Young Washington’s martial spirit is fostered by his older brother Lawrence

July 9, 2012

Lawrence Washington, 1718–1752.

Lawrence Washington had something of the old military spirit of the family, and circumstances soon called it into action. Spanish depredations on British commerce had recently provoked reprisals. Admiral Vernon, commander-in-chief in the West Indies, had accordingly captured Porto Bello, on the Isthmus of Darien. The Spaniards were preparing to revenge the blow; the French were fitting out ships to aid them. Troops were embarked in England for another campaign in the West Indies; a regiment of four battalions was to be raised in the colonies and sent to join them at Jamaica. There was a sudden outbreak of military ardor in the province; the sound of drum and fife was heard in the villages with the parade of recruiting parties. Lawrence Washington, now twenty-two years of age, caught the infection.

Admiral Edward Vernon, Painting by Thomas Gainsborough

He obtained a captain’s commission in the newly-raised regiment, and embarked with it for the West Indies in 1740. He served in the joint expeditions of Admiral Vernon and General Wentworth, in the land forces commanded by the latter, and acquired the friendship and confidence of both of those officers. He was present at the siege of Carthagena, when it was bombarded by the fleet, and when the troops attempted to escalade the citadel. It was an ineffectual attack; the ships could not get near enough to throw their shells into the town, and the scaling ladders proved too short. That part of the attack, however, with which Lawrence was concerned, distinguished itself by its bravery. The troops sustained unflinching a destructive fire for several hours, and at length retired with honor, their small force having sustained a loss of about six hundred in killed and wounded.

Painting by Luis Fernández Gordillo of The Battle of Cartagena de Indias, which is part of the War of Jenkins' Ear.

We have here the secret of that martial spirit so often cited of George in his boyish days. He had seen his brother fitted out for the wars. He had heard by letter and otherwise of the warlike scenes in which he was mingling. All his amusements took a military turn. He made soldiers of his schoolmates; they had their mimic parades, reviews, and sham fights; a boy named William Bustle was sometimes his competitor, but George was commander-in-chief of Hobby’s school.



Washington Irving, Life of George Washington (New York: The Co-operative Publication Society, Inc., n.d.), Vol. I, pp. 44-45.


Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 193 Editorial comment: —

In times past, the nobility were born, so to speak, to war. They were exempt from certain taxes levied on the bourgeoisie and the common people because they were expected to pay “the blood tax.” In other words, they were called on to fight (and often die) for their country and King on whatever battlefield they were sent to.
George Washington’s great-grandfather, Colonel John Washington, hailed from a Royalist and Cavalier family which had provided some brave officers in the King’s army in his battles against Oliver Cromwell and the Puritan Parliament.
With such family background, it is easy to understand how fighting came naturally to Lawrence Washington, as it would to his younger brother George when he reached maturity.



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