A History of the Life and Death, Virtues and Exploits of General George Washington
By Mason Locke Weems. Published in Philadelphia by J.B. Lippincott Co. in 1918.
CHAPTER II: BIRTH AND EDUCATION
“Children like tender osiers take the bow;
“And as they first are form’d, forever grow.”
To this day numbers of good Christians can hardly find faith to believe that Washington was, bona fide, a Virginian ! “What! a buckskin! ” say they with a smile. ” George Washington a buckskin! pshaw ! impossible! he was certainly an European: So great a man could never have been born in America.”
So great a man could never have been born in America!–why that’s the very prince of reasons why he should have been born here! Nature, we know, is fond of harmonies; and paria paribus, that is, great things to great, is the rule she delights to work by. Where, for example, do we look for the whale, ” the biggest born of nature? ” not, I bow, in a mill-pond, but in the main ocean. ” There go the great ships: ” and there are the spoutings of whales amidst their boiling foam.
By the same rule, where shall we look for Washington, the greatest among men, but in America– that greatest Continent, which, rising from beneath the frozen pole, stretches far and wide to the south, running almost “the whole length of this vast terrene,” and sustaining on her ample sides the roaring shock of half the watery globe? And equal to its size is the furniture of this vast continent, where the Almighty has reared his cloud-capt mountains, and spread his sea-like lakes, and poured his mighty rivers and hurled down his thundering cataracts in a style of the sublime, so far superior to any thing of the kind in the other continents, that we may fairly conclude that great men and great deeds are designed for America.
This seems to be the verdict of honest analogy and accordingly we find America the honoured cradle of Washington, who was born on Pope’s creek, in Westmoreland county, Virginia, the 22nd of February, 1732. His father, whose name was Augustin Washington, was also a Virginian: but his grandfather (John) was an Englishman, who came over and settled in Virginia in 1657.
His father, fully persuaded that a marriage of virtuous love comes nearest to angelic life, early stepped up to the altar with glowign cheeks and joy sparkling eyes, whil eby his side with soft warm hand, sweetly trembling in his, stood the angel-form of the lovely Miss Dandrige.
After several years of domestic happiness Mr Washington was separated domestic happiness Mr. Washington was separated by death from this excellent woman, who left him and two children to lament her early fate.
Fully persuaded still, that “it is not good for man to be alone,” he renowed, for the second time, the chaste delights of matrimonial love. His consort was Miss Mary Ball, a young lady of fortune, and descended from one of the best families in Virginia.
From his intermarriage with this charming girl, it would appear that our hero’s father must have possessed either a very pleasing person, or highly polished manners, or perhaps both; for, from what I can learn, he was at that time at least forty years old! while she, on the other hand, was universally toasted as the belle of the Northern Neck, and in the full bloom and freshness of love-inspiring sixteen. This I have from one who tells me that he has carried down many a sett dance with her; I mean that amiable and pleasant old gentleman, John Fitzhugh, Esq., of Stafford, who was, all his life, a neighbour and intimate of the Washington family. By his first wife, Mr. Washington had two children, both sons–Lawrence and Augustin. By his second wife, he had five children, four sons and a daughter–George, Samuel, John, Charles, and Elizabeth. Those over delicate folk, who are ready to faint at thought of a second marriage, might do well to remember, that the greatest man that ever lived was the son of this second marriage.
Little George had scarcely attained his fifth year, when his father left Pope’s creek, and came up to a plantation which he had in Stafford, opposite to Fredericksburg. The house in which he lived is still to be seen. It lifts its low and modest front of faded red, over the turbid waters of Rappahannock; whither, to this day, numbers of people repair, and, with emotions unutterable, looking at the weather beaten mansion, exclaim, ” Here’s the house where the great Washington was born! ”
But it is all a mistake; for he was born, as I said, at Pope’s creek, in Westmoreland county, near the margin of his own roaring Potomac.
The first place of education to which George was ever sent, was a little ” old field school,” kept by one of his father’s tenants, named Hobby; an honest, poor old man, who acted in the double character of sexton and schoolmaster. On his skill as a grave-digger, tradition is silent; but for a teacher of youth, his qualifications were certainly of the humbler sort; making what is generally called an A. B. C. schoolmaster. Such was the preceptor who first taught Washington the knowledge of letters! Hobby lived to see his young pupil in all his glory, and rejoiced exceedingly. In his cups–for though a sexton, he would sometimes drink, particularly on the General’s birthdays–he used to boast that ” ’twas he, who, between his knees, had laid the foundation of George Washington’s greatness.”
But though George was early sent to a schoolmaster, yet he was not on that account neglected by his father. Deeply sensible of the loveliness and worth of which human nature is capable, through the virtues and graces early implanted in the heart, he never for a moment, lost sight of George in those all-important respects.
To assist his son to overcome that selfish spirit, which too often leads children to fret and fight about trifles, was a notable care of Mr. Washington. For this purpose, of all the presents, such as cakes, fruit, &c. he received, he was always desired to give a liberal part to his play-mates. To enable him to do this with more alacrity, his father would remind him of the love which he would thereby gain, and the frequent presents which would in return be made to him; and also would tell of that great and good God, who delights above all things to see children love one another, and will assuredly reward them for acting so amiable part.
Some idea of Mr. Washington’s plan of education in this respect, may be collected from the following anecdote, related to me twenty years ago by an aged lady, who was a distant relative, and, when a girl, spent much of her time in the family:
” On a fine morning,” said she, ” in the fall of 1737, Mr. Washington having little George by the hand, came to the door and asked my cousin Washington and myself to walk with him to the orchard, promising he would show us a fine sight. On arriving at the orchard, we were presented with a fine sight indeed. The whole earth, as far as we could see, was strewed with fruit: and yet the trees were bending under the weight of apples, which hung in clusters like grapes, and vainly strove to hide their blushing cheeks behind the green leaves. Now, George, said his father, look here,. my son! don’t you remember when this good cousin of yours brought you that fine large apple last spring, how hardly I could prevail on you to divide with your brothers and sisters; though I promised you that if you would but do it, God Almighty would give you plenty of apples this fall. Poor George could not say a word; but hanging down his head, looked quite confused, while with his little naked toes he scratched in the soft ground. Now look up, my son, continued his father, look up, George! and see there how richly the blessed God has made good my promise to you. Wherever you turn your eyes, you see the trees loaded with fine fruit; many of them indeed breaking down; while the ground is covered with mellow apples, more than you could eat, my son, in all your life time.”
George looked in silence on the wide wilderness of fruit. He marked the busy humming bees, and heard the gay notes of birds; then lifting his eyes, filled with shining moisture, to his father, he softly said, ” Well, Pa, only forgive me this time; and see if I ever be so stingy any more.”
Some, when they look up to the oak, whose giant arms throw a darkening shade over distant acres, or whose single trunk lays the keel of a man of war, cannot bear to hear of the time when this mighty plant was but an acorn, which a pig could have demolished. But others, who know their value, like to learn the soil and situation which best produces such noble trees.Thus, parents that are wise, will listen, well pleased, while I relate how moved the steps of the youthful Washington, whose single worth far outweighs all the oaks of Bashan and the red spicy cedars of Lebanon.Yes, they will listen delighted while I tell of their Washington in the days of his youth, when his little feet were swift towards the nests of birds; or when, wearied in the chase of the butterfly, he laid him down on his grassy couch and slept, while ministering spirits,with their roseate wings, fanned his glowing cheeks, and kissed his lips of innocence with that fervent love which makes the Heaven!
Never did the wise Ulysses take more pains with his beloved Telemachus, than did Mr. Washington with George, to inspire him with an early love of truth. “Truth, George,” said he, ” is the loveliest quality of youth. I would ride fifty miles, my son, to see the little boy whose heart is so honest, and his lips so pure, that we may depend on every word he says. O how lovely does such a child appear in the eyes of every body! his parents coat on him. His relations glory in him. They are constantly praising him to their children, whom they beg to imitate him. They are often sending for him to visit them; and receive him, when he comes, with as much joy as if he were a little angel, come to set pretty examples to their children.
” But, Oh! how different, George, is the case with the boy who is so given to lying, that nobody can believe a word he says! He is looked at with aversion wherever he goes, and parents dread to see him come among their children. Oh, George! my son! rather than see you come to this pass, dear as you are to my heart, gladly would I assist to nail you up in your little coffin, and follow you to your grave. Hard, indeed, would it be to me to give up my son, whose little feet are always so ready to run about with me, and whose fondly looking eyes and sweet prattle makes so large a part of my happiness. But still I would give him up, rather than see him a common liar.”
“Pa,” said George very seriously, ” do I ever tell lies ? ”
“No, George, I thank God you do not, my son; and I rejoice in the hope you never will. At least, you shall never, from me, have cause to be guilty of so shameful a thing. Many parents, indeed, even compel their children to this vile practice, by barbarously beating them for every little fault: hence, on the next offence, the little terrified creature slips out a lie! just to escape the rod. But as to yourself, George, you know I have always told you, and now tell you again, that, whenever by accident, you do anything wrong, which must often be the case, as you are but a poor little boy yet, without experience or knowledge, you must never tell a falsehood to conceal it; but come bravely up, my son, like a little man, and tell me of it: and, instead of beating you, George, I will but the more honour and love you for it, my dear.”
This, you’ll say, was sowing good seed!–Yes, it was: and the crop, thank God, was, as I believe it ever will be, where a man acts the true parent, that is, the Guardian Angel, by his child.
The following anecdote is a case in point. It is too valuable to be lost, and too true to be doubted; for it was communicated to me by the same excellent lady to whom I am indebted for the last.
“When George,” said she, ” was about six years old, he was made the wealthy master of a hatchet! of which, like most little boys, he was immoderately fond, and was constantly going about chopping everything that came in his way. One day, in the garden, where he often amused himself hacking his mother’s pea-sticks, he unluckily tried the edge of his hatchet on the body of a beautiful young English cherry-tree, which he barked so terribly, that I don’t believe the tree ever got the better of it. The next morning the old gentleman, finding out what had befallen his tree, which, by the by, was a great favourite, came into the house; and with much warmth asked for the mischievous author, declaring at the same time, that he would not have taken five guineas for his tree. Nobody could tell him anything about it. Presently George and his hatchet made their appearance. “George,” said his father, ” do you know who killed that beautiful little cherry tree yonder in the garden? ” This was a tough question; and George staggered under it for a moment; but quickly recovered himself: and looking at his father, with the sweet face of youth brightened with the inexpressible charm of all- conquering truth, he bravely cried out, ” I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet.”–“Run to my arms, you dearest boy,” cried his father in transports, ” run to my arms; glad am I, George, that you killed my tree; for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son is more worth than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest gold.”
It was in this way by interesting at once both his heart and head, that Mr. Wlashington conducted George with great ease and pleasure along the happy paths of virtue. But well knowing that his beloved charge, soon to be a man, would be left exposed to numberless temptations, both from himself and from others, his heart throbbed with the tenderest anxiety to make him acquainted with that great being, whom to know and love, is to possess the surest defence against vice, and the best of all motives to virtue and happiness. To startle George into a lively sense of his Maker, he fell upon the following very curious but impressive expedient:
One day he went into the garden, and prepared a little bed of finely pulverized earth, on which he wrote George’s name at full, in large letters–then strewing in plenty of cabbage seed, he covered them up, and smoothed all over nicely with the roller.–This bed he purposely prepared close along side of a gooseberry walk, which happening at this time to be well hung with ripe fruit, he knew would be honoured with George’s visits pretty regularly every day. Not many mornings had passed away before in came George, with eyes wild rolling, and his little cheeks ready to burst with great news.
” O Pa! come here! come here!”
” What’s the matter, my son ? what’s the matter ?”
“O come here, I tell you, Pa: come here! and I’ll shew you such a sight as you never saw in all your life time.”
The old gentleman suspecting what George would be at, gave him his hand, which he seized with great eagerness, and tugging him along through the garden, led him point blank to the bed whereon was inscribed, in large letters, and in all the freshness of newly sprung plants, the full name of
” There Pa? ” said George, quite in an ecstacy of astonishment, ” did you ever see such a sight in all your life time? ”
” Why it seems like a curious affair, sure enough, George ! ”
” But, Pa, who did make it there ? who did make it there ? ”
” It grew there by chance, I suppose, my son.”
“By chance, Pa! O no! no! it never did grow there by chance, Pa. Indeed that it never did! ”
” High! why not, my son? ”
” Why, Pa, did you ever see anybody’s name in a plant bed before? ”
“Well, but George, such a thing might happen, though you never saw it before.”
” Yes, Pa; but I did never see the little plants grow up so as to make one single letter of my name before. Now, how could they grow up so as to make all the letters of my name! and then standing; one after another, to spell my name so exactly!–and all so neat and even too, at top and bottom! ! O Pa, you must not say chance did all this. Indeed somebody did it; and I dare say now, Pa, you did it just to scare me, because I am your little boy.”
His father smiled; and said, “Well George, you have guessed right. I indeed did it; but not to scare you, my son; but to learn you a great thing which I wish you to understand. I want, my son, to introduce you to your true Father.”
” High, Pa, an’t you my true father, that has loved me, and been so good to me always? ”
” Yes George, I am your father, as the world calls it: and I love you very dearly too. But yet with all my love for you, George, I am but a poor good-for- nothing sort of a father in comparison of one you have.”
“Aye ! I know, well enough whom you mean, Pa. You mean God Almighty; don’t you?”
” Yes, my son, I mean him indeed. He is your true Father, George.”
” But, Pa, where is God Almighty ! I did never see him yet.”
“True my son; but though you never saw him, yet he is always with you. You did not see me when ten days ago I made this little plant bed, where you see your name in such beautiful green letters: but though you did not see me here, yet you know I was here! ”
” Yes, Pa, that I do. I know you was here.”
” Well then, and as my son could not believe that chance had made and put together so exactly the letters of his name (though only sixteen) then how can he believe, that chance could have made and put together all those millions and millions of things that are now so exactly fitted to his good! That my son may look at everything around him, see ! what fine eyes he has got! and a little pug nose to smell the sweet flowers I and pretty ears to hear sweet sounds! and a lovely mouth for his bread and butter! and 0, the little ivory teeth to cut it for him! and the dear lithe tongue to prattle with his father! and precious little hands and fingers to hold his play-things ! and beautiful little feet for him to run about upon! and when my little rogue of a son is tired with running about, then the still night comes for him to lie down: and his mother sings, and the little crickets chirp him to sleep! and as soon as he has slept enough, and jumps up fresh and strong as a little buck, there the sweet golden light is ready for him! When he looks down into the water, there he sees the beautiful silver fishes for him! and up in the trees there are the apples, and peaches, and thousands of sweet fruits for him! and all, all around him, wherever my dear boy looks, he sees everything just to his wants and wishes;–the bubbling springs with cool sweet water for him to drink ! and the wood to make him sparkling fires when he is cold! and beautiful horses for him to ride ! and strong oxen to work for him! and the good cow to give him milk ! and bees to make sweet honey for his sweeter mouth! and the little lambs, with snowy wool, for beautiful clothes for him! Now, these and all the ten thousand thousand other good things more than my son can ever think of, and all so exactly fitted to his use and delight–Now how could chance ever have done all this for my little son? Oh George!–
He would have gone on: but George, who had hung upon his father’s words with looks and eyes of all- devouring attention, here broke out–
“Oh, Pa, that’s enough! that’s enough! It can’t be chance, indeed–it can’t be chance, that made and gave me all these things.”
” What was it then, do you think, my son? ”
” Indeed, Pa, I don’t know unless it was God Almighty ! ”
” Yes, George, he it was, my son, and nobody else.”
” Well, but Pa (continued George), does God Almighty give me everything? Don’t you give me some things, Pa?”
“I give you something indeed! Oh how can 1 give you any thing, George! I who have nothing on earth that I can call my own, no, not even the breath I draw!”
” High, Pa! isn’t that great big house your house, and this garden, and the horses yonder, and oxen, and sheep, and trees, and every thing, isn’t all yours, Pa? ”
” Oh no! my son ! no! why you make me shrink into nothing, George, when you talk of all these be- longing to me, who can’t even make a grain of sand! Oh, how could I, my son, have given life to those great oxen and horses, when I can’t give life even to a fly?–no! for if the poorest fly were killed, it is not your father, George, nor all the men in the world, that could ever make him live again! ”
At this, George fell into a profound silence, while his pensive looks showed that his youthful soul was labouring with some idea never felt before. Perhaps it was at that moment, that the good Spirit of God ingrafted on his heart that germ of piety, which filled his after life with so many of the precious fruits of morality.