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Communicating America’s Founding Principles

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CONSTITUTION CORNER - Article 25

MAJOR GEORGE WASHINGTON - Part IV
By Judy Leithe 

This unknown artist's portrait of George Washington appears to be the most accurate depiction of him in early adulthood.  One description, written by a fellow officer during the period of the French and Indian War (1775-1763), when Washington was 26 years old, said in part:  "(Washington) had an impressive bearing and was an excellent horseman, he stood 6' 2 1/2" tall and weighed 175 pounds; he was broad shouldered and muscular; his hands were large and well formed, and he wore size 13 boots; he had reddish-brown hair and had a fair complexion; his demeanor was calm and controlled; he focused his clear blue-grey eyes on those with whom he spoke, and was a good listener." 

In his late teens and early twenties, in addition to impressing his elders with his maturity and willingness to serve his community, Washington was an ardent admirer of the young ladies.  At various times he penned lengthy, if not overly complicated, letters to several Virginia lasses.  Fairfax, Virginia was well steeped in British customs of societal ranking.  Even though his family was a prominent land owner, Washington had neither an established family name, or even a military standing, with which to impress the landed gentry. 

In July of 1754, the newly minted Major Washington returned to Williamsburg after an arduous 900-mile journey to the Ohio Valley, crossing the Allegheny Mountains twice in winter.  He reported to Governor Dinwiddie and presented him with what is now considered an historic document entitled, The Journal of Major George Washington. Impressed with the accuracy of Washington's descriptions and carefully drawn maps of the Ohio Valley, as well as his urging the importance of defending the western frontier from French expansion, the Governor immediately had it printed and distributed to colonial and British officers. 

At this time, Governor Dinwiddie decided to reorganize his militias into separate companies, each led by a Captain, which would have meant a demotion for Washington.  This did not sit well with him, so he resigned his commission as Major, stating, "I think the disparity between the present offer (ie: from Major to Captain)...too great to expect any real satisfaction...where once I had the right to command."  Washington returned to Mount Vernon in October of 1754 and resumed his life as a private citizen and farmer. 

The British Government commissioned Brigadier General Edward Braddock, and his army, to confront the French.  His mission:  "Take command of the French in North America!"  Upon the General's arrival in Virginia, in February 1755, Braddock received a congratulatory letter from Washington who, at twenty-two, was considering a possible career in the British Army.  After learning about Washington's knowledge of the wilderness country, Braddock offered him a position as his aide.  This was not the position Washington sought but, having had no real military training, he joined Braddock with the belief that this would be the first time he would be in a campaign led by an experienced, professional officer -- or so he thought. 

Next week - The French and Indian War