Life of George Washington

“To these grievous acts and measures,” it was added, “Americans cannot
submit; but in hopes their fellow subjects in Great Britain will, on a
revision of them, restore us to that state in which both countries found
happiness and prosperity, we have, for the present, only resolved to pursue
the following peaceable measures:

“1st. To enter into a non-importation, non-consumption, and non-exportation
agreement, or association.

“2d. To prepare an address to the people of Great Britain, and a memorial
to the inhabitants of British America.

“3d. To prepare a loyal address to his majesty.”

The above-mentioned association was accordingly formed, and committees were
to be appointed in every county, city, and town, to maintain it vigilantly
and strictly.

Masterly state papers were issued by Congress in conformity to the
resolutions: viz., a petition to the king, drafted by Mr. Dickinson, of
Philadelphia; an address to the people of Canada by the same hand, inviting
them to join the league of the colonies; another to the people of Great
Britain, drafted by John Jay, of New York; and a memorial to the
inhabitants of the British colonies by Richard Henry Lee, of Virginia.
[Footnote: See Correspondence and Diary of J. Adams, vols. ii. and ix.]

The Congress remained in session fifty-one days. Every subject, according
to Adams, was discussed “with a moderation, an acuteness, and a minuteness
equal to that of Queen Elizabeth’s privy council.” [Footnote: Letter to
William Tudor, 29th Sept., 1774.] The papers issued by it have deservedly
been pronounced masterpieces of practical talent and political wisdom.
Chatham, when speaking on the subject in the House of Lords, could not
restrain his enthusiasm. “When your lordships,” said he, “look at the
papers transmitted to us from America; when you consider their decency,
firmness, and wisdom, you cannot but respect their cause, and wish to make
it your own. For myself, I must declare and avow that, in the master states
of the world, I know not the people, or senate, who, in such a complication
of difficult circumstances, can stand in preference to the delegates of
America assembled in General Congress at Philadelphia.”

From the secrecy that enveloped its discussions, we are ignorant of the
part taken by Washington in the debates; the similarity of the resolutions,
however, in spirit and substance to those of the Fairfax County meeting, in
which he presided, and the coincidence of the measures adopted with those
therein recommended, show that he had a powerful agency in the whole
proceedings of this eventful assembly. Patrick Henry, being asked, on his
return home, whom he considered the greatest man in Congress, replied: “If
you speak of eloquence, Mr. Rutledge, of South Carolina, is by far the
greatest orator; but if you speak of solid information and sound judgment,
Colonel Washington is unquestionably the greatest man on that floor.”

How thoroughly and zealously he participated in the feelings which actuated
Congress in this memorable session, may be gathered from his correspondence
with a friend enlisted in the royal cause. This was Captain Robert
Mackenzie, who had formerly served under him in his Virginia regiment
during the French war, but now held a commission in the regular army, and
was stationed among the British troops at Boston.

Mackenzie, in a letter, had spoken with loyal abhorrence of the state of
affairs in the “unhappy province” of Massachusetts, and the fixed aim of
its inhabitants at “total independence.” “The rebellious and numerous
meetings of men in arms,” said he, “their scandalous and ungenerous attacks
upon the best characters in the province, obliging them to save themselves
by flight, and their repeated, but feeble threats, to dispossess the
troops, have furnished sufficient reasons to General Gage to put the town
in a formidable state of defence, about which we are now fully employed,
and which will be shortly accomplished to their great mortification.”

“Permit me,” writes Washington in reply, “with the freedom of a friend (for
you know I always esteemed you), to express my sorrow that fortune should
place you in a service that must fix curses, to the latest posterity, upon
the contrivers, and, if success (which, by the by, is impossible)
accompanies it, execrations upon all those who have been instrumental in
the execution. … When you condemn the conduct of the Massachusetts
people, you reason from effects, not causes, otherwise you would not wonder
at a people, who are every day receiving fresh proofs of a systematic
assertion of an arbitrary power, deeply planned to overturn the laws and
constitution of their country, and to violate the most essential and
valuable rights of mankind, being irritated, and with difficulty
restrained, from acts of the greatest violence and intemperance.

“For my own part, I view things in a very different point of light from the
one in which you seem to consider them; and though you are led to believe,
by venal men, that the people of Massachusetts are rebellious, setting up
for independency, and what not, give me leave, my good friend, to tell you
that you are abused, grossly abused. … I think I can announce it as a
fact, that it is not the wish or interest of that government, or any other
upon this continent, separately or collectively, to set up for
independence; but this you may at the same time rely on, that none of them
will ever submit to the loss of their valuable rights and privileges, which
are essential to the happiness of every free state, and without which,
life, liberty, and property, are rendered totally insecure.

“These, sir, being certain consequences, which must naturally result from
the late acts of Parliament relative to America in general, and the
government of Massachusetts in particular, is it to be wondered at that men
who wish to avert the impending blow, should attempt to oppose its
progress, or prepare for their defence, if it cannot be averted? Surely I
may be allowed to answer in the negative; and give me leave to add, as my
opinion, that more blood will be spilled on this occasion, if the ministry
are determined to push matters to extremity, than history has ever yet
furnished instances of in the annals of North America; and such a vital
wound will be given to the peace of this great country, as time itself
cannot cure, or eradicate the remembrance of.”

In concluding, he repeats his views with respect to independence: “I am
well satisfied that no such thing is desired by any thinking man in all
North America; on the contrary, that it is the ardent wish of the warmest
advocates for liberty, that peace and tranquillity, upon constitutional
grounds, may be restored, and the horrors of civil discord prevented.”
[Footnote: Sparks. Washington’s Writings, vol. ii., p. 899.]

This letter we have considered especially worthy of citation, from its
being so full and explicit a declaration of Washington’s sentiments and
opinions at this critical juncture. His views on the question of
independence are particularly noteworthy, from his being at this time in
daily and confidential communication with the leaders of the popular
movement, and among them with the delegates from Boston. It is evident that
the filial feeling still throbbed toward the mother country, and a complete
separation from her had not yet entered into the alternatives of her
colonial children.

On the breaking up of Congress, Washington hastened back to Mount Vernon,
where his presence was more than usually important to the happiness of Mrs.
Washington, from the loneliness caused by the recent death of her daughter,
and the absence of her son. The cheerfulness of the neighborhood had been
diminished of late by the departure of George William Fairfax for England,
to take possession of estates which had devolved to him in that kingdom.
His estate of Belvoir, so closely allied with that of Mount Vernon by
family ties and reciprocal hospitality, was left in charge of a steward, or
overseer. Through some accident the house took fire, and was burnt to the
ground. It was never rebuilt. The course of political events which swept
Washington from his quiet home into the current of public and military
life, prevented William Fairfax, who was a royalist, though a liberal one,
from returning to his once happy abode, and the hospitable intercommunion
of Mount Vernon and Belvoir was at an end for ever.



The rumor of the cannonading of Boston, which had thrown such a gloom over
the religious ceremonial at the opening of Congress, had been caused by
measures of Governor Gage. The public mind, in Boston and its vicinity, had
been rendered excessively jealous and sensitive by the landing and
encamping of artillery upon the Common, and Welsh Fusiliers on Fort Hill,
and by the planting of four large field-pieces on Boston Neck, the only
entrance to the town by land. The country people were arming and
disciplining themselves in every direction, and collecting and depositing
arms and ammunition in places where they would be at hand in case of
emergency. Gage, on the other hand, issued orders that the munitions of war
in all the public magazines should be brought to Boston. One of these
magazines was the arsenal in the north-west part of Charlestown, between
Medford and Cambridge. Two companies of the king’s troops passed silently
in boats up Mystic River in the night; took possession of a large quantity
of gunpowder deposited there, and conveyed it to Castle Williams.
Intelligence of this sacking of the arsenal flew with lightning speed
through the neighborhood. In the morning several thousands of patriots were
assembled at Cambridge, weapon in hand, and were with difficulty prevented
from marching upon Boston to compel a restitution of the powder. In the
confusion and agitation, a rumor stole out into the country that Boston was
to be attacked; followed by another that the ships were cannonading the
town, and the soldiers shooting down the inhabitants. The whole country was
forthwith in arms. Numerous bodies of the Connecticut people had made some
marches before the report was contradicted. [Footnote: Holmes’s Annals,
ii., 191.–Letter of Gage to Lord Dartmouth.]

To guard against any irruption from the country, Gage encamped the 59th
regiment on Boston Neck, and employed the soldiers in intrenching and
fortifying it.

In the mean time the belligerent feelings of the inhabitants were
encouraged, by learning how the rumor of their being cannonaded had been
received in the General Congress, and by assurances from all parts that the
cause of Boston would be made the common cause of America. “It is
surprising,” writes General Gage, “that so many of the other provinces
interest themselves so much in this. They have some warm friends in New
York, and I learn that the people of Charleston, South Carolina, are as mad
as they are here.” [Footnote: Gage to Dartmouth, Sept. 20.]

The commissions were arrived for those civil officers appointed by the
crown under the new modifications of the charter: many, however, were
afraid to accept of them. Those who did soon resigned, finding it
impossible to withstand the odium of the people. The civil government
throughout the province became obstructed in all its operations. It was
enough for a man to be supposed of the governmental party to incur popular

Among other portentous signs, war-hawks began to appear above the horizon.
Mrs. Cushing, wife to a member of Congress, writes to her husband, “Two of
the greatest military characters of the day are visiting this distressed
town. General Charles Lee, who has served in Poland, and Colonel Israel
Putnam, whose bravery and character need no description.” As these two men
will take a prominent part in coming events, we pause to give a word or two
concerning them.

Israel Putnam was a soldier of native growth. One of the military
productions of the French war; seasoned and proved in frontier campaigning.
He had served at Louisburg, Fort Duquesne, and Crown Point; had signalized
himself in Indian warfare; been captured by the savages, tied to a stake to
be tortured and burnt, and had only been rescued by the interference, at
the eleventh hour, of a French partisan of the Indians.

Since the peace, he had returned to agricultural life, and was now a farmer
at Pomfret, in Connecticut, where the scars of his wounds and the tales of
his exploits rendered him a hero in popular estimation. The war spirit yet
burned within him. He was now chairman of a committee of vigilance, and had
come to Boston in discharge of his political and semi-belligerent

General Charles Lee was a military man of a different stamp; an Englishman
by birth, and a highly cultivated production of European warfare. He was
the son of a British officer, Lieutenant-colonel John Lee, of the dragoons,
who married the daughter of Sir Henry Bunbury, Bart., and afterwards rose
to be a general. Lee was born in 1731, and may almost be said to have been
cradled in the army, for he received a commission by the time he was eleven
years of age. He had an irregular education; part of the time in England,
part on the continent, and must have scrambled his way into knowledge; yet
by aptness, diligence and ambition, he had acquired a considerable portion,
being a Greek and Latin scholar, and acquainted with modern languages. The
art of war was his especial study from his boyhood, and he had early
opportunities of practical experience. At the age of twenty-four, he
commanded a company of grenadiers in the 44th regiment, and served in the
French war in America, where he was brought into military companionship
with Sir William Johnson’s Mohawk warriors, whom he used to extol for their
manly beauty, their dress, their graceful carriage and good breeding. In
fact, he rendered himself so much of a favorite among them, that they
admitted him to smoke in their councils, and adopted him into the tribe of
the Bear, giving him an Indian name, signifying “Boiling Water.”

At the battle of Ticonderoga, where Abercrombie was defeated, he was shot
through the body, while leading his men against the French breastworks. In
the next campaign, he was present at the siege of Fort Niagara, where
General Prideaux fell, and where Sir William Johnson, with his British
troops and Mohawk warriors, eventually won the fortress. Lee had, probably,
an opportunity on this occasion of fighting side by side with some of his
adopted brethren of the Bear tribe, as we are told he was much exposed
during the engagement with the French and Indians, and that two balls
grazed his hair. A military errand, afterwards, took him across Lake Erie,
and down the northern branch of the Ohio to Fort Duquesne, and thence by a
long march of seven hundred miles to Crown Point, where he joined General
Amherst. In 1760, he was among the forces which followed that general from
Lake Ontario down the St. Lawrence; and was present at the surrender of
Montreal, which completed the conquest of Canada.

In 1762, he bore a colonel’s commission, and served under Brigadier-general
Burgoyne in Portugal, where he was intrusted with an enterprise against a
Spanish post at the old Moorish castle of Villa Velha, on the banks of the
Tagus. He forded the river in the night, pushed his way through mountain
passes, and at 2 o’clock in the morning, rushed with his grenadiers into
the enemy’s camp before daylight, where every thing was carried at the
point of the bayonet, assisted by a charge of dragoons. The war over, he
returned to England, bearing testimonials of bravery and good conduct from
his commander-in-chief, the Count de la Lippe, and from the king of
Portugal. [Footnote: Life of Charles Lee, by Jared Sparks. Also, Memoirs of
Charles Lee; published in London, 1792.]

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