Life in America One Hundred Years Ago
Library of Alexandria
About two centuries ago there were two young men, in England, by the name of Lawrence and John Washington. They were gentlemen of refinement and education, the sons of an opulent and distinguished family. Lawrence was a graduate of Oxford University, and was, by profession, a lawyer. John entered into commercial and mercantile affairs, and was an accomplished man of business. The renown of Virginia, named after Elizabeth, England’s virgin queen, was then luring many, even of the most illustrious in wealth and rank, to the shores of the New World. Lawrence and John embarked together, to seek their fortunes on the banks of the Potomac. It was a lovely morning in summer when the ship entered Chesapeake Bay, and sailing up that majestic inland sea, entered the silent, solitary, forest-fringed Potomac. Eagerly they gazed upon the Indian wigwams which were clustered upon the banks of many a sheltered and picturesque cove; and upon the birch canoes, which were propelled by the painted and plumed natives over the placid waters. The two brothers purchased an extensive tract of land, on the western bank of the Potomac, about fifty miles above its entrance into the bay. Here, with an estate of thousands of acres spreading around them, and upon a spot commanding a magnificent view of the broad river and the sublime forests, they reared their modest but comfortable mansion. John married Miss Pope. We have none of the details of their lives, full of incidents of intensest interest to them, but of little importance to the community at large. Life is ever a tragedy. From the times of the patriarchs until now, it has been, to most of the families of earth, a stormy day with a few gleams of sunshine breaking through the clouds. Children were born and children died. There were the joys of the bridal and the tears of the funeral. Upon the death of John Washington, his second son, Augustine, remained at home in charge of the paternal acres. He seems to have been, like his father, a very worthy man, commanding the respect of the community, which was rapidly increasing around him. He married Jane Butler, a young lady who is described as remarkably beautiful, intelligent—and lovely in character. A very happy union was sadly terminated by the early death of Jane. A broken-hearted husband and three little children were left to weep over her grave. The helpless orphans needed another mother. One was found in Mary Ball. She was all that husband or children could desire. Subsequent events drew the attention of the whole nation, and almost of the civilized world, to Mary Washington, for she became the mother of that George, whose name is enshrined in the hearts of countless millions. It is the uncontradicted testimony that the mother of George Washington was, by instinct and culture, a lady; she had a superior mind, well disciplined by study, and was a cheerful, devout Christian. Augustine and Mary were married on the 6th of March, 1730. They received to their arms their first-born child, to whom the name of George was given, on the 22d of February, 1732. Little did the parents imagine that their babe would go out into the world, from the seclusion of his home amid the forests of the Potomac, to render the name of Washington one of the most illustrious in the annals of our race.