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As a pioneer in leading the way along the Ohio and the Mississippi, La Salle did much for France. He hoped to do far more. His cherished dream was to build up in this vast and fertile territory an empire for France. But the French King foolishly feared that planting colonies in America would take too many of his subjects out of France, and refused to do that which might have made his new possessions secure. The opportunity thus neglected was seized fifty years later by the hardy English settlers who pushed westward across the Alleghany Mountains. This movement brought on a struggle between the two nations, a few events of which are important to mention.

You will remember that two years after the coming of John Smith to Jamestown, Champlain sailed up the St. Lawrence and settled Quebec for the French. You will also recall that the French explorers, priests, and traders had been gradually making their way into the heart of the continent, by way of the Great Lakes, until at last La Salle glided down to the mouth of the Mississippi, and took possession of the land in the name of the French King. This was in 1681, the year the Quakers were settling Pennsylvania and fifty-two years before the settlement of Georgia, the youngest of the thirteen original colonies.

Just one year before this last settlement there was born in Westmoreland County, Va., a boy who was to play a large part in the history not only of the Ohio and Mississippi valleys, but of the whole country. This boy was George Washington. He was born on February 22, 1732, in an old-fashioned Virginia farm-house, near the Potomac River, on what was known as Bridge's Creek Plantation. The house had four rooms on the ground floor, with an attic of long sloping roofs and an enormous brick chimney at each end.

Washington's Birthplace.Washington's Birthplace.

George's father was a wealthy planter, owning land in four counties, more than 5,000 acres in all. Some of his lands were on the banks of the Rappahannock River, near which he had money invested in iron-mines. To this plantation the family removed when George was seven years old, the new home being nearly opposite Fredericksburg, then a small village.

Here he was sent to a small school and taught by a man named Hobby, a sexton of the church and tenant of George's father. It was a simple sort of training the boy received from such a school-master. He learned a little reading, a little writing, and a little ciphering, but that was about all. Later in life he became a fairly good penman, writing a neat round hand; but he never became a good speller.

When George was eleven years old his father died, leaving to him the home where they lived on the Rappahannock, and to his brother Lawrence the great plantation on the Potomac afterward called Mount Vernon. Lawrence went to live at Mount Vernon, while George remained with his mother at the house opposite Fredericksburg.

Now left without a father, George received his home training from his mother. Fortunate, indeed, was he to have such a mother to teach him; for she was kind, firm, and had a strong practical sense. She loved her son, and he deeply appreciated her fond care of him. Some of George's youthful letters to his mother are full of interest. After the manner of the time he addressed her formally as "Honored Madam," and signed himself "Your dutiful son."


Nor was his mother the only strong and wholesome influence over his home life. His eldest brother, Lawrence, played an important part in shaping his character. According to the custom of those days, Lawrence, as the eldest son of a Virginia planter, would inherit the bulk of his father's estate. He was therefore sent to an excellent school in England, to receive the training which would fit him to be a gentleman and a leader in social life. For learning was not held in such high esteem as ability to look after the business of a large plantation and take a leading part in the public life of the county and the colony.

With such a training Lawrence returned from England, a young man of culture and fine manners and well fitted to be a man of affairs. From this time on George, now only seven or eight years old, looked up to his brother, fourteen years his senior, with cordial admiration. Lawrence became George's model of manhood, and returned his younger brother's devotion with a tender love.

Soon after the death of his father, the boy went to live with his brother Augustine on the Bridge's Creek Plantation, in order to have the advantages of a good school there. Many of his copy-books and books of exercises, containing such legal forms as receipts, bills and deeds, as well as pictures of birds and faces, have been preserved. In these books there are, also, his rules of conduct, maxims which he kept before him as aids to good behavior. The following are a few of them:

"Every action in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those present.

"When a man does all he can, though it succeeds not well, blame not him that did it.

"Undertake not what you cannot perform, but be careful to keep your promise.

"Speak not evil of the absent: for it is unjust.

"Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience."

The English Colonies and the French Claims in 1754.The English Colonies and the French Claims in 1754.

In George's school-days he heard many stories about wars with the Indians and about troubles between the English and the French colonies. Moreover, his brother Lawrence had been a soldier in the West Indies in a war between England and Spain, from which he had returned full of enthusiasm about what he had felt and seen. It was at this time that Lawrence changed the name of his plantation on the Potomac to Mount Vernon, in honor of Admiral Vernon, under whose command he had fought.

Catching his brother's military spirit, George organized his boy friends into little military companies, and, as their commander, drilled them, paraded them, and led them in their sham battles in the school-yard.

Naturally the boys looked to him as leader, for he was strong in mind and body, and fond of athletic sports. It is said that no boy of his age was his match in running, leaping, wrestling, and pitching quoits. His athletic skill expressed itself also in his fearless horsemanship. The story is told that he once mounted a colt that had successfully resisted all attempts to remain on his back. But George held on until the spirited animal, in a frenzy of effort to throw off the persistent young rider, reared, broke a blood-vessel, and fell dead. His keen enjoyment of a spirited horse, and of hunting in the freedom of woods and fields for such game as foxes, deer, and wild-cats, lasted to a late period of his life.

George's good qualities were not confined to out-door sports requiring skill and physical strength alone. He was a manly boy, stout-hearted and truthful. All the boys trusted him because they knew he was fair-minded, and often called upon him to settle their disputes.

But we must not think of him as a perfect boy, finding it easy always to do the right thing. George Washington had his faults, as some of the rest of us have. For instance, he had a quick temper which he found it hard to control. In fact, he found this a harder thing to do than many brave deeds for which he became famous in his manhood.

The humdrum quiet of a Virginia plantation did not satisfy this alert boy longing for a life of action. He had heard from Lawrence about life on a war-vessel, and had also seen, year after year, the annual return to the plantation wharf of the vessel that carried a cargo of tobacco to England and brought back in exchange such goods as the planter needed.

The French in the Ohio Valley.The French in the Ohio Valley.

Eager for a change of surroundings, he made all his plans to go to sea. The chest containing his clothing had been packed and sent down to the wharf, but at the last moment he yielded to his mother's persuasion, and gave up his cherished plan of becoming a sailor-boy. He was then fourteen years old.

Returning to school, George continued to be careful and exact in all his work, his motto being "Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well." He was also methodical, and herein lay one of the secrets of his ability to accomplish so much when he came to manhood.

His love of out-door sport gave him a natural bent for surveying, to the study of which he applied himself diligently. He soon became proficient enough to command confidence in his ability as a trustworthy surveyor.

In the autumn of his sixteenth year he went to live with his brother Lawrence on the Mount Vernon plantation, where he spent much of his time in surveying. Here he met a man who exerted a large influence on his later life. This man was Lord Fairfax, a tall, courtly, white-haired English gentleman of about sixty years of age, who was living at Belvoir, a large plantation a few miles from Mount Vernon.

At this time George was a shy, awkward youth, somewhat overgrown for his age, with long arms, and a tall, large frame. But in his serious face there was a sign of quiet self-control and firm purpose.

The provincial youth of fifteen and the cultured English lord of sixty, though so far apart in age and experience, soon became close friends. They were much together. Sometimes they would spend the morning in surveying, and start out in the afternoon on their horses for a gay time in fox-hunting. They doubtless talked freely to each other, and as Lord Fairfax had seen much of the best English life and had read some of the best English books, he was an interesting companion to his earnest and thoughtful young friend.

This warm friendship soon had a practical turn. Lord Fairfax owned an immense tract of country in the Shenandoah Valley--by some said to be as much as one-fifth of the present State of Virginia. Wishing to learn more about it and observing George to be exceedingly careful and accurate in his surveying, he decided to send him over the Blue Ridge into the wild region to find out and report to him something about the lands there.

He was to have only one companion, George William Fairfax, who was the eldest son of Lord Fairfax's cousin, and was then about twenty-two years old. About the middle of March, 1748, when George Washington was barely sixteen years old, these two young fellows started out together on horseback, to travel through the forest a distance of 100 miles before they reached the Shenandoah Valley. They carried guns in their hands, for until their return about a month later they would have to depend mainly upon hunting for their supply of food. The account which George himself has left enables us to picture them riding alone through the forest with no road except perhaps, at times, a path made by Indians or wild animals.

After reaching the wild country they had to live in the most primitive fashion. For instance, Washington tells of a night in a woodman's cabin when he had nothing but a mat of straw for his bed, with but a single blanket for cover, and that alive with vermin. He wrote in his diary: "I made a promise to sleep so no more, choosing rather to sleep in the open air before the fire."

Again, in a letter to a friend, he says: "I have not slept above three or four nights in a bed, but, after walking a good deal all day, I have lain down before the fire upon a little hay, straw, fodder, or a bear-skin, with man, wife and children, like dogs and cats; and happy is he who gets the berth nearest the fire."

Sometimes they tried life in a tent. Once in a storm the tent was blown over, and at another time the smoke from the fire drove the occupants out of doors. One night, according to the same diary, "we camped in the woods, and after we had pitched our tent, and made a large fire, we pulled out our knapsacks to recruit ourselves. Every one was his own cook. Our spits were forked sticks; our plates were large chips." As for bread, most of the time, if not all, they had none, and they drank only pure water from running streams.

On another occasion they fell in with a war-party of painted warriors whom Washington and his friend Fairfax fearlessly joined, all gathering about a huge fire built under the trees. As the great logs blazed in the midst of the dark forest, the Indians joined in one of their wild, weird dances. They leaped to and fro, whooped and shrieked like mad beings, while one of their companions thumped upon a drum made by drawing a deer-skin across a pot filled with water, and another rattled a gourd containing shot and decorated with a horse's tail, "to make it look fine."

It was a strange experience which these two youths had that month. But Washington was well paid, earning from $7 to $21 a day. On the return of the young surveyor to Mount Vernon his employer, Lord Fairfax, was so much pleased with the report that he secured his appointment as public surveyor. For the next three years George lived the life of a surveyor, spending much of his time with Lord Fairfax at his wilderness home, Greenway Court, not far from Winchester.

During this time George was gaining valuable knowledge of the forest, and becoming so intimate with Indian life that, as people said, he came to walk like an Indian. His life in the woods developed fearlessness, patience, and self-reliance, qualities which, joined to his ability and character, inspired men's confidence and established his leadership. Governor Dinwiddie, of Virginia, appointed him an officer in the State militia, with the rank of major. And as an officer, his influence continued to increase.

Some two years afterward his brother Lawrence died and left the Mount Vernon estate to his daughter, with George Washington as guardian. On her death, a little later, Washington became owner of the immense plantation at Mount Vernon, and hence a wealthy man.

Fortune had favored him, and he might have chosen to enter upon a life of ease, but events soon occurred which called into action all his heroic qualities. The strife between the English and the French for control in the Ohio and Mississippi valleys was advancing rapidly toward war.

The French had long considered this territory their own. We recall that La Salle had explored it, and attempted to plant colonies here. For many years, French explorers, priests, and traders had toiled on, patiently pushing their way through the forests, and planting stronghold after stronghold. At length, pressing closer on the English border, they began to build forts between Lake Erie and the head of the Ohio. For the English also had their eyes on the fertile valley of the Ohio, and were beginning to occupy it.

At once a company composed largely of Virginia planters was organized for the purpose of making settlements in the Ohio Valley. Before they could do much, however, the French had boldly advanced far into territory claimed by England.

The people of Virginia in alarm, said, "This advance must stop. What can be the plans of the French? How many are already in the forts lying between Lake Erie and the Ohio River?" Governor Dinwiddie and other Virginia gentlemen grew excited as they asked such questions. They decided, therefore, to send out to the French commander in the fort near Lake Erie, a trusty messenger who should ask by what right the French were invading a country belonging to England. This messenger was also to find out what he could about the forces of the French in that vicinity, and about their plans. Moreover, he was to make a strong effort to win over to the English the Indians, whose friendship the French were trying to gain. As a suitable man for this dangerous enterprise, all eyes turned to George Washington, still only twenty-one years of age.


The journey of 1,000 miles through trackless forests, in the bitter cold of Winter, did not offer a cheerful outlook. But on October 30, 1753, with seven companions, including an Indian and a French interpreter, George Washington started from Williamsburg. Stopping at Fredericksburg to bid good-by to his mother, he went on by way of Alexandria to Winchester, the familiar spot where he had spent many happy days with Lord Fairfax. Here he got horses and various supplies needed for his journey.

From Winchester the little band of men moved forward to Will's Creek (now Cumberland, Md.), and then plunged boldly into the forest. From that time on, the difficulties of the journey were well nigh overwhelming; but by perseverance in climbing lofty mountains and in swimming rivers swollen by heavy rains, the end of their journey was at last reached.

On receiving an answer from the French commander, who promised nothing, Washington started back home. The horses soon proved too weak to make much headway through the dense forests and deep snow, and it seemed best to push on without them. He also left behind him all of his party except a trusty woodsman. Then putting on an Indian costume with a heavy cloak drawn over it, he strapped upon his back the pack containing his papers and, gun in hand, started off. A little later they were joined by an Indian guide, who soon gave evidence of his treachery by suddenly turning and discharging his gun at Washington.

Washington had another narrow escape from death. He had expected on reaching the Allegheny River to cross on the ice, but to his dismay he found the ice broken up and the stream filled with whirling blocks. There was no way of getting over except on a raft which he and his companion had to make with a single hatchet. Having at last finished it, they pushed off, and then began a desperate struggle with the current and, great blocks of floating ice. Washington, in trying to guide the raft with a pole, was thrown violently into the water. By catching hold of one of the raft logs he recovered himself, and by heroic effort succeeded in reaching an island nearby. Here the travellers suffered through a night of intense cold, not daring to kindle a fire for fear of the Indians.

On January 16th they reached Williamsburg, where Washington delivered to Governor Dinwiddie the unsatisfactory letter he had brought from the French commander. Although the result of the expedition was not what the Virginians had hoped for, Washington had so well succeeded in carrying out his perilous mission that he was highly praised for his effort.

The defiant answer of the French commander made it seem probable to the people of Virginia that war would follow. Therefore a company of men was sent out to build a fort at the place where the Alleghany and Monongahela rivers unite to form the Ohio. Washington's quick eye had noted the importance of this site, afterward known as the "Gateway of the West."

In the meantime Washington was drilling men for service, and in April he set out with the rank of lieutenant-colonel with two companies for the frontier. He had not gone very far when he learned that the French had driven off with a large force the men who had been sent to the head of the Ohio to build a fort; but he continued his march. When a little later the approach of a small body of French was reported, the Virginians surprised them, killing, wounding, or capturing all but one. Colonel Washington was in the thickest of the fight, and wrote in a letter, "I heard the bullets whistle and, believe me, there is something charming in the sound."

After this fight, which began the war, Washington returned to Great Meadows, and, learning that a large body of French were marching against him, hastily threw up rough earthworks, which he called Fort Necessity. When attacked soon after by two or three times his own number, the brave young colonel did not shrink. For nine hours, in a heavy downpour of rain, he and his sturdy followers stood up to their knees in mud and water in the trenches. Being so greatly outnumbered, his troops were of course defeated, but the House of Burgesses gave their commander a vote of thanks in recognition of his bravery.

The war now began in bitter earnest, and England promptly sent over troops, with General Braddock in command. When on reaching Virginia he heard of Colonel Washington, Braddock appointed him a member of his staff. Colonel Washington soon discovered that General Braddock was not the man to handle an army in woodland warfare. He would gladly have advised him, but the haughty British general would hear no suggestions from a colonial officer.

With 2,000 soldiers, General Braddock marched against the French, stationed at Fort Duquesne at the head of the Ohio. On the morning of July 9th, when the army was only eight miles from the fort, it was suddenly attacked by the French and Indians, who lay in ambush in the thick forest. The English soldiers, standing in solid masses, were shot down by squads, but the Virginians fought from behind trees in true Indian fashion.

Braddock, who has been rightly called a gallant bull-dog, rode madly to and fro, giving orders to his men, but in vain. He shortly fell from his horse, with a mortal wound. The manly figure of Colonel Washington was a conspicuous mark for the enemy's guns. Two horses fell under him; four bullets tore through his clothing; but he escaped injury.

The result was a sore defeat for the English army. It lost 700 men out of 2,000, and three-fourths of its officers. Nothing but retreat could be thought of. The brave but narrow-minded Braddock had made an enormous and expensive blunder.

After Braddock's defeat Washington was given command of the Virginia troops. Later in the war he led an expedition against Fort Duquesne, as Braddock had done. But on hearing of his approach the French fled. The war having subsided in the Ohio Valley, Washington resigned his commission, returned to Mount Vernon, and soon afterward married Mrs. Martha Custis, a rich young widow.

We have seen him first as a robust lad, then as a fearless woodsman, and later as a brave soldier. We will leave him for a while at Mount Vernon, where in the refined society of old Virginia he came to be equally well known as a high-bred gentleman.


Review Outline

  La Salle's Dream. The French And The English Colonies. George Washington's Early Home. His School-Training. George And His Mother. Influence Upon George Of His Brother Lawrence. George's Rules Of Conduct. The Boy Soldier. The Young Athlete. The Fair-Minded, Truthful Boy. George's Self-Control. His Longing To Become A Sailor Boy. Exactness And Method In Work. The Young Surveyor. The Shy, Awkward Youth And Lord Fairfax. Surveying In The Forests Of The Shenandoah Valley. Life In The Woods; An Indian Dance. With Lord Fairfax At Greenway Court. Washington, The Young Soldier. Washington Becomes A Wealthy Planter. The French Advance Into The Ohio Valley. Washington's Perilous Journey. The Return On Foot; Two Narrow Escapes. Washington In The Fight That Begins The War. His Defeat At Great Meadows. A Member Of Braddock's Staff. Braddock's Crushing Defeat. Washington Retires To Mount Vernon.


To The Pupil

  1. Write on the following topics, using a paragraph for each: George Washington's early home; his school-training; George and his mother; the boy soldier; the young athlete; the truthful boy.

  2. It would be well for you to commit to memory George's rules of conduct.

  3. Give an account of the young surveyor's life in the woods out in the Shenandoah Valley. Imagine the two young fellows riding alone through the forest, and the scene in the woods when the Indians danced by the huge fire.

  4. Trace on your map Washington's perilous journey to the French forts. What was the purpose of this journey? Travel in imagination with Washington on his return to Williamsburg, and tell, in the first person, some of your experiences.

  5. What do you think of General Braddock? In what way was he defeated? This was one of the battles of the Last French War. What caused this war?

  6. Find as many words as you can that describe George Washington.