I hope you enjoyed the previous assignment. When we think about historical figures we often remove anything “ordinary” about them and focus on their extraordinary qualities. It is their exceptional qualities that set them apart, but it is their common experiences that connect them to us. The basic aspects of life are just as foundational to a great hero as they are to you. To prove this point let us look at the early life of George Washington.
Washington is often regarded as a marble man, a living heroic statue, not a mortal like us. This is not accurate and is a disservice to us, denying us a full understanding of the man, and is also unfair to Washington making him boring, stiff, and incapable of telling lies. He struggled and overcame life’s difficulties along the long road that eventually, not inevitably, resulted in greatness.
Augustine Washington, George’s father, lost his father at the age of four. Augustine married an orphan, who died fourteen years into their marriage. Only two of their four children reached adulthood, and both of them died around forty. Augustine married again and had six more children, of whom the eldest, George, lived the longest. Augustine died in 1743 at about the age of forty-nine, when George was eleven.
Lawrence, the eldest Washington son, inherited Mount Vernon, and lived there until his death nine years later. None of Lawrence’s four children lived past the age of five, leaving his younger half-brother, George, the heir to Mount Vernon. It is because death was so common to the Washington family that George emerged a wealthy and powerful Virginian. Death, a fact we all share, also affected Washington’s psyche, as it does us. The reality that Washington was mortal played a major role in elevating him to historical immortality.
Editors Note: Travis Childs is a history instructor at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. He is a graduate of Midway High School and lives in Bluegrove. He is currently president of the Clay County Historical Society.