The True George Washington: Friends

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff


Family Friends

The frequently repeated statement that Washington was a man without friends is not the least curious of the myths that have obtained general credence. That it should be asserted only goes to show how absolutely his private life has been neglected in the study of his public career.

In his will Washington left tokens of remembrance "to the acquaintances and friends of my juvenile years, Lawrence Washington and Robert Washington of Chotanck," the latter presumably the "dear Robin" of his earliest letter, and these two very distant kinsmen, whom he had come to know while staying at Wakefield, are the earliest friends of whom any record exists. Contemporary with them was a "Dear Richard," whose letters gave Washington "unspeakable pleasure, as I am convinced I am still in the memory of so worthy a friend,?a friendship I shall ever be proud of increasing."

Next in time came his intimacy with the Fairfaxes and Carlyles, which began with Washington's visits to his brother Lawrence at Mount Vernon. About four miles from that place, at Belvoir, lived the Fairfaxes; and their kinspeople, the Carlyles, lived at Alexandria. Lawrence Washington had married Ann Fairfax, and through his influence his brother George was taken into the employment of Lord Fairfax, half as clerk and half as surveyor of his great tract of land, "the northern neck," which he had obtained by marriage with a daughter of Lord Culpeper, who in turn had obtained it from the "Merrie Monarch" by means so disreputable that they are best left unstated. From that time till his death Washington corresponded with several of the family and was a constant visitor at Belvoir, as the Fairfaxes were at Mount Vernon.

In 1755 Washington told his brother that "to that family I am under many obligations, particularly the old gentleman," but as time went on he more than paid the debt. In 1757 he acted as pallbearer to William Fairfax, and twelve years later his diary records, "Set off with Mrs. Washington and Patsey,... in order to stand for Mr. B. Fairfax's third son, which I did together with my wife, Mr. Warner Washington and his lady." For one of the family he obtained an army commission, and for another he undertook the care of his property during a visit to England; a care which unexpectedly lengthened, and was resigned only when Washington's time became public property. Nor did that lessen his services or the Fairfaxes' need of them, for in the Revolution that family were loyalists. Despite this, "the friendship," Washington assured them, "which I ever professed and felt for you, met no diminution from the difference in our political sentiments," and in 1778 he was able to secure the safety of Lord Fairfax from persecution at the hands of the Whigs, a service acknowledged by his lordship in the following words:

"There are times when favors conferred make a greater impression than at others, for, though I have received many, I hope I have not been unmindful of them; yet that, at a time your popularity was at the highest and mine at the lowest, and when it is so common for men's resentments to run up high against those, who differ from them in opinion, you should act with your wonted kindness towards me, has affected me more than any favor I have received; and could not be believed by some in New York, it being above the run of common minds."

In behalf of another member of the family, threatened with confiscation, he wrote to a member of the House of Delegates, "I hope, I trust, that no act of Legislation in the State of Virginia has affected, or can affect, the properly of this gentleman, otherwise than in common with that of every good and well disposed citizen of America," and this was sufficient to put an end to the project At the close of the war he wrote to this absentee, "There was nothing wanting in [your] Letter to give compleat satisfaction to Mrs. Washington and myself but some expression to induce us to believe you would once more become our neighbors. Your house at Belvoir I am sorry to add is no more, but mine (which is enlarged since you saw it), is most sincerely and heartily at your service till you could rebuild it. As the path, after being closed by a long, arduous, and painful contest, is to use an Indian metaphor, now opened and made smooth, I shall please myself with the hope of hearing from you frequently; and till you forbid me to indulge the wish, I shall not despair of seeing you and Mrs. Fairfax once more the inhabitants of Belvoir, and greeting you both there the intimate companions of our old age, as you have been of our younger years." And to another he left a token of remembrance in his will.

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