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FOR US, it's an occasion to remember a local boy who made good. For the world, it's a day to celebrate the life of one of history's most remarkable men: George Washington, born 275 years ago this week in Westmoreland County.
On the trip down to Wakefield on Pope's Creek, Washington's birthplace, even a 21st-century suburbanite can grasp the attraction Virginia had to colonists. The rich soil, the relatively flat expanses, the easily navigable Potomac River proved hospitable to planters. Indeed, Washington's father, Augustine, was able to establish three working farms for George and his two older half brothers to inherit--at Pope's Creek, Ferry Farm, and Little Hunting Creek, later re-named Mount Vernon.
Washington's father died when George was just 11 and living at Ferry Farm. His death kept George from going to England for a proper education. Instead, he was home-schooled, tutored, and self-taught, and he would forever call his own education "defective."
The hardships of Washington's life he turned to advantage by allowing them to build his character. According to a biographer, his childhood across the river from Fredericksburg exposed him to both town life and wilderness, to the opportunities of commerce and the lure of adventure. Determined to make a life as part of the Virginia gentry, he studied and adopted his now famous "Rules of Civility." He learned a profitable craft--surveying--and developed military ambitions. At age 16, he surveyed the western reaches of Virginia for Lord Fairfax; at 22, he fought bravely in the French and Indian War. He endured freezing weather and rough terrain, had two horses shot from under him and four bullet holes in his coat defending the Crown's interest in what is now western Pennsylvania (and was then Virginia). Along the way he learned to lead men. When the fighting was over, he was named commander of the entire Virginia militia.
Providence allowed Washington to focus on his profession of gentleman farmer at the estate he inherited from his brother, Mount Vernon, for only
Washington was a hero. But in a remarkable display of character, the man who could easily have been king resigned his commission before Congress assembled in Annapolis. However, his retirement to Mount Vernon was short-lived. With the Articles of Confederation failing, he joined the effort to forge a new "energetic constitution." Once it was ratified, the Electoral College unanimously chose Washington to be the first president of the United States, the only president to be so honored.
Washington hated partisan politics, believed in education, and declared that "of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports." Humble to the end, in his farewell address he declared: "I am nevertheless too sensible of my defects not to think it probable that I may have committed many errors. Whatever they may be, I fervently beseech the Almighty to avert or mitigate the evils to which
Struck down by illness after being caught in freezing rain and sleet he said, "I die hard, but I am not afraid to go."
Few nations can look back on a founder of such great character. Fredericksburg can say he was one