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Chapter 32

LORD DUNMORE GOVERNOR OF VIRGINIA--PIQUES THE PRIDE OF THE VIRGINIANS-- OPPOSITION OF THE ASSEMBLY--CORRESPONDING COMMITTEES--DEATH OF MISS CUSTIS--WASHINGTON'S GUARDIANSHIP OF JOHN PARKE CUSTIS--HIS OPINIONS AS TO PREMATURE TRAVEL AND PREMATURE MARRIAGE.


The discontents of Virginia, which had been partially soothed by the amiable administration of Lord Botetourt, were irritated anew under his successor, the Earl of Dunmore. This nobleman had for a short time held the government of New York. When appointed to that of Virginia, he lingered for several months at his former post. In the mean time, he sent his military secretary, Captain Foy, to attend to the despatch of business until his arrival; awarding to him a salary and fees to be paid by the colony.

The pride of the Virginians was piqued at his lingering at New York, as if he preferred its gayety and luxury to the comparative quiet and simplicity of Williamsburg. Their pride was still more piqued on his arrival, by what they considered haughtiness on his part. The spirit of the "Ancient Dominion" was roused, and his lordship experienced opposition at his very outset.

The first measure of the Assembly, at its opening, was to demand by what right he had awarded a salary and fees to his secretary without consulting it; and to question whether it was authorized by the crown.

His lordship had the good policy to rescind the unauthorized act, and in so doing mitigated the ire of the Assembly; but he lost no time in proroguing a body, which, from various symptoms, appeared to be too independent, and disposed to be untractable.

He continued to prorogue it from time to time, seeking in the interim to conciliate the Virginians, and soothe their irritated pride. At length, after repeated prorogations, he was compelled by circumstances to convene it on the 1st of March, 1773.

Washington was prompt in his attendance on the occasion; and foremost among the patriotic members, who eagerly availed themselves of this long wished for opportunity to legislate upon the general affairs of the colonies. One of their most important measures was the appointment of a committee of eleven persons, "whose business it should be to obtain the most clear and authentic intelligence of all such acts and resolutions of the British Parliament, or proceedings of administration, as may relate to or affect the British colonies, and to maintain with their sister colonies a correspondence and communication."

The plan thus proposed by their "noble, patriotic sister colony of Virginia,"

[Footnote: Boston Town Records.]

was promptly adopted by the people of Massachusetts, and soon met with general concurrence. These corresponding committees, in effect, became the executive power of the patriot party, producing the happiest concert of design and action throughout the colonies.

Notwithstanding the decided part taken by Washington in the popular movement, very friendly relations existed between him and Lord Dunmore. The latter appreciated his character, and sought to avail himself of his experience in the affairs of the province. It was even concerted that Washington should accompany his lordship on an extensive tour, which the latter intended to make in the course of the summer along the western frontier. A melancholy circumstance occurred to defeat this arrangement.

We have spoken of Washington's paternal conduct towards the two children of Mrs. Washington. The daughter, Miss Custis, had long been an object of extreme solicitude. She was of a fragile constitution, and for some time past had been in very declining health. Early in the present summer, symptoms indicated a rapid change for the worse. Washington was absent from home at the time. On his return to Mount Vernon, he found her in the last stage of consumption.

Though not a man given to bursts of sensibility, he is said on the present occasion to have evinced the deepest affliction; kneeling by her bedside, and pouring out earnest prayers for her recovery. She expired on the 19th of June, in the seventeenth year of her age. This, of course, put an end to Washington's intention of accompanying Lord Dunmore to the frontier; he remained at home to console Mrs. Washington in her affliction,--furnishing his lordship, however, with travelling hints and directions, and recommending proper guides. And here we will take occasion to give a few brief particulars of domestic affairs at Mount Vernon.

For a long time previous to the death of Miss Custis, her mother, despairing of her recovery, had centred her hopes in her son, John Parke Custis. This rendered Washington's guardianship of him a delicate and difficult task. He was lively, susceptible, and impulsive; had an independent fortune in his own right, and an indulgent mother, ever ready to plead in his behalf against wholesome discipline. He had been placed under the care and instruction of an Episcopal clergyman at Annapolis, but was occasionally at home, mounting his horse, and taking a part, while yet a boy, in the fox-hunts at Mount Vernon. His education had consequently been irregular and imperfect, and not such as Washington would have enforced had he possessed over him the absolute authority of a father. Shortly after the return of the latter from his tour to the Ohio, he was concerned to find that there was an idea entertained of sending the lad abroad, though but little more than sixteen years of age, to travel under the care of his clerical tutor. Through his judicious interference, the travelling scheme was postponed, and it was resolved to give the young gentleman's mind the benefit of a little preparatory home culture.

Little more than a year elapsed before the sallying impulses of the youth had taken a new direction. He was in love; what was more, he was engaged to the object of his passion, and on the high road to matrimony.

Washington now opposed himself to premature marriage as he had done to premature travel. A correspondence ensued between him and the young lady's father, Benedict Calvert, Esq. The match was a satisfactory one to all parties, but it was agreed, that it was expedient for the youth to pass a year or two previously at college. Washington accordingly accompanied him to New York, and placed him under the care of the Rev. Dr. Cooper, president of King's (now Columbia) College, to pursue his studies in that institution. All this occurred before the death of his sister. Within a year after that melancholy event, he became impatient for a union with the object of his choice. His mother, now more indulgent than ever to this, her only child, yielded her consent, and Washington no longer made opposition.

"It has been against my wishes," writes the latter to President Cooper, "that he should quit college in order that he may soon enter into a new scene of life, which I think he would be much fitter for some years hence than now. But having his own inclination, the desires of his mother, and the acquiescence of almost all his relatives to encounter, I did not care, as he is the last of the family, to push my opposition too far; I have, therefore, submitted to a kind of necessity."

The marriage was celebrated on the 3d of February, 1774, before the bridegroom was twenty-one years of age.

NOTE.

We are induced to subjoin extracts of two letters from Washington relative to young Custis. The first gives his objections to premature travel; the second to premature matrimony. Both are worthy of consideration in this country, where our young people have such a general disposition to "go ahead."

To the reverend Jonathan Boucher (the tutor of young Custis).

... "I cannot help giving it as my opinion, that his education, however advanced it may be for a youth of his age, is by no means ripe enough for a travelling tour; not that I think his becoming a mere scholar is a desirable education for a gentleman, but I conceive a knowledge of books is the basis upon which all other knowledge is to be built, and in travelling he is to become acquainted with men and things, rather than books. At present, however well versed he may be in the principles of the Latin language (which is not to be wondered at, as he began the study of it as soon as he could speak), he is unacquainted with several of the classic authors that might be useful to him. He is ignorant of Greek, the advantages of learning which I do not pretend to judge of; and he knows nothing of French, which is absolutely necessary to him as a traveller. He has little or no acquaintance with arithmetic, and is totally ignorant of the mathematics--than which, at least, so much of them as relates to surveying, nothing can be more essentially necessary to any man possessed of a large landed estate, the bounds of some part or other of which are always in controversy. Now whether he has time between this and next spring to acquire a sufficient knowledge of these studies, I leave you to judge; as, also, whether a boy of seventeen years old (which will be his age next November), can have any just notions of the end and design of travelling. I have already given it as my opinion that it would be precipitating this event, unless he were to go immediately to the university for a couple of years; in which case he could see nothing of America; which might be a disadvantage to him, as it is to be expected that every man, who travels with a view of observing the laws and customs of other countries, should be able to give some description of the situation and government of his own."

The following are extracts from the letter to Benedict Calvert, Esq., the young lady's father:

"I write to you on a subject of importance, and of no small embarrassment to me; My son-in-law and ward, Mr. Custis, has, as I have been informed, paid his addresses to your second daughter; and having made some progress in her affections, has solicited her in marriage. How far a union of this sort may be agreeable to you, you best can tell; but I should think myself wanting in candor, were I not to confess that Miss Nelly's amiable qualities are acknowledged on all hands, and that an alliance with your family will be pleasing to his.

"This acknowledgment being made, you must permit me to add, sir, that at this, or in any short time, his youth, inexperience, and unripened education are, and will be, insuperable obstacles, in my opinion, to the completion of the marriage. As his guardian, I conceive it my indispensable duty to endeavor to carry him through a regular course of education (many branches of which, I am sorry to say, he is totally deficient in), and to guide his youth to a more advanced age, before an event, on which his own peace and the happiness of another are to depend, takes place. ... If the affection which they have avowed for each other is fixed upon a solid basis, it will receive no diminution in the course of two or three years; in which time he may prosecute his studies, and thereby render himself more deserving of the lady, and useful to society. If, unfortunately, as they are both young, there should be an abatement of affection on either side, or both, it had better precede than follow marriage.

"Delivering my sentiments thus freely, will not, I hope, lead you into a belief that I am desirous of breaking off the match. To postpone it is all I have in view; for I shall recommend to the young gentleman, with the warmth that becomes a man of honor, to consider himself as much engaged to your daughter, as if the indissoluble knot were tied; and as the surest means of effecting this, to apply himself closely to his studies, by which he will, in a great measure, avoid those little flirtations with other young ladies, that may, by dividing the attention, contribute not a little to divide the affection."


Washington Irving