Brief Biography of George Washington, by PARSON WEEMS,




This only can the bliss bestowImmortal souls should prove;From one short word all pleasures flow,That blessed word is--Love.

IF ever man rejoiced in the divine administration, and cordially endeavoured to imitate it by doing good, George Washington was that man. Taught by religion that "God is love," he wisely concluded "those are the most happy who love the most"; and, taught by experience that it is love alone that gives a participation and interest in others, capacitating us to rejoice with those who rejoice, and to weep with those who weep, he early studied that benevolence which rendered him so singularly the delight of mankind.

The Marquis De Chastellux, who visited him in camp, tells us that "he was astonished and delighted to see the great American living among his officers and men as a father among his children, who at once revered and loved him with a filial tenderness."

Brissot, another famous French traveller, assures us, that "throughout the continent every body spoke of Washington as of a father."

The dearest and best of all appellations, "The Father of his Country," was the neutral fruit of that benevolence which he so carefully cultivated through life. A singular instance of which we meet with in 1754, and the 22nd year of his age.

He was stationed at Alexandria with his regiment, the only one in the colony, and of which he was Colonel. There happened at this time to be an election in Alexandria for members of the assembly: and the contest ran high between Colonel George Fairfax and Mr. Elzey.

Washington was the warm friend of Fairfax: and a Mr. Payne headed the friends of Elzey. A dispute happening to take place in the court-house yard, Washington, a thing very uncommon with him, became warm (angry); and, which was still more uncommon, said something that offended Payne. Payne, whereupon the little gentleman, who, though but a cub in size, was the old lion in heart, raised his sturdy hickory, and, at a single blow, brought our hero to the ground.

Several of Washington's officers being present, whipped out their cold irons in an instant: and it was believed that there would have been murder off-hand. To make bad worse, his regiment, hearing how he had been treated, bolted out from their barracks, with every man his weapon in his hand, threatening dreadful vengeance on those who had dared to knock down their beloved colonel.

Happily for Mr. Payne and his party, Washington recovered, time enough to go out and meet his enraged soldiers: and, after thanking them for this expression of their love, and assuring them that he was not hurt in the least, he begged them, as they loved him or their duty, to return peaceably to their barracks.

As for himself, he went to his room, generously chastising his imprudence, which had thus struck up a spark that had like to have thrown the whole town into a flame. Finding on mature reflection, that he had been the aggressor, he resolved to make Mr. Payne honourable reparation, by asking his pardon on the morrow.

No sooner had he made this noble resolution, than, recovering that delicious gaiety which accompanies good purposes in a virtuous mind, he went to a ball that night, and behaved as pleasantly as though nothing had happened! Glorious proof, that great souls, like great ships, are not affected by those little puffs which would overset feeble minds with passion, or sink them with spleen!

The next day he went to a tavern-restaurant, and wrote a polite note to Mr. Payne, whom he requested to meet him. Mr. Payne took it for a challenge, and repaired to the tavern, not without expecting to see a pair of pistols produced.

But what was his surprise on entering the chamber, to see a decanter of wine and glasses on the table! Washington arose, and in a very friendly manner met him; and gave him his hand. "Mr. Payne," said he, "to err is nature: to rectify error is glory. I find I was wrong yesterday: but I wish to be right today. You have had some satisfaction: and if you think that sufficient, here's my hand; let us be friends."

Admirable youth! Noble speech! No wonder, since it charms us so, that it had such an effect on Mr. Payne, who from that moment became the most ardent admirer and friend of Washington, and ready at any time, for his sake, to charge up to a battery of two and forty pounders.

What a lesson for our young countrymen!

Had Washington been one of the race of little men, how sadly different would have been his conduct on this occasion! Instead of going that night to the ball, and acting the lively agreeable friend, he would, like an angry viper that had been trod on, have retired to his chamber. There he would have found no such entertainment as Washington had at this ball; no sprightly music, no delicious wines, no sweetly smiling friends.

On the contrary, all the tortures of a soul brooding over its indignities, until reflection had whipped it up into pangs of rage unutterable, while all the demons of hell, with blood-stained torches pointing at his bleeding honour, cried out "revenge! revenge! revenge!"

There in his chamber, he would have passed the gloomy night preparing his pistols, moulding his bullets, or with furious looks driving them through the body of his enemy chalked on the wall. The next morning would have seen him on the field, and in language lately heard in this state, calling out to his hated antagonist:

You have injured me, sir, beyond reconciliation: and by--I'll kill you if I can. While his antagonist, in a style equally musical and Christian, would have rejoined, Kill, or be killed! Pop go the pistols--down tumbles one of the combatants; while the murderer, with knocking knees and looks of Cain, flies from the avenger of blood! The murdered man is carried to his house, a ghastly, bloody corpse.

Merciful God! What a scene ensues! Some are stupefied with horror! others sink lifeless to the floor! His tender sisters, wild shrieking with despair, throw themselves on their dead brother and kiss his soon-to-be ice-cold lips; while his aged parents, crushed under unutterable woe, go down in their snowy locks broken-hearted to the grave.

Thus bloody and miserable might have been the end of Washington or of Payne, had Washington been one of those poor deluded young men, who are determined to be great; and so be brought forward in newspapers, in spite of God or devil. But Washington was not born to exemplify those horrid rage- dies, which cowards create in society by pusillanimously giving way to their bad passions.

No--he was born to teach his countrymen what sweet peace and harmony might for ever smile in the habitations of men, if all had but the courage, like himself, to obey the sacred voice of justice and humanity. By firmly obeying these, he preserved his hands unstained by the blood of a fellow man; and his soul unharrowed by the cruel tooth of never-dying remorse.

By firmly obeying these, he preserved a life which, crowned with deeds of justice and benevolence, has brought more glory to God, more good to man, and more honor to himself, than any life ever spent since the race of man began.

Sons of Columbus!

Would you know what is true courage? See it defined, see it exemplified in this act of your young but great countryman. Never man possessed a more undaunted courage, than Washington. But in him this noble quality was the lifeguard of his reason, not the assassin; a ready servant to obey her commands, not a bully to insult them; a champion to defend his neighbour's rights, not a tyrant to invade them.

Transported by sudden passion, to which all are liable, he offended Mr. Payne, who resented it rather too roughly, by knocking him down on the spot. Washington had it in his power to have taken ample revenge: and cowards who have no command over their passions, would have done it.

But duty forbade him: and he had the courage to obey.

Reason whispered the folly of harbouring dark passions in his soul, poisoning his peace. He instantly banished them; and went to a ball, to drink sweet streams of friendship from the eyes of happy friends. Again reason whispered him, that having been the aggressor, he ought to ask Payne's pardon, and compromise the difference with him. In this also he had the courage to obey her sacred voice.

In what history, ancient or modern, sacred or profane, can you find, in so young a man, only twenty-two, such an instance of that TRUE HEROIC VALOUR which combats malignant passions--conquers unreasonable self--rejects the hell of hatred, and invites the heaven of love into our own bosoms, and into those of our brethren with whom we may have quarrelled?

Joseph forgiving his brethren in the land of Egypt;

David sparing that inveterate seeker of his life, Saul;

Sir Walter Raleigh pardoning the young man who spit in his face;

Afford, it is true, charming specimens of the sublime and beautiful in action. Certainly, such men are worthies of the world, and brightest ornaments of human nature. But yet none of them have gone beyond Washington in the affair of Payne.

A few years after this, Payne had a cause tried in Fairfax court. Washington happened on that day to be in the Courthouse. The lawyer on the other side, finding he was going fast to leeward, thought he would luff up with a whole broadside at Payne's character: and, after raking him fore and aft with abuse, he artfully bore away under the lee of the jury's prejudices, which he endeavoured to inflame against him.

"Yes, please your worship," continued he, "as a proof that this Payne is a most turbulent fellow, and capable of all I tell you, be pleased to remember, gentlemen of the jury, that this is the very man, who some time ago treated our beloved Colonel Washington so barbarously. Yes, this is the wretch, who dared, in this very courthouse yard, to lift up his impious hand against that greatest and best of men, and knocked him down as though he had been a bullock of the stalls."

This, roared in a thundering tone, and with a tremendous stamp on the floor, made Payne look very dejected; for he saw the countenance of the court beginning to turn on him. But Washington rose immediately, and thus addressed the bench:

"As to Mr. Payne's character, may it please your worship," said he, "we all have the satisfaction to know that it is perfectly unexceptionable: and with respect to the little difference which formerly happened between that gentleman and myself, it was instantly made up: and we have lived on the best terms ever since.

Moreover, I wish all my acquaintance to know, that I entirely acquit Mr. Payne of blame in that affair, and take it all on myself as the aggressor." Payne used often to relate another anecdote of Washington, which reflects equal honour on the goodness of his heart.

"Immediately after the war," said he, "when the conquering hero was returning in peace to his home, with the laurels of victory green and flourishing on his head, I felt a great desire to see him, and so set out for Mount Vernon. As I drew near the house, I began to experience a rising fear, lest he should call to mind the blow I had given him in former days.

However, animating myself, I pushed on. Washington met me at the door with a smiling welcome, and presently led me into an adjoining room, where Mrs. Washington sat. "Here, my dear," said he, presenting me to his lady, "here is the little man you have so often heard me talk of; and who, on a difference between us one day, had the resolution, to knock me down, big as I am. I know you will honour him as he deserves; for I assure you he has the heart of a true Virginian."

"He said this," continued Mr. Payne, "with an air which convinced me that his long familiarity with war had not robbed him of a single spark of the goodness and nobleness of his heart. And Mrs. Washington looked at him, I thought, with a something in her eyes, which showed that he appeared to her greater and lovelier than ever."

A good tree, saith the Divine Teacher, bringeth forth good fruit. No wonder then that we meet with so many and such delicious fruits of CHARITY in Washington, whose soul was so rich in benevolence.

In consequence of his wealth and large landed possessions, he had visits innumerable from the poor. Knowing the great value of time and of good tempers to them, he could not bear that they should lose either, by long waiting and shuffling, and blowing their fingers at his door.

He had a room set apart for the reception of such poor persons as had business with him: and the porter had orders to conduct them into it, and to inform him immediately. And so affectionately attentive was he to them, that if he was in company with the greatest characters on the continent, when his servant informed him that a poor man wished to speak to him, he would instantly beg them to excuse him for a moment, and go and wait on him.

Washington's conduct showed that he disliked another practice, too common among some great men, who, not having the power to say, yes, nor the heart to say no, to a poor man, are fain to put him off with a "come again; come again;" and thus trot him backwards and forwards, wasting his time, wearing out his patience and shoes, and after all give him the mortification of a disappointment.

Washington could not be guilty of such cruel kindness. If he could not oblige a poor applicant, he would candidly tell him so at once: but then the goodness of his heart painted his regret so sensibly on his countenance, that even his refusals made him friends.

A poor Irishman, wanting a small farm, and hearing that Washington had one to rent, waited on him. Washington told him that he was sincerely sorry that he could not assist him; for he had just disposed of it. The poor man took his leave, but not without returning him a thousand thanks! Ah, do you thank me so heartily for a refusal!

"Yes, upon my soul, now please your excellency's honour, and I do thank you a thousand times. For many a great man would have kept me waiting for hours, But your excellency's honour has told me straight off hand that you are sorry and God bless you for it, that you can't help me--and so your honour has done my business for me, in no time, and less."

The Potomac abounds with the finest herrings in the world, which, when salted, furnish not only to the wealthy a charming relish for their tea and coffee, but also to the poor a delicious substitute for bacon. But, fond as they are of this small boned bacon, as they call it, many of them have not the means to procure it.

Washington's heart felt for these poor people; and provided a remedy. He ordered a seine and a batteau to be kept on one of the best fishing shores, on purpose for the poor. If the batteau were lost, or the seine spoilt, which was often the case, he had them replaced with new ones immediately. And if the poor who came for fish were too weak handed to haul the seine themselves, they needed but to apply to the overseer, who had orders from Washington to send hands to help them.

Thus all the poor had it in their power to come down in the season, and catch the finest fish for themselves and their families. In what silver floods were ever yet caught the herrings, which could have given to Washington what he tasted, on seeing the poor driving away from his shores, with carts laden with delicious fish, and carrying home, whooping and singing to their smiling wives and children, the rich prize, a whole year's plenty.

In all his charities, he discovered great judgment and care in selecting proper objects. Character was the main chance. Mount Vernon had no charms for lazy, drunken, worthless beggars. Persons of that description knew very well that they must take their application elsewhere.

He never failed to remind them of the great crime of robbing the public of their services, and also the exceeding cruelty and injustice of snapping up from the really indigent, what little charity bread was stirring. But if the character were good-- if the poor petitioner were a sober, honest, and industrious person, whom Providence had by sickness or losses reduced to want--he found a brother in Washington.

It is incredible what quantities of wool, corn, bacon, flour, clothes, etc., were annually distributed to the poor, from the almost exhaustless heap, which the blessings of Heaven bestowed on this, its industrious and faithful steward.

"I had orders," said Mr. Peake, a sensible, honest manager of one of Washington's plantations, "to fill a corn-house every year, for the sole use of the poor in my neighbourhood, to whom it was a most seasonable and precious relief; saving numbers of poor women and children from miserable famine, and blessing them with a cheerful plenteousness of bread."

Mr. Lund Washington, long a manager of his Mount Vernon estate, had similar orders. One year when corn was so dear (a dollar per bushel) that numbers of the poor were on the point of starving, Mr. L. Washington, by order of the general, not only gave away all that could be spared from the granaries, but bought at that dear rate, several hundred bushels for them!

Anecdote of Washington.

The town of Alexandria, which now flourishes like a green bay tree, on the waters of the Potomac, was 50 years ago, but a small village. But though small, it was lovely. Situated on the fine plain which banks the western margin of the river, and with snow white domes glistening through the trees that shook their green heads over the silver flood, it formed a view highly romantic and beautiful.

Hence the name of the place at first was Bellhaven. But, with all the beauties to the eye, Bell- haven had no charms for the palate. Not that the neighbourhood of Bellhaven was a desert; on the contrary, it was, in many places, a garden spot abounding with luxuries. But its inhabitants, though wealthy, were not wise. By the successful culture of tobacco they had made money.

And having filled their coach-houses with gilt carriages, and their dining rooms with gilt glasses, they began to look down on the poorer sort, and to talk about families. Of course it would never do for such great people to run market carts!! Hence the poor Bellhavenites, though embosomed in plenty were often in danger of gnawing their nails; and unless they could cater a lamb from some good-natured peasant, or a leash of chickens from the Sunday negroes, were obliged to sit down with long faces to a half-graced dinner of salt meat and Johnny cake.

This was the order of the day, A. D. '5g, when Washington, just married to the wealthy young Mrs. Custis, had settled at Mount Vernon, nine miles below Bellhaven. The unpleasant situation of the families at that place soon reached his ear. To a man of his character, with too much spirit to follow a bad example, when he had the power to set a good one, and too much wit to look for happiness any where but in his own bosom, it could not long be questionable what part he had to act.

A market cart was instantly constructed; and regularly, three times a week, sent off to Bellhaven, filled with nice roasters, kidney covered lamb and veal, green geese, fat ducks, chickens by the basket, fresh butter, new laid eggs, vegetables, and fruit of all sorts.

Country gentlemen, dining with their friends in town, very soon marked the welcome change of diet. "Bless us all!" exclaimed they, "what's the meaning of this? You invited us to family fare, and here you've given us a lord mayor's feast." "Yes," replied the others, "thank God for sending Colonel Washington into our neighbourhood."

Thus, it was discovered, to the extreme mortification of some of the little great ones, that Colonel Washington should ever have run a market cart !! But the better sort, who generally, thank God, have sense enough to be led right, provided they can get a leader, soon fell into the track; and market carts were soon seen travelling in abundance to town with every delicacy of the animal and vegetable republics.

Thus the hungry wall which pride had raised against Bellhaven was happily demolished. A flood tide of blessings rolled in from the neighbouring country. The hearts of the merchants felt a fresh pulse of love for their brothers, the farmers: and even the little children, with cheeks red as the apples they seized, were taught to lisp the praises of God. And all this, reader, through the active benevolence of one man.

The following anecdote was related to me by his excellency Governor Johnson (Maryland), one of the few surviving heroes of '76.

"You seem, sir," said he addressing himself to me, "very fond of collecting anecdotes of Gen. Washington. Well, I'll tell you one, to which you may attach the most entire faith; for I have heard it a dozen times and oftener, from the lips of a very valuable man and a magistrate, in Conestoga, a Mr. Conrad Mogmyer."

"Just before the revolutionary war," said Mr. Mogmyer, " I took a trip for my health's sake to the Sweet Springs of Virginia, where I found a world of people collected; some, like me, looking for health, others for pleasure. In consequence of the crowd, I was at first rather hard run for lodgings; but at length was lucky enough to get a mattress in the hut of a very honest baker of my acquaintance, who often visited the springs for the benefit of his oven.

Being the only man of the trade on the turf, and well skilled in the science of dough, he met with no small encouragement: and it was really a subject of surprise to see the heaps of English loaves, Indian pones, French bricks, cakes, and crackers, which lay piled on his counter every morning. I often amused myself in marking the various airs and manners of the different waiters, who, in gay liveries and shining faces, came every morning, rattling down their silver, and tripping away with their bread by the basket.

Among those gay looking sons and daughters of Africa, I saw every now and then, a poor Lazarite, with sallow cheek and hollow eye, slowly creeping to the door, and at a nod from the baker, eagerly seize a fine loaf and bear it off without depositing a cent. Surely, thought I to myself, this baker must be the best man, or the greatest fool in the world.

But fearing that this latter cap best fitted his pericranium, I one morning could not help breaking my mind to him, for crediting his bread to such very unpromising dealers. " Stophel," for that was his name, "you seem," said I, "to sell a world of bread here every day; but, notwithstanding that, I fear you don't gain much by it."

"No! 'squire ? What makes you think so? "

"You credit too much, Stophel."

"Not I indeed, sir, not I. I don't credit a penny."

"Ay! how do you make that out, Stophel, don't I see the poor people every day carrying away your bread, and yet paying you nothing? "

"Pshaw, no matter for that, 'squire. They'll pay me all in a lump at last."

"At last! At last! O ho, at the last day, I suppose you mean, Stophel; when you have the conscience to expect that God Almighty will stand paymaster, and wipe off all your old scores for you, at a dash."

"Oh no I 'squire, we poor bakers can't give such long credit, but I'll tell you how we work the matter. T'he good man Colonel George Washington is here. Every season as soon as he comes, he calls and says to me, 'Stophel, you seem to have a great deal of company; and some, I fear, who don't come here for pleasure, and yet, you know, they can't do without eating.

Though pale and sickly, they must have bread. But it will never do to make them pay for it. Poor creatures! they seem already low spirited enough through sickness and poverty. Their spirits must not be sunk lower by taking from them every day what little money they have pinched from their poor families at home. I'll tell you what's to be done, Stophel.

You must give each of them a good hot loaf every morning; and charge it to me. When I am going away, I'll pay you all I ' And believe me, 'squire, he has often, at the end of the season, paid me as much as 80 dollars, and that too for poor creatures who did not know the hand that fed them; for I had strict orders from him not to mention a syllable of it to any body."

But though so kind to the bodies, Washington was still more kind and costly in his charities to the minds of the poor. Sensible that a republican government, that is, a government of the people, can never long subsist where the minds of the people are not enlightened, he earnestly recommended it to the citizens of the United States, to promote, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge.

In this, as indeed in all other cases where any thing great or good was to be done, Washington led the way.

He established a charity school in Alexandria, and endowed it with a donation of four thousand dollars. The interest was regularly paid and expended on the education of fifteen boys. My young friend, the reverend Mr. Wiley, who, for talents, taste, and classical erudition, has few superiors in America, was educated by Washington.

In 1785, the assembly of his native state, Virginia, "desirous to embrace," as they said, "every suitable occasion of testifying their sense of the unexampled merits of George Washington, Esq.," presented him with fifty shares in the Potomac, and one hundred shares in the James River Navigation Company, making, in the whole, the important sum of ten thousand pounds sterling!

Of this public act, they requested the governor to transmit Washington a copy. In answer he addressed a letter to the governor, in which, "I take the liberty," says he, "of returning to the general assembly, through your hands, the profound and grateful acknowledgments inspired by so signal a mark of their beneficent intentions towards me."

He goes on to beg that they would excuse his determined resolution not to accept a farthing of it for his own use--"But," continued he, "if it should please the general assembly to permit me to turn the destination of the fund vested in me, from my private emolument, to objects of a public nature, it shall be my study, in selecting, to prove the sincerity of my gratitude for the honour conferred on me, by preferring such as may appear most subservient to the enlightened and patriotic view of the legislature."

They were cheerfully submitted to his disposal; and, according to promise, he appropriated them to works of the greatest utility: viz: his shares in James River canal, to a college in Rockbridge county, near the waters of James River; and his Potomac shares to a national university, to be erected in the federal district, on the great Potomac.

How noble and disinterested were his wishes for the good of his country! As if incapable of being satisfied with all that he had done for her while living, he endeavoured, by founding those noble institutions for the diffusion of knowledge and virtue, to make himself her benefactor when he should cease to live in this sublunary world.

Since the idea is perfectly correct, that the great Governor of the world must look with peculiar benignity on those of his children who most nearly resemble him in benevolence, may we not indulge the pleasing hope, that these colleges, founded by such a hand, shall prove the nurseries of the brightest genius and virtue; and that from their sacred halls will proceed in endless succession, the mighty Washingtons, and Jeffersons, the Franklins and Madisons of future times!

O that Columbia may live before God! and that the bright days of her prosperity may never have an end!

Washington's behaviour to the generous Fayette ought never to be forgotten.

When that glorious young nobleman heard that Lord North had passed against America the decree of slavery; and that the American farmers with their rusty firelocks and pitchforks, in front of their shrieking wives and children, were inch by inch disputing the soil against a hireling soldiery, the tears gushed from his eyes.

He tore himself from the arms of the loveliest, fondest of wives; flew to his sovereign for permission to fight; turned into powder and arms every livre that he could raise; and, in a swift sailing frigate rushing through the waves to America, presented himself before Washington.

Washington received him as his son, and gave him command. Under the eye of that hero he fought and conquered. Having aided to fix the independence of strangers, he hastened back to France, to liberate his own country.

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