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Washington the Soldier

Henry B. Carrington

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
The boyhood and youth of George Washington were singularly in harmony with those aptitudes and tastes that shaped his entire life. He was not quite eight years of age when his elder brother, Lawrence, fourteen years his senior, returned from England where he had been carefully educated, and where he had developed military tastes that were hereditary in the family. Lawrence secured a captain’s commission in a freshly organized regiment, and engaged in service in the West Indies, with distinguished credit. His letters, counsels, and example inspired the younger brother with similar zeal. Irving says that “all his amusements took a military turn. He made soldiers of his school-mates. They had their mimic parades, reviews, and sham-fights. A boy named William Bustle, was sometimes his competitor, but George was commander-in-chief of the school.” His business aptitudes were equally exact, methodical, and promising. Besides fanciful caligraphy, which appeared in manuscript school-books, wherein he executed profiles of his school-mates, with a flourish of the pen, as well as nondescript birds, Irving states that “before he was thirteen years of age, he had copied into a volume, forms of all kinds of mercantile and legal papers: bills of exchange, notes of hand, deeds, bonds, and the like.” “This self-tuition gave him throughout life a lawyer’s skill in drafting documents, and a merchant’s exactness in keeping accounts, so that all the concerns of his various estates, his dealings with his domestic stewards and foreign agents, his accounts with government, and all his financial transactions, are, to this day, monuments of his method and unwearied accuracy.” Even as a boy, his frame had been large and powerful, and he is described by Captain Mercer “as straight as an Indian, measuring six feet and two inches in his stockings, and weighing one hundred and seventy-five pounds, when he took his seat in the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1759. His head is well shaped though not large, but is gracefully poised on a superb neck, with a large and straight rather than a prominent nose; blue-gray penetrating eyes, which were widely separated and overhung by heavy brows. A pleasing, benevolent, though a commanding countenance, dark-brown hair, features regular and placid, with all the muscles under perfect control, with a mouth large, and generally firmly closed,” complete the picture. The bust by Houdon at the Capitol of Virginia, and the famous St. Memin crayon, fully accord with this description of Washington. His training and surroundings alike ministered to his natural conceptions of a useful and busy life. In the midst of abundant game, he became proficient in its pursuit. Living where special pride was taken in the cultivation of good stock, and where nearly all travel and neighborly visitation was upon horseback, he learned the value of a good horse, and was always well mounted. Competition in saddle exercise was, therefore, one of the most pleasing and constant entertainments of himself and companions, and in its enjoyment, and in many festive tournaments that revived something of the olden-time chivalry of knighthood, Washington was not only proficient, but foremost in excellence of attainment.