America First—100 Stories from Our History by Lawton B. Evans

The Father of His Country

LET us learn something of the kind of man George Washington was—the man whom we have long known as the "Father of his Country." To look at, he was a fine type of man and soldier,—the type that would attract attention anywhere. He was tall, and held himself as straight as an arrow. He was six feet, two inches high, and weighed two hundred and twenty pounds. Wherever he went, in whatever company, he was distinguished for his splendid height and erect figure. His eyes were light blue, and so deeply sunken that they gave him a serious expression. His face [158] was grave and thoughtful, though his disposition was full of cheer and good-will.

In his young days, he was very athletic, with a strong right arm. It is said that he once threw a stone from the bottom to the top of the Natural Bridge, in Virginia, a height of over two hundred feet; and that he threw a piece of slate, rounded to the size of a silver dollar, across the Rappahannock River, at Fredericksburg,—a feat no other man had ever been able to accomplish.

In fact, during the Revolution, though some of the backwoodsmen in the army were men of great size and strength, yet it was generally believed that Washington was as strong as the best of them. One day, at Mt. Vernon, some young men, who boasted of their power, were throwing an iron bar to see who could cover the greatest distance. Washington, watching them, said, "Let me try my hand at this game." Without taking off his coat, he seized the bar, and, to the amazement of the party, threw it a considerable distance further than any of the others had done.

He was a fine wrestler when he was a young man. At one time, he was witnessing a wrestling match, and the champion challenged him to a trial of strength. Washington turned, and, without a word, seized the strong man, and, to the great [159] amusement of the crowd, threw him flat on the ground. The defeated champion said he felt as though a lion had grabbed him, and, when he hit the ground, he expected every bone in his body to be broken.

Washington was also very fond of parties and dancing. He often rode, on winter nights, a distance of ten miles, to attend a dance, and would reach home just in time for breakfast. He kept this up until he was sixty-four years old, when he had to write to a friend, "Alas! my dancing days are over." He liked to dress well, and was very fussy about the quality of cloth and the fit of his garments. He wore ruffled shirts, silver and gold lace on his hat, scarlet waistcoats, blue broadcloth coats, with silver trimmings, and marble-colored hose. In fact, the "Father of his Country" was something of a dandy, and kept it up to the end of his life.

Like most soldiers, Washington was fond of horses, and was a splendid and daring rider. As he rode at the head of his troops, he was a conspicuous figure. Lafayette once said of him, "I never beheld so superb a horseman." Jefferson wrote, "Washington was the best horseman of his age, and the most graceful figure that could be seen on horseback."

[160] Washington was very methodical in his habits, and thrifty in business. He kept a diary, putting down daily happenings of his life, and keeping an accurate account of what money he received and how it was spent. He became wealthy, and, at the time of his death, was worth a half million dollars. He was then the richest man in America. His estate at Mt. Vernon covered eight thousand acres, the slaves and laborers numbering five hundred. His orders were, "Buy nothing, you can make yourself." Hence, he was the greatest farmer of the day. He made all his own flour and meal, and even the flour barrels. The cloth for the house and for the farm hands was woven on the premises. Like all rich Virginia planters, he kept open house, and there was rarely a time when his table was without one or more guests. He said his house was more like a tavern than anything else.

He was very correct in his habits. He ate carefully and slowly, and the simplest of food. He was grave and dignified, and seldom laughed, though he was not of a gloomy disposition. In almost every relation of public and private life, his character is worthy of study and of emulation.


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