ERROL CASTENS: Washington’s devotion proven in absence

By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal

It was only upon visiting Mount Vernon that I got a real insight into the extent of George Washington’s love of country.
Washington came to live at that plantation in 1754 and almost immediately left to lead colonial troops during the French and Indian War for four years.
In 1759, he married Martha Custis. Over the years, Mount Vernon boasted a number of enterprises – tobacco, wheat, distilled whiskey and Potomac fish the most prominent among them. (Before the Revolutionary War, Washington sold as many as 1.5 million fish a year – salted or smoked, I presume – and used the inedible parts as fertilizer.)
While frequently absent to participate in public life over the next decade and a half, Washington’s duties in 1774 took him away almost full time. The next year he was elected commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, and he saw his home again only twice during the War for Independence.
Leaving behind his family and farm, he of course had no certainty, even if he lived through the war, that his farm could manage without his oversight or even that his family would survive. Indeed, his stepson, Jacky, who had become a civilian aide to Washington, died late in the war, and Washington returned on Christmas Eve 1783.
After the war, Washington was involved in the struggle to establish the new nation’s government, and after the Articles of Confederation delivered a debacle, he presided over the Constitutional Convention beginning in 1787, then from 1789 to 1797 lived away as the nation’s first president.
George Washington lived only two more years after his second term ended.
In the sacrifice of his country, he had lost opportunities to increase his wealth, heard bullets whistle close past him, suffered his own deprivations and sympathized with those of his troops, presided over thousands of hours of the political wrangling, endured the loss of his stepchildren and gave up the company of his wife during much of their marriage.
One only need sit on the southeast face of Mount Vernon, gazing down its lawn toward the massive Potomac below and the hills of Maryland toward the horizon to appreciate that it is surely one of the most tranquil and inviting views in all of the Earth.
George Washington could have had that view daily for 45 years had he wished. To know that he spent most of those 45 years away from it is to understand in one more way the depth of his devotion to duty.
Our thanks, sir.
Contact Daily Journal Oxford reporter Errol Castens at errol.castens@journalinc.com.