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Washington crosses knowledge gap
Liberty lore
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In school, we learned that George Washington was called the “father of our country” because he was the first president.
In each of my classrooms in Long County there was a large, framed picture of the president. He looked as though he had rouge on his cheeks and a powdered wig on his head. We heard that he had a set of wooden teeth but in reality he had a set made from the finest ivory. We heard that he chopped down the cherry tree and did not lie about it.
I recently bought a used book, “The American Nation, a History of the United States to 1877,” by John A. Garraty from the Goodwill store where they have great used books at discounts. It is a fascinating book. Many facts about Washington’s life appealed to me.
Washington was born Feb. 22, 1732, on his parents’ tobacco plantation in Virginia. His parents were Augustine and Mary Ball Washington. George had three half-brothers, a half-sister, three brothers and two sisters. He was closest to Lawrence his half-brother. His parents owned 10,000 acres and 50 slaves.
The family moved to Ferry Farms, another plantation when George was 6. The house was substantial, but not luxurious. George’s early education was supervised by tutors. He did not like to read and had little interest in literature. He developed a great skill in mathematics and through that in surveying. Men, plantation life, and the haunts of the river, fields and forests were his principal teachers.
When George was 11 his father died at the age of 49 with what was diagnosed as “gout of the stomach.” George’s half-brother Lawrence inherited the bulk of the estate. Lawrence had recently returned to Virginia after serving in the conflict known as “War of Jenkins’ Ear.” George inherited Ferry Farm, 10 slaves and some lots in town. Over the next few years he lived with various relatives, but mostly Lawrence, who had married Anne Fairfax, a relative of Lord Thomas Fairfax who owned five million acres in Virginia.
Lawrence named his plantation Mount Vernon after Admiral Edward Vernon under whom he had served.
More than 125 years after the settling of Jamestown, life in the new world was still precarious. George’s great-grandfather died at age 46, his grandfather at 38. His aunt Mildred had buried two husbands and had her third one before she was 40. In the hot and humid region plagued by clouds of mosquitoes and various “vermin,” malaria, typhoid, smallpox and other lethal mysteries claimed many young lives.
During the French and Indian War, George at age 22 was promoted to lieutenant colonel. Even though lacking in experience he learned quickly, meeting the problems of recruitment, supply and desertions with a combination of brashness and native ability that earned him the respect of his superiors.
In 1759, he married a rich widow, Martha D. Custis. She had a son John and a daughter Martha, 150,000 acres of land and 150 slaves. George and Martha did not have any children together.
By the time George was 30, more than 30,000 slaves had come almost directly from Africa into Virginia. In later life he treated his slaves decently by the standards of the time and place. He did not question his right to own slaves and knew his prosperity depended on them.
In 1775 the Second Continental Congress organized the Continental Army and appointed George as commander in chief.
Presidential elections took place in January and February of 1789 and by April enough congressmen had gathered in New York, the temporary national capital, to begin operation. Washington was the unanimous choice for president and took the oath of office at Federal Hall. His mother was present to see her son inaugurated but died later that year. George made a firm, dignified, conscientious but cautious president. Each presidential action must of necessity establish a precedent.
In May of 1791, President Washington visited Savannah. The Congregational Church and Society at Midway sent a letter by a committee and a laurel wreath to the president. Daniel Stewart was one that delivered the message. The message congratulated Washington upon his election and told him how this section of the country was standing behind him. They thanked him for his help with the Creek Indian situation. “The hatchet is now buried and we smoke with our Indian neighbors the calumet of peace.”
The president responded to their letter. He asked them to continue to cultivate the peace and harmony which now subsisted between them and the Indians.
“A knowledge of your happiness will lighten the cares of my station, and be among the most pleasing of their rewards.”
He was a strong chief executive. He swore that he had rather be on his farm than to be made emperor of the world. He served from 1789-1796 and retired.
While riding around his plantation on Dec. 12, 1799, he was caught in a sleet and snow storm. A resulting illness progressed rapidly and he suffered with a throat inflammation that made breathing painful. Doctors could do little to ease his pain. He faced death with characteristic courage, saying, “I die hard, but I am not afraid to go.” He died at 10 o’clock the night of Dec. 14, 1799, at the age of 67 and a solemn funeral was held four days later.
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