Mount Vernon, oil on canvas, by George Ropes, painted in 1806. (Shutterstock)
George Washington was born in February 1732 to a wealthy plantation owner in Virginia. According to the Washington family’s own records, the child was born around 10 a.m. on February 11. In 1752, the British Empire and its North American colonies stopped using the Julian calendar (also called the Caesar calendar) and began to use the Gregorian calendar (New Gregorian Calendar) to calculate days. Therefore, George’s birthday became February 22, which would later become Presidents’ Day in the United States.
By the way, little George, who was born on February 11, was the first son of his father, Augustine Washington, from his second marriage. Before this marriage, Augustine had been married once and left two sons. daughter. Augustine was a hard-working man who owned a tobacco plantation, a blacksmith shop and dozens of black slaves in Virginia, and lived a prosperous life. According to the custom of wealthy families in the North American colonies at that time, Augustine, as a father, sent his two sons around the age of ten to study in the mother country. At that time, crossing the Atlantic was all done by sea, and the round trip took a year and a half. When he settled down with his sons and returned to Virginia, he learned that his poor wife had died of illness during this period.
So, in 1731, 37-year-old Augustine remarried 23-year-old Mary Johnson Ball. Mary was an orphan girl whose parents both died. She lost her parents very early and was adopted by her father’s old friend. She grew up relying on charity help from the community. Therefore, this girl has a strong willpower and devout religious beliefs. After Mary married Augustine Washington, a widower 14 years older than her, the next year, in February 1732, she gave birth to their eldest son, George Washington. The couple had a total of six children. The daughter left by the ex-wife and Mary’s little daughter did not grow up and died young.
When George was three years old, his father bought a new 2,500-acre land, which faced the Potomac River and was picturesque. The Washington family moved to a larger new house, which became Mount Vernon (Mount Vernon), which was later made famous by George.
In 1738, Lawrence Washington returned from his studies. 6-year-old George and his 20-year-old eldest brother met for the first time. When the eldest son returned home, his father gave the house where he lived and the surrounding two thousand acres of land to Lawrence, and he moved his children with Mary to Ferry Farm. This also means separation. It can be seen that his father Augustine relies heavily on his eldest son. According to British primogeniture laws, Lawrence should be the one who inherits the most wealth from his father.
According to the birth and death records of family members in the Washington family tree, between 1739 and 1740, Mary’s newborn daughter, George’s little sister, unfortunately died in infancy. According to the timeline, this should have happened after the move. Perhaps Mary was overworked, or the heavy housework and poor care brought about by the move led to the child’s early death. Being in such a complex big family, it is difficult for any woman to cope with such family life easily.
George’s mother, Mary, was a devout Christian. In her spare time, she took her children to read the Bible and doctrine. These books were basic education readers for young George. One of them, “Comp templation, Moral and Divine” (Comp templation, Moral and Divine, by Matthew Hale), was Mary’s daily reading for the children. Faith in God was the crutch of Mary’s life, helping her to overcome the difficult years of losing her parents in childhood, losing her husband and young daughter as an adult, and raising five children independently.
George Washington in the future once said that all my character comes from my mother’s upbringing. She is the most beautiful woman in my life. (My mother was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. All I am I owe to my mother. I attribute all my success in life to the moral, intellectual and physical education I received from her.)
In the Washington family, a cousin who was about the same age as George Jr. once talked about growing up with George in his later years. When he was a child, he and George were inseparable playmates and classmates. Because he often visited Washington’s house, he would often see Mary. The impression this serious and kind mother left on him was still fresh in his memory in his later years. He described that his fear of George’s mother far exceeded his fear of his own parents. Even now that I have become a grandfather, my knees still tremble when I think of this serious mother.
In 1743, George was 11 years old. In April, my father passed away. Mary became a widow at the age of 36, and 11-year-old George had four younger siblings, aged 10, 9, 7, and 5 years old. Think about it, what a difficult situation it is. A 36-year-old mother has to raise these five children alone.
For the Washington family, 1743 was a year of sorrow and joy. The summer after his father’s death, Lawrence married a lady from the Fairfax family. The Fairfax family was famous and was the only old aristocratic family in the colony to hold the title of nobility of the suzerain country.
Due to the early death of his father, George had to take care of the family. As the eldest son on whom his mother relies, he has to help his mother take care of her younger siblings, while also managing the blacksmith shop, tobacco fields, farms, etc. It is impossible for him to go to England to study like his older brother. He studied at a local grammar school, and most of his knowledge came from his self-study. The geometry exercises he did are still preserved in the museum in Mount Vernon. These practical knowledge will play a great role in his life.
From the age of 14 to 16, little George was fascinated by a French church doctrine that was popular in the 16th century and translated into English. This is a booklet about gentleman’s etiquette and self-cultivation. He edited and organized it, rewrote one hundred and ten requirements for daily life, specified for himself the behavioral rules to be a gentleman, and wrote it into a book – “The Rules of Civility” ).
These etiquette rules, in our view today, are not outdated and are still completely practical. for example:
Do not spit in public or spit into the fireplace, do not do indecent actions in front of others (picking ears, manicuring nails, etc.), do not dress or take off clothes in public, or walk out of the room disheveled. Wear your clothes when socializing. How to wear and take off hats appropriately.
Respect people. Don’t interrupt or interrupt when others are talking, and don’t walk away casually or doze off indifferently. When talking to others, keep a distance that makes the other person comfortable, focus your eyes when talking, and listen carefully; When someone is standing next to you, do not sit down by yourself, but maintain the same posture as the other person; sit in a dignified posture, do not cross your legs, and do not cross your feet.
Don’t accuse, don’t ridicule, don’t let your words be filled with jealousy or malice; don’t talk about things you don’t know the truth about; don’t whisper, don’t be curious, don’t tell silly jokes in front of serious and noble people, or Speak ill of a person who is not present because it is unfair to the person who is not present; do not make promises casually, but fulfill your commitments; do not act arrogant or behave inappropriately in front of people of a lower social class than you , unethical words and deeds.
Have proper etiquette at the table. When eating, put your hands on the table instead of your whole arms. Don’t bend down to eat meat. Don’t make any noise when drinking. Remember to wipe the corners of your mouth after putting down the cup. Don’t use a greasy knife to pick up the salt. or cut the bread; do not blow the soup with your mouth, but let the soup cool down naturally. When dipping the bread into the sauce on the plate, only take one bite at a time; do not talk to people with food in your mouth, and drink alcohol Don’t stare at others; don’t get angry at the table, and always keep the table in a pleasant dining atmosphere.
Be a true man, and serious as a gentleman; when you entertain, let your joy be manly, not sinful.
Use a serious and respectful tone when you speak about God, and always respect and obey your parents, even if they are poor.
These parenting rules reflect the 14-year-old child’s self-restraint and self-discipline, as well as the upbringing and manners he maintains towards the outside world. It can be said that young people who can formulate these behavioral norms for themselves are by no means mediocre. In particular, he is a child who has lost his father, a child of a widow, and he is so vulnerable as a young man.
What is particularly valuable is Article 110, the last rule, which is not about external behavior, but your own inner requirements: always guard the fire of heaven in your heart – conscience. This is an abstract concept, because daily manners and education are visible to the naked eye among the crowd. And who can see the “fire of conscience” in the heart? Except for yourself, who can know whether the fire of life in your heart has long been extinguished or whether it continues to illuminate your heart? However, in the eyes of little George, a gentleman maintains good upbringing, manners and social graces. Such elegance comes from the protection of conscience in the heart, and is thus radiated in the etiquette of daily life. The fire of conscience is the source of life.
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