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child of Jane Butler, inherited Mount Vernon, including twentyfive hundred acres of land. George received the paternal mansion, which was some distance farther down the river, with the broad acres surrounding it. The other children were also amply provided for. Lady Washington, before her marriage, was regarded as one of the most beautiful girls in Virginia. Her figure was commanding, her features lovely, and her demeanor dignified and courtly. Life's severe discipline developed a character simple, sincere, grave, cheered with earnest and unostentatious piety. Her well-balanced mind gave her great influence over her noble son, which she retained until the hour of her death.
Mrs. Alexander Hamilton tells the story, that, when George Washington was in the meridian of his fame, a very brilliant party was given in his honor at Fredericksburg, Va. When the church-bell rang the hour of nine, Lady Washington rose, and said, "Come, George, it is nine o'clock: it is time for us to go home." George, like a dutiful son, offered to his mother his arm, and they retired. We must not, however, fail to record that Mrs. Hamilton admits, that, after George had seen his mother safely home, he returned to the party.
There was then, as now, in Virginia, great fondness for splendid horses. Lady Washington had a span of iron-grays, very spirited, and very beautiful. With much pride she sat at her window, and gazed upon the noble creatures feeding upon the lawn, and often gambolling like children at play. One of these fiery colts, though accustomed to the harness with his companion in the carriage, had never been broken to the saddle. Some young men, one day, companions of George, in a frolic endeavored to mount the fiery steed. It could not be done. George, who was then about thirteen years of age, approached, soothed the animal by caresses, and, watching his opportunity, leaped upon his back. The horse, half terrified, half indignant, plunged and reared, in the vain attempt to free himself of his rider, and then, with the speed of the winds, dashed over the fields. George, exultant, sat his horse like a centaur, gave him free rein, and, when he flagged, urged him on.
Fearless, ardent, imprudent, he forgot the nervous energy of the noble steed, and was not aware of the injury he was doing until the horse broke a blood-vessel, and dropped beneath him.
Covered with foam, and gasping for breath, the poor creature almost immediately died. George was greatly alarmed, and hastened to his mother to tell her what he had done.
characteristic reply was,
Her calm and
"My son, I forgive you, because you have had the courage to tell me the truth at once. Had skulked away, you
I should have
There was a common school in the neighborhood, which George attended, and where he acquired the rudiments of a good English education. He was a diligent scholar, without developing any great intellectual brilliance. He possessed strong common sense, and a remarkably well-balanced mind. There is now extant a manuscript in his plain, legible handwriting, in which, in those boyish days, he had carefully written out several forms of business-papers, that he might be ready on any emergency, without embarrassment, to draw up correctly such documents. The manuscript contains promissory-notes, bills of sale, land-warrants, leases, deeds, and wills. His serious, devotional character was developed in those early years. Several hymns, expressing earnest religious sentiments, he had carefully transcribed. Another manuscript-book, which he had evidently collated with great care and sedulously studied, contained a record of "Rules of Behavior in Company and in Conversation."
"The boy is father of the man." This lad of thirteen years, in his secluded rural home, was pondering the great mysteries of the present and the future life, and was, with careful study, cultivating his mind, his manners, and his heart. He could hardly have made better preparation for the career which was before him had some good angel whispered into his ear the immense responsibilities which were to be laid upon him, and the renown he was to acquire. It was this early training, to which he was undoubtedly in some degree stimulated by the mind of his mother, to which he was indebted for much of his subsequent success în life.
At sixteen years of age, George, then a man in character, and almost a man in stature, left school. He excelled in mathematical studies, and had become familiar with the principles of geometry and trigonometry and of practical surveying. It was then his intention to become a civil engineer. At that time, in this new
and rapidly-growing country, there was great demand for such services, and the employment was very lucrative. There were then in the colonies but few men who were proficients in those sciences. George Washington came from school an accomplished man. He had formed his character upon the right model. Every thing he did, he did well. If he wrote a letter, every word was as plain as print, with spelling, capitals, punctuation, all correct. His diagrams and tables were never scribbled off, but all executed with great beauty. These excellent habits, thus early formed, were retained through life.
Upon leaving school, George went to spend a little time with his elder half-brother, Lawrence, at Mount Vernon. Then, as now, that was an enchanting spot. The house was situated upon a swell of land, commanding an extensive view of the Potomac and of the surrounding country. It was nearly one hundred miles above the birthplace of the two children and the home of George. About eight miles from Mount Vernon, an English gentleman, Mr. William Fairfax, resided. He was rich, with highly cultivated mind and polished manners, and a model for imitation in all private and social virtues. Lawrence Washington had married one of his daughters. George became intimate with the family, and derived much advantage from his association with these ladies.
Lord Fairfax, a near relative of William, a man of large fortune and of romantic tastes, had been lured by the charms of this delightful region to purchase a vast territory, which extended far away, over the Blue Mountains, to an undefined distance in the interior. It was a property embracing rivers and mountains, forests and prairies, and wealth unexplored. Lord Fairfax was at that time visiting William. He was charmed with young Washington, his frankness, his intelligence, his manliness, his gentlemanly bearing, a boy in years, a man in maturity of wisdom and character.
Lord Fairfax engaged this lad, then but one month over sixteen years of age, to explore and survey these pathless wilds, a large portion of which was then ranged only by wild beasts and savage men. It may be doubted whether a lad of his age ever before undertook a task so arduous. With a few attendants, the boy entered the wilderness. It was the month of March, cold and
blustering. Snow still lingered on the tops of the mountains, and whitened the sunless ravines. The spring freshets had swollen the rivers. The Indians were friendly, hospitable, and willing to act as guides. Frontiersmen, a rough and fearless set of men, were scattered about among the openings in the wilder
Through these solitudes the heroic boy was to thread his way, now following the trail of the Indian, now floating in the birch canoe upon the silent rivers, and now climbing mountains or struggling through morasses which the foot of the white man had perhaps never yet pressed. Often the cabin of the settler afforded him shelter for a night. Frequently he slept in the open air, with his feet to the fire. Again the wigwam of the Indian was hospitably open to receive him. It must have been a strange experience to this quiet, thoughtful, adventurous boy, to find himself at midnight, in the forest, hundreds of miles from the haunts of civilization. The cry of the night-bird, the howl of the wolf, or perhaps the wailings of the storm, fell mournfully upon his ear. He gazed upon the brands flickering at his feet, on the ground-floor of the hut. The Indian warrior, his squaw, and the dusky pappooses, shared with him the fragrant hemlock couch. We have some extracts from the journal which he kept, which give us a vivid idea of the life he then led. Under date of March 15, 1748, he writes,
"Worked hard till night, and then returned. After supper, we were lighted into a room; and I, not being so good a woodman as the rest, stripped myself very orderly, and went into the bed, as they call it, when, to my surprise, I found it to be nothing but a little straw matted together, without sheet or any thing else, but only one threadbare blanket, with double its weight of vermin. I was glad to get up and put on my clothes, and lie as my companions did. Had we not been very tired, I am sure we should not have slept much that night. I made a promise to sleep so no more in a bed, choosing rather to sleep in the open air before a fire."
On the 2d of April he writes, "A blowing, rainy night. Our straw, upon which we were lying, took fire; but I was luckily preserved by one of our men awaking when it was in a flame. We have run off four lots this day."
The following extract from one of his letters, written at this time, develops his serious, thoughtful, noble character, and also the adventurous life into which he had plunged:
"The receipt of your kind letter of the 2d instant afforded me unspeakable pleasure, as it convinces me that I am still in the memory of so worthy a friend, a friendship I shall ever be proud of increasing. Yours gave me more pleasure, as I received it among barbarians and an uncouth set of people. Since you received my letter of October last, I have not slept above three or four nights in a bed; but, after walking a good deal all the day, I have lain down before the fire on a little hay, straw, fodder, or bear-skin, whichever was to be had, with man, wife, and children, like dogs and cats; and happy is he who gets the berth nearest the fire. I have never had my clothes off, but have lain and slept on them, except the few nights I have been in Fredericksburg."
Such experiences rapidly develop and create character. George returned from this tramp with all his manly energies consolidated by toil, peril, and hardship. Though but seventeen years of age,