“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