The True George Washington: Friends: Children

Updated February 28, 2017 | Infoplease Staff


In this connection it is worth glancing at Washington's relations with children, the more that it has been frequently asserted that he had no liking for them. As already shown, at different times he adopted or assumed the expenses and charge of not less than nine of the children of his kith and kin, and to his relations with children he seldom wrote a letter without a line about the "little ones." His kindnesses to the sons of Ramsay, Craik, Greene, and Lafayette have already been noticed. Furthermore, whenever death or illness came among the children of his friends there was sympathy expressed. Dumas relates of his visit to Providence with Washington, that "we arrived there at night; the whole of the population had assembled from the suburbs; we were surrounded by a crowd of children carrying torches, reiterating the acclamations of the citizens; all were eager to approach the person of him whom they called their father, and pressed so closely around us that they hindered us from proceeding. General Washington was much affected, stopped a few moments, and, pressing my hand, said, 'We may be beaten by the English; it is the chance of war; but behold an army which they can never conquer,'"

In his journey through New England, not being able to get lodgings at an inn, Washington spent a night in a private house, and when all payment was refused, he wrote his host from his next stopping-place,?

"Being informed that you have given my name to one of your sons, and called another after Mrs. Washington's family, and being moreover very much pleased with the modest and innocent looks of your two daughters, Patty and Polly, I do for these reasons send each of these girls a piece of chintz; and to Patty, who bears the name of Mrs. Washington, and who waited upon us more than Polly did, I send five guineas, with which she may buy herself any little ornaments she may want, or she may dispose of them in any other manner more agreeable to herself. As I do not give these things with a view to have it talked of, or even of its being known, the less there is said about the matter the better you will please me; but, that I may be sure the chintz and money have got safe to hand, let Patty, who I dare say is equal to it, write me a line informing me thereof, directed to 'The President of the United States at New York.'"

Miss Stuart relates that "One morning while Mr. Washington was sitting for his picture, a little brother of mine ran into the room, when my father thinking it would annoy the General, told him he must leave; but the General took him upon his knee, held him for some time, and had quite a little chat with him, and, in fact, they seemed to be pleased with each other. My brother remembered with pride, as long as he lived, that Washington had talked with him."

For the son of his secretary, Lear, there seems to have been great fondness, and in one instance the father was told that "It gave Mrs. Washington, myself and all who know him, sincere pleasure to hear that our little favorite had arrived safe, and was in good health at Portsmouth. We sincerely wish him a long continuance of the latter?that he may always be as charming and promising as he now is?and that he may live to be a comfort and blessing to you, and an ornament to his country. As a testimony of my affection for him I send him a ticket in the lottery which is now drawing in the Federal City; and if it should be his fortune to draw the hotel it will add to the pleasure I have in giving it." A second letter condoled with "little Lincoln," because owing to the collapse of the lottery the "poor little fellow" will not even get enough to "build him a baby house."

For the father, Tobias Lear, who came into his employment in 1786 and remained with him till his death, Washington felt the greatest affection and trust. It was he who sent for the doctor in the beginning of the last illness, and he was in the sickroom most of the time. Holding Washington's hand, he received from him his last orders, and later when Washington "appeared to be in great pain and distress from the difficulty of breathing ... I lay upon the bed and endeavored to raise him, and turn him with as much ease as possible. He appeared penetrated with gratitude for my attentions, and often said 'I am afraid I shall fatigue you too much.'" Still later Lear "aided him all in my power, and was gratified in believing he felt it; for he would look upon me with eyes speaking gratitude, but unable to utter a word without great distress." At the final moment Lear took his hand "and laid it upon his breast." When all was over, "I kissed the cold hand, laid it down, and was ... lost in profound grief."

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