| Four Great Americans|
|by James Baldwin|
|An engaging introduction to four of the greatest Americans-George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Daniel Webster, and Abraham Lincoln. Their lives are set forth in a simple manner, yet with many interesting details, and a glimpse is given of the trials and successes which combined to mold their character and afford such stirring examples for the youth of today. The stories are patriotic in every line, readable in every paragraph, and inspire the reader to the best thoughts and deeds. Ages 9-12 |
THE STORY OF GEORGE WASHINGTON
I.—WHEN WASHINGTON WAS A BOY
 When George Washington was a boy there was no United
States. The land was here, just as it is now,
stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific; but
nearly all of it was wild and unknown.
Between the Atlantic Ocean and the Allegheny
Mountains there were thirteen colonies, or great
settlements. The most of the people who lived in these
colonies were English people, or the children of
English people; and so the King of England made their
laws and appointed their governors.
The newest of the colonies was Georgia, which was
settled the year after George Washington was born.
The oldest colony was Virginia, which had been settled
one hundred and twenty-five years.
 It was also the
richest colony, and more people were living in it than
in any other.
There were only two or three towns in Virginia at that
time, and they were quite small.
Most of the people lived on farms or on big
plantations, where they raised whatever they needed to
eat. They also raised tobacco, which they sent to
England to be sold.
The farms, or plantations, were often far apart, with
stretches of thick woods between them. Nearly every
one was close to a river, or some other large body of
water; for there are many rivers in Virginia.
There were no roads, such as we have nowadays, but only
paths through the woods. When people wanted to travel
from place to place, they had to go on foot, or on
horseback, or in small boats.
A few of the rich men who lived on the big plantations
had coaches; and now and then they would drive out in
grand style behind four or six horses, with a fine
array of servants and outriders following them. But
they could not drive
 far where there were no roads, and we can hardly understand how they got any pleasure out
Nearly all the work on the plantations was done by
slaves. Ships had been bringing negroes from Africa
for more than a hundred years, and now nearly half the
people in Virginia were blacks.
Very often, also, poor white men from England were sold
as slaves for a few years in order to pay for their
passage across the ocean. When their freedom was given
to them they continued to work at whatever they could
find to do; or they cleared small farms in the woods
for themselves, or went farther to the west and became
woodsmen and hunters.
There was but very little money in Virginia at that
time, and, indeed, there was not much use for it. For
what could be done with money where there were no shops
worth speaking of, and no stores, and nothing to buy?
The common people raised flax and wool, and wove their
own cloth; and they made their own tools and furniture.
The rich people did the
 same; but for their better or
finer goods they sent to England.
For you must know that in all this country there were
no great mills for spinning and weaving as there are
now; there were no factories of any kind; there were no
foundries where iron could be melted and shaped into
all kinds of useful and beautiful things.
When George Washington was a boy the world was not much
like it is now.
George Washington's father owned a large plantation on
the western shore of the Potomac River. George's
great-grandfather, John Washington, had settled upon it
nearly eighty years before, and there the family had
dwelt ever since.
This plantation was in Westmoreland county, not quite
forty miles above the place where the Potomac flows
into Chesapeake Bay. By looking at your map of
Virginia, you will see that the river is very broad
On one side of the plantation, and flowing
 through it,
there was a creek, called Bridge's Creek; and for this
reason the place was known as the Bridge's Creek
It was here, on the 22d of February, 1732, that George
Washington was born.
Although his father was a rich man, the house in which
he lived was neither very large nor very fine—at least
it would not be thought so now.
It was a square, wooden building, with four rooms on
the ground floor and an attic above.
The eaves were low, and the roof was long and sloping.
At each end of the house there was a huge chimney; and
inside were big fireplaces, one for the kitchen and one
for the "great room" where visitors were received.
But George did not live long in this house. When he
was about three years old his father removed to another
plantation which he owned, near Hunting Creek several
miles farther up the river. This new plantation was at
first known as the Washington Plantation, but it is now
called Mount Vernon.
Four years after this the house of the
Washing-  tons was burned down. But Mr. Washington had still other lands
on the Rappahannock River. He had also an interest in
some iron mines that
were being opened there. And so
to this place the family was now taken.
The house by the Rappahannock was very much like the
one at Bridge's Creek. It stood on high ground,
overlooking the river and some low meadows; and on the
other side of the river was the village of
Fredericksburg, which at that time was a very small
George was now about seven years old.
III.—HIS SCHOOLS AND SCHOOLMASTERS
There were no good schools in Virginia at that time.
In fact, the people did not care much about learning.
There were few educated men besides the parsons, and
even some of the parsons were very ignorant.
It was the custom of some of the richest families to
send their eldest sons to England to the
 great schools there. But it is doubtful if these young men learned
much about books.
They spent a winter or two in the gay society of
London, and were taught the manners of gentlemen—and
that was about all.
George Washington's father, when a young man, had spent
some time at Appleby School in England, and George's
half-brothers, Lawrence and Augustine, who were several
years older than he, had been sent to the same school.
But book-learning was not thought to be of much use.
To know how to manage the business of a plantation, to
be polite to one's equals, to be a leader in the
affairs of the colony—this was thought to be the best
And so, for most of the young men, it was enough if
they could read and write a little and keep a few
simple accounts. As for the girls, the parson might
give them a few lessons now and then; and if they
learned good manners and could write letters to their
friends, what more could they need?
George Washington's first teacher was a poor
 sexton, whose name was Mr. Hobby. There is a story that he had
been too poor to pay his passage from England, and that
he had, therefore, been sold to Mr. Washington as a
slave for a short time; but how true this is, I cannot
From Mr. Hobby, George learned to spell easy words, and
perhaps to write a little; but, although he afterward
became a very careful and good penman, he was a poor
speller as long as he lived.
When George was about eleven years old his father died.
We do not know what his father's intentions had been
regarding him. But possibly, if he had lived, he would
have given George the best education that his means
But now everything was changed. The plantation at
Hunting Creek, and, indeed almost all the rest of Mr.
Washington's great estate, became the property of the
eldest son, Lawrence.
George was sent to Bridge's Creek to live for a while
with his brother Augustine, who now owned the old home
plantation there. The
 mother and the younger children
remained on the Rappahannock farm.
While at Bridge's Creek, George was sent to school to a
Mr. Williams, who had lately come from England.
There are still to be seen some exercises which the lad
wrote at that time. There is also a little book,
called The Young Man's Companion, from which he copied,
with great care, a set of rules for good behavior and
Not many boys twelve years old would care for such a
book nowadays. But you must know that in those days
there were no books for children, and, indeed, very few
for older people.
The maxims and wise sayings which George copied were,
no doubt, very interesting to him—so interesting that
many of them were never forgotten.
There are many other things also in this Young Man's
Companion, and we have reason to believe that George
studied them all.
There are short chapters on arithmetic and surveying,
rules for the measuring of land and
 lumber, and a set
of forms for notes, deeds, and other legal documents.
A knowledge of these things was, doubtless, of greater
importance to him than the reading of many books would
Just what else George may have studied in Mr. William's
school I cannot say. But all this time he was growing
to be a stout, manly boy, tall and strong, and
well-behaved. And both his brothers and himself were
beginning to think of what he should do when he should
become a man.
IV.—GOING TO SEA
Once every summer a ship came up the river to the
plantation, and was moored near the shore.
It had come across the sea from far-away England, and
it brought many things for those who were rich enough
to pay for them.
It brought bonnets and pretty dresses for George's
mother and sisters; it brought perhaps a hat and a
tailor-made suit for himself; it brought tools and
furniture, and once a yellow
 coach that had been made in London, for his brother.
When all these things had been taken ashore, the ship
would hoist her sails and go on, farther up the river,
to leave goods at other plantations.
In a few weeks it would come back and be moored again
at the same place.
Then there was a busy time on shore. The tobacco that
had been raised during the last year must be carried on
shipboard to be taken to the great tobacco markets in
The slaves on the plantation were running back and
forth, rolling barrels and carrying bales of tobacco
down to the landing.
Letters were written to friends in England, and orders
were made out for the goods that were to be brought
back next year.
But in a day or two, all this stir was over. The sails
were again spread, and the ship glided away on its long
voyage across the sea.
George had seen this ship coming and going every year
since he could remember. He must have thought how
pleasant it would be to sail
 away to foreign lands and
see the many wonderful things that are there.
And then, like many another active boy, he began to
grow tired of the quiet life on the farm, and wish that
he might be a sailor.
He was now about fourteen years old. Since the death
of his father, his mother had found it hard work, with
her five children, to manage her farm on the
Rappahannock and make everything come out even at the
end of each year. Was it not time that George should
be earning something for himself? But what should he
He wanted to go to sea. His brother Lawrence, and even
his mother, thought that this might be the best thing.
A bright boy like George would not long be a common
sailor. He would soon make his way to a high place in
the king's navy. So, at least, his friends believed.
And so the matter was at last settled. A sea-captain
who was known to the family, agreed to take George with
him. He was to sail in a short time.
 The day came. His mother, his brothers, his sisters,
were all there to bid him good-bye. But in the
meanwhile a letter had come to his mother, from his
uncle who lived in England.
"If you care for the boy's future," said the letter,
"do not let him go to sea. Places in the king's navy
are not easy to obtain. If he begins as a sailor, he
will never be aught else."
The letter convinced George's mother—it half convinced
his brothers—that this going to sea would be a sad
mistake. But George, like other boys of his age, was
headstrong. He would not listen to reason. A sailor
he would be.
The ship was in the river waiting for him. A boat had
come to the landing to take him on board.
The little chest which held his clothing had been
carried down to the bank. George was in high glee at
the thought of going.
"Good-bye, mother," he said.
He stood on the doorstep and looked back into the
house. He saw the kind faces of those whom he loved.
He began to feel very sad at the thought of leaving
 "Good-bye, George!"
He saw the tears welling up in his mother's eyes. He
saw them rolling down her cheeks. He knew now that she
did not want him to go. He could not bear to see her
"Mother, I have changed my mind," he said. "I will not
be a sailor. I will not leave you."
Then he turned to the black boy who was waiting by the
door, and said, "Run down to the landing and tell them
not to put the chest on board. Tell them that I have
thought differently of the matter and that I am going
to stay at home."
If George had not changed his mind, but had really gone
to sea, how different the history of this country would
He now went to his studies with a better will than
before; and although he read but few books he learned
much that was useful to him in life. He studied
surveying with especial care, and made himself as
thorough in that branch of knowledge as it was possible
to do with so few advantages.
V.—THE YOUNG SURVEYOR
 Lawrence Washington was about fourteen years older than
his brother George.
As I have already said, he had been to England and had
spent some time at Appleby School. He had served in
the king's army for a little while, and had been with
Admiral Vernon's squadron in the West Indies.
He had formed so great a liking for the admiral that
when he came home he changed the name of his plantation
at Hunting Creek, and
 called it Mount Vernon—a name by
which it is still known.
Not far from Mount Vernon there was another fine
plantation called Belvoir, that was owned by William
Fairfax, an English gentleman of much wealth and
Now this Mr. Fairfax had a young daughter, as wise as
she was beautiful; and so, what should Lawrence
Washington do but ask her to be his wife? He built a
large house at Mount Vernon with a great porch fronting
on the Potomac; and
 when Miss Fairfax became Mrs.
Washington and went into this home as its mistress,
people said that there was not a handsomer or happier
young couple in all Virginia.
After young George Washington had changed his mind
about going to sea, he went up to Mount Vernon to live
with his elder brother. For Lawrence had great love
for the boy, and treated him as his father would have
At Mount Vernon George kept on with his studies in
surveying. He had a compass and surveyor's chain, and
hardly a day passed that he was not out on the
plantation, running lines and measuring his brother's
Sometimes when he was busy at this kind of work, a
tall, white-haired gentleman would come over from
Belvoir to see what he was doing and to talk with him.
This gentleman was Sir Thomas Fairfax, a cousin of the
owner of Belvoir. He was sixty years old, and had
lately come from England to look after his lands in
Virginia; for he was the owner of many thousands of
acres among the mountains and in the wild woods.
 Sir Thomas was a courtly old gentleman, and he had seen
much of the world. He was a fine scholar; and had been
a soldier, and then a man of letters; and he belonged
to a rich and noble family.
It was not long until he and George were the best of
friends. Often they would spend the morning together,
talking or surveying; and in the afternoon they would
ride out with servants and hounds, hunting foxes and
making fine sport of it among the woods and hills.
And when Sir Thomas Fairfax saw how manly and brave his
young friend was, and how very exact and careful in all
that he did, he said: "Here is a boy who gives promise
of great things. I can trust him."
Before the winter was over he had made a bargain with
George to survey his lands that lay beyond the Blue
I have already told you that at this time nearly all
the country west of the mountains was a wild and
unknown region. In fact, all the western part of
Virginia was an unbroken wilderness,
 with only here and there a hunter's camp or the solitary hut of some
But Sir Thomas hoped that by having the land surveyed,
and some part of it laid out into farms, people might
be persuaded to go there and settle. And who in all
the colony could do this work better than his young
friend, George Washington?
It was a bright day in March, 1748, when George started
out on his first trip across the mountains. His only
company was a young son of William Fairfax of Belvoir.
The two friends were mounted on good horses; and both
had guns, for there was fine hunting in the woods. It
was nearly a hundred miles to the mountain-gap through
which they passed into the country beyond. As there
were no roads,
but only paths through the forest, they
could not travel very fast.
After several days they reached the beautiful valley of
the Shenandoah. They now began their surveying. They
went up the river for some distance; then they crossed
and went down
 on the other side. At last they reached
the Potomac River, near where Harpers Ferry now
At night they slept sometimes by a camp fire in the
woods, and sometimes in the rude hut of a settler or a
hunter. They were often wet and cold. They cooked
their meat by broiling it on sticks above the coals.
They ate without dishes, and drank water from the
One day they met a party of Indians, the first red men
they had seen. There were thirty of them, with their
bodies painted in true savage style; for they were just
going home from a war with some other tribe.
The Indians were very friendly to the young surveyors.
It was evening, and they built a huge fire under the
trees. Then they danced their war dance around it, and
sang and yelled and made hideous sport until far in the
To George and his friend it was a strange sight; but
they were brave young men, and not likely to be afraid
even though the danger had been greater.
They had many other adventures in the woods
 of which I
cannot tell you in this little book—shooting wild game,
swimming rivers, climbing mountains. But about the
middle of April they returned in safety to Mount
It would seem that the object of this first trip was to
get a general knowledge of the extent of Sir Thomas
Fairfax's great woodland estate—to learn where the
richest bottom lands lay, and where were the best
The young men had not done much if any real surveying;
they had been exploring.
George Washington had written an account of everything
in a little notebook which he carried with him.
Sir Thomas was so highly pleased with the report which
the young men brought back that he made up his mind to
move across the Blue Ridge and spend the rest of his
life on his own lands.
And so, that very summer, he built in the midst of the
great woods a hunting lodge which he called Greenway
Court. It was a large, square house, with broad gables
and a long roof sloping almost to the ground.
 When he moved into this lodge he expected soon to build
a splendid mansion and make a grand home there, like
the homes he had known in England. But time passed,
and as the lodge was roomy and comfortable, he still
lived in it and put off beginning another house.
Washington was now seventeen years old. Through the
influence of Sir Thomas Fairfax he was appointed public
surveyor; and nothing would do but that he must spend
the most of his time at Greenway Court and keep on with
the work that he had begun.
For the greater part of three years he worked in the
woods and among the mountains, surveying Sir Thomas's
lands. And Sir Thomas paid him well—a doubloon ($8.24)
for each day, and more than that if the work was very
But there were times when the young surveyor did not go
out to work, but stayed at Greenway Court with his good
friend, Sir Thomas. The old gentleman had something of
a library, and on days when they could neither work nor
hunt, George spent the time in reading. He read the
 Spectator and a history of England, and
possibly some other works.
And so it came about that the three years which young
Washington spent in surveying were of much profit to
The work in the open air gave him health and strength.
He gained courage and self-reliance. He became
acquainted with the ways of the backwoodsmen and of the
savage Indians. And from Sir Thomas Fairfax he learned
a great deal about the history, the laws, and the
military affairs of old England.
And in whatever he undertook to do or to learn, he was
careful and systematic and thorough. He did nothing by
guess; he never left anything half done. And therein,
let me say to you, lie the secrets of success in any
VI.—THE OHIO COUNTRY
You have already learned how the English people had
control of all that part of our country which borders
upon the Atlantic Ocean. You
 have learned, also, that
they had made thirteen great settlements along the
coast, while all the vast region west of the mountains
remained a wild and unknown land.
Now, because Englishmen had been the first white men
to see the line of shore that stretches from Maine to
Georgia, they set up a claim to all the land west of
They had no idea how far the land extended. They knew
almost nothing about its great rivers, its vast
forests, its lofty mountains, its rich prairies. They
cared nothing for the claims of the Indians whose homes
"All the land from ocean to ocean," they said, "belongs
to the King of England."
But there were other people who also had something to
say about this matter.
The French had explored the Mississippi River. They had
sailed on the Great Lakes. Their hunters and trappers
were roaming through the western forests. They had
made treaties with the Indians; and they had built
trading posts, here and there, along the watercourses.
 They said, "The English people may keep their strip of
land between the mountains and the sea. But these
great river valleys and this country around the Lakes
are ours, because we have been the first to explore and
make use of them."
Now, about the time that George Washington was thinking
of becoming a sailor, some of the rich planters in
Virginia began to hear wonderful stories about a
fertile region west of the Alleghenies, watered by
a noble river, and rich in game and fur-bearing
This region was called the Ohio Country, from the name of
the river; and those who took pains to learn the most
about it were satisfied that it would, at some time, be
of very great importance to the people who should
And so these Virginian planters and certain Englishmen
formed a company called the Ohio Company, the object of
which was to explore the country, and make money by
establishing trading posts and settlements there. And
of this company, Lawrence Washington was one of the
 Lawrence Washington and his brother George had often
talked about this enterprise.
"We shall have trouble with the French," said Lawrence.
"They have already sent men into the Ohio Country; and
they are trying in every way to prove that the land
belongs to them."
"It looks as if we should have to drive them out by
force," said George.
"Yes, and there will probably be some hard fighting,"
said Lawrence; "and you, as a young man, must get
yourself ready to have a hand in it."
And Lawrence followed this up by persuading the
governor of the colony to appoint George as one of the
adjutants-general of Virginia.
George was only nineteen years old, but he was now
Major Washington, and one of the most promising
soldiers in America.
VII.—A CHANGE OF CIRCUMSTANCES
Although George Washington spent so much of his time at
Greenway Court, he still called Mount Vernon his home.
 Going down home in the autumn, just before he was
twenty years old, he found matters in a sad state, and
His brother Lawrence was very ill—indeed, he had been
ill a long time. He had tried a trip to England; he
had spent a summer at the warm springs; but all to no
purpose. He was losing strength every day.
The sick man dreaded the coming of cold weather. If he
could only go to the warm West Indies before winter set
in, perhaps that would prolong his life. Would George
go with him?
No loving brother could refuse a request like that.
The captain of a ship in the West India trade agreed to
take them; and so, while it was still pleasant
September, the two Washingtons embarked for Barbadoes,
which, then as now, belonged to the English.
It was the first time that George had ever been outside
of his native land, and it proved to be also the last.
He took careful notice of everything that he saw; and,
in the little notebook
 which he seems to have always
had with him, he wrote a brief account of the trip.
He had not been three weeks at Barbadoes before he was
taken down with the smallpox; and for a month he was
very sick. And so his winter in the West Indies could
not have been very pleasant.
In February the two brothers returned home to Mount
Vernon. Lawrence's health had not been bettered by the
journey. He was now very feeble; but he lingered on
until July, when he died.
By his will Lawrence Washington left his fine estate of
Mount Vernon, and all the rest of his wealth, to his
little daughter. But George was to be the daughter's
guardian; and in case of her death, all her vast
property was to be his own.
And so, before he was quite twenty-one years old,
George Washington was settled at Mount Vernon as the
manager of one of the richest estates in Virginia. The
death of his little niece not long afterward made him
the owner of this estate, and, of course, a very
 But within a brief time, events occurred which called
him way from his peaceful employments.
VIII.—A PERILOUS JOURNEY
Early the very next year news was brought to Virginia
that the French were building forts along the Ohio, and
making friends with the Indians there. This of course
meant that they intended to keep the English out of
The governor of Virginia thought that the time had come
to speak out about this matter. He would send a
messenger with a letter to these Frenchmen, telling
them that all the land belonged to the English, and
that no trespassing would be allowed.
The first messenger that he sent became alarmed before
he was within a hundred miles of a Frenchman, and went
back to say that everything was as good as lost.
It was very plain that a man with some courage must be
chosen for such an undertaking.
"I will send Major George Washington," said
 the governor. "He is very young, but he is the bravest man
in the colony."
Now, promptness was one of those traits of character
which made George Washington the great man which he
afterward became. And so, on the very day that he
received his appointment he set out for the Ohio
He took with him three white hunters, two Indians, and
a famous woodsman, whose name was Christopher Gist. A
small tent or two, and such few things as they would
need on the journey, were strapped on the backs of
They pushed through the woods in a northwestwardly
direction, and at last reached a place called Venango,
not very far from where Pittsburgh now stands.
This was the first outpost of the French; and there
Washington met some of the French officers, and heard
them talk about what they proposed to do.
Then, after a long ride to the north, they came to
another fort. The French commandant was here, and he
welcomed Washington with a great show of kindness.
 Washington gave him the letter which he had brought
from the governor of Virginia.
The commandant read it, and two days afterward gave him
He said that he would forward the letter to the French
governor; but as for the Ohio Country, he had been
ordered to hold it, and he meant to do so.
Of course Washington could do nothing further. But it
was plain to him that the news ought to be carried back
to Virginia without delay.
It was now midwinter. As no horse could travel through
the trackless woods at this time of year, he must make
his way on foot.
So, with only the woodsman, Gist, he shouldered his
rifle and knapsack, and bravely started home.
It was a terrible journey. The ground was covered with
snow; the rivers were frozen; there was not even a path
through the forest. If Gist had not been so fine a
woodsman they would hardly have seen Virginia again.
Once an Indian shot at Washington from
be-  hind a tree. Once the brave young man fell into a river, among
floating ice, and would have been drowned but for Gist.
At last they reached the house of a trader on the
Monongahela River. There they were kindly welcomed,
and urged to stay until the weather should grow milder.
But Washington would not delay.
Sixteen days after that, he was back in Virginia,
telling the governor all about his adventures, and
giving his opinion about the best way to deal with the
IX.—HIS FIRST BATTLE
It was now very plain that if the English were going to
hold the Ohio Country and the vast western region which
they claimed as their own, they must fight for it.
The people of Virginia were not very anxious to go to
war. But their governor was not willing to be beaten
by the French.
He made George Washington a
lieutenant-col-  onel of Virginia troops and set about raising an army to send
into the Ohio country.
Early in the spring Colonel Washington, with a hundred
and fifty men, was marching across the country toward
the head waters of the Ohio. It was a small army to
advance against the thousands of French and Indians who
now held that region.
But other officers, with stronger forces, were expected
to follow close behind.
Late in May the little army reached the valley of the
Monongahela, and began to build a fort at a place
called Great Meadows.
By this time the French and Indians were aroused, and
hundreds of them were hurrying forward to defend the
Ohio Country from the English. One of their scouting
parties, coming up the river, was met by Washington
with forty men.
The French were not expecting any foe at this place.
There were but thirty-two of them; and of these only
one escaped. Ten were killed, and the rest were taken
 This was Washington's first battle, and he was more
proud of it than you might suppose. He sent his
prisoners to Virginia, and was ready now, with his
handful of men, to meet all the French and Indians that
might come against him!
And they did come, and in greater numbers than he had
expected. He made haste to finish, if possible, the
fort that had been begun.
But they were upon him before he was ready. They had
four men to his one. They surrounded the fort and shut
his little Virginian army in.
What could Colonel Washington do? His soldiers were
already half-starved. There was but little food in the
fort, and no way to get any more.
The French leader asked if he did not think it would be
a wise thing to surrender. Washington hated the very
thought of it; but nothing else could be done.
"If you will march your men straight home and give me
a pledge that they and all Virginians will stay out of
the Ohio Country for the next
 twelve months, you may go," said the Frenchman.
It was done.
Washington, full of disappointment, went back to Mount
Vernon. But he felt more like fighting than ever
He was now twenty-two years old.
X.—THE FRENCH AND INDIAN WAR
In the meanwhile the King of England had heard how the
French were building forts along the Ohio and how they
were sending their traders to the Great Lakes and to
the valley of the Mississippi.
"If we allow them to go on in this way, they will soon
take all that vast western country away from us," he
And so, the very next winter, he sent over an army
under General Edward Braddock to drive the French out
of that part of America and at the same time teach
their Indian friends a lesson.
 It was in February, 1755, when General Braddock and his
troops went into camp at Alexandria in Virginia. As
Alexandria was only a few miles from Mount Vernon,
Washington rode over to see the fine array and become
acquainted with the officers.
When General Braddock heard that this was the young man
who had ventured so boldly into the Ohio Country, he
offered him a place on his staff. This was very
pleasing to Washington, for there was nothing more
attractive to him than soldiering.
It was several weeks before the army was ready to
start: and then it moved so slowly that it did not
reach the Monongahela until July.
The soldiers in their fine uniforms made a splendid
appearance as they marched in regular order across the
Benjamin Franklin, one of the wisest men in America,
had told General Braddock that his greatest danger
would be from unseen foes hidden among the underbrush
"They may be dangerous to your
backwoods  men," said Braddock; "but to the trained soldiers of the king they
can give no trouble at all."
But scarcely had the army crossed the Monongahela when
it was fired upon by unseen enemies. The woods rang
with the cries of savage men.
The soldiers knew not how to return the fire. They
were shot down in their tracks like animals in a pen.
"Let the men take to the shelter of the trees!" was
But Braddock would not listen to it. They must keep in
order and fight as they had been trained to fight.
Washington rode hither and thither trying his best to
save the day. Two horses were shot under him; four
bullets passed through his coat; and
still he was
unhurt. The Indians thought that he bore a charmed
life, for none of them could hit him.
It was a dreadful affair—more like a slaughter than a
battle. Seven hundred of Braddock's fine soldiers, and
more than half of his officers, were
 killed or wounded.
And all this havoc was made by two hundred Frenchmen
and about six hundred Indians hidden among the trees.
At last Braddock gave the order to retreat. It soon
became a wild flight rather than a retreat; and yet,
had it not been for Washington, it would have been much
The General himself had been fatally wounded. There
was no one but Washington who could restore courage to
the frightened men, and lead them safely from the place
Four days after the battle General Braddock died, and
the remnant of the army being now led by a Colonel
Dunbar, hurried back to the eastern settlements.
Of all the men who took part in that unfortunate
expedition against the French, there was only one who
gained any renown therefrom, and that one was Colonel
He went back to Mount Vernon, wishing never to be sent
to the Ohio Country again.
The people of Virginia were so fearful lest the French
and Indians should follow up their
 victory and attack
the settlements, that they quickly raised a regiment of
a thousand men to defend their colony. And so highly
did they esteem Colonel Washington that they made him
commander of all the forces of the colony, to do with
them as he might deem best.
The war with the French for the possession of the Ohio
Country and the valley of the Mississippi, had now
fairly begun. It would be more than seven years before
it came to an end.
But most of the fighting was done at the north—in New
York and Canada; and so Washington and his Virginian
soldiers did not distinguish themselves in any very
It was for them to keep watch of the western frontier
of the colony lest the Indians should cross the
mountains and attack the settlements.
Once, near the middle of the war, Washington led a
company into the very country where he had once
traveled on foot with Christopher Gist.
The French had built a fort at the place where the Ohio
River has its beginning, and they had
 named it Fort
Duquesne. When they heard that Washington was coming
they set fire to the fort and fled down the river in
The English built a new fort at this same place, and
called it Fort Pitt; and there the city of Pittsburgh
has since grown up.
And now Washington resigned his commission as commander
of the little Virginian army. Perhaps he was tired of
the war. Perhaps his great plantation of Mount Vernon
needed his care. We cannot tell.
But we know that, a few days later, he was married to
Mrs. Martha Custis, a handsome young widow who owned a
fine estate not a great way from Williamsburg, the
capital of the colony. This was in January, 1759.
At about the same time he was elected a member of the
House of Burgesses of Virginia; and three months later,
he went down to Williamsburg to have a hand in making
some of the laws for the colony.
He was now twenty-seven years old. Young as he was, he
was one of the richest men in the
 colony, and he was
known throughout the country as the bravest of American
The war was still going on at the north. To most of
the Virginians it seemed to be a thing far away.
At last, in 1763, a treaty of peace was made. The
French had been beaten, and they were obliged to give
up everything to the English. They lost not only the
Ohio Country and all the great West, but Canada also.
XI.—THE MUTTERINGS OF THE STORM
And now for several years Washington lived the life of
a country gentleman. He had enough to do, taking care
of his plantations, hunting foxes with his sport-loving
neighbors, and sitting for a part of each year in the
House of Burgesses at Williamsburg.
He was a tall man—more than six feet in height. He had
a commanding presence and a noble air, which plainly
said: "This is no common man."
He was shrewd in business. He was the best
 horseman and the best walker in Virginia. And no man knew more
about farming than he.
And so the years passed pleasantly enough at Mount
Vernon, and there were few who dreamed of the great
events and changes that were soon to take place.
King George the Third of England, who was the ruler of
the thirteen colonies, had done many unwise things.
He had made laws forbidding the colonists from trading
with other countries than his own.
He would not let them build factories to weave their
wool and flax into cloth.
He wanted to force them to buy all their goods in
England, and to send their corn and tobacco and cotton
there to pay for them.
And now after the long war with France he wanted to
make the colonists pay heavy taxes in order to meet the
expenses of that war.
They must not drink a cup of tea without first paying
tax on it; they must not sign a deed or a note without
first buying stamped paper on which to write it.
 In every colony there was a great excitement on
account of the tea tax and the stamp act, as it was called.
In the House of Burgesses at Williamsburg, a young man,
whose name was Patrick Henry, made a famous speech in
which he declared that the king had no right to tax
them without their consent.
George Washington heard that speech, and gave it his
Not long afterward, news came that in Boston a
shipload of tea had been thrown into the sea by the
colonists. Rather than pay the tax upon it, they would
drink no tea.
Then, a little later, still other news came. The king
had closed the port of Boston, and would not allow any
ships to come in or go out.
More than this, he had sent over a body of soldiers,
and had quartered them in Boston in order to keep the
people in subjection.
The whole country was aroused now. What did this mean?
Did the king intend to take away from the colonists all
the liberties that are so dear to men?
 The colonists must unite and agree upon doing something
to protect themselves and preserve their freedom. In
order to do this each colony was asked to send
delegates to Philadelphia to talk over the matter and
see what would be the best thing to do.
George Washington was one of the delegates from
Before starting he made a great speech in the House of
Burgesses. "If necessary, I will raise a thousand
men," he said, "subsist them at my own expense, and
march them to the relief of Boston."
But the time for marching to Boston had not quite come.
The delegates from the different colonies met in
Carpenter's Hall, in Philadelphia, on the 5th of
September, 1774. Their meeting has since been known as
the First Continental Congress of America.
For fifty-one days those wise, thoughtful men discussed
the great question that had brought them together.
What could the colonists do to
 escape the oppressive
laws that the King of England was trying to force upon
Many powerful speeches were made, but George Washington
sat silent. He was a doer rather than a talker.
At last the Congress decided to send an address to the
king to remind him of the rights of the colonists, and
humbly beg that he would not enforce his unjust laws.
And then, when all had been done that could be done,
Washington went back to his home at Mount Vernon, to
his family and his friends, his big plantations, his
fox-hunting, and his pleasant life as a country
But he knew as well as any man that more serious work
was near at hand.
XII.—THE BEGINNING OF THE WAR
All that winter the people of the colonies were anxious
and fearful. Would the king pay any heed to their
petition? Or would he force them to obey his unjust
 Then, in the spring, news came from Boston that matters
were growing worse and worse. The soldiers who were
quartered in that city were daily becoming more
insolent and overbearing.
"These people ought to have their town knocked about
their ears and destroyed," said one of the king's
On the 19th of April a company of the king's soldiers
started to Concord, a few miles from Boston, to seize
some powder which had been stored there. Some of the
colonists met them at Lexington, and there was a
This was the first battle in that long war commonly
called the Revolution.
Washington was now on his way to the North again. The
Second Continental Congress was to meet in Philadelphia
in May, and he was again a delegate from Virginia.
In the first days of the Congress no man was busier
than he. No man seemed to understand the situation of
things better than he. No man was listened to with
greater respect; and yet he said but little.
 Every day, he came into the hall wearing the blue and
buff uniform which belonged to him as a Virginia
colonel. It was as much as to say: "The time for
fighting has come, and I am ready."
The Congress thought it best to send another humble
petition to the king, asking him not to deprive the
people of their just rights.
In the meantime brave men were flocking towards Boston
to help the people defend themselves from the violence
of the king's soldiers. The war had begun, and no
The men of Congress saw now the necessity of providing
for this war. They asked, "Who shall be the
commander-in-chief of our colonial army?"
It was hardly worth while to ask such a question; for
there could be but one answer. Who, but George
No other person in America knew so much about war as
he. No other person was so well fitted to command.
the 15th of June, on motion of John Adams
 of Massachusetts, he was appointed to that responsible
place. On the next day he made a modest but noble
little speech before Congress.
He told the members of that body that he would serve
his country willingly and as well as he could—but not
for money. They might provide for his necessary
expenses, but he would never take any pay for his
And so, leaving all his own interests out of sight, he
undertook at once the great work that had been
entrusted to him. He undertook it, not for profit nor
for honor, but because of a feeling of duty to his
fellow-men. For eight weary years he forgot himself in
the service of his country.
Two weeks after his appointment General Washington rode
into Cambridge, near Boston, and took formal command of
It was but a small force, poorly clothed, poorly armed;
but every man had the love of country in his heart. It
was the first American army.
But so well did Washington manage matters that soon his
raw troops were in good shape for
 service. And so hard
did he press the king's soldiers in Boston that, before
another summer, they were glad to take ship and sail
away from the town which they had so long infested and
On the fourth day of the following July there was a
great stir in the town of Philadelphia. Congress was
sitting in the Hall of the State House. The streets
were full of people; everybody seemed anxious;
every body was in suspense.
Men were crowding around the State House and listening.
"Who is speaking now?" asked one.
"John Adams," was the answer.
"And who is speaking now?"
"Good! Let them follow his advice, for he knows what
Then there was a lull outside, for everybody wanted to
hear what the great Dr. Franklin had to say.
 After a while the same question was asked again: "Who
is speaking now?"
And the answer was: "Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. It
was he and Franklin who wrote it."
"Why, the Declaration of Independence, of course."
A little later some one said: "They will be ready to
sign it soon."
"But will they dare to sign it?"
"Dare? They dare not do otherwise."
Inside the hall grave men were discussing the acts of
the King of England.
"He has cut off our trade with all parts of the
world," said one.
"He has forced us to pay taxes without our consent,"
"He has sent his soldiers among us to burn our towns
and kill our people," said a third.
"He has tried to make the Indians our enemies," said a
"He is a tyrant and unfit to be the ruler of a free
people," they all agreed.
 And then everybody was silent while one read: "We,
therefore, the representatives of the United States of
America, solemnly publish and declare that the united
colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and
Soon afterward the bell in the high tower above the
hall began to ring.
"It is done!" cried the people. "They have signed the
Declaration of Independence."
"Yes, every colony has voted for it," said those
nearest the door. "The King of England shall no longer
rule over us."
And that was the way in which the United States came
into being. The thirteen colonies were now thirteen
Up to this time Washington and his army had been
fighting for the rights of the people as colonists.
They had been fighting in order to oblige the king to
do away with the unjust laws which he had made. But
now they were to fight for freedom and for the
independence of the United States.
By and by you will read in your histories how
 wisely and bravely Washington conducted the war. You will
learn how he held out against the king's soldiers on
Long Island and at White Plains; how he crossed the
Delaware amid floating ice and drove the English from
Trenton; how he wintered at Morristown; how he suffered
at Valley Forge; how he fought at Germantown and
Monmouth and Yorktown.
There were six years of fighting, of marching here and
there, of directing and planning, of struggling in the
face of every discouragement.
Eight years passed, and then peace came, for
independence had been won, and this our country was
made forever free.
On the 2nd of November, 1783, Washington bade farewell
to his army. On the 23d of December he resigned his
commission as commander-in-chief.
There were some who suggested that Washington should
make himself king of this country; and indeed this he
might have done, so great was the people's love and
But the great man spurned such suggestions.
 He said,
"If you have any regard for your country or respect for
me, banish those thoughts and never again speak of
XIV.—THE FIRST PRESIDENT
Washington was now fifty-two years old.
The country was still in an unsettled condition. True,
it was free from English control. But there was no
strong government to hold the states together.
Each state was a little country of itself, making its
own laws, and having its own selfish aims without much
regard for its sister states. People did not think of
the United States as one great undivided nation.
And so matters were in bad enough shape, and they grew
worse and worse as the months went by.
Wise men saw that unless something should be done to
bring about a closer union of the states, they would
soon be in no better condition that when ruled by the
 And so a great convention was held in Philadelphia to
determine what could be done to save the country from
ruin. George Washington was chosen to preside over this
convention; and no man's words had greater weight than
He said, "Let us raise a standard to which the wise and
honest can repair. The event is in the hand of God."
That convention did a great and wonderful work; for it
framed the Constitution by which our country has ever
since been governed.
And soon afterward, in accordance with that
Constitution, the people of the country were called
upon to elect a President. Who should it be?
Who could it be but Washington?
When the electoral votes were counted, every vote was
for George Washington of Virginia.
And so, on the 16th of April, 1789, the great man again
bade adieu to Mount Vernon and to private life, and set
out for New York. For the city of Washington had not
yet been built, and New York was the first capital of
 There were no railroads at that time, and so the
journey was made in a coach. All along the road the
people gathered to see their hero-president and show
him their love.
On the 30th of April he was inaugurated at the old
Federal Hall in New York.
"Long live George Washington, President of the United
States!" shouted the people. Then the cannon roared,
the bells rang, and the new government of the United
States—the government which we have to-day—began its
Washington was fifty-seven years old at the time of his
Perhaps no man was ever called to the doing of more
difficult things. The entire government must be built
up from the beginning, and all its machinery put into
But so well did he meet the expectations of the people,
that when his first term was near its close he was
again elected President, receiving every electoral
In your histories you will learn of the many difficult
tasks which he performed during those
 years of the
nation's infancy. There were new troubles with England,
troubles with the Indians, jealousies and disagreements
among the law-makers of the country. But amidst all
these trials Washington stood steadfast, wise,
cool—conscious that he was right, and strong enough to
Before the end of his second term, people began to talk
about electing him for the third time. They could not
think of any other man holding the highest office in
the country. They feared that no other man could be
safely entrusted with the great responsibilities which
he had borne so nobly.
But Washington declared that he would not accept office
again. The government was now on a firm footing. There
were others who could manage its affairs wisely and
And so, in September, 1796, he published his Farewell
Address. It was full of wise and wholesome advice.
"Beware of attacks upon the Constitution. Beware of
those who think more of their party
 than of their
country. Promote education. Observe justice. Treat
with good faith all nations. Adhere to the right. Be
united—be united. Love your country." These were some
of the things that he said.
John Adams, who had been vice-president eight years,
was chosen to be the new President, and Washington
again retired to Mount Vernon.
XV.—"FIRST IN WAR, FIRST IN PEACE"
In the enjoyment of his home life, Washington did not
forget his country. It would, indeed, have been hard
for him not to keep informed about public affairs; for
men were all the time coming to him to ask for help and
advice regarding this measure or that.
The greatest men of the nation felt that he must know
what was wisest and best for the country's welfare.
Soon after his retirement an unexpected trouble arose.
There was another war between
Eng-  land and France. The
French were very anxious that the United States should
join in the quarrel.
When they could not bring this about by persuasion,
they tried abuse. They insulted the officers of our
government; they threatened war.
The whole country was aroused. Congress began to take
steps for the raising of an army and the building of a
navy. But who should lead the army?
All eyes were again turned toward Washington. He had
saved the country once; he could save it again. The
President asked him if he would again be the
He answered that he would do so, on condition that he
might choose his assistants. But unless the French
should actually invade this country, he must not be
expected to go into the field.
And so, at the last, General Washington is again the
commander-in-chief of the American army. But there is
to be no fighting this time. The French see that the
people of the United States cannot be frightened; they
see that the
 government cannot be driven; they leave
off their abuse, and are ready to make friends.
Washington's work is done now. On the 12th of
December, 1799, he mounts his horse and rides out over
his farms. The weather is cold; the snow is falling;
but he stays out for two or three hours.
The next morning he has a sore throat; he has taken
cold. The snow is still falling, but he will go out
again. At night he is very hoarse; he is advised to
"Oh, no," he answers, "you know I never take anything
for a cold."
But in the night he grows much worse; early the next
morning the doctor is brought. It is too late. He
grows rapidly worse. He knows that the end is near.
"It is well," he says; and these are his last words.
Washington died on the 14th of December, 1799. He had
lived nearly sixty-eight years.
His sudden death was a shock to the entire country.
Every one felt as though he had lost a
 personal friend. The mourning for him was general and sincere.
In the Congress of the United States his funeral
oration was pronounced by his friend, Henry Lee, who
"First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts
of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble
and endearing scenes of private life. Pious, just,
humane, temperate, uniform, dignified, and commanding,
his example was edifying to all around him, as were the
effects of that example lasting.
"Such was the man America has lost! Such was the man
for whom our country mourns!"
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