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

By John Ferling | Go to book overview

2
“Getting under Sail”
The Decisions of Youth

Adams and Jefferson were struggling to discover themselves when they celebrated their twenty-first birthdays. Washington knew what he wanted well before he reached adulthood. He hungered for the recognition and esteem enjoyed by his older, wealthier, and better educated brothers and the men at Belvoir. He wanted it quickly too. His father had died while in his forties. Lawrence fell victim to tuberculosis and died at age thirty-four in 1752. 1 Thereafter, George was haunted by the belief that he would not live to be an old man. He feared too that his aspirations were hopelessly beyond his reach. Surveying might eventually bring him wealth, but it would be years in coming. Even then, he would not be distinguished from other planters, for he lacked the formal education that might set him apart.

Lawrence's demise had an enormous impact on young George. While he grieved for the loss of his brother, friend, mentor, and patron, new opportunities suddenly sprang out of the tragedy. Lawrence's post as adjutant general of Virginia was divided and George, probably at the behest of Colonel Fairfax, was appointed by Governor Robert Dinwiddie to be the adjutant of the southwestern quadrant of Virginia. Lawrence's death also led to George's eventual acquisition of Mount Vernon. When Lawrence's widow remarried, and their sole surviving child died in 1754, George inherited the estate. 2

Furthermore, young Washington soon was able to play a seminal role in the diplomatic and military events that engulfed Virginia in the 1750s, a role

-18-

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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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