The George Washington We Never Knew
That's Not Washington!
The image of George Washington, man and boy, presented to many elementary school or K-5 school children is not the man of reality.
As often as not, he has been portrayed to have had the personality of a door and inoperative teeth. He's been described to elementary school classes as short and glum. Not someone to whom children would gravitate.
Our George WashingtonClick thumbnail to view full-size
I think Washington was somehow confused with John Adams during early history lessons. However, the tremendous breadth and depth of the research that Mary Higgins Clark (the suspense queen) performed in the late 1960s make up for it in spades.
In school, we were taught that George Washington wore wooden teeth. On a sketchy pseudo-tour of Mount Vernon in the Stone Age, I was shown old dentures in a dusty glass case and told that George Washington's teeth were made of wood. They were not, in fact, wooden (see photo, below right).
Washington was by modern rumor a stick-in-the-mud that always told the whole truth, especially when cutting down cherry trees -- But all that was all made-up propaganda advertising of the 18th Century, plied to boost and enlarge Washington's moral image after death. A man known as Parson Weems was his posthumous speech writer in these events, but Gworge Washington was a real human being.
Kids probably don't care that General Washington crossed the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War in the dead of winter with newspapers lining the boots of himself and his men for warmth, until they stand outside in the winter's snow, ice, wind, and hail to feel the searing cold for a time themselves. They surely don't know that his wife Patsy crossed enemy lines to be with him that winter, or that her nickname was Patsy and few called her Martha.
Real History and Popular Myth
I remember, as a child, being required to memorize "quotes from Washington", along with the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States , and the Gettysburg Address . As an adult, I have found the memorized quotes to be all fiction.
However, Mary Higgins Clark, the great mystery writer came to the rescue back in 1969 with her first book to unlock the mysteries of the real George Washington. I've just discovered it and have done so in its newest edition, Mount Vernon Love Story . It's original title was Aspire to the Heavens, the family motto of the Ball family that gave us the strict Mary Ball Washington, the first president's mother.
In elementary school, we didn't even know he had a mother.
Native Americans admired the 6'3" George Washington for his advanced horse riding skills --That makes him definitely more interesting than a door, and he could dance very well.
I want to start over in a new 1st Grade, and if Ms. Clark is such a good investigative writer, I also want to read all of her mysteries.
After the Colonists' defeat at Germantown, the victorious Brit, General Howe, lost his dog when it walked over to Washington's camp. Washington wrote a note dated October 6, 1777 to General Howe and sent the dog safely back across enemy lines under a flag of truce.
Mount Vernon Live Story by Mary Higgins Clark. 1969, 2003.
This story is a thoroughly researched biographical fiction and the writer's very first book, completed after performing the research for a media series on George and Martha Washington and their Mount Vernon. It is about the love of the land and love of country as much as it is about the love between President and First Lady. It offers a deeper look into all of these relationships than I had every imagined. and through it, I have a new vision of the founding of the New Nation and the personality of many of its founders. As such, I believe it should be required reading at the middle school level.
I am joyous that this book changed my childhood impressions formed by that long ago visit to Mount Vernon before Colonial Virginia became a well-maintained modern historic attraction. As a better preserved National Historical Place, it now presents a different image that leaves me speechless. The damp house and the dimly lit, dusty furnishings, portraits, and display cases have given way to something much more honorable to the period and the people.
Clark's book begins with George Washington on his last day in office, preparing to attend the Inaugural Address of John Adams. We gain an understanding of the possible range of emotions and memories President Washington felt on this day, hoping he had done a good job and not made too many mistakes in government. We witness the whirlwind packing spree to leave the presidential mansion the long, bumping carriage ride that eventually led back to Mount Vernon.
Back and forth in each successive chapter, a voice or a sound, or an image reminds George of an earlier time and we can relive it with him. In this way, we gain a three-dimensional knowledge of the Father of Our Country and how he came to that position. The story is fiction, but based so in history that the spirit of it is true,
I am impressed that Washington did not seek any of the leadership positions given to him, but that he accepted them and fulfilled them admirably. In this, he is a little like Pope Benedict, who did not want to be Pope, but who is Pope and one that works for positive change.
Mount Vernon Love Story spans time for 52 years from 1745 - 1797 and spares us his end and death in 1799.
As a boy on the family’s Ferry Farm, George was handled so harshly by his mother, that he spent much time at his brother’s estate, Mount Vernon. He probably loved it there the first time he went. Meeting the neighbors at the next estate, Belvoir, George is admiring of both Mr. and Mrs. George William (Sally) Fairfax. From a surveying “internship” of sorts with George William Fairfax, Washington chose as a teenager to pursue a career as a surveyor.
The book plays out an agonizing type of not-quite love affair between Sally and Washington, whom she always calls “Young Washington.” The truth of that relationship is probably not really knowable, but it plays out well and believably in this book.
After George attempts to help in the French and Indian War and joins the military and survives a horrid battle, he attracts nationwide fame and everyone wants to meet him (this is not at all like a wooden door or wooden teeth!).
Making the rounds of parties as he is able, George meets a Mr. and Mrs. Custis and is impressed by their devotion and their dancing skills. Throughout the story, we see the future president polish his dancing skills as well as card playing skills in order to gain socialization that he uses well later in life. When Mr. Custis dies, George makes it a point to get to know Martha Custis – Patsy – and her young daughter and son better.
The Custis estate is the original White House, all estates being given a name in that era in Virginia. While there, George and the Custises become a family. While old history lessons and the old Mount Vernon tour site portrayed them as cold and unloving, they were not. They were real people in a blended family full of love and trials.
They also suffered horrid illnesses and loneliness as George went off to fight in the Revolution. However, Patsy went to Valley Forge in the dead of winter to be with him. I am grateful to have a better opinion of them both today and commend the author for the rich experience that she has given me.
The Fairfaxes of BelvoirClick thumbnail to view full-size
This surprising portrait of Patsy Washington is described at this link on the artist’s web site
",,,was based primarily on a computer generated age-regression image created by a Louisiana State University forensic anthropologist."
Gladly, Martha Washington was not at all the fat, dumpy, cold woman we were told about in elementary school (we though she must have been very ugly). I shall always call her "Patsy" from now on.
Patsy was quick on the uptake, observant, witty, patriotic, and brave; and picturing her at Valley Forge is thrilling. In reality, she journeyed there to stay with Washington and his troops during that part of the Revolutionary War campaign.
This book is required reading to accompany Mount Vernon Love Story, if we want a truer picture of life among the Washing tons before and after they became the original First Family.
After British General Howe defeated Washington and his troops at Germantown, General Howe's dog wandered into the American camp.
One of the colonial soldiers noticed Howe's name on the dog's collar and took the animal to General Washington. Washington wrote a note dated October 6, 1777 to General Howe and sent the dog back across enemy lines under a flag of truce, unharmed.
Reference: Drive-Thru History, TBN Television Special on George Washington and the Revolutionary War.
- George Washington in Williamsburg: Washington spent his honeymoon in Williamsburg.
- George Washington Papers: Time Line: The American Revolution
- Valley Forge National Historical Park (U.S. National Park Service)
© 2009 Patty Inglish MS