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Great George Washington

( Originally Published 1916 )


All this time while George Washington had been growing up,—first a little boy, then a larger boy, and then a young surveyor,—all this time the French and English and Indians were unhappy and uncomfortable in the country north of Virginia. The French wanted all the land, so did the English, and the Indians saw that there would be no room for them, whichever had it, so they all began to trouble each other, and to quarrel and fight.

These troubles grew so bad at last that the Virginians began to be afraid of the French and Indians, and thought they must have some soldiers of their own ready to fight.

George Washington was only nineteen then, but everybody knew he was wise and brave, so they chose him to teach the soldiers near his home how to march and to fight.

Then the king and the people of England grew very uneasy at all this quarreling, and they sent over soldiers and cannon and powder, and commenced to get ready to fight in earnest. Washing-ton was made a major, and he had to go a thousand miles, in the middle of winter, into the Indian and French country, to see the chiefs and the soldiers, and find out about the troubles.

When he came back again, all the people were so pleased with his courage and with the wise way in which he had behaved, that they made him lieutenant-colonel.

Then began a long war between the French and the English, which lasted seven years. Washington fought through all of it, and was made a colonel, and by and by commander of all the soldiers in Virginia. He built forts and roads, he gained and lost battles, he fought the Indians and the French ; and by all this trouble and hard work he learned to be a great soldier.

In many of the battles of this war, Washington and the Virginians did not wear a uniform, like the English soldiers, but a buckskin shirt and fringed leggings, like the Indians.

From beginning to end of some of the battles, Washington rode about among the men, telling them where to go and how to fight; the bullets were whistling around him all the time, but he said he liked the music.

By and by the war was over ; the French were driven back to their own part of the country, and Washington went home to Mount Vernon to rest, and took with him his wife, lovely Martha Washington, whom he had met and married while he was fighting the French and Indians.

While he was at Mount Vernon he saw all his horses again,—" Valiant " and " Magnolia " and " Chinkling " and "Ajax,"—and had grand gallops over the country.

He had some fine dogs, too, to run by his side, and help him hunt the bushy-tailed foxes. " Vulcan " and " Ringwood " and " Music " and " Sweet-lips " were the names of some of them. You may be sure the dogs were glad when they had their master home again.

But Washington did not have long to rest, for another war was coming, the great war of the Revolution.

Little children cannot understand all the reasons for this war, but I can tell you some of them.

You remember in the story of Thanksgiving I told you about the Pilgrim fathers, who came from England to this country because their king would not let them pray to God as they liked. That king was dead now, and there was another in his place, a king with the name of George, like our Washington.

Now our great-grandfathers had always loved England and Englishmen, because many of their friends were still living there, and because it was their old home.

The king gave them governors to help take care of their people, and soldiers to fight for them, and they sent to England for many things to wear and to eat.

But just before this Revolutionary War, the king and the great men who helped him began to say that things should be done in this country that our people did not think right at all. The king said they must buy expensive stamps to put on all their newspapers and almanacs and lawyer's papers, and that they must pay very high taxes on their tea and paper and glass, and he sent soldiers to see that this was done.

This made our great-grandfathers very angry. They refused to pay the taxes, they would not buy anything from England any more, and some men even went on board the ships, as they came into Boston Harbor, and threw the tea over into the water.

So fifty-one men were chosen from all over the country, and they met at Philadelphia, to see what could be done. Washington was sent from Virginia. And after they had talked very solemnly, they all thought there would be great trouble soon, and Washington went home to drill the soldiers.

Then the war began with the battle of Lexington, in New England, and soon Washington was made commander-in-chief of the armies.

He rode the whole distance from Philadelphia to Boston on horseback, with a troop of officers; and all the people on the way came to see him, bringing bands of music and cheering him as he went by. He rode into camp in the morning. The soldiers were drawn up in the road, and men and women and children who had come to look at Washington were crowded all about. They saw a tall, splendid, hand-some man in a blue coat with buff facings, and epaulets on his shoulders. As he took off his hat, drew his shining sword, and raised it in sight of all the people, the cannon began to thunder, and all the people hurrahed and tossed their hats in the air.

Of course, he looked very splendid, and they all knew how brave he was, and thought he would soon put an end to the war.

But it did not happen as they expected, for this was only the beginning, and the war lasted seven long years.

Fighting is always hard, even if you have plenty of soldiers and plenty for them to eat; but Washington had very few soldiers, and very little powder for the guns, and little food for the men to eat.

The soldiers were not in uniform, as ours are to-day; but each was dressed just as he happened to come from his shop or his farm.

Washington ordered hunting shirts for them, such as he wore when he went to fight the Indians, for he knew they would look more like soldiers if all were dressed alike.

Of course many people thought that our men would be beaten, as the war went on; but Washington never thought so, for he was sure our side was right.

I hardly know what he would have done, at last, if the French people had not promised to come over and help us, and to send us money and men and ships. All the people in the army thanked God when they heard it, and fired their guns for joy.

A brave young man named Lafayette came with the French soldiers, and he grew to be Washington's great friend, and fought for us all through the Revolution.

Many battles were fought in this war, and Washington lost some of them, and a great many of his men were killed.

You could hardly understand how much trouble he had. In the winter, when the snow was deep on the ground, he had no houses or huts for his men to sleep in ; his soldiers were ragged and cold by day, and had not blankets enough to keep them warm by night; their shoes were old and worn, and they had to wrap cloths around their feet to keep them from freezing.

When they marched to the Delaware River, one cold Christmas night, a soldier who was sent after them, with a message for Washington, traced them by their footprints on the snow, all reddened with the blood from their poor cut feet.

They must have been very brave and patient to have fought at all, when they were so cold and ragged and hungry.

Washington suffered a great deal in seeing his soldiers so wretched, and I am, sure that with all his strength and courage, he would sometimes have given up hope, if he had not talked and prayed to God a great deal, and asked Him to help him.

In one of the hardest times of the whole war, Washington was staying at a farmer's house. One morning he rode out very early to visit the soldiers. The farmer went into the fields soon after, and as he was passing a brook where a great many bushes were growing, he heard a deep voice from the thicket. He looked through the leaves, and saw Washington on his knees, on the ground, praying to God for his soldiers. He had fastened his horse to a tree, and come away by himself to ask God to help them.

At last the war came to an end; the English were beaten, and our armies sent up praise and thanks to God.

Then the soldiers went quietly back to their homes, and Washington bade all his officers good-by, and thanked them for their help and their courage.

The little room in New York where he said farewell is kept to show to visitors now, and you can see it some day yourselves.

Then Washington went home to Mount Vernon to rest; but before he had been there long, the people found out that they must have someone to help take care of them, as they had nothing to do with the king of England any more; and they asked Washington to come and be the first President of the United States.

So he did as they wished, and was as wise and good, and as careful and fine a President as he had been surveyor, soldier, and general.

You know we always call Washington the Father of his Country, because he did so much for us, and helped to make the United States so great.

After he died, there were parks and mountains and villages and towns and cities named for him all over the land, because people loved him so, and prized so highly what he had done for them.

In the city of Washington there is a building where you can see many of the things that belonged to the first President, when he was alive. There is his soldier's coat, his sword, and in an old camp chest are the plates and knives and forks that he used in the Revolution.

There is a tall, splendid monument of shining gray stone in that city, that towers far, far, above all the highest roofs and spires. It was built in memory of George Washington by the people of the United States, to show that they loved and would always remember the Father of his Country.

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