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Encounters, 5 -Meet George

January 17, 2017

George Washington is one of the best loved and least known presidents, always a favorite among school children. The story that he could not tell a lie is an untruth, along with the wooden dentures. It is impossible to know about him for certain, but much remains in history and myth. Unfortunately for us, Martha destroyed his letters, so we know what he did, but not how he felt about it, but that is true for most of us. We hesitate to explain our feelings.

I suspect George was a pragmatist, a realist, and extremely lucky. He was born at the right time, in the right place, and with the right circumstances. He was born on February 22, 1732, just 202 years before me, and history should always be taken personally. His forefathers came to Virginia from England in 1657. Local Indians named John Washington “Town Taker” because he manipulated law to swindle them of their land. George’s father, Augustine Washington, outlived his first two wives, dying in 1743 and leaving a widow and their seven children with an estate that included 10,000 acres and 49 slaves in the care of his oldest son and George’s half brother, Lawrence.

George received a grade school education, but never attended college. He is known to have copied 110 precepts from The Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation written by Jesuit scholars in 1595. Precept number nine proclaimed “spit not into the fire–“, but another read, “Every action done in company ought to be done with some sign of respect to those who are present.” (See His Excellency, George Washington by Joseph J. Ellis, 2004, published by Alfred A. Kempf.) Perhaps the precepts should become required reading. George always regretted his lack of a classical curriculum.

In 1751 his brother Lawrence, 14 years his senior and his mentor, took him to Barbados as a companion. There George contracted smallpox and carried those scars on his face all his life. He also acquired immunity against the feared and often fatal disease. In 1752 Lawrence died of tuberculosis, and his 2500 acre estate, Mount Vernon, became part of the estate George leased from his widow, and later inherited.

Instead of college, George went off to war. As a youth, George, under the auspices of a neighbor, had surveyed unsettled land west of the colony. When the Ohio Company began to build a fort, the French exerted their claim to the territory, and Washington was sent to inform the French of English rights. (see Encounters 4) After the debacle, Washington returned to Williamsburg with the report.

In 1775 the British sent troops under the command of General Edward Braddock to push back the French. George Washington was given a commission to  assist the general. The results of this encounter undoubtedly gave colonists reason to believe the British could be defeated…..              to be contd.





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