It ain't what you don't know that gets you in trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so. — Mark Twain

Story of the Thirteen Colonies - Helene Guerber

Washington's Boyhood

As you are going to hear a great deal about Washington, it will interest you to learn something of his family and his youth. Two Washington brothers came over from England to Virginia about the year 1657, and settled near the Potomac River. Augustine Washington, the grandson of one of these men, married twice, and had, in all, ten children. His eldest son by his second wife was born on February 22, 1732, and named George. Shortly after his birth, the family went to live on the Rappahannock River, and there George spent his early childhood. He was a fearless, strong, hot-tempered little lad, but, having good parents, was even then taught to control his passions.

As he is the greatest man in our history, many stories, true and untrue, are told about him. Perhaps the most famous is about his new hatchet. We are told that Father Washington planted young cherry trees in his garden. He visited them daily to see how they throve, and was very angry when he saw, one day, that a favorite tree was badly hacked. On all Virginia plantations, there were many negro children always running about. Thinking one of these had done the mischief, Augustine Washington was about to punish him, when his little son stopped him, saying: "Father, I cannot tell a lie; I did it with my little hatchet."

Washington was sent to a small school near by, and his blank books, which can still be seen, show what a careful, painstaking student he was. In one of these books he copied a set of rules for good behavior, which he even then tried to put into practice, and of which the last two were: "Let your recreations be manful, not sinful," and "Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience."

When Washington was only twelve, his father died, leaving an estate to each of his sons The care of the six younger children and of their property was left to his wife, a good and very sensible woman. She was very strict, and brought up her children so carefully that they all filled well their places in life. Indeed, her eldest son, George, like most truly great men, often said that he owed his mother more than words could ever tell.

Washington was always fond of all athletic exercises, and as a lad delighted in riding the wildest horses on the plantation. Among these was one young colt of such a fiery temper that no one was allowed to mount him. One day, the temptation to do so became too strong for George, and he suddenly sprang upon the horse's back. The colt tried to throw dashed off at such a rate that he burst a blood vessel and fell down dead.


Washington, dismayed at the result of his disobedience, went silently home. At table, his mother asked her guests if they had seen her beautiful young horse. Covered with blushes,—for he was always modest and reserved,—Washington now confessed what he had done. Although Mrs. Washington keenly regretted the death of the colt, she showed no anger, but quietly said: "It is well; but while I regret the loss of my favorite, I rejoice in my son, who always speaks the truth."

She was so fond of this son that when one of his half-brothers wanted him to serve in the British navy, she refused to let him go. As soon as Washington had finished school, he went to live with this brother at Mount Vernon, where he learned to know all the people around there, and, among others, Lord Fairfax.

This nobleman owned great tracts of land in the valleys of the Alleghany Mountains, and as they had never been surveyed, he hired young George to do the work. This was a very hard task, and the seventeen-year-old Washington was often, for days at a time, far away from any settlement, forced to depend upon hunting for food, and obliged to sleep out in the open air. These hardships, however, only made him strong and self-reliant, and when he came back to his home, from time to time, he doubly enjoyed the amusements of the young people, and danced gayly, a pastime of which he was always fond. It was probably during one of these surveying expeditions that Washington first visited the Natural Bridge in Virginia. Here he showed his athletic skill by tossing a coin on top of it when standing almost directly under it.

The Virginia natural bridge

We are also told that he scaled the rocks, which were then free from any except nature's marks, and reaching a high point, carved his name in the stone. For years, Washington's name is said to have stood there on the rocks, as far above all the rest as is his worth compared with that of other men. But a young man once climbed up there to carve his name above Washington's, an act of presumption for which every one scorns him. He went up so far that he could not come down again, but had to climb higher and higher, and at last be drawn to the top with a rope.


Front Matter

Our Country Long Ago
The Barbarous Indians
The Mounds
Where the Northmen Went
The Northmen in America
Queer Ideas
Prince Henry the Navigator
Youth of Columbus
Columbus and the Queen
"Land! Land!"
Columbus and the Savages
Home Again
Columbus Ill-treated
Death of Columbus
How America Got its Name
The Fountain of Youth
"The Father of Waters"
The French in Canada
French and Spanish Quarrels
The Sky City
Around the World
Nothing but Smoke
Smith's Adventures
The Jamestown Men
Smith Wounded
Pocahontas Visits England
Hudson and the Indians
The Mayflower
Plymouth Rock
The First Thanksgiving
Snake Skin and Bullets
The Beginning of Boston
Stories of Two Ministers
Williams and the Indians
The Quakers
The King-Killers
King Phillip's War
The Beginning of New York
Penn and the Indians
The Catholics in Maryland
The Old Dominion
Bacon's Rebellion
A Journey Inland
The Carolina Pirates
Charter Oak
Salem Witches
Down the Mississippi
La Salle's Adventures
Indians on the Warpath
Two Wars with the French
Washington's Boyhood
Washington's Journey
Washington's First Battle
Stories of Franklin
Braddock's Defeat
Wolfe at Quebec
England and her Colonies
The Stamp Tax
The Anger of the Colonies
The Boston Tea Party
The Minutemen
The Battle of Lexington
Bunker Hill
The Boston Boys
The British leave Boston
Declaration of Independence
A Lady's Way of Helping
Christmas Eve
The Fight at Bennington
Burgoyne's Surrender
Winter at Valley Forge
The Quaker Woman
Putnam's Adventures
Indian Cruelty
Boone in Kentucky
Famous Sea Fights
The "Swamp Fox"
The Poor Soldiers
The Spy
A Traitor's Death
Two Unselfish Women
Surrender of Cornwallis
British Flag hauled down
Washington's Farewell