, and the neighboring gentry were present in full court dress. Washington's body-servant, Bishop, a tall negro, to whom he was much attached and who had accompanied him on all his military campaigns, stood in the porch, clothed in the scarlet uniform of a soldier of the royal army in the time of George II. The bride and her three attendants drove back to the White House in a coach drawn by six horses led by liveried postilions, Col. Washington and an escort of cavaliers riding by its side. Mrs. Washington's life at Mount Vernon for the subsequent seventeen years partook much of the style of the English aristocracy. She was a thorough housekeeper, and entertained constantly. Her daughter, Martha Parke Custis, who died in the seventeenth year of her age, was known as the "dark lady," on account of her brunette complexion, and was greatly loved by the neighboring poor, to whom she frequently ministered. On her well preserved portrait, painted by Charles Wilson Peale, is inscribed "A Virginia Beauty."

Mrs. Washington ardently sympathized with her husband in his patriotic measures. To a kinswoman, who deprecated what she called "his folly," Mrs. Washington wrote in 1774: "Yes, I foresee consequences—dark days, domestic happiness suspended, social enjoyments abandoned, and eternal separations on earth possible. But my mind is made up, my heart is in the cause. George is right; he is always right. God has promised to protect the righteous, and I will trust him." Patrick Henry and Edmund Pendleton spent a day and night at Mount Vernon in August, 1774, on their way to congress. Pendleton afterward wrote to a friend: "Mrs. Washington talked like a Spartan to her son on his going to battle. 'I hope you will all stand firm,' she said; 'I know George will.'" After her husband became commander-in-chief she was burdened with many cares. He visited Mount Vernon only twice during the war. She joined him at Cambridge, Mass., in 1775, subsequently accompanying Gen. Washington to New York and Philadelphia, and whenever it was possible joined him in camp. During the winter at Valley Forge she suffered every privation in common with the officers, and "was busy from morning till night providing comforts for the sick soldiers." Although previous to the war she had paid much attention to her attire, as became her wealth and station, while it continued she dressed only in garments that were spun and woven by her servants at Mount Vernon. At a ball in New Jersey that was given in her honor she wore one of these simple gowns and a white kerchief, "as an example of economy to the women of the Revolution." Her last surviving child, John Parke Custis, died in November, 1781, leaving four children. The two younger, Eleanor Parke Custis and George Washington Parke Custis, Gen. Washington at once adopted. After Mrs. Washington left headquarters at Newburgh in 1782, she did not again return to camp life. She was residing at Mount Vernon at the time Washington was chosen president of the United States. When she assumed the duties of mistress of the executive mansion in New York she was fifty-seven years old, but still retained traces of beauty, and bore herself with great personal dignity. She instituted levees, that she ever afterward continued, on Friday evening of each week from eight to nine o'clock. "None were admitted but those who had a right of entrance by official station or established character," and full dress was required. During the second term of the president they resided in Philadelphia, where their public receptions were conducted as those in New York had been. An English gentleman, describing her at her own table in 1794, says: "Mrs. Washington struck me as being older than the president. She was extremely simple in dress, and wore her gray hair turned up under a very plain cap." She greatly disliked official life, and rejoiced when her husband refused a third term in 1796. She resided at Mount Vernon during the remainder of her life, occupied with her domestic duties, of which she was fond, and in entertaining the numerous guests that visited her husband. She survived him two and a half years. Before her death she destroyed her entire correspondence with Gen. Washington. "Thus," says her grandson and biographer, George Washington Parke Custis, "proving her love for him, for she would not permit that the confidence they had shared together should be made public." See "Memoirs of the Mother and Wife of Washington," by Margaret C. Conkling (Auburn, N. Y., 1851), "Mary and Martha," by Benson J. Lossing (New York, 1887), "The Story of Mary Washington," by Marion Harland (Boston, 1892), and "Martha Washington," by Anne Hollingsworth Wharton (New York, 1897).

George Washington Parke Custis[edit]

His adopted son, George Washington Parke Custis, author, born at Mount Airy, Md., April 30, 1781; died at Arlington House, Fairfax County, Virginia, October 10, 1857. His father, Col. John Parke Custis, the son of Mrs. Washington by her first husband, was aide-de-camp to Washington at the siege of Yorktown, and died November 5, 1781, aged twenty-eight. The son had his early home at Mount Vernon, pursued his classical studies at St. John's College and at Princeton, and remained a member of Washington's family until the death of Mrs. Washington in 1802, when he built Arlington House on an estate of 1,000 acres near Washington, which he had inherited from his father. After the death in 1852 of his sister, Eleanor Parke Custis, wife of Major Lawrence Lewis, he was the sole surviving member of Washington's family, and his residence was for many years a favorite resort, owing to the interesting relics of that family which it contained. Mr. Custis married in early life Mary Lee Fitzhugh, of Virginia, and left a daughter, who married Robert E. Lee. The Arlington estate was confiscated during the civil war, and is now held as national property and is the site of a national soldiers' cemetery. Mr. Custis was in his early days an eloquent and effective speaker. He wrote orations and plays, and during his latter years executed a number of large paintings of Revolutionary battles. His "Recollections of Washington," originally contributed to the "National Intelligencer," was published in book-form, with a memoir by his daughter and numerous notes by Benson J. Lossing (New York, 1860).

Fielding Lewis[edit]

Washington's brother-in-law, Fielding Lewis, patriot, born in Spottsylvania County, Va., in 1726; died in Fredericksburg, Va., in December, 1781. He was the proprietor of half the town of Fredericksburg, Va., of which he was the first mayor, and of much of the adjoining territory, and during the Revolution he was an ardent patriot, superintending a large manufactory of arms in that neighborhood; the site of this establishment is still known as "Gunny Green." He was a magistrate and a member of the Virginia legislature for many years. He married Elizabeth, sister of George Washington, and built for her a mansion that is still standing, called Kenmore House, which was handsomely constructed and ornamented with carvings that were brought from England for the purpose. His wife was majestic in person and lovely in mental and moral attributes. Later in life she so much resembled her brother George that, by putting on his long military coat and his hat, she could easily have been mistaken for the general. Mary, the mother of Washington, died on Mr. Lewis's farm and is buried there. Of their sons, George was a captain in Washington's lifeguard, Robert one of his private secretaries, and Andrew was aide to Gen. Daniel Morgan in suppressing the whiskey insurrection in Pennsylvania. Another son, Lawrence, was Washington's favorite nephew.

Eleanor Parke Custis[edit]

His wife, Eleanor Parke Custis, born at Abingdon, Fairfax County, Va., in March, 1779; died at Audley, Clarke County, Va., July 15, 1852, was the daughter of John Parke Custis, the son of Martha Washington. At the death of her father, in 1781, she, with her brother George, was adopted by Gen. Washington, and lived at Mount Vernon. Eleanor was regarded as the most brilliant and beautiful young woman of her day, the pride of her grandmother, and the favorite of Washington, who was the playmate of her childhood and the confidant of her girlhood. However abstracted, she could always command his attention, and he would put aside the most important matter to attend to her demands. She was accomplished in drawing, and a good musician. Washington presented her with a harpsichord at the cost of a thousand dollars. Irving relates an anecdote that illustrates their relations: "She was romantic, and fond of wandering in the moonlight alone in the woods. Mrs. Washington thought this unsafe, and forced from her a promise that she would not visit the woods again unaccompanied, but she was brought one evening into the drawing-room where her grandmother, seated in her arm-chair, began in the presence of the general a severe reproof. Poor Nellie was reminded of her promise, and taxed with her delinquency. She admitted her fault and essayed no excuse, moving to retire from the room. She was just closing the door when she overheard Washington attempting in a low voice to intercede in her behalf. 'My dear,' he observed, 'I would say no more—perhaps she was not alone.' His intercession stopped Miss Nellie in her retreat. She reopened the door and advanced up to the general with a firm step. 'Sir,' said she, 'you brought me up to speak the truth, and, when I told grandmamma I was alone, I hope you believe I was alone.' Washington made one of his most magnanimous bows. 'My child,' he replied, 'I beg your pardon.'" In February, 1799, she married his nephew, Lawrence Lewis, the son of his sister Elizabeth. Young Lewis, after Washington's retirement from public life, had resided at Mount Vernon, and after their marriage they continued there till the death of Mrs. Washington in May, 1802.

Edward Parke Custis Lewis[edit]

Their grandson, Edward Parke Custis Lewis, diplomatist, born in Audley, Clarke County, Va., February 7, 1837; died in Hoboken, N. J., September 3, 1892. He was educated at the University of Virginia, and studied law, but subsequently became a planter. He served throughout the War of the Rebellion in the Confederate army, rising to the rank of colonel, and for fifteen months was a prisoner of war. He settled in Hoboken, in 1875, having previously married Mrs. Mary Garnett, eldest daughter of Edwin A. Stevens, of New Jersey, and widow of Muscoe R. H. Garnett, Member of Congress from Virginia, served in the New Jersey legislature in 1877, was a delegate to the Democratic national convention in 1880, and in 1885 was appointed by President Cleveland United States minister to Portugal.


Mount Vernon in B&W.jpg

WASHINGTON'S HOME AT MOUNT VERNON


Top
Table of contents John Adams