By Gayla K. Hiss
When I think of our first president, the story of a young boy fessing up to chopping down his father’s prized cherry tree usually comes to mind. That popular story, it turns out, is more fiction than fact, which causes me to wonder—who was the real George Washington? Since we recently celebrated Presidents’ Day, I decided to take a fresh look at the man known as the “Father of Our Nation” and discover for myself the man behind the myth.
Born Feb. 22, 1732 in rural Virginia, young George had to grow up quickly. His father passed away when he was only seven, and as the eldest offspring of his father’s second wife, George helped his mother run the family’s estate. By 15, he was already a surveyor. In his early twenties, he bravely rallied the British troops after an ambush in the French and Indian War, surviving four bullet holes through his coat and two horses shot out from under him. At only 23, he became the Commander in Chief of the Virginia militia. However, his early military career wasn’t always successful, and he became disillusioned and resigned his commission to return to his beloved home, Mount Vernon, VA.
In 1759, he married Martha Dandridge Custis, a wealthy widow with two children that he raised as his own. By all accounts, their marriage was a happy one, and he led a quiet life as a gentleman farmer, raising crops, orchards, and livestock on his vast estate and serving in Virginia’s House of Burgesses.
But with war looming between Great Britain and her North American colonies, duty called, and George showed up at the Second Continental Congress in full military uniform, ready to offer his services. He was named the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in 1775. Despite suffering many hardships and setbacks, including the bitter winter encampment at Valley Forge, and the treason of Benedict Arnold, George led his intrepid, ragtag army to a decisive victory over the British in the Battle of Yorktown.
In 1783, following the signing of the peace treaty in France, George retired again to Mount Vernon. But only six years later, duty called again, and George was unanimously elected the first President of the United States of America, and subsequently re-elected for a second term in 1792.
Not only was George’s historic rise from rural farm boy to the most powerful man in the newly-formed nation unprecedented, but he also continued to pave the way for future presidents in these important respects: avoiding the monarchial trappings that usually accompanied heads of state and government, initiating public addresses to Congress, forming a cabinet of advisors to assist in making decisions, and establishing a strong central government.
While most of George’s remarkable accomplishments are common knowledge, there is another side to our first president that is often overlooked. That is, George Washington, the writer. No, he didn’t pen the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, but his political thoughts and personal opinions are well documented in his correspondence. In fact, somewhere between 18,000 – 20,000 letters have been attributed to him. Early on, he went to great pains to preserve them in copies (using a letterpress), and letter books (bound letters, sort of like a notebook), as if he knew those writings would one day be important. He even planned to build a special storage room for them at Mount Vernon. Unfortunately, his death in 1799 from a flu-like illness thwarted those plans. Eventually, his letters were sold by a distant family member to the Library of Congress in the 1800’s and were made public in the 1900’s.
Since re-educating myself on George Washington’s significant contributions to our nation, I can’t help wondering what he would think of our country today. Could it be that he wanted to preserve all those letters so future generations wouldn’t lose sight of his vision and stray off course? Or maybe he wanted us to know the real George Washington, without the hype. Whatever the case, when we think of George Washington’s many ground-breaking achievements, perhaps we should include his cherished correspondence among them. For his writings reveal both his stellar vision for our nation, and a personal glimpse of the man behind the myth.
Sources: georgewashington.org, mountvernon.org, biography.com
Gayla K. Hiss
Gayla’s writing journey began with her hobby painting landscapes. In her imagination, characters and scenes came to life as she painted beautiful natural settings. Her inspiring novels combine her love for the great outdoors with romance, suspense and mystery. Gayla and her husband often tour the country in their RV, visiting many state and national parks. She enjoys hiking, camping, and traveling, and lives in the Pacific Northwest. She’s excited to announce the recent release of her debut novel, Avalanche, book 1 of her Peril in the Park series. Visit www.gaylakhiss.com to learn more, and connect with her on Facebook, Amazon and Goodreads.
Avalanche–Book One Available Now HERE
When Park Ranger Jenny Snowfeather runs into Deputy Marshal Chase Matthews at herbrother’s Fourth of July barbecue, she suspects there is more going on in Eagle Valley, WA than fireworks. After Chase confides that he believes the fugitive who killed his partner may be hiding out in the area, Jenny is skeptical at first. But when her peaceful town is besieged with a sudden crime spree, she realizes Chase’s theory may be true.
As the manhunt advances to the rugged backcountry of North Cascades National Park, Jenny is confronted with her past mistakes. But she soon discovers the greatest threat of all is losing her heart to Chase, who is obsessed with capturing the fugitive at all costs.
Risking everything to help Chase find the man who could kill them both, Jenny’s faith is put to the test. Like an avalanche waiting to happen, their path is fraught with danger. Will the enemy get away with murder? Will Jenny and Chase reach freedom and safety, or be buried alive? They must tread carefully. One step in the wrong direction could mean the difference between life and death.