George The Younger

Through the untimely deaths of his father and older half brother, George Washington had recently become the master of substantial plantation holdings in the Northern Neck and gained a somewhat firmer social footing. Washington’s connection with the greatest of the Northern Neck families, the Fairfaxes, had been strong enough to get him invited, five years before, to help survey Fairfax holdings in the Shenandoah Valley, and thus to begin acquiring the knowledge that had launched him on the complementary careers of surveyor and land speculator. Yet however highly Thomas, Lord Fairfax, may have regarded the young neighbor with whom he rode to the hounds, Washington never really amounted to more than a protegé.

His schooling had been haphazard, and much of what he knew beyond the basics that his tutors could provide he had taught himself by reading. He had always been, and would remain, an eager self-improver; but he lacked polish, and he would lose his sense of social unease with agonizing slowness. Certainly he had not lost it at age twenty-one, when he was still recognizably related to the adolescent who practiced his penmanship by copying out dozens of maxims from a comportment manual. “When in Company,” one admonished, “put not your Hands to any Part of the Body, not usualy Discovered”; “Spit not in the Fire,” warned another, “especially if there be meat before it.” He also found it necessary to remind himself to “Kill no Vermin as Fleas, lice ticks &c in the Sight of Others, [and] if you See any filth or thick Spittle put your foot Dexteriously upon it.”

—Fred Anderson, Crucible of War


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When I Worked

July 2011
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