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A Bird's Eye View Of George Washington

( Originally Published 1916 )


George Washington was a son of Augustine Washington and his second wife, Mary Ball, and a descendant of John Washington, who emigrated from England about 1657, during the protectorate of Cromwell. He was born in the English colony of Virginia, in Westmoreland County, on February 22, 1732. His education was simple and practical. To the common English instruction of his time and home, young Washington added bookkeeping and surveying. The three summers preceding his twentieth year he spent in surveying the estate of Lord Fairfax on the northwest boundary of the colony, an occupation which strengthened his splendid physical constitution to a high point of efficiency, and gave him practice in topography,—valuable aids in the military campaigning which speedily followed.

In 1751, at nineteen, he was made Adjutant in the militia, with the rank of Major. In the following year he inherited the estate of Mount Vernon. In the winter of 1753-54, at twenty-one, he was sent by the Governor of Virginia on a mission to the French posts beyond the Alleghanies. Soon after his return he led a regiment to the head-waters of the Ohio, but was compelled to retreat to the colony on account of the overwhelming numbers of the French at Fort Duquesne. In Braddock's defeat, July 9, 1755, Washington was one of the latter's aides, and narrowly escaped death, having had two horses shot under him. During the remaining part of the French and Indian War, he was in command of the Virginia frontier, with the rank of Colonel, and occupied Fort Duquesne in 1758. On January 17, 1759, he married a wealthy widow, Mrs. Martha Custis, and removed to Mount Vernon. The administration of his plantations involved a large measure of commerce with England, and he himself with his own hand kept his books with mercantile exactness.

Soon after the outbreak of hostilities, Washing-ton was appointed by the Continental Congress, at forty-three years of age, Commander-in-Chief of. the Armies of the Revolution, and assumed their control at Cambridge on July 3, 1775. In 1776 he occupied Boston, lost New York, then brilliantly restored the drooping spirit of the land at Trenton and Princeton. In the year following he lost Philadelphia, and retreated to Valley Forge. Threatened by the jealousy of his own subordinates, he put to shame the cabal formed in the interests of Gates, who had this year captured Burgoyne. For three years, 1778-8o, he maintained himself against heavy odds in the Jerseys, fighting at Monmouth the first year, reaching out to capture Stony Point the next year, and the third year combating the treason of Arnold. in 1781, he planned the cooping up of Cornwallis on the peninsula of Yorktown, with the aid of the French allies, and received his surrender on October 19th.

Resigning his commission at Annapolis, December 23, 1783, he returned to his estate at Mount Vernon, but vastly aided the incipient work of framing the Constitution by correspondence. In May, 1787, he took his seat as President of the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia. He was inaugurated the first President of the United States in April, 1789, after a unanimous election. He was similarly reelected in 1793, but refused a third term in 1796. In the face of unmeasured vituperation he firmly kept the nascent nation from embroiling her-self in the wars of France and England. Retiring again to Mount Vernon in the spring of 1797, he nevertheless accepted, at sixty-six years of age, the post of Commander-in-Chief of the provisional army raised in 1798 to meet the insolence of the French Directorate. In December, 1799, while riding about his estates during a snowstorm, he contracted a disease of the throat, from which he died on December 14, 1799. He provided by his will for the manumission of his slaves, to take effect on the decease of his widow. No lineal descendants can claim as an ancestor this extraordinary man. He belongs to his country. His tomb is at Mount Vernon, and is in keeping of the women of America.

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