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Page:Collier's New Encyclopedia v. 10.djvu/355

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WASHINGTON

305

WASHINGTON

regard for his mother's wishes. One can contemplate with pleasure the picture he presents as a 16-year-old explorer, surveying the lands of Lord Fairfax amid the wild passes of the Alleghenies. The youth who so bravely fronted all “moving accidents by flood and field,” who gained a reputation for sobriety and prudence both with the savage tribes he was forced to encounter and the official circles of Williamsburg, was doing precisely the work best fitted to prepare him for the higher labors of his manhood.

He rose rapidly, and in three years was made adjutant-general of militia in one of the border districts. But he was soon called away to accompany his invalid brother Lawrence on a voyage to the West Indies. This was destined to be his only experience of foreign travel; but he was by nature little capable of being tainted by provincialism. Returning to Virginia, he found his military charge renewed, and was given speedy opportunity for active service. He was dispatched by Governor Dinwiddie in the fall of 1753 on a mission to the French invaders of the Ohio region — a dangerous task, which others had declined, but which he accepted with alacrity. He braved the rigor of the season and the peril of the long and almost unknown way, and in about three months' time was back at Williamsburg with the French answer. Neither savages nor treacherous guides, nor ice-gorged rivers could prevail against so bold a heart or so keen an eye; nor could flattery at home undermine a nature so well balanced, a modesty so innate and pure. He was at once put in command of the temporary militia of the colony, and was subsequently made lieutenant-colonel of the augmented forces. His superior officer soon died, however, and he was left in full charge of the expedition to the Ohio. He acquitted himself admirably in the fight at Great Meadows, but was forced to capitulate shortly after, the result being honorable, and on the whole fortunate, considering the rashness of the enterprise.

The death of the French officer Jumonville in a preliminary skirmish led to a curious sort of reputation for the young colonial soldier, the future liberator of America being denounced as an assassin because of an absurd mistake by which the leader of a scouting party was converted into the bearer of a flag of truce. But while French censure could not hurt Washington, Dinwiddie's conduct with regard to the reorganization of the Virginian troops did; and after a manly remonstrance he resigned, showing in this matter, as well as in his subsequent refusal to submit to be outranked by officers holding royal commissions, that perfectly poised dignity of character for which he is probably more noted than any other great man in history. When Braddock, however, offered Washington a post as aide-de-camp which he could accept with honor, he was glad enough to march against the foe and to tender advice which no man in America was better fitted to give and no commanding officer less likely to profit by. The prudence of Washington as a counselor, as well as his intrepid conduct at Fort Duquesne, taught all discerning observers that he had in him the stuff of which not only good border soldiers but also great generals are made; and one of these observers, the eloquent preacher, Samuel Davies, was wise enough to predict that “that heroic youth, Colonel Washington,” would one day render his country some distinguished service. For a time his services were chiefly directed toward securing the safety of the Virginia borders, and he found leisure to make a visit to Boston on military business, as well as to fall in love.

His marriage with the widow, Martha Custis, took place in January, 1759, and those who are wont to accuse Washington of lacking sentiment may be advised to study carefully all that can be learned about the romantic affair. Military life seemed over for him, and he settled down as a gentleman farmer, serving his colony in the House of Burgesses, where he was formally thanked for his exertions in the public behalf, but was too modest to be able to reply; looking after the interests of his parishes in the local vestries, dispensing hospitality in true Virginian style, and superintending his estates in a thrifty fashion peculiarly his own; and last, but not least, keeping up his spirits and his health by frequent indulgence in the manly sport of fox hunting. At the age of 30 he was plainly the greatest soldier in the colonies, the man to whom all eyes would turn should any public danger impend; and if no danger came, he would nevertheless be one of the wealthiest and most prominent citizens of the “Ancient Dominion.” He had thus little to wish for except children. But if children did not come, his wife was destined to be filled with a higher love and more absorbing cares. He was to be the Father of his Country, From his seat at Mount Vernon, which he had been progressive enough to link with the rest of the world by a private wharf, he watched the clouds gathering in the political heavens, and he showed a statesmanly prescience in being almost the first American to perceive that a complete break with England was