Innumerable as the Starrs of Night,
Or Starrs of Morning,
Dew-drops, which the Sun
on every leaf and every flouer
Beauty is truth, truth beauty,
— that is all
Ye know on earth, and all
ye need to know.
E = M
Energy is eternal delight.
Impearls: GWAC: The Washingtons and Washington
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The ancestors of George Washington came from Northamptonshire. The moved to the New World in 1658, when George's great-grandfather bade farewell to England's white cliffs and settled down near Bridges Creek, in Virginia. We know little about him, except that he continued to follow the sort of career he would have chosen in the Old World and became a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses. He died in 1676, leaving his meager estates to his son Lawrence.
Lawrence's second son, Augustine, having been born on this side of the ocean, felt more at home among his new surroundings than his father had done. He caught the spirit of the new country and saw more profit in running an iron mine and an iron smelter than in doing what all the members of his tribe had done. Thus far they had contented themselves with raising tobacco for the London market — a rather hazardous venture, as it placed them completely at the mercies of their British agents.
Digging iron out of the soil was, of course, not quite as genteel a profession as supervising lazy and unwilling Negro slaves, but it was much more profitable, and after he had returned from his schooling in England, Augustine had settled down near Fredericksburg and in due course of time had married two wives (one after the other, of course), by the second of whom, Mary Ball, he had six children, the oldest of whom was baptized George.
The boy grew up in the normal way of that period. The local sexton taught him his letters, and afterward a schoolmaster was hired to give the young gentleman a smattering of Latin. Mathematics, for which Master George felt a great liking, was not on the regular curriculum of the Virginia educational system of the middle of the eighteenth century (George was born in 1732), and so he was obliged to go after it on his own account. He later extended his scientific researches into the realm of practical surveying, and this knowledge of how to make and read maps was of the greatest value to him when he was called upon to lead the armies of the rebellious colonists.
It was a time when boys of fourteen were supposed to be able to shift for themselves. In consequence, his half brother Augustine, who had been the head of the family ever since their father's death and who recognized that George had the makings of an excellent manager, entrusted him with the care of several plantations at an age when a modern youngster has not even thought of choosing a career. George liked his new life, for it meant action. He was forever on the move, examining accounts, hiring and firing overseers, buying and selling crops and slaves, learning all about tobacco, experimenting with new kinds of cattle, and in a general way making himself useful until, at the ripe old age of seventeen, he was deemed fit for public office and was appointed assistant public surveyor of Fairfax County. This favor was bestowed upon him by the amiable Thomas, Lord Fairfax, who, having acquired a trifling five million acres in the Shenandoah Valley, had at last decided to cross the ocean and inspect his property in person. He was now living on a fine estate along the Potomac, not far away from that plantation where John, the first Washington in America, had started the family's fortunes.
It was during this period as a public surveyor that Washington became thoroughly familiar with life in the wilderness and got some conception of the vastness of this new world in which the colonists, until then, had stuck anxiously to the narrow strip of land along the seaboard. But these carefree years, which he probably enjoyed as well as any other part of his career, came abruptly to an end in 1752, when his half-brother Lawrence died.
The Washingtons as a family were apt to have weak chests, and Lawrence had never recovered from the hardships of his campaign against the Spanish city of Cartagena, in what is now the republic of Colombia, in South America. There he had served with the fleet, and the fleet had been commanded by that Admiral Edward Vernon who as “Old Grog” won everlasting detestation in the British navy by ordering that the sailors should not get their rum straight but mixed with water so that they should not be incapacitated quite as much of the time as they used to be, when the stuff was poured raw down their throats.
This expedition against Cartagena had not accomplished much toward making England mistress of the Caribbean (through no fault of Vernon's, but because of the incompetence of most of his colleagues), but out of it had grown that friendship between Lawrence Washington and his commander in chief which made Lawrence change the name of Little Hunting Creek plantation to Mount Vernon.
As I just said, Lawrence died in 1752. He left Mount Vernon to his widow, Anne Fairfax, who within the same year married into the Lee family. She sold the estate to her brother-in-law George, who, then at the age of thirty, began that career of a sound marriage and shrewd investments which eventually was to make him one of the richest young men of Virginia.
But in the meantime, George had done several other things which were to prepare him still further for the role he would soon afterward be called upon to play.
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