Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the American Revolution

By John Ferling | Go to book overview

3
“This Desultory Life”
Toward Mid-Life

Washington brought his bride to a remodeled house. Mansions in Virginia were ordinarily constructed after the fashion set by England's landed elite, and were meant to be showcases in which Chesapeake planters could exhibit their refined lifestyle. Thus, a planter's house was designed to be more than a house. It was a pronouncement of the owner's magisterial status, the center piece in the plantation village, the largest and most decorous structure amid dependencies. The schematization of most estates was anything but haphazard. It was carefully designed to emphasize to residents, neighbors, and visitors the authority of the planter and the subordination of all others. Some planters, taken with their suzerainty, spoke of their residences as a “Fortress.” 1

Andrew Burnaby, an English traveler who visited Mount Vernon in 1759, found the sparsely furnished, eight-room, story-and-a-half house so unspectacular that he took no note of it. However, he was awed by its breathtaking setting. “The house is most beautifully situated upon a very high hill on the banks of the Potowmac; and commands a noble prospect of water, of cliffs, of woods.” Burnaby described Mount Vernon as a farmer's comfortable house, not a mansion, and thought it a good fit for Washington, the citizen-Washington soldier. 2

had other plans. He quickly set out to make his new home the seat of a grandee. With feverish dedication, he acquired every inch of land that abutted his original tract, until the estate sprawled over 7,300 acres,

-41-

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Setting the World Ablaze: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and the American Revolution
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page *
  • Contents *
  • Preface ix
  • Prologue - July 1, 1776 xiv
  • Part One - Children Who Were Fathers of the Men 1
  • 1 - The Vagaries of Youth 2
  • 2 - The Decisions of Youth 18
  • 3 - Toward Mid-Life 41
  • Part Two - Waging War and Independence 63
  • 4 - Revolutionaries 64
  • 5 - Independence 92
  • 6 - War and Reform 138
  • Part Three - From Despair to Triumph 185
  • 7 - The Great Peril, 1778–1780 186
  • 8 - Victory 223
  • 9 - Memory and Meaning 273
  • Epilogue - The “sword” and the “bulwark” of the American Revolution 296
  • Abbreviations 307
  • Notes 309
  • Select Bibliography 362
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