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Anecdotes Of George Washington

( Originally Published 1916 )



Washington's relations with children are most interesting. He always wrote of them as the " little ones."

Through his life he adopted or assumed the expenses of nine of the children of his " kith and kin."

Dumas says that he arrived at Providence with Washington at night. " The whole population had assembled from the suburbs; we were surrounded by a crowd of children carrying torches, all were eager to approach the person of him whom they called their father, and pressed so closely around us that they hindered us from proceeding. General Washington was much affected, stopped a few moments, and, pressing my hand, said, ` We may be beaten by the English, it is the chance of war; but behold an army which they can never conquer.' "

In journeying through New England, Washington spent a night in a private house where all payment was refused. Writing to his host he said: " Being informed that you have given my name to one of your sons, and called another after Mrs. Washington's family, and being, moreover, very much pleased with the modest and innocent looks of your two daughters, Patty and Polly, I do for these reasons send each of these girls a piece of chintz ; and to Patty, who bears the name of Mrs. Washington, and who waited upon us more than Polly did, I send five guineas with which she may buy herself any little ornament, or she may dispose of them in any manner more agreeable to herself. As I do not give these things with a view to have it talked of, or even its being known, the less there is said about the matter the better you will please me; but, that I may be sure the chintz and money have got safe to hand, let Patty, who I dare say is equal to it, write me a line informing me thereof, directed to the President of the United States at New York."

Once the General was engaged in earnest consultation with Colonel Pickering until after night had fairly set in. Washington prepared to stay with the colonel over night, provided he had a spare blanket and straw. " Oh yes," said Primus, who was appealed to, " plenty of straw and blankets, plenty."

Two humble beds were spread side by side in the tent and the officers laid themselves down, while Primus seemed to be busy with duties that required his attention before he himself could sleep. He worked, or appeared to work, until the breathing of the prostrate gentlemen satisfied him that they were sleeping, and then seating himself upon a box, he leaned his head upon his hands to obtain such repose as he could.

In the middle of the night Washington awoke. He looked about and descried the negro. He gazed at him awhile and then spoke.

" Primus," said he, " Primus ! " Primus started up and rubbed his eyes.

" What, General ? " said he. Washington rose up in his bed. " Primus," said he, " what do you mean by saying that you had straw and blankets enough? Here you have given up your blankets and straw to me, that I may sleep comfortably, while you are obliged to sit through the night." " It's nothing, General," said Primus ! " It's nothing ! I'm well enough ! Don't trouble yourself about me, General, but go to sleep again. No matter about me, I sleep very good ! " " But it is matter, it is matter," said Washington. " I cannot do it, Primus. If either is to sit up, I will. But I think there is no need of either sitting up. The blanket is wide enough for two. Come and lie down with me."

" Oh no, General!" said Primus, starting and protesting against the proposition. " No, let me sit here." " I say come and lie down here!" said Washington. "There is room for both; I insist upon it."

He threw open the blanket as he spoke, and moved to one side of the straw. Primus professes to have been exceedingly shocked at the idea of lying under the same covering with the commanderin-chief, but his tone was so resolute and determined that he could not hesitate. He prepared himself therefore and laid himself down by Washing-ton ; on the same straw under the same blanket, the General and the negro servant slept until morning.

An anecdote characteristic of Washington is related by Professor McVickar, in his narrative of " The Life of Dr. Bard, who attended Washington during a severe illness in 1789.

It was a case of anthrax (carbuncle) so malignant as for several days to threaten mortification. During this period Dr. Bard never quitted him. On one occasion being left alone with him, General Washington, looking steadily in his face, desired his candid opinion as to the probable termination of his disease, adding with that placid firmness which marked his address, " Do not flatter me with vain hopes, I'm not afraid to die, and therefore can bear the worst." Dr. Bard's answer, though it expressed hope, acknowledged his apprehensions.

The President replied : "Whether tonight or twenty years hence, makes no difference; I know that I am in the hands of a good Providence."

George Washington to his nephew, Bushrod Washington:

Remember, that it is not the mere study of the Law, but to become eminent in the profession of it, which is to yield honor and profit.

The first was your choice, let the second be your ambition; that the company in which you will improve most, will be least expensive to you; and yet I am not such a stoic as to suppose that you will, or think it right that you should always be in company with senators and philosophers; but of the young and the juvenile kind let me advise you to be choice. It is easy to make acquaintances, but very difficult to shake them off, however irk-some and unprofitable they are found, after we have once committed ourselves to them.

While absent from Mount Vernon Washington wrote to his manager :

Although it is last mentioned, it is foremost in my thoughts to desire you will be particularly attentive to my negroes in their sickness, and to order every overseer positively to be so likewise; for I am sorry to observe that the generality of them view these poor creatures in scarcely any other light than they do a draught horse or an ox, neglecting them as much when they are unable to work instead of comforting and nursing them when they lie in a sick bed.

A part of each day was always set apart for meditation and devotion; nor this in time of peace only, for we are told that one day while the Americans were encamped at Valley Forge, the owner of the house occupied by the General, a Quaker, strolled up the creek, and when not far from his mill, heard a solemn voice. He walked quietly in the direction of it and saw Washington's horse tied to a sapling. In a thicket near by was the chief, upon his knees in prayer, his cheeks suffused with tears.

During the Revolutionary War, General Washington's army was reduced at one time to great straits, and the people were greatly dispirited. One of them who left his home with an anxious heart one day, as he was passing the edge of a wood near the camp, heard the sound of a voice. He stopped to listen, and looking between the trunks of the large trees he saw General Washington engaged in prayer. He passed quietly on, that he might not disturb him; and on returning home, told his family, "America will prevail," and then related what he had heard and seen.



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