George Washington The Father of Our Country
The Building of His Character, Part One His Influence as Father of Our Country, Part Two
April 1, 2017 | View PDF
George Washington was born on February 22, 1732, to Augustine and Mary Ball Washington, in the family homestead of Bridges Creek, land not far from the Potomac River. George’s father had been married before to Jane Butler, but only two of their three children survived, Lawrence and Augustine Jr. Their mother died in 1728, and August remarried in 1730 to Mary, the daughter of Col. Ball. They had four sons, George, Samuel, John Augustine, and Charles, as well as two daughters, Elizabeth, called Betty, and Mildred, who died in infancy.
The Washington family had emigrated in the mid-1600s. Two brothers came together, John and Andrew Washington. They settled in the Virginia colony in 1657 and purchased land between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers. John became a leading figure in the Colony's public service, prominent in the House of Burgesses, and as a successful plantation manager. He served as a Colonel in the Virginia Militia.
George grew up on a plantation of vast fields of tobacco, corn, and potatoes, rolling pastures, mountains, rivers, and an extended family of slaves owned by his father. These were often his companions and dear friends. There was harmony in the large Washington household. The father was serious, quiet, and in charge in the most ideal way. The mother enjoyed that security, but she had her hands full managing her domain, which was very large and commanding.
As a very young little boy, George was taught to revere his family name. He was to regularly repeat from memory the Ten Commandments, which both mother and father participated in daily. They had a book, titled The Young Man's Companion, which taught manners. His father repeatedly emphasized that the Washington Family does not lie, does not steal, does not cheat. All of George Washington's life is an example of that conduct, early learned at his parents' knee. His father expected obedience, honesty, patriotism, loyalty, and individual responsibility. His mother had the patience and resolve to see that George carried out these expectations of his father on a daily basis.
The Negroes on the farm felt a moral responsibility as well. Whether they were household servants or worked in the fields, God was very real and personal to them. While we do not endorse slavery, it was very apparent from History, that George Washington enjoyed close relationships and deep friendships with many of these slaves.
George's older brothers, Lawrence and Augustine, left home in their mid-teen years to go to England for their education. George expected to do the same, but plans changed dramatically when his father died unexpectedly when George was just 12 years old. His mother was unwilling to allow George to leave home for the schooling in England that his brothers had. While visiting the brothers in England at the Appleby Grammar School, George's father had spent long hours with the Headmaster there, and had brought back to Virginia, numerous books of curricula. He was, of course, concerned for George's education, whether it be in England or at home.
George had shown evidence of maturity, but at his father's death, he assumed more responsibility and was guided in this by his brother Lawrence. Back from England, Lawrence was assuming the headship of the family, while guiding George to lead in his own home.
While he loved to roam the meadows and the fields, he had a great love for reading. One day he discovered a book from the Appleby Grammar School that had a long list of rules of conduct befitting a gentleman. He read the book and re-read it many times, copying every single rule in his own notebook. He would carry those rules in his heart and life, until his death. His notebook, with the rules carefully and neatly copied, exists today in the Washington Archives.
His parents were very involved and committed to his education, but there was no schooling in the area, such as the Appleby Grammar School. The school that his brothers attended in England focused on Character for Manhood, and promoted Christian Faith and Conduct. George had expected to go there, but we have no evidence that he was disappointed when the decision was made to remain at home. For a time, George attended the village school, guided by Hobby, the Sexton of the Parish, who was not a well-educated teacher.
Later, his mother decided to send George to live with his older brother Augustine, at Bridges Creek, where there was a fine village school led by Headmaster, Mr. Williams. His manuscript notebooks still exist and are neat as well as accurate. Washington Irving and numerous other writers of the Washington biographies write of viewing his notebooks. Some of these same writers tell of viewing documents of his financial matters later in life, and that his keeping of accounts and financial transactions are near perfect.
Do we now see how young children benefit from such teaching in childhood? And through these young years, we see George as a self-disciplined young man in physical and also mental matters. He was passionate about exercise, running, leaping, wrestling, pitching quoits, and tossing bars.
As a teenager, he was interested in learning surveying, in order to measure the land and site boundaries. He loved mathematics and was enthralled with the land that his family owned. Lawrence had taken a paternal interest in George after their father died, and George spent much time with him at Mt. Vernon.
His father in law, the Honorable William Fairfax, lived at Belvoir, not far from Mt. Vernon. William Fairfax was managing large land holdings for his cousin, Lord Fairfax. George observed as a teenager that land surveying was in great demand, and he schooled himself in his teens to pursue this opportunity. The Fairfax family would enter into helping him achieve success, in his teen years of surveying, which is hard even to imagine.
One of George's great learning experiences was being asked to assist his sister Betty, with her studies. Not only did it help him learn patience, it drew him ever closer to his sister, and that closeness remained throughout their lives.
The friendship with the Fairfax family was a mutual blessing for them all. When Lord Fairfax came from England to view his vast lands, making friends with young George Washington was a delight for him. George, not yet 16 years of age, showed modesty, but frankness. Because many of His Lordship’s lands had not been surveyed, George's passion for this made them look with favor in encouraging him, and later entering into contracts for the task. A few years later, George would receive the appointment of public surveyor at age 17.
In the next article, we will examine how George's character influenced the birth and growth of our Nation. Perhaps there will be some who will re-think Education today, and embrace Christian Education again, as it was in America's beginning.