His Mother Advises Secret Prayer In November, 1753, then twenty-one years of age, Washington was commissioned by Governor Dinwiddie, of Virginia, to be the bearer of dispatches to the French commander St. Pierre. He called to see his mother and explained the nature of his mission. “With her farewell kiss she bade him ‘remember that God only is our sure trust. To Him I commend you.’”
As he left the paternal roof, his mother’s parting charge was, “My son, neglect not the duty of secret prayer.” Never did a mother give better advice to her son, and never did a son more conscientiously follow it.
“His uniform practice from youth to hoary age, furnished, it would seem, a consistent exemplification of this duty in its double aspect of public and private prayer.”
Prayers At Fort Necessity [Age 21; 1753] The first decisive indication of his principles on this subject, with which we are acquainted, appeared during the encampment at the Great Meadows, in the year 1754. While occupying Fort Necessity it was his practice to have the troops assembled for public worship. This we learn from the following note, by the publisher of his writings: “While Washington was encamped at the Great Meadows, Mr. Fairfax wrote to him: ‘I will not doubt your having public prayers in the camp, especially when the Indian families are your guests, that they, seeing your plain manner of worship, may have their curiosity excited to be informed why we do not use the ceremonies of the French, which being well explained to their understandings, will more and more dispose them to receive our baptism, and unite in strict bonds of cordial friendship.’ It may be added that it was Washington’s custom to have prayers in the camp while he was at Fort Necessity.”
Here we are informed not only of the pious custom of the youthful commander, at the time and place mentioned, but are enabled to gather from the communication of Mr. Fairfax much that was highly favorable to the character of his young friend. Mr. Fairfax says, “I will not doubt your having public prayers in the camp.” Intimate as this gentleman was with Washington, he would scarcely have so addressed him had he not felt encouraged to do so by his known sentiments of piety, if not his own habits. Mr. Fairfax was the father-in-law of Lawrence Washington, the brother of George, and had possessed every opportunity of learning the character and conduct of the latter. Assured of his pious and serious deportment, he did not feel any hesitation in suggesting to him the expediency of the duty in question.
“It certainly was not one of the least striking pictures presented in this wild campaign—the youthful commander, presiding with calm seriousness over a motley assemblage of half-equipped soldiery, leathern-clad hunters and woodsmen, and painted savages with their wives and children, and uniting them all in solemn devotion by his own example and demeanor.”
Acknowledges An Act Of Providence
In a letter to Governor Dinwiddie, dated Great Meadows, June 10, 1754, when twenty-two years of age, we have the following striking acknowledgment of a particular providential interposition in supplying with provisions the troops recently placed under his command:
We have been six days without flour, and there is none upon the road for our relief that we know of, though I have by repeated expresses given him timely notice. We have not provisions of any sort enough in camp to serve us two days. Once before we should have been four days without provisions, if Providence had not sent a trader from the Ohio to our relief, for whose flour I was obliged to give twenty-one shillings and eight-pence per pound.
His Custom To Attend Church
That it was customary with him to frequent the house of God when in his power, appears from the record made by him of an occurrence among his soldiers, while encamped in Alexandria, Virginia, in the summer of 1754, having himself returned but lately on a recruiting expedition from the Great Meadows: “Yesterday, while we were at church, twenty-five of them collected, and were going off in the face of their officers, but were stopped and imprisoned before the plot came to its height.”
His Trust In God
In April, 1755, the newly arrived General Braddock offered him an important command. His mother opposed his going to the war. In the final discussion, the son said to his mother: “The God to whom you commended me, madam, when I set out upon a more perilous errand, defended me from all harm, and I trust he will do so now. Do not you?”
Conducts Braddock’s Funeral
General Braddock being mortally wounded in the battle of the Monongahela, July 9, 1755, died on Sunday night, July 13. He was buried in his cloak the same night in the road, to elude the search of the Indians. The chaplain having been wounded, Washington, on the testimony of an old soldier, read the funeral service over his remains, by the light of a torch. Faithful to his commander while he lived, he would not suffer him to want the customary rites of religion when dead. Though the probable pursuit of “savages threatened, yet did his humanity and sense of decency prevail, to gain for the fallen soldier the honor of Christian burial.
Letter To His Brother
He wrote to his brother, John A. Washington, July 18, 1755, following Braddock’s defeat, in which he says:
As I have heard, since my arrival at this place [Fort Cumberland], a circumstantial account of my death and dying speech, I take this early opportunity of contradicting the first, and of assuring you, that I have not as yet composed the latter. But, by the all-powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation; for I had four bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me, yet escaped unhurt, although death was leveling my companions on every side of me!”
The Great Spirit Protects Him—Testimony Of An Indian Chief
Fifteen years after this battle Washington and Dr. Craik, his intimate friend from his boyhood to his death, were traveling on an expedition to the western country, for the purpose of exploring wild lands. While near the junction of the Great Kanawha and Ohio Rivers a company of Indians came to them with an interpreter, at the head of whom was an aged and venerable chief. The council fire was kindled, when the chief addressed Washington through an interpreter to the following effect:
“I am a chief, and ruler over my tribes. My influence extends to the waters of the great lakes, and to the far blue mountains. I have traveled a long and weary path, that I might see the young warrior of the great battle. It was on the day when the white man’s blood mixed with the streams of our forest, that I first beheld this chief. I called to my young men and said, mark yon tall and daring warrior? He is not of the red-coat tribe—he hath an Indian’s wisdom, and his warriors fight as we do—himself is alone exposed. Quick, let your aim be certain, and he dies. Our rifles were leveled, rifles which, but for him, knew not how to miss—’twas all in vain, a power mightier far than we, shielded him from harm. He cannot die in battle. I am old, and soon shall be gathered to the great council fire of my fathers in the land of shades, but ere I go, there is something bids me speak in the voice of prophecy. Listen! The Great Spirit protects that man, and guides his destinies—he will become the chief of nations, and a people yet unborn will hail him as the founder of a mighty empire.”
Discourages Gambling In The Army In a letter to Governor Dinwiddie, from Alexandria, Virginia, February 2, 1756, regarding operations in the army, he says, “I have always, so far as was in my power, endeavored to discourage gambling in camp, and always shall while I have the honor to preside there.”
Intemperance And Profanity Discountenanced
The following letter to Governor Dinwiddie, written from Winchester, Virginia, April 18, 1756, shows his attitude toward intemperance and profanity:
It gave me infinite concern to find in yours by Governor Innes that any representations should inflame the Assembly against the Virginia regiment, or give cause to suspect the morality and good behavior of the officers. How far any of the individuals may have deserved such reflections, I will not take upon me to determine, but this I am certain of, and can call my conscience, and what, I suppose, will be still more demonstrative proof in the eyes of the world, my orders, to witness how much I have, both by threats and persuasive means, endeavored to discountenance gambling, drinking, swearing, and irregularities of every other kind; while I have, on the other hand, practised every artifice to inspire a laudable emulation in the officers for the service of their country, and to encourage the soldiers in the unerring exercise of their duty. How far I have failed in this desirable end I cannot pretend to say. But it is nevertheless a point which does, in my opinion, merit some scrutiny, before it meets with a final condemnation. Yet I will not undertake to vouch for the conduct of many of the officers, as I know there are some who have the seeds of idleness very strongly implanted in their natures; and I also know that the unhappy difference about the command which has kept me from Fort Cumberland, has consequently prevented me from enforcing the orders which I never failed to send.
However, if I continue in the service, I shall take care to act with a little more rigor than has hitherto been practised, since I find it so necessary.
His orders for preserving discipline must be allowed to have been sufficiently rigid. The following given in 1756 is a specimen: Any commissioned officer, who stands by and sees irregularities committed, and does not endeavor to quell them, shall be immediately put under arrest. Any non-commissioned officer present, who does not interpose, shall be immediately reduced, and receive corporal punishment.
Any soldier who shall presume to quarrel or fight shall receive five hundred lashes, without the benefit of a court-martial. The offender, upon complaint made, shall have strict justice done him. Any soldier found drunk shall receive one hundred lashes, without benefit of a court-martial.30
In June, 1756, while at Fort Cumberland, he issued the following order: Colonel Washington has observed that the men of his regiment are very profane and reprobate. He takes this opportunity to inform them of his great displeasure at such practices, and assures them, that, if they do not leave them off, they shall be severely punished. The officers are desired, if they hear any man swear, or make use of an oath or execration, to order the offender twenty-five lashes immediately, without a court-martial. For the second offense, he will be more severely punished.
Protection Of Providence
From Winchester, Virginia, where he was stationed as commander of the troops, he writes to Governor Dinwiddie, about a year after Braddock’s defeat: With this small company of irregulars, with whom order, regularity, circumspection, and vigilance were matters of derision and contempt, we set out, and by the protection of Providence, reached Augusta Court House in seven days, without meeting the enemy; otherwise we must have fallen a sacrifice through the indiscretion of these whooping, hallooing, gentlemen soldiers.
Chaplain For Army
While embarked in the French and Indian War, as commander of the Virginia forces, he earnestly sought of Governor Dinwiddie the supply of a chaplain to his regiment. He writes from Mount Vernon, Virginia, September 23, 1756, as follows: “The want of a chaplain, I humbly conceive, reflects dishonor on the regiment, as all other officers are allowed. The gentlemen of the corps are sensible of this, and proposed to support one at their private expense. But I think it would have a more graceful appearance were he appointed as others are.”
To this the Governor replied: “I have recommended to the commissary to get a chaplain, but he cannot prevail with any person to accept of it. I shall again press it to him.”
In answer to which Washington wrote, November 9,1756: “As to a chaplain, if the government will grant a subsistence, we can readily get a person of merit to accept the place, without giving the commissary any trouble on that point.””
With this letter, of which this was part, the Governor seemed not to have been well pleased. In his reply, among other things, indicating displeasure, he says, November 24, 1756: “In regard to a chaplain, you should know that his qualifications and the Bishop’s letter of license should be produced to the commissary and myself; but this person is also nameless.”
Washington answered, Nov. 24,1756: “When I spoke of a chaplain, it was in answer to yours. I had no person in view, though many have offered; and I only said if the country would provide subsistence, we could procure a chaplain, without thinking there was offense in expression.”
Notwithstanding the importunity of Washington, no chaplain was provided by the government. His solicitude on the subject continuing at the recall of Dinwiddie, he wrote to the president of the Council from Fort Loudoun, April 17, 1758, as follows: “The last Assembly, in their Supply Bill, provided for a chaplain to our regiment. On this subject I had often without any success applied to Governor Dinwiddie. I now flatter myself, that your honor will be pleased to appoint a sober, serious man for this duty. Common decency, Sir, in a camp calls for the services of a divine, which ought not to be dispensed with, although the world should be so uncharitable as to think us void of religion, and incapable of good instructions.”
Conducts Religious Service In The Army “I have often been informed,” says the Rev. Mason L. Weems, “by Colonel B. Temple, of King William County, Virginia, who was one of his aides in the French and Indian War, that he has ‘frequently known Washington, on the Sabbath, read the Scriptures and pray with his regiment, in the absence of the chaplain;’ and also that, on sudden and unexpected visits to his marque, he has, ‘more than once, found him on his knees at his devotions.’”
Letter To His Fiancée In the only known letter to Mrs. Martha Custis, to whom he was engaged, written from Fort Cumberland, July 20, 1758, he recognizes an all powerful Providence:
We have begun our march for the Ohio. A courier is starting for Williamsburg, and I embrace the opportunity to send a few lines to one whose life is now inseparable from mine. Since that happy hour when we made our pledges to each other, my thoughts have been continually going to you as to another Self. That an All-powerful Providence may keep us both in safety is the prayer of your ever faithful and ever affectionate Friend.