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LIVES OF THE PRESIDENTS.
THE FIRST PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES.
T has too frequently been the self-imposed task of the biographer, when delineating the lines of character which distinguished the great men whose lives he may have been portraying, to delve assiduously amid the debris of genealogical records of the past to find some brilliant jewel of ancestry whence his subject might derive a superior lustre, and present a readier passport to the public regard. Great, sometimes, has been the anxious search for proofs of ancestral rank―rank derived merely from the bauble patent of nobility, bestowed according to the caprices of a prince; and when that rank has been discovered, albeit the clue may have been covered up and hidden by plebeian or vicious obscurities, it has been gloried over as the basis of all the wealth of character to be rehearsed, and as the true signet of legitimate greatness, regardless of the paramount claims of virtue and intelligence.
The field of biography is crowded densely with flowering shrubs of this nature, at whose roots lies the nutritious compost of mouldering nobility, and they are thereby nurtured into a display of green leaf and broad, bright flower, as expansive as the flaunting heliotrope; while many a violet, of true divinity of character, is almost unheeded in its seclusion, and seen only by those who seek for real worth and loveliness amid the lowly in the world's esteem, and spiritually beautiful.
But there are a few vigorous plants that tower high above all the rest, beautiful to the eye and fragrant beyond estimation, that, like those of the garden which derive their chief nutriment from the ammonia of the atmosphere, flourish by inherent energy and the genial influence of surrounding circumstances. There are gems of purest ray, that radiate, not reflect, a steady lustre; there are characters that, instead of
His ancestors. His military genius early developed.
deriving illumination from even a truly noble ancestry, cast a brilliant retrospective light upon the genealogical tree, and, like the opal, "shine in lustre all their own." Such was GEORge Washington, to the brightness of whose character even royalty itself could not add a ray.
The family of Washington may be traced some distance back among the old English gentry at Turtfield and Wharton, in Lancashire. There was a manor of that name in the county of Durham; and about the middle of the thirteenth century, the proprietor, William de Hertburn, assumed the name of his estate, and from him the Washington family have descended. In the year 1657, John and Lawrence Washington, brothers of Sir William Washington, the son and heir of Lawrence Washington, of Sulgrave, emigrated to Virginia, and settled at Bridge's Creek, on the Potomac, in the county of Westmoreland. John died in 1697, leaving two sons, John and Augustine. Augustine was twice married. His second wife was Mary Ball, by whom he had six children, four sons and two daughters. George, his eldest (the subject of this sketch), was born on the 22d‡ of February, 1732, and was the sixth in descent from the first Lawrence Washington of Sulgrave. His father, soon after his birth, purchased an estate upon the Rappahannock, opposite Fredericksburg, where he lived at the time of his death, which occurred when George was little more than ten years of age.
The cares of a large family devolved upon his young mother; but, aided by a strong mind, she performed the duties of parent and guardian with the greatest fidelity and success. Sound moral training was her chief solicitude; and she had the gratification of seeing all her children act well their part while upon the theatre of life.
George received a common English education, and from his earliest years was studious and thoughtful. Such was his demeanor at school, that his companions always made him umpire in cases of dispute. His military propensities were early developed. He formed his schoolcompanions into companies, who went through all the evolutions of military" children of larger growth," and fought mimic battles. George was always appointed commander of one of the parties. Truth and strict integrity were his prominent characteristics.§ At the age of four
He married a half-sister of George Villiers, duke of Buckingham.
↑ John was employed in a military command against the Indians, and rose to the rank of colonel.
The 11th of February, Old Style calendar.
At the age of fourteen years he applied for and obtained a midshipman's warrant in the British navy. His mother induced him to relinquish it.
The following is an illustration of his truthfulness. In company with other boys, he secured a fiery colt, belonging to his mother, yet unbroken to the bit, and mounted him. The affrighted animal dashed furiously across the fields, and in his violent exertions, burst a bloodvessel and died. The colt was a valuable one, and many youths would have sought an evasive excuse. Not so with George. He went immediately to his mother, and, stating plainly
His pursuits.-Accompanies his brother to Barbadoes.-Appointed a commissioner to the French.
teen he was a close student of geometry, and his mind seemed to delight in thridding the intricacies of legal business. He wrote considerably, and among his productions of childhood were a series of "Rules of Behavior in Company and Conversation," which contain many maxims serviceable to the young and the old.
Although his father left a large estate, yet, when divided among his family, it was inconsiderable for each. Both inclination and prospective necessity caused George to employ his youthful hours in industry, and he made surveying his profession. Through this, he became thoroughly acquainted with the border region of Virginia, and this knowledge afterward served him in the judicious purchase of land that greatly increased his private fortune..
uch were his acknowledged capacities, that at the age of nineteen years he was appointed one of the adjutants-general of his state,* with the rank of major, which office he held but a short time. His brother Lawrence, who had been for some time suffering from a pulmonary complaint, resolved, under the advice of his physician, to seek health in the West Indies. Desirous of having a friend with him, and being much attached to George, he proposed to him to accompany him, which he did, and they sailed for Barbadoes in the autumn of 1751. There George had a severe attack of the small-pox, and the health of his brother still remaining precarious, he returned home to accompany Lawrence's wife to Bermuda, whither he (Lawrence) was to go the next spring. During the summer Lawrence returned home and died, and George was appointed one of his executors, which trust he executed admirably, though young and inexperienced.
The French having projected the bold design of uniting Canada and Louisiana by a chain of forts along the valleys of the Ohio and Mississippi, and having, indeed, took actual possession of territory on the Ohio claimed by Virginia, the authorities of that colony resolved to appoint a commissioner to confer with the French commandant, demand cessation of further encroachments, and, if possible, ascertain their real designs. This delicate mission was intrusted to young Washington, then only twenty-one years of age. It was late in autumn wen he started, and mid-winter before he returned. Over the rugged crag and through the deep ravines of the Alleganies, amid hostile savages, and sleet and snow, he made the dangerous journey, with only eight persons, and reached the French fort (Du Quesne, the site of the present city of Pittsburg) in safety. He was politely treated by the commandant (St. Pierre),
all the circumstances, asked her forgiveness, which, of course, was readily granted. Her reply is remarkable: "Young man, I forgive you, because you have the courage to tell the truth at once; had you skulked away, I should have despised you."
* The encroachments of the French, and the threatening attitude of the Indians, called for a systematic training of all the militia of the state, for actual service.