Life of George Washington

Now and then his old friend and instructor in the noble art of venery, Lord
Fairfax, would be on a visit to his relatives at Belvoir, and then the
hunting was kept up with unusual spirit. [Footnote: Hunting memoranda from
Washington’s journal, Mount Vernon.

Nov. 22.–Hunting with Lord Fairfax and his brother, and Colonel Fairfax.

Nov. 25.–Mr. Bryan Fairfax, Mr. Grayson, and Phil. Alexander came here by
sunrise. Hunted and catched a fox with these, Lord Fairfax, his brother,
and Col. Fairfax,–all of whom, with Mr. Fairfax and Mr. Wilson of England,
dined here. 26th and 29th.–Hunted again with the same company.

Dec. 5.–Fox-hunting with Lord Fairfax and his brother, and Colonel
Fairfax. Started a fox and lost it. Dined at Belvoir, and returned in the

His lordship, however, since the alarms of Indian war had ceased, lived
almost entirely at Greenway Court, where Washington was occasionally a
guest, when called by public business to Winchester. Lord Fairfax had made
himself a favorite throughout the neighborhood. As lord-lieutenant and
custos rotulorum of Frederick County, he presided at county courts held at
Winchester, where, during the sessions, he kept open table. He acted also
as surveyor and overseer of the public roads and highways, and was
unremitted in his exertions and plans for the improvement of the country.
Hunting, however, was his passion. When the sport was poor near home, he
would take his hounds to a distant part of the country, establish himself
at an inn, and keep open house and open table to every person of good
character and respectable appearance who chose to join him in following the

It was probably in quest of sport of the kind that he now and then, in the
hunting season, revisited his old haunts and former companions on the banks
of the Potomac, and then the beautiful woodland region about Belvoir and
Mount Vernon was sure to ring at early morn with the inspiring music of the

The waters of the Potomac also afforded occasional amusement in fishing and
shooting. The fishing was sometimes on a grand scale, when the herrings
came up the river in shoals, and the negroes of Mount Vernon were
marshalled forth to draw the seine, which was generally done with great
success. Canvas-back ducks abounded at the proper season, and the shooting
of them was one of Washington’s favorite recreations. The river border of
his domain, however, was somewhat subject to invasion. An oysterman once
anchored his craft at the landing-place, and disturbed the quiet of the
neighborhood by the insolent and disorderly conduct of himself and crew. It
took a campaign of three days to expel these invaders from the premises.

A more summary course was pursued with another interloper. This was a
vagabond who infested the creeks and inlets which bordered the estate,
lurking in a canoe among the reeds and bushes, and making great havoc among
the canvas-back ducks. He had been warned off repeatedly, but without
effect. As Washington was one day riding about the estate he heard the
report of a gun from the margin of the river. Spurring in that direction he
dashed through the bushes and came upon the culprit just as he was pushing
his canoe from shore. The latter raised his gun with a menacing look; but
Washington rode into the stream, seized the painter of the canoe, drew it
to shore, sprang from his horse, wrested the gun from the hands of the
astonished delinquent, and inflicted on him a lesson in “Lynch law” that
effectually cured him of all inclination to trespass again on these
forbidden shores.

The Potomac, in the palmy days of Virginia, was occasionally the scene of a
little aquatic state and ostentation among the rich planters who resided on
its banks. They had beautiful barges, which, like their land equipages,
were imported from England; and mention is made of a Mr. Digges who always
received Washington in his barge, rowed by six negroes, arrayed in a kind
of uniform of check shirts and black velvet caps. At one time, according to
notes in Washington’s diary, the whole neighborhood is thrown into a
paroxysm of festivity, by the anchoring of a British frigate (the Boston)
in the river, just in front of the hospitable mansion of the Fairfaxes. A
succession of dinners and breakfasts takes place at Mount Vernon and
Belvoir, with occasional tea parties on board of the frigate. The
commander, Sir Thomas Adams, his officers, and his midshipmen, are
cherished guests, and have the freedom of both establishments.

Occasionally he and Mrs. Washington would pay a visit to Annapolis, at that
time the seat of government of Maryland, and partake of the gayeties which
prevailed during the session of the legislature. The society of these seats
of provincial governments was always polite and fashionable, and more
exclusive than in these republican days, being, in a manner, the outposts
of the English aristocracy, where all places of dignity or profit were
secured for younger sons, and poor, but proud relatives. During the session
of the Legislature, dinners and balls abounded, and there were occasional
attempts at theatricals. The latter was an amusement for which Washington
always had a relish, though he never had an opportunity of gratifying it
effectually. Neither was he disinclined to mingle in the dance, and we
remember to have heard venerable ladies, who had been belles in his day,
pride themselves on having had him for a partner, though, they added, he
was apt to be a ceremonious and grave one. [Footnote: We have had an
amusing picture of Annapolis, as it was at this period, furnished to us,
some years since by an octogenarian who had resided there in his boyhood.
“In those parts of the country,” said he, “where the roads were too rough
for carriages, the ladies used to ride on ponies, followed by black
servants on horseback; in this way his mother, then advanced in life, used
to travel, in a scarlet cloth riding habit, which she had procured from
England. Nay, in this way, on emergencies,” he added, “the young ladies
from the country used to come to the balls at Annapolis, riding with their
hoops arranged ‘fore and aft’ like lateen sails; and after dancing all
night, would ride home again in the morning.”]

In this round of rural occupation, rural amusements, and social
intercourse, Washington passed several tranquil years, the halcyon season
of his life. His already established reputation drew many visitors to Mount
Vernon; some of his early companions in arms were his occasional guests,
and his friendships and connections linked him with some of the most
prominent and worthy people of the country, who were sure to be received
with cordial, but simple and unpretending hospitality. His marriage was
unblessed with children; but those of Mrs. Washington experienced from him
parental care and affection, and the formation of their minds and manners
was one of the dearest objects of his attention. His domestic concerns and
social enjoyments, however, were not permitted to interfere with his public
duties. He was active by nature, and eminently a man of business by habit.
As judge of the county court, and member of the House of Burgesses, he had
numerous calls upon his time and thoughts, and was often drawn from home;
for whatever trust he undertook, he was sure to fulfil with scrupulous

About this time we find him engaged, with other men of enterprise, in a
project to drain the great Dismal Swamp, and render it capable of
cultivation. This vast morass was about thirty miles long, and ten miles
wide, and its interior but little known. With his usual zeal and hardihood
he explored it on horseback and on foot. In many parts it was covered with
dark and gloomy woods of cedar, cypress, and hemlock, or deciduous trees,
the branches of which were hung with long drooping moss. Other parts were
almost inaccessible, from the density of brakes and thickets, entangled
with vines, briers, and creeping plants, and intersected by creeks and
standing pools. Occasionally the soil, composed of dead vegetable fibre,
was over his horse’s fetlocks, and sometimes he had to dismount and make
his way on foot over a quaking bog that shook beneath his tread.

In the centre of the morass he came to a great piece of water, six miles
long, and three broad, called Drummond’s Pond, but more poetically
celebrated as the Lake of the Dismal Swamp. It was more elevated than any
other part of the swamp, and capable of feeding canals, by which the whole
might be traversed. Having made the circuit of it, and noted all its
characteristics, he encamped for the night upon the firm land which
bordered it, and finished his explorations on the following day.

In the ensuing session of the Virginia Legislature, the association in
behalf of which he had acted, was chartered under the name of the Dismal
Swamp Company; and to his observations and forecast may be traced the
subsequent improvement and prosperity of that once desolate region.



Tidings of peace gladdened the colonies in the spring of 1763. The
definitive treaty between England and France had been signed at
Fontainbleau. Now, it was trusted, there would be an end to those horrid
ravages that had desolated the interior of the country. “The desert and the
silent place would rejoice, and the wilderness would blossom like the

The month of May proved the fallacy of such hopes. In that month the famous
insurrection of the Indian tribes broke out, which, from the name of the
chief who was its prime mover and master spirit, is commonly called
Pontiac’s war. The Delawares and Shawnees, and other of those emigrant
tribes of the Ohio, among whom Washington had mingled, were foremost in
this conspiracy. Some of the chiefs who had been his allies, had now taken
up the hatchet against the English. The plot was deep laid, and conducted
with. Indian craft and secrecy. At a concerted time an attack was made upon
all the posts from Detroit to Fort Pitt (late Fort Duquesne). Several of
the small stockaded forts, the places of refuge of woodland neighborhoods,
were surprised and sacked with remorseless butchery. The frontiers of
Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Virginia, were laid waste; traders in the
wilderness were plundered and slain; hamlets and farmhouses were wrapped in
flames, and their inhabitants massacred. Shingis, with his Delaware
warriors, blockaded Fort Pitt, which, for some time, was in imminent
danger. Detroit, also, came near falling into the hands of the savages. It
needed all the influence of Sir William Johnson, that potentate in savage
life, to keep the Six Nations from joining this formidable conspiracy; had
they done so, the triumph of the tomahawk and scalping knife would have
been complete; as it was, a considerable time elapsed before the frontier
was restored to tolerable tranquillity.

Fortunately, Washington’s retirement from the army prevented his being
entangled in this savage war, which raged throughout the regions he had
repeatedly visited, or rather his active spirit had been diverted into a
more peaceful channel, for he was at this time occupied in the enterprise
just noticed, for draining the great Dismal Swamp.

Public events were now taking a tendency which, without any political
aspiration or forethought of his own, was destined gradually to bear him
away from his quiet home and individual pursuits, and launch him upon a
grander and wider sphere of action than any in which he had hitherto been

The prediction of the Count de Vergennes was in the process of fulfilment.
The recent war of Great Britain for dominion in America, though crowned
with success, had engendered a progeny of discontents in her colonies.
Washington was among the first to perceive its bitter fruits. British
merchants had complained loudly of losses sustained by the depreciation of
the colonial paper, issued during the late war, in times of emergency, and
had addressed a memorial on the subject to the Board of Trade. Scarce was
peace concluded, when an order from the board declared that no paper,
issued by colonial Assemblies, should thenceforward be a legal tender in
the payment of debts. Washington deprecated this “stir of the merchants” as
peculiarly ill-timed; and expressed an apprehension that the orders in
question “would get the whole country in flames.”

We do not profess, in this personal memoir, to enter into a wide scope of
general history, but shall content ourselves with a glance at the
circumstances and events which gradually kindled the conflagration thus
apprehended by the anxious mind of Washington.

Whatever might be the natural affection of the colonies for the mother
country,–and there are abundant evidences to prove that it was deep-rooted
and strong,–it had never been properly reciprocated. They yearned to be
considered as children; they were treated by her as changelings. Burke
testifies that her policy toward them from the beginning had been purely
commercial, and her commercial policy wholly restrictive. “It was the
system of a monopoly.”

Her navigation laws had shut their ports against foreign vessels; obliged
them to export their productions only to countries belonging to the British
crown; to import European goods solely from England, and in English ships;
and had subjected the trade between the colonies to duties. All
manufactures, too, in the colonies that might interfere with those of the
mother country had been either totally prohibited, or subjected to
intolerable restraints.

The acts of Parliament, imposing these prohibitions and restrictions, had
at various times produced sore discontent and opposition on the part of the
colonies, especially among those of New England. The interests of these
last were chiefly commercial, and among them the republican spirit
predominated. They had sprung into existence during that part of the reign
of James I. when disputes ran high about kingly prerogative and popular

The Pilgrims, as they styled themselves, who founded Plymouth Colony in
1620, had been incensed while in England by what they stigmatized as the
oppressions of the monarchy, and the established church. They had sought
the wilds of America for the indulgence of freedom of opinion, and had
brought with them the spirit of independence and self-government. Those who
followed them in the reign of Charles I. were imbued with the same spirit,
and gave a lasting character to the people of New England.

Other colonies, having been formed under other circumstances, might be
inclined toward a monarchical government, and disposed to acquiesce in its
exactions; but the republican spirit was ever alive in New England,
watching over “natural and chartered rights,” and prompt to defend them
against any infringement. Its example and instigation had gradually an
effect on the other colonies; a general impatience was evinced from time to
time of parliamentary interference in colonial affairs, and a disposition
in the various provincial Legislatures to think and act for themselves in
matters of civil and religious, as well as commercial polity.

There was nothing, however, to which the jealous sensibilities of the
colonies were more alive than to any attempt of the mother country to draw
a revenue from them by taxation. From the earliest period of their
existence, they had maintained the principle that they could only be taxed
by a Legislature in which they were represented. Sir Robert Walpole, when
at the head of the British government, was aware of their jealous
sensibility on this point, and cautious of provoking it. When American
taxation was suggested, “it must be a bolder man than himself,” he replied,
“and one less friendly to commerce, who should venture on such an
expedient. For his part, he would encourage the trade of the colonies to
the utmost; one half of the profits would be sure to come into the royal
exchequer through the increased demand for British manufactures.
_This_” said he, sagaciously, “_is taxing them more agreeably to
their own constitution and laws_.”

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