Hundreds of additional titles available for
online reading when you join Gateway to the Classics
GEORGE WASHINGTON BEFORE THE REVOLUTION
 AMONG the builders of our country one man looms
up above them all. Thousands have risked their lives
in America's battles. Hundreds have given the best
of their energy to the building of America's institutions,
and many have served as her chief executive. But none
of these have needed the steadfast faith and courage to
hold together a few crude colonists against a king's
disciplined army. None of these have faced the problem
of forming a nation out of thirteen impoverished colonies,
at the close of a long war. At the very head of America's
great men stands George Washington, the father of his
country, "first in war, first in peace," and always "first in
the hearts of his countrymen."
George Washington was born in Westmoreland County,
Virginia, on February 22, 1732. While he was still a
little fellow his father, Augustine Washington, moved to
a plantation near Fredericksburg. Here the family lived
in a frame house with an immense chimney at either end.
There were four rooms on the first floor, and above was an
attic under the steep sloping roof.
One day during the summer of 1739 all was excitement
in the frame house. "Lawrence is coming! Lawrence is
coming!" shouted the boys, while their mother
completed the last details of the homecoming she had long ago
 planned for her stepson. Lawrence and his brother
Augustine had been in England, being educated; and now
Lawrence was coming home to live.
There was no need to go far to meet him. In those
days each large river plantation had its private wharf.
Slowly the ship sailed up the Rappahannock to Augustine
Washington's landing, and Lawrence was home.
And now life had many new interests for George.
Lawrence, like all colonial men, was a good shot and a fine
horseman, and loved hunting, horse racing, and sports of
all kinds. In this older brother George saw what he
himself wanted to become; and in George, Lawrence found
a straightforward, honest, earnest boy. So, in spite of the
fourteen years difference in age, the two became fast
Lawrence had been back barely a year when war broke
out between England and Spain, and Lawrence
Washington set out to serve under Admiral Vernon.
Soon came reports of the regiment's bravery, which
gave George an added pride in his elder brother, and raised
in his heart a great and lasting love for a military life.
And George too became a soldier.
Mr. Hobby's schoolhouse stood out in a field, and there
George was commander-in-chief. With school out and
work done, drills, parades, and battles became the order
of the day. Although the young commander was quick-tempered
and determined, he was generous and willing
to play fair; and his companions loyally charged
numberless walls and fought countless battles under his
In the autumn of 1742 Lawrence came home again; but
it is doubtful if George saw quite as much of him as before
the war, for the elder brother soon fell in love with Anne
Fairfax, and became engaged to her.
 The next spring George's father died suddenly. To
Lawrence he left his estate on the Potomac, which
Lawrence called Mount Vernon in honor of the Admiral under
whom he had served. To the second son, Augustine, he
gave his old estate on Bridges Creek in Westmoreland
County. George was to have the house and lands on the
Rappahannock, when he became of age. The other
children were all provided for, and they and George were
left under the guardianship of their mother.
MOUNT VERNON A CENTURY AGO.
In July Lawrence Washington and Anne Fairfax were
married and went to live at Mount Vernon. Augustine,
too, left the family home to take charge of his property on
There was no question as to the course these two were
to follow. With George it was different. He had learned
about all that his old schoolmaster, Mr. Hobby, could
teach; and that was little enough. There was no other
 school near his home, and it was impossible to send him
to England as the elder brothers had been sent.
A good school for those days was kept by a Mr.
Williams not far from Augustine's home, and at length it
was settled that George should live with Augustine and go
to this school.
From the accounts of his life at Bridges Creek it is
hard to decide whether he worked or played with greater
diligence. His copy books still exist, all done with such
neatness and care that it would seem as if they could have
left no time for play. On the other hand he entered into
so many sports, practicing each so thoroughly, that it
would seem as if there could have been little time for
study. In running he had no equal. Not a boy in the
school could throw as he could,
and with wrestling it was the
While her son was away at
school Mrs. Washington did not
fail to keep in touch with him;
and she arranged to have him at
home whenever that was possible.
Here, thanks to her untiring
efforts, affairs went on much as
before her husband's death. She
attended to every detail. She
was stern and quick-tempered;
and when she drove her open gig
to any part of the plantation and
found that the slaves had failed
to carry out her directions to the letter, they had good
cause to fear.
A HOUSE SLAVE OF WASHINGTON'S DAY.
She was devoted to her children, but even they stood
in awe of her and gave her unquestioning obedience.
 There is a tale which shows that, while demanding
much, she was just and willing to forgive. Early one
vacation morning George and some companions were
looking over his mother's splendid Virginia horses. Among
them was a sorrel which especially pleased Mrs.
Washington. George told how no one had ever been able to
ride this horse, so fierce and ungovernable he was. And
then because George was young and strong and looking for
adventure, he impulsively proposed that if his friends
would help him bridle the horse he would ride him. Of
course they were ready to help, and somehow the bridle
was put on. George sprang to the horse's back. Away
they went. The horse reared and plunged. The other
boys fairly held their breath expecting each moment to
see George thrown. Still he held on. Finally the wild
furious animal gave one mighty leap into the air, burst
a blood vessel, and fell dead. Just then came the call to
breakfast, and the frightened boys walked toward the
house asking each other, "What shall we do? Who will
tell what we have done?"
As luck would have it, at the table Mrs. Washington
asked, "Have you seen my horses this morning? I am
told my favorite is in excellent condition."
The boys exchanged a glance, and then George said,
"Your favorite, the sorrel, is dead, madam," and went on
to tell the whole story.
First an angry flush came to Mrs. Washington's face;
but when George had finished she proudly raised her head
and said to her guests, "It is well. While I regret the
loss of my favorite horse, I rejoice in my son who speaks
When George was fourteen he took up the study of
surveying, as that seemed to give the best promise for
the future. By way of practice, he surveyed the fields
 around the schoolhouse and on the neighboring plantations,
making exact and careful calculations, all of which
he neatly put down in notebooks.
In the autumn of 1747, when he was under sixteen
years of age, Washington's schooling came to an end, and
he went to Mount Vernon to live with Lawrence.
LORD FAIRFAX, a relative of Mrs. Lawrence Washington,
owned large tracts of land in the beautiful valley of
the Shenandoah. All this land had to be surveyed, and
to his young friend George Washington, Lord Fairfax
gave the work. Of course Washington was delighted with
the opportunity; and in March, 1748, when he was sixteen
years old, he set out on horseback with a small company
A hard month was before him. The rivers were so
swollen from the spring thaws that fords were out of the
question, and it was necessary to swim the horses across
the ugly streams. The weather was cold. Fires were not
always to be had. Food was none too plentiful. What
there was each man must cook for himself on forked sticks
over the fire. Chips were the only plates. Nights in a
tent, or more often on the ground, were varied by an
occasional night in a settler's cabin.
Such incidents with long hard tramps and constant
work made up the story of Washington's first surveying
trip. In April he reached Mount Vernon and laid the
result of his work before Lord Fairfax. Lord Fairfax went
over the carefully prepared maps and was so delighted that
he used his influence to have Washington appointed Public
Surveyor for Culpeper County. This appointment gave
 authority to his work, and how well it was deserved may
be seen from the fact that his surveys are unquestioned to
LORD FAIRFAX ON HIS VIRGINIA ESTATE.
Now anxious times came to Mount Vernon. Lawrence
became ill with consumption; and in July, 1752, this much
loved brother died. When his will was read it was found
that he had appointed George guardian of his little
daughter, and heir to his estates in case the child herself should
 not live. And so it was that on her death, not long after,
Mount Vernon became the property of George Washington.
GOVERNOR DINWIDDIE'S MESSENGER
IN the early days when the English settlers were founding
colonies along the Atlantic, the French were doing
the same along the St. Lawrence River. Gradually, as the
colonies grew, the settlers turned their attention to the
great lands that lay beyond what they had already seen.
This was true especially of the French. First,
missionaries worked their way along the northern border of
New York, floated in canoes on the Great Lakes and even
down the Mississippi River. And later, French explorers
followed the missionaries and established forts here and
there, as they went along.
The English, too, were attracted by the wild western
lands and sent fur traders to barter with the Indians there.
Both France and England claimed the land.
Rich in game, fertile, covered with fine forests, the
beautiful Ohio country seemed especially desirable. So,
while the English formed what was known as the Ohio
Company, and laid plans for sending out colonists to take
possession of the disputed district, the French built forts
and stirred up the Indians to attack English settlements.
In the spring of 1753 fifteen hundred Frenchmen
landed at Presqu'isle, erected a fort, and set about cutting
a road through the forests to French Creek, where they
built Fort LeBceuf. News of this move was not long in
spreading throughout the English colonies. What was
to be done?
THE FRENCH AND ENGLISH FORTS OF THE WESTERN FRONTIER.
Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia was one of the first
to realize the seriousness of the question. He promptly
sent letters to England, telling of the danger. England
 ordered, "Build forts near the Ohio if you can get the
money. Require the French to depart peacefully; and
if they will not do so, we do hereby strictly charge and
demand you to drive them off by force of arms."
To require the French to depart peacefully was more
easily said than done. The French were hundreds of
miles away; many
high and rugged
mountains rose between Williamsburg,
and the French fort;
and over half the
journey lay through
forests. The man who
England's message must
know something of
the country, must
ways, must be used
to hardships. He
must be strong, full
of courage, and ready for whatever might arise. Such a
man was George Washington. And Governor Dinwiddie
chose him as his messenger.
It was the middle of November when the twenty-one-year-old
leader and his party got away from Will's Creek—the
end of civilization. Tramping through the forests
amid blinding snowstorms, crossing raging creeks, always
on the outlook for Indian treachery, slowly they worked
their way toward the French fort. On December 4th
they came to Venango, a French outpost, and at dusk on
 the 11th reached Fort LeBoeuf. Early the next morning,
Washington presented Governor Dinwiddie's letter to the
For three days the Commander and his officers discussed
the answer which was to be sent to the English Governor.
Meanwhile Washington looked over the fort, drew its
plan, and learned all he could regarding its strength and
the number of soldiers detailed to guard it.
The days of waiting were anxious ones. The snow
was falling faster and faster. Finally Washington and his
companions got away from the fort, homeward bound.
On the journey home, the party encountered new
difficulties. They had canoes that they had borrowed from
the French; but in many places the creeks were so low
that the men were obliged to get out of the boats and,
wading in the icy waters, haul them over the shoals.
After nearly a week of such traveling they came to
the French outpost. Here Washington proposed to
Christopher Gist, one of his men, that they leave the rest
of the party and make for Will's Creek on foot; and so it
They walked eighteen miles the first day. The cold
was dreadful. All the streams were so frozen that it was
almost impossible to find water to drink. By night
Washington was nearly exhausted. The next day they
met an Indian who seemed so friendly that Washington
asked him to guide them through that part of the forest.
For ten miles all went well. Then, as they came to an
open space, suddenly the guide, who was only fifteen paces
anead,turned and fired.
"Are you shot?" shouted Washington.
"No," answered Gist.
Together they rushed on the Indian before he could
reload. Gist wished to kill him, but Washington would
 not listen to that. "If you will not have him killed, we
must get away and then travel all night," urged Gist in
low tones. "He will surely follow our tracks as soon as it
is light, and we must have a good start."
So, pretending that they thought the Indian's shot an
accident, the two men let him go; and, when sure he was
out of hearing, they crept away in the opposite direction.
All that night and all the nest day they hurried on, with
no sleep and with sore and bleeding feet.
At last they came to a place where some Indians had
been hunting. Mixing their tracks with those of the
savages they separated for a time, in order that their
bloodthirsty guide, if he followed them to this point, could
find no two trails going on together. When they met again
some distance farther on, they felt for the first time that
it was safe to sleep.
They had now reached the Allegheny River, which was
full of floating ice. A whole day was spent in building a
raft on which to cross. They pushed off. The current
was very swift, and before the raft was half way across
the river it was being jammed on every side by cakes of
ice. Every moment they expected that it would be
forced under, and that they would perish. Struggling to
keep a clear space for the raft with a long pole, Washington
was all at once jerked into the water. It was by the
merest chance that he was able to catch hold of one of the
logs and so pull himself back on the raft.
GIST PULLING WASHINGTON FROM THE FROZEN STREAM.
There seemed no hope of reaching either shore now;
so when the current carried them near an island, both
Washington and Gist jumped into the freezing water and
swam for the land. Gist had all his fingers and some
of his toes frozen. By morning the ice in the river was
solid, and it was comparatively easy to reach the mainland.
A few days later Washington arrived at Williamsburg
 and gave to Governor Dinwiddie the letter that he had
carried so carefully on his long and dangerous journey.
As usual, Washington had kept a journal of the trip;
and this, too, he gave to the Governor, thinking it the
simplest way to report all the events of his travels. So
straightforward was the journal and so clearly did it set
forth the exact conditions on the Ohio, leaving out all
complaint of hardship, that Governor Dinwiddie ordered
a copy of it sent to each of the colonial governors.
 Washington found himself the hero of the hour. Not
yet twenty-two, he had faced a great responsibility and
had done well all that he had been asked to do. But
still, far from being proud and self-satisfied, when he was
told that his journal was to be published he modestly
wrote in it, "I think I can do no less than apologize for
the numberless imperfections of it."
GREAT MEADOWS AND FORT NECESSITY
THAT the French would not depart from the Ohio for
the asking, was plainly shown by the French commander's
reply to Governor Dinwiddie's letter. Then they must be
driven away by force. Governor Dinwiddie determined
that Virginia should do her full share, and ordered the
enlistment of men at Alexandria. In February, 1754, he
sent out a company to build a fort on a site chosen by
Washington, where the Allegheny and Monongahela
On the 2nd of April Washington set out with a small
force to garrison the fort that was being built. Before
long discouraging reports reached him. Five hundred
Frenchmen had landed and demanded the builders of the
fort to surrender. They had surrendered, and their
victors were even now building Fort Duquesne on the
very site chosen by the English.
Here was a gloomy outlook for Washington.
However, it was decided to push on. When the little army had
covered about half the distance, an Indian came to
Washington bearing word that the French army was coming.
Washington had been expecting as much; so, hurrying
his soldiers forward to a place called Great Meadows, he
had the bushes cleared away and trenches dug. But no
enemy appeared. A few nights later another Indian
 messenger reported that his chief was in camp six miles
off and felt sure that the French were hiding near him.
Prompt to act, Washington took forty of his men and
joined the Indians. Scouts tracked the French to a
hollow surrounded by rocks and trees; and in single file
Washington, his men, and the Indian warriors crept to
 the French hiding place, and surrounded it. While
Washington was moving through the trees, he was seen
by the French. They sprang to their arms. In a
moment both sides were firing. For fifteen minutes the
fighting lasted, and then the French gave up.
ATTACKING THE FRENCH HIDING PLACE.
This little skirmish proved of much greater importance
than could have been foreseen. In it was shed the first
blood of the French and Indian War. Moreover, the
attack of the English added to the French determination to
drive the English away from the Ohio. Washington
appreciated the situation; and when he got back to Great
Meadows, he began the work of strengthening Fort
Necessity, as the encampment was now called.
On the morning of the 3rd of July, the French appeared
before the fort, and a battle began. All day it lasted. At eight
that night the French asked for a parley, which was granted.
The French proposed that, on condition that the
English would surrender, the whole garrison might go
back to Virginia. But for a year they must not attempt
to build any more forts this side of the mountains.
With almost no provisions, with their powder about
gone, with more than fifty of their men dead or wounded,
while the French might be reinforced at any moment,
Washington and his officers could see no course but to
accept the conditions. So in the morning the fort was
deserted, and the weary, half-starved soldiers started
slowly home. On the way Washington shared their
hardships and encouraged them by his cheerful and
uncomplaining endurance. And all the time his heart was heavy.
He was young; he had set out to win and was going back
At Williamsburg he reported to Governor Dinwiddie,
and then went to Alexandria to recruit new companies to
lead against the French.
 But England had now decreed that any officer holding
a commission from the King should outrank any officer
holding a colonial commission. To have commanded an
expedition, and then to be outranked by any upstart
officer from England, was more than Washington's pride
could bear. He therefore resigned from the service.
BY his little skirmish with the French in the wilderness
hollow, Washington had started a war which was to spread
beyond the colonies and become of grave concern abroad.
France sent eighteen war vessels filled with French
soldiers to Quebec. And England, not to bo outdone,
likewise sent troops to her colonies here. Two regiments
were assigned to Virginia; and early in 1755 the British
ships sailed by Mount Vernon to put the soldiers ashore
at Alexandria, only eight miles away.
Whether in the army or out, Washington could not
withhold a lively interest in the redcoats. Many an early
morning found him on horseback headed for the English
camp, hoping to learn from the trained soldiers much that
would help him, if ever he had the good fortune to
reenter the service of his country.
Knowing of course who he was and his story, the
British officers watched the young Virginian as he went
about their camp. He was six feet two inches tall,
broad-shouldered, straight as an Indian; and he walked with a
strong, swinging gait. His dignified bearing, and his way
of looking each man in the face, could not fail to win
friends. Soon General Braddock, the English commander,
noticed Washington, learned of his desire to serve and the
sole reason he was not on duty, and offered him a position.
on his staff.
 Exciting times followed. It was easy to see that the
strength of the French lay in their splendid line of forts.
Troops, ammunition, and food could be hurriedly sent
from one to another. To defeat the French, this line
must be broken. Therefore it was agreed that one force
should be sent to take the post at Niagara; that one should
march against Crown Point, and a third against Acadia;
and that General Braddock himself should take Fort
General Braddock was brave, resolute, and energetic.
But his bravery was of the sort that made him despise
his enemy; and his energy led him to underestimate the
task before him. He knew nothing of the Indian way of
fighting; nothing of the hardships of the wilderness. He
was extreme in his British contempt for colonists.
By the middle of May, General Braddock's troops
had arrived at Will's Creek; and on the 10th of June, 1755,
the great procession headed for Fort Duquesne.
The 9th of July was chosen for the attack on the
French fort, and at sunrise that morning the army was on
the move. What a sight it was! With drums beating,
fifes playing, flags flying, bayonets flashing in the sun, and
redcoats showing bright against the forest green, the army
marched to victory. All was in perfect order. Riding
with the General's staff, Washington was thrilled and
delighted. Finally the last ford was made, and now
Fort Duquesne was only eight miles away.
"Forward! March!" ordered the officers, and the
soldiers went briskly along the road that led through the
forest to the fort.
Suddenly a French officer was seen rushing down the
road, while behind him came swarms of French and
Indians. At a signal, they darted into the woods, hid
themselves among the trees and in the thickets, and with
 blood-curdling yells began pouring a deadly fire into the
"Scatter your men as they have done," Washington,
begged the General. But that was not the English way of
fighting. The soldiers must stand in ranks to fire. The
fearful yells and the smoke from the enemies' rifles were
all that told them where to aim.
The officers did everything in their power to keep order
and encourage the men. But soldier after soldier fell,
picked off by the shots of the hidden foe.
From time to time a savage in war paint and feathers
leaped from behind a tree to scalp a victim or seize a horse
whose rider had been killed. And he in turn was killed
by the sure aim of some Virginian, firing from the shelter
of the trees. For the despised Virginians knew the fashion
of savage warfare, and, like the French and Indians, had
 scattered through the forest. By keeping their senses
and fighting, every man for himself, they did much to
protect the redcoats huddled in the open roadway.
The English troops were fast becoming panic-stricken.
All orders were unnoticed. They shot at random. No
foe was to be seen, and yet the constant firing from the
Washington was everywhere. With flashing eyes and
determined face, he galloped back and forth in the thickest
of the fight, repeating the General's orders and shouting
to the men to keep up their courage. His horse was shot
under him. In a moment he leaped on another. Soon
this, too, went down. Four bullets tore through his coat,
and still he rushed on unwounded.
At last General Braddock was shot, and fell from his
horse. The troops broke and ran wildly. On, on they
tore, leaving Washington and a few officers and provincials
the task of carrying off the dying General. The defeated
army returned to Virginia.
SECOND ATTACK ON FORT DUQUESNE
THE next three years Washington spent in protecting
the Virginian frontier from Indian raids. He had been
offered the command of Virginia's troops, and had gladly
In the fall of 1758 Washington's troops joined in
another attack on Fort Duquesne. But the reception at
the fort was very unlike the one given General Braddock.
Scouts had reported to the French commander the English
approach. Winter was coming on, and the French line
of forts had been broken in the North. There was no hope
of reinforcement or supplies from that direction. The
whole garrison at the fort was not over five hundred. To
 wait for the English would mean certain surrender. So,
when the British troops were within a day's march, the
French commander blew up his magazine, burned the fort,
and retreated with his men.
Imagine the astonishment of the English. A stout
defense and a brisk battle was what they had expected, not
an empty fort. On the 25th of November, Washington
and the advance guard marched in and raised the British
flag over the smoking ruins of Fort Duquesne.
Now, finally, the Ohio country was secured to the
English. And no longer responsible for the safety of
the Virginia frontier, Colonel Washington could honorably
resign his commission.
The war was not yet ended. Fighting continued in
the North. It was not until September of the next year
that Quebec—the last great stronghold of the French—fell,
and not until 1763 that the treaty was signed which put
an end to French power in America.