Life of George Washington

Whatever may have been the reason, this early attachment seems to have been
a source of poignant discomfort to him. It clung to him after he took a
final leave of school in the autumn of 1747, and went to reside with his
brother Lawrence at Mount Vernon. Here he continued his mathematical
studies and his practice in surveying, disturbed at times by recurrences of
his unlucky passion. Though by no means of a poetical temperament, the
waste pages of his journal betray several attempts to pour forth his
amorous sorrows in verse. They are mere common-place rhymes, such as lovers
at his age are apt to write, in which he bewails his “poor restless heart,
wounded by Cupid’s dart,” and “bleeding for one who remains pitiless of his
griefs and woes.”

The tenor of some of his verses induce us to believe that he never told his
love; but, as we have already surmised, was prevented by his bashfulness.

“Ah, woe is me, that I should love and conceal;
Long have I wished and never dare reveal.”

It is difficult to reconcile one’s self to the idea of the cool and sedate
Washington, the great champion of American liberty, a woe-worn lover in his
youthful days, “sighing like furnace,” and inditing plaintive verses about
the groves of Mount Vernon. We are glad of an opportunity, however, of
penetrating to his native feelings, and finding that under his studied
decorum and reserve he had a heart of flesh throbbing with the warm
impulses of human nature.

Being a favorite of Sir William Fairfax, he was now an occasional inmate of
Belvoir. Among the persons at present residing there was Thomas, Lord
Fairfax, cousin of William Fairfax, and of whose immense landed property
the latter was the agent. As this nobleman was one of Washington’s earliest
friends, and, in some degree the founder of his fortunes, his character and
history are worthy of especial note.

Lord Fairfax was now nearly sixty years of age, upwards of six feet high,
gaunt and raw-boned, near-sighted, with light gray eyes, sharp features and
an aquiline nose. However ungainly his present appearance, he had figured
to advantage in London life in his younger days. He had received his
education at the university of Oxford, where he acquitted himself with
credit. He afterwards held a commission, and remained for some time in a
regiment of horse called the Blues. His title and connections, of course,
gave him access to the best society, in which he acquired additional
currency by contributing a paper or two to Addison’s Spectator, then in
great vogue.

In the height of his fashionable career, he became strongly attached to a
young lady of rank; paid his addresses, and was accepted. The wedding day
was fixed; the wedding dresses were provided; together with servants and
equipages for the matrimonial establishment. Suddenly the lady broke her
engagement. She had been dazzled by the superior brilliancy of a ducal

It was a cruel blow, alike to the affection and pride of Lord Fairfax, and
wrought a change in both character and conduct. From that time he almost
avoided the sex, and became shy and embarrassed in their society, excepting
among those with whom he was connected or particularly intimate. This may
have been among the reasons which ultimately induced him to abandon the gay
world and bury himself in the wilds of America. He made a voyage to
Virginia about the year 1739, to visit his vast estates there. These he
inherited from his mother, Catharine, daughter of Thomas, Lord Culpepper,
to whom they had been granted by Charles II. The original grant was for all
the lands lying between the Rappahannock and Potomac rivers; meaning
thereby, it is said, merely the territory on the northern neck, east of the
Blue Ridge. His lordship, however, discovering that the Potomac headed in
the Allegany Mountains, returned to England and claimed a correspondent
definition of his grant. It was arranged by compromise; extending his
domain into the Allegany Mountains, and comprising, among other lands, a
great portion of the Shenandoah Valley.

Lord Fairfax had been delighted with his visit to Virginia. The amenity of
the climate, the magnificence of the forest scenery, the abundance of
game,–all pointed it out as a favored land. He was pleased, too, with the
frank, cordial character of the Virginians, and their independent mode of
life; and returned to it with the resolution of taking up his abode there
for the remainder of his days. His early disappointment in love was the
cause of some eccentricities in his conduct; yet he was amiable and
courteous in his manners, and of a liberal and generous spirit.

Another inmate of Belvoir at this time was George William Fairfax, about
twenty-two years of age, the eldest son of the proprietor. He had been
educated in England, and since his return had married a daughter of Colonel
Carey, of Hampton, on James River. He had recently brought home his bride
and her sister to his father’s house.

The merits of Washington were known and appreciated by the Fairfax family.
Though not quite sixteen years of age, he no longer seemed a boy, nor was
he treated as such. Tall, athletic, and manly for his years, his early
self-training, and the code of conduct he had devised, gave a gravity and
decision to his conduct; his frankness and modesty inspired cordial regard,
and the melancholy, of which he speaks, may have produced a softness in his
manner calculated to win favor in ladies’ eyes. According to his own
account, the female society by which he was surrounded had a soothing
effect on that melancholy. The charms of Miss Carey, the sister of the
bride, seem even to have caused a slight fluttering in his bosom; which,
however, was constantly rebuked by the remembrance of his former
passion–so at least we judge from letters to his youthful confidants,
rough drafts of which are still to be seen in his tell-tale journal.

To one whom he addresses as his dear friend Robin, he writes: “My residence
is at present at his lordship’s, where I might, was my heart disengaged,
pass my time very pleasantly, as there’s a very agreeable young lady lives
in the same house (Col. George Fairfax’s wife’s sister); but as that’s only
adding fuel to fire, it makes me the more uneasy, for by often and
unavoidably being in company with her, revives my former passion for your
Lowland Beauty; whereas was I to live more retired from young women, I
might in some measure alleviate my sorrows, by burying that chaste and
troublesome passion in the grave of oblivion,” &c.

Similar avowals he makes to another of his young correspondents, whom he
styles, “Dear friend John;” as also to a female confidant, styled “Dear
Sally,” to whom he acknowledges that the company of the “very agreeable
young lady, sister-in-law of Col. George Fairfax,” in a great measure
cheers his sorrow and dejectedness.

The object of this early passion is not positively known. Tradition states
that the “lowland beauty” was a Miss Grimes, of Westmoreland, afterwards
Mrs. Lee, and mother of General Henry Lee, who figured in revolutionary
history as Light Horse Harry, and was always a favorite with Washington,
probably from the recollections of his early tenderness for the mother.

Whatever may have been the soothing effect of the female society by which
he was surrounded at Belvoir, the youth found a more effectual remedy for
his love melancholy in the company of Lord Fairfax. His lordship was a
staunch fox-hunter, and kept horses and hounds in the English style. The
hunting season had arrived. The neighborhood abounded with sport; but
fox-hunting in Virginia required bold and skilful horsemanship. He found
Washington as bold as himself in the saddle, and as eager to follow the
hounds. He forthwith took him into peculiar favor; made him his hunting
companion; and it was probably under the tuition of this hard-riding old
nobleman that the youth imbibed that fondness for the chase for which he
was afterwards remarked.

Their fox-hunting intercourse was attended with more important results.
His lordship’s possessions beyond the Blue Ridge had never been regularly
settled nor surveyed. Lawless intruders–squatters, as they were
called–were planting themselves along the finest streams and in the
richest valleys, and virtually taking possession of the country. It was the
anxious desire of Lord Fairfax to have these lands examined, surveyed, and
portioned out into lots, preparatory to ejecting these interlopers or
bringing them to reasonable terms. In Washington, notwithstanding his
youth, he beheld one fit for the task–having noticed the exercises in
surveying which he kept up while at Mount Vernon, and the aptness and
exactness with which every process was executed. He was well calculated,
too, by his vigor and activity, his courage and hardihood, to cope with the
wild country to be surveyed, and with its still wilder inhabitants. The
proposition had only to be offered to Washington to be eagerly accepted. It
was the very kind of occupation for which he had been diligently training
himself. All the preparations required by one of his simple habits were
soon made, and in a very few days he was ready for his first expedition
into the wilderness.



It was in the month of March (1748), and just after he had completed his
sixteenth year, that Washington set out on horseback on this surveying
expedition, in company with George William Fairfax. Their route lay by
Ashley’s Gap, a pass through the Blue Ridge, that beautiful line of
mountains which, as yet, almost formed the western frontier of inhabited
Virginia. Winter still lingered on the tops of the mountains, whence
melting snows sent down torrents, which swelled the rivers and occasionally
rendered them almost impassable. Spring, however, was softening the lower
parts of the landscape and smiling in the valleys.

They entered the great valley of Virginia, where it is about twenty-five
miles wide; a lovely and temperate region, diversified by gentle swells and
slopes, admirably adapted to cultivation. The Blue Ridge bounds it on one
side, the North Mountain, a ridge of the Alleganies, on the other; while
through it flows that bright and abounding river, which, on account of its
surpassing beauty, was named by the Indians the Shenandoah–that is to say,
“the daughter of the stars.”

The first station of the travellers was at a kind of lodge in the
wilderness, where the steward or land-bailiff of Lord Halifax resided, with
such negroes as were required for farming purposes, and which Washington
terms “his lordship’s quarter.” It was situated not far from the
Shenandoah, and about twelve miles from the site of the present town of

In a diary kept with his usual minuteness, Washington speaks with delight
of the beauty of the trees and the richness of the land in the
neighborhood, and of his riding through a noble grove of sugar maples on
the banks of the Shenandoah; and at the present day, the magnificence of
the forests which still exist in this favored region justifies his

He looked around, however, with an eye to the profitable rather than the
poetical. The gleam of poetry and romance, inspired by his “lowland
beauty,” occurs no more. The real business of life has commenced with him.
His diary affords no food for fancy. Every thing is practical. The
qualities of the soil, the relative value of sites and localities, are
faithfully recorded. In these his early habits of observation and his
exercises in surveying had already made him a proficient.

His surveys commenced in the lower part of the valley, some distance above
the junction of the Shenandoah with the Potomac, and extended for many
miles along the former river. Here and there partial “clearings” had been
made by squatters and hardy pioneers, and their rude husbandry had produced
abundant crops of grain, hemp, and tobacco; civilization, however, had
hardly yet entered the valley, if we may judge from the note of a night’s
lodging at the house of one of the settlers–Captain Hite, near the site of
the present town of Winchester. Here, after supper, most of the company
stretched themselves in backwood style, before the fire; but Washington was
shown into a bed-room. Fatigued with a hard day’s work at surveying, he
soon undressed; but instead of being nestled between sheets in a
comfortable bed, as at the maternal home, or at Mount Vernon, he found
himself on a couch of matted straw, under a threadbare blanket, swarming
with unwelcome bedfellows. After tossing about for a few moments, he was
glad to put on his clothes again, and rejoin his companions before the

Such was his first experience of life in the wilderness; he soon, however,
accustomed himself to “rough it,” and adapt himself to fare of all kinds,
though he generally preferred a bivouac before a fire, in the open air, to
the accommodations of a woodman’s cabin. Proceeding down the valley to the
banks of the Potomac, they found that river so much swollen by the rain
which had fallen among the Alleganies, as to be unfordable. To while away
the time until it should subside, they made an excursion to examine certain
warm springs in a valley among the mountains, since called the Berkeley
Springs. There they camped out at night, under the stars; the diary makes
no complaint of their accommodations; and their camping-ground is now known
as Bath, one of the favorite watering-places of Virginia. One of the warm
springs was subsequently appropriated by Lord Fairfax to his own use, and
still bears his name.

After watching in vain for the river to subside, they procured a canoe, on
which they crossed to the Maryland side; swimming their horses. A weary
day’s ride of forty miles up the left side of the river, in a continual
rain, and over what Washington pronounces the worst road ever trod by man
or beast, brought them to the house of a Colonel Cresap, opposite the south
branch of the Potomac, where they put up for the night.

Here they were detained three or four days by inclement weather. On the
second day they were surprised by the appearance of a war party of thirty
Indians, bearing a scalp as a trophy. A little liquor procured the
spectacle of a war-dance. A large space was cleared, and a fire made in the
centre, round which the warriors took their seats. The principal orator
made a speech, reciting their recent exploits, and rousing them to triumph.
One of the warriors started up as if from sleep, and began a series of
movements, half-grotesque, half-tragical; the rest followed. For music, one
savage drummed on a deerskin, stretched over a pot half filled with water;
another rattled a gourd, containing a few shot, and decorated with a
horse’s tail. Their strange outcries, and uncouth forms and garbs, seen by
the glare of the fire, and their whoops and yells, made them appear more
like demons than human beings. All this savage gambol was no novelty to
Washington’s companions, experienced in frontier life; but to the youth,
fresh from school, it was a strange spectacle, which he sat contemplating
with deep interest, and carefully noted down in his journal. It will be
found that he soon made himself acquainted with the savage character, and
became expert at dealing with these inhabitants of the wilderness.

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