Becoming George Washington
Becoming George Washington
July 8, 1747 - Ferry Farm
"Don't turn your back on me!" Mary Washington said as she slammed the table with a wooden switch which she used liberally on child and slave alike. "Your Uncle Joseph says they will treat you worse than Negroes or even dogs." She waived the letter she had received from England. "The English Navy thinks we colonials are beneath contempt. It is not the place for you!"
Mary was a tall woman, with thick dark eyebrows and a strong, set jaw that allowed her to project her strict and inflexible temperament. George and his siblings rarely saw their mother's thin lips break into the radiant smile that had drawn their father to her. After the death of George's father, Mary Washington did not follow convention by finding a new husband. Instead, for the past three years, George's mother managed the Ferry Farm, demanding hard work from her five children, three dozen slaves, and herself. She gave few compliments but was free with criticism.
A gangly fifteen-year-old, George felt anger and frustration welling up. His mother, while always fierce and demanding, was rarely completely irrational. It seemed whatever she wanted conveniently benefited her and heaped more burdens on George, her eldest son. Despite his mother's menace, George would not and could not back down-not this time.
George spun to face her, eyes blazing. "Lawrence served the Crown and spent much time on His Majesty's ships. Colonel Fairfax has also looked into the issue. They both support allowing me to become a midshipman!" Lawrence, along with his powerful father-in-law, Colonel William Fairfax, had encouraged George's mother to allow George to join the British navy, even providing letters of introduction.
Shaking her head from across the kitchen table, Mary Washington replied, "Do not delude yourself. Your precious Lawrence and his high-hat relation care not for your well-being. They don't feed you, clothe you, or put a roof over your head. They think only of themselves and nothing of me or your real siblings, who depend upon you as the oldest."
You're wrong, George thought. He desired, above all, to regain the opportunities and station lost to him with his father's death. Lawrence and Austin, his older half brothers from his father's first marriage, had been educated in England. When his father passed away, George's chance to be an educated gentleman died with him. With the loss of his father's income, he was relegated to local schools and left to the mercy of his ill-educated and pedestrian mother.
Fighting back tears, George said, "Lawrence . . . Lawrence cares for me and he . . . he wants me to have a better life."
"There are no shortcuts." Mary pressed on with no softening, "Life requires hard work. Stop seeking military glory and licking the boots of the likes of the Fairfaxes. Do not cheapen yourself, George."
George said nothing, hoping it would help keep his rising emotions at bay.
"Now this matter is settled." Mary faced George with a hard and unblinking stare. "Go finish your chores and then you may visit Lawrence and inform him that his scheme has failed. Your duty is to remain here and assist this family."
George merely nodded and stumbled outside into the steamy morning. He began tending to the animals and ensuring the slaves had started their fieldwork. He looked hopelessly about the small shabby farm that had become his prison.
. . .
Later that day, George rode to his brother's home and spotted Lawrence atop his horse surveying his fields. Waving in George's direction, Lawrence trotted down to him. Lawrence's buoyant demeanor evaporated when he got close enough to see the crestfallen George. In one smooth motion, he deftly pivoted his horse to match George's pace.
"I can tell from the look on your face it did not go well, my dear brother," Lawrence said.