At age 17, the aristocratic Washington was used to the harshness of pioneer life

August 30, 2012

The earliest authenticated portrait of George Washington shows him wearing his colonel's uniform of the Virginia Regiment from the French and Indian War. The portrait was painted about 12 years after Washington's service in that war, and several years before he would reenter military service in the American Revolution.

For the next few years, [17-year-old Washington] was the chief surveyor of Lord Fairfax, working for the most part in the Shenandoah Valley….

On field trips, Washington spread his blankets on the ground and in midsummer woke as the early light kindled the loftier summits of the forest-hooded mountains to the West. If it rained, he raised a tent if he had one. Otherwise he hastily arranged a half-faced hut of bark and slept there like an Indian. If he came near a settler’s cabin, the frontiersmen, who were invariably hospitable and glad to entertain a stranger who had news, invited him to eat and enjoy the available shelter.

In a letter to a friend, Washington wrote: “I have not slept above three nights or four in a bed but after walking all day lay down before the fire upon a little hay straw fodder or bearskin whichever is to be had, with man, wife and children like a parcel of dogs or cats and happy he that gets the berth nearest the fire. There’s nothing that would make it pass tolerably but a good reward. A doubloon is my constant gain every day that the weather will permit my going, and sometimes six pistols…. I have never had my clothes off.”*

* [Editor: The English has been updated for the convenience of readers.]


Bliss Isely, The Horseman of the Shenandoah: A Biographical Account of the Early Days of George Washington (nc: np, nd), pp. 21-22.

Short Stories on Honor, Chivalry, and the World of Nobility—no. 208 Editorial comment: —

Quality, refinement, culture and aristocracy are virtues that build a civilization. However, life in this land of exile is ever a struggle, and these civilizing virtues must, therefore, be complemented by others; ones more closely linked to the cardinal virtue of Fortitude: courage, combativeness, endurance, resilience, austerity, ruggedness, sacrifice, dedication, and audacity.
Without both types of virtue, George Washington would never have endured the rigors and hardships of the Revolutionary War, but as this post illustrates, he worked at acquiring this balance of soul from a young age.



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