As we open our Notebook again, we recall that Major George Washington had returned to Virginia after an arduous winter trip on which he had carried a message to the French who were threatening British control of the western frontier. He had performed well, bringing a French reply back to Gov. Dinwiddie, and was praised for his honorable industry. All this at the age of twenty-one.
Soon, April 1754, he left Alexandria to travel west, this time sent with two companies of men. Upon reaching Great Meadows, he received word from the Iroquois Indian chief he had met on the earlier trip, Half-King. The message warned of French soldiers nearby . Washington and Half-King considered them a danger. Early on the morning of May 28th they surprised the French, killing ten, including the French commander, and taking 10 prisoners who were sent back under guard to Virginia. He wrote to his brother John ,”I heard the bullets whistle and, believe me, there is something charming in the sound.” The first shots of the French and Indian War had been ordered by George Washington.
Just over a month later, on July 4, 1754 at Fort Necessity, Washington was forced to surrender. He returned to Virginia defeated, but , when his bravery was reported, having gained the respect of the men who had served under him.
Since his brother Lawrence’s widow now controlled Mount Vernon, Washington leased the property from her and made it his residence. After she remarried, it became his. Now he turned for a time to agrarian life and the pleasures of Virginia gentry. He dined with neighbors , one of whom was the influential Fairfax family, and especially enjoyed the attention of Mrs. Fairfax. She saw to it that her seamstresses provided him with shirts. Washington wrote to her, harmed by this friendship, and after several letters she replied gently rebuking him. He continued to write.
May 1755 brought the beginning of the Braddock Expedition to Duquesne. While in the wilderness a letter from Mary Ball Washington arrived asking her son to send her butter and a Dutch farm hand. His reply was to explain that his immediate area was in short supply of such items. Mrs. Washington was known to be a domineering and eccentric person and over the years Washington did what he could to keep her at a distance, still providing for her needs. In later years (1771) he purchased a house for her in Fredericksburg, VA, 35 miles from Mt. Vernon. The house is now open to the public.
As the Braddock force neared Duquesne the French and Indians attacked. Washington, ill with dysentery, mounted his horse and joined the fight. Bullets whizzed, slitting his clothes. Two horses fell beneath him. Washington fought on. Braddock was killed and Washington felt he had again failed. The end result, however, was that he became the Commander in Chief of Virginia’s forces , having escaped the wounds of both military and political battle.
Returning again to Mt Vernon , he sometimes traveled in his capacity of Colonel for the Virginia militia. This took him in 1756 to New York and Boston. At what is now Yonkers, New York, he stayed overnight at the home of an old friend , Mr. Beverly Robinson. There he met Robinson’s sister -in-law, the beautiful and accomplished Mary Phillipse, who had many admirers and she seemed to enjoy their homage. Washington was added to her conquests. Perhaps there might have been more but shortly Washington learned that she was betrothed to one of his aides, Roger Morris. Shaken, he returned to his duties in Virginia. Roger Morris and Beverly Robinson sided with the British and by 1776 the Morris/Robinson lands were confiscated. The family became so destitute that Mary went to Washington at the Battery Headquarters where he was staying briefly on his way North. She asked for his help . All he could offer was to assure her that he would do all he could to see that her children’s rights to the family properties would not be effected by the confiscation. The family of Mary Phillipse was allowed to reclaim their home of many years along the Hudson River.
Time passed after Washington’s return to Virginia in 1756, he was overseeing the development of the Mount Vernon plantation and keeping up his military career. And after several attempts he had been elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses.
Returning from some distance, he stayed overnight in the spring 1758 at the Custis plantation. This was a normal occurrence as Virginia hospitality was extended to travelers by plantations along their way. His hostess was Martha Dandridge Custis, a widow of 7 months, who had young children. The overnight visit became a whirlwind courtship. He made more forage to the West on military duty, then Martha Custis and George Washington were married January 6, 1759 at her home on the York River. After a visit to Martha’s Six Chimneys House in Williamsburg, they moved on to Mount Vernon with the children. They, no doubt, envisioned a pleasant life in the Virginia countryside.
Until our Notebook is opened again, we leave you as the clouds of dissent and dissolution begin to appear.