Life of George Washington

Washington was prompt in his attendance on the occasion; and foremost among
the patriotic members, who eagerly availed themselves of this long wished
for opportunity to legislate upon the general affairs of the colonies. One
of their most important measures was the appointment of a committee of
eleven persons, “whose business it should be to obtain the most clear and
authentic intelligence of all such acts and resolutions of the British
Parliament, or proceedings of administration, as may relate to or affect
the British colonies, and to maintain with their sister colonies a
correspondence and communication.”

The plan thus proposed by their “noble, patriotic sister colony of
Virginia,” [Footnote: Boston Town Records.] was promptly adopted by the
people of Massachusetts, and soon met with general concurrence. These
corresponding committees, in effect, became the executive power of the
patriot party, producing the happiest concert of design and action
throughout the colonies.

Notwithstanding the decided part taken by Washington in the popular
movement, very friendly relations existed between him and Lord Dunmore.
The latter appreciated his character, and sought to avail himself of his
experience in the affairs of the province. It was even concerted that
Washington should accompany his lordship on an extensive tour, which the
latter intended to make in the course of the summer along the western
frontier. A melancholy circumstance occurred to defeat this arrangement.

We have spoken of Washington’s paternal conduct towards the two children of
Mrs. Washington. The daughter, Miss Custis, had long been an object of
extreme solicitude. She was of a fragile constitution, and for some time
past had been in very declining health. Early in the present summer,
symptoms indicated a rapid change for the worse. Washington was absent from
home at the time. On his return to Mount Vernon, he found her in the last
stage of consumption.

Though not a man given to bursts of sensibility, he is said on the present
occasion to have evinced the deepest affliction; kneeling by her bedside,
and pouring out earnest prayers for her recovery. She expired on the 19th
of June, in the seventeenth year of her age. This, of course, put an end to
Washington’s intention of accompanying Lord Dunmore to the frontier; he
remained at home to console Mrs. Washington in her affliction,–furnishing
his lordship, however, with travelling hints and directions, and
recommending proper guides. And here we will take occasion to give a few
brief particulars of domestic affairs at Mount Vernon.

For a long time previous to the death of Miss Custis, her mother,
despairing of her recovery, had centred her hopes in her son, John Parke
Custis. This rendered Washington’s guardianship of him a delicate and
difficult task. He was lively, susceptible, and impulsive; had an
independent fortune in his own right, and an indulgent mother, ever ready
to plead in his behalf against wholesome discipline. He had been placed
under the care and instruction of an Episcopal clergyman at Annapolis, but
was occasionally at home, mounting his horse, and taking a part, while yet
a boy, in the fox-hunts at Mount Vernon. His education had consequently
been irregular and imperfect, and not such as Washington would have
enforced had he possessed over him the absolute authority of a father.
Shortly after the return of the latter from his tour to the Ohio, he was
concerned to find that there was an idea entertained of sending the lad
abroad, though but little more than sixteen years of age, to travel under
the care of his clerical tutor. Through his judicious interference, the
travelling scheme was postponed, and it was resolved to give the young
gentleman’s mind the benefit of a little preparatory home culture.

Little more than a year elapsed before the sallying impulses of the youth
had taken a new direction. He was in love; what was more, he was engaged to
the object of his passion, and on the high road to matrimony.

Washington now opposed himself to premature marriage as he had done to
premature travel. A correspondence ensued between him and the young lady’s
father, Benedict Calvert, Esq. The match was a satisfactory one to all
parties, but it was agreed, that it was expedient for the youth to pass a
year or two previously at college. Washington accordingly accompanied him
to New York, and placed him under the care of the Rev. Dr. Cooper,
president of King’s (now Columbia) College, to pursue his studies in that
institution. All this occurred before the death of his sister. Within a
year after that melancholy event, he became impatient for a union with the
object of his choice. His mother, now more indulgent than ever to this, her
only child, yielded her consent, and Washington no longer made opposition.

“It has been against my wishes,” writes the latter to President Cooper,
“that he should quit college in order that he may soon enter into a new
scene of life, which I think he would be much fitter for some years hence
than now. But having his own inclination, the desires of his mother, and
the acquiescence of almost all his relatives to encounter, I did not care,
as he is the last of the family, to push my opposition too far; I have,
therefore, submitted to a kind of necessity.”

The marriage was celebrated on the 3d of February, 1774, before the
bridegroom was twenty-one years of age.


We are induced to subjoin extracts of two letters from Washington relative
to young Custis. The first gives his objections to premature travel; the
second to premature matrimony. Both are worthy of consideration in this
country, where our young people have such a general disposition to “go

_To the reverend Jonathan Boucher (the tutor of young Custis)._

… “I cannot help giving it as my opinion, that his education, however
advanced it may be for a youth of his age, is by no means ripe enough for a
travelling tour; not that I think his becoming a mere scholar is a
desirable education for a gentleman, but I conceive a knowledge of books is
the basis upon which all other knowledge is to be built, and in travelling
he is to become acquainted with men and things, rather than books. At
present, however well versed he may be in the principles of the Latin
language (which is not to be wondered at, as he began the study of it as
soon as he could speak), he is unacquainted with several of the classic
authors that might be useful to him. He is ignorant of Greek, the
advantages of learning which I do not pretend to judge of; and he knows
nothing of French, which is absolutely necessary to him as a traveller. He
has little or no acquaintance with arithmetic, and is totally ignorant of
the mathematics–than which, at least, so much of them as relates to
surveying, nothing can be more essentially necessary to any man possessed
of a large landed estate, the bounds of some part or other of which are
always in controversy. Now whether he has time between this and next spring
to acquire a sufficient knowledge of these studies, I leave you to judge;
as, also, whether a boy of seventeen years old (which will be his age next
November), can have any just notions of the end and design of travelling. I
have already given it as my opinion that it would be precipitating this
event, unless he were to go immediately to the university for a couple of
years; in which case he could see nothing of America; which might be a
disadvantage to him, as it is to be expected that every man, who travels
with a view of observing the laws and customs of other countries, should be
able to give some description of the situation and government of his own.”

The following are extracts from the letter to Benedict Calvert, Esq., the
young lady’s father:

“I write to you on a subject of importance, and of no small embarrassment
to me; My son-in-law and ward, Mr. Custis, has, as I have been informed,
paid his addresses to your second daughter; and having made some progress
in her affections, has solicited her in marriage. How far a union of this
sort may be agreeable to you, you best can tell; but I should think myself
wanting in candor, were I not to confess that Miss Nelly’s amiable
qualities are acknowledged on all hands, and that an alliance with your
family will be pleasing to his.

“This acknowledgment being made, you must permit me to add, sir, that at
this, or in any short time, his youth, inexperience, and unripened
education are, and will be, insuperable obstacles, in my opinion, to the
completion of the marriage. As his guardian, I conceive it my indispensable
duty to endeavor to carry him through a regular course of education (many
branches of which, I am sorry to say, he is totally deficient in), and to
guide his youth to a more advanced age, before an event, on which his own
peace and the happiness of another are to depend, takes place. … If the
affection which they have avowed for each other is fixed upon a solid
basis, it will receive no diminution in the course of two or three years;
in which time he may prosecute his studies, and thereby render himself more
deserving of the lady, and useful to society. If, unfortunately, as they
are both young, there should be an abatement of affection on either side,
or both, it had better precede than follow marriage.

“Delivering my sentiments thus freely, will not, I hope, lead you into a
belief that I am desirous of breaking off the match. To postpone it is all
I have in view; for I shall recommend to the young gentleman, with the
warmth that becomes a man of honor, to consider himself as much engaged to
your daughter, as if the indissoluble knot were tied; and as the surest
means of effecting this, to apply himself closely to his studies, by which
he will, in a great measure, avoid those little flirtations with other
young ladies, that may, by dividing the attention, contribute not a little
to divide the affection.”



The general covenant throughout the colonies against the use of taxed tea,
had operated disastrously against the interests of the East India Company,
and produced an immense accumulation of the proscribed article in their
warehouses. To remedy this, Lord North brought in a bill (1773), by which
the company were allowed to export their teas from England to any part
whatever, without paying export duty. This, by enabling them to offer their
teas at a low price in the colonies would, he supposed, tempt the Americans
to purchase large quantities, thus relieving the company, and at the same
time benefiting the revenue by the impost duty. Confiding in the wisdom of
this policy, the company disgorged their warehouses, freighted several
ships with tea, and sent them to various parts of the colonies. This
brought matters to a crisis. One sentiment, one determination, pervaded the
whole continent. Taxation was to receive its definitive blow. Whoever
submitted to it was an enemy to his country. From New York and Philadelphia
the ships were sent back, unladen, to London. In Charleston the tea was
unloaded, and stored away in cellars and other places, where it perished.
At Boston the action was still more decisive. The ships anchored in the
harbor. Some small parcels of tea were brought on shore, but the sale of
them was prohibited. The captains of the ships, seeing the desperate state
of the case, would have made sail back for England, but they could not
obtain the consent of the consignees, a clearance at the custom-house, or a
passport from the governor to clear the fort. It was evident, the tea was
to be forced upon the people of Boston, and the principle of taxation

To settle the matter completely, and prove that, on a point of principle,
they were not to be trifled with, a number of the inhabitants, disguised as
Indians, boarded the ships in the night (18th December), broke open all the
chests of tea, and emptied the contents into the sea. This was no rash and
intemperate proceeding of a mob, but the well-considered, though resolute
act of sober, respectable citizens, men of reflection, but determination.
The whole was done calmly, and in perfect order; after which the actors in
the scene dispersed without tumult, and returned quietly to their homes.

The general opposition of the colonies to the principle of taxation had
given great annoyance to government, but this individual act concentrated
all its wrath upon Boston. A bill was forthwith passed in Parliament
(commonly called the Boston port bill), by which all lading and unlading of
goods, wares, and merchandise, were to cease in that town and harbor, on
and after the 4th of June, and the officers of the customs to be
transferred to Salem.

Another law, passed soon after, altered the charter of the province,
decreeing that all counsellors, judges, and magistrates, should be
appointed by the crown, and hold office during the royal pleasure.

This was followed by a third, intended for the suppression of riots; and
providing that any person indicted for murder, or other capital offence,
committed in aiding the magistracy, might be sent by the governor to some
other colony, or to Great Britain, for trial.

Such was the bolt of Parliamentary wrath fulminated against the devoted
town of Boston. Before it fell there was a session in May, of the Virginia
House of Burgesses. The social position of Lord Dunmore had been
strengthened in the province by the arrival of his lady, and a numerous
family of sons and daughters. The old Virginia aristocracy had vied with
each other in hospitable attentions to the family. A court circle had
sprung up. Regulations had been drawn up by a herald, and published
officially, determining the rank and precedence of civil and military
officers, and their wives. The aristocracy of the Ancient Dominion was
furbishing up its former splendor. Carriages and four rolled into the
streets of Williamsburg, with horses handsomely caparisoned, bringing the
wealthy planters and their families to the seat of government.

Washington arrived in Williamsburg on the 16th, and dined with the governor
on the day of his arrival, having a distinguished position in the court
circle, and being still on terms of intimacy with his lordship. The House
of Burgesses was opened in form, and one of its first measures was an
address of congratulation to the governor, on the arrival of his lady. It
was followed up by an agreement among the members to give her ladyship a
splendid ball, on the 27th of the month.

All things were going on smoothly and smilingly, when a letter, received
through the corresponding committee, brought intelligence of the vindictive
measure of Parliament, by which the port of Boston was to be closed on the
approaching 1st of June.

The letter was read in the House of Burgesses, and produced a general burst
of indignation. All other business was thrown aside, and this became the
sole subject of discussion. A protest against this and other recent acts of
Parliament was entered upon the journal of the House, and a resolution was
adopted, on the 24th of May, setting apart the 1st of June as a day of
fasting, prayer, and humiliation; in which the divine interposition was to
be implored, to avert the heavy calamity threatening destruction to their
rights, and all the evils of civil war; and to give the people one heart
and one mind in firmly opposing every injury to American liberties.

«- Previous | 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 | View All | Next -»

Be the first to comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.