TOPICS: Eighteenth-Century Life, Financial Papers, George Washington, Washington or Custis Family by Adrina Garbooshian-Huggins, Associate Editor September 3, 2021 George Washington was a lifelong supporter of charitable causes, as evidenced by the hundreds of expenditures recorded in his ledgers for “Charity.”1 Even at the outset of the Revolutionary War, when […]
Very few documents survive with direct information on Mary Ball Washington. That reality has allowed latitude for analysis and conclusions. Arguably, the most important letter prompting a negative view of his mother was one George Washington wrote his friend and Virginia legislator Benjamin Harrison on March 21, 1781.
On July 6, 1781, the French army under the command of Lt. Gen. Jean-Baptiste-Donatien de Vimeur, comte de Rochambeau, after having marched from Providence, R.I., to Westchester County, N.Y., joined the Continental army commanded by Gen. George Washington at White Plains, New York. The rendezvous marked the first time the armies had operated together since the French had arrived at Newport, R.I., a year earlier. The rendezvous gave several young French officers in Rochambeau’s army their first look at the soldiers in Washington’s army and, for some, their first look at Washington.
Where possible, the editors at The Papers of George Washington write an “ID” (short biography) for each individual mentioned in Washington’s correspondence. Any ID made appears in the annotation for the document in which the individual is first mentioned. One of the most compelling IDs in volume 31 of the Revolutionary War Series is that for George Greive. Like many IDs in The Papers of George Washington, Greive’s is perforce truncated. However, a fairly expanded version of his career will be presented here simply because he was a rather important, somewhat shadowy, and highly intriguing figure in American and European history whose life briefly but interestingly intersected Washington’s.
On Feb. 22, 1800, a crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Church, then the pro-Cathedral in Baltimore. They had come to hear Bishop John Carroll’s eulogy of George Washington. When Carroll spoke, he mourned the loss of a wise leader but reminded the crowd of the hope of resurrection. “To be allied with wisdom,” the bishop declared, “is immortality.”
George Washington had a fascination with exotic animals. As a result of a growing number of traveling entertainers and showmen who toured 18th-century America with unusual creatures, Washington, his family, and other members of the American public gained opportunities to experience animals native to other continents, such as elephants and camels. When word circulated about an upcoming event involving the display of an exotic animal, Washington often paid for himself and members of his household to attend the viewing. For instance, as early as January 1761, Washington spent 10 shillings to see a “Lyoness.” And in December 1787, Washington paid 18 shillings to a man who brought a camel from Alexandria, Va., to Mount Vernon “for a show.” Washington’s attendance at such displays, even during periods when he was absorbed in domestic or public business, or in presiding over the burgeoning new nation, demonstrates his keen interest in such animals.
In a previous blog post, my colleague Lynn Price described the contradiction of Bushrod Washington (nephew to George Washington, and the owner of Mount Vernon in the early 19th century) owning slaves and at the same time serving as the first president of the American Colonization Society. For a man to lead a purportedly “antislavery” organization while holding people in bondage seemed, to many, hypocritical. Abolitionists in Washington’s time who pointed out this contradiction did not always do so politely.
The best way to describe the Washington biographies by Elizabeth Eggleston Seelye (December 12, 1858 – November 11, 1923) and Lucy Ellen Guernsey (August 12, 1826 – November 3, 1899) would be as family affairs. The Story of Washington was written by Elizabeth, illustrated by her sister Allegra, and edited by her father, Edward. Meanwhile, Washington and Seventy-Six was written by Lucy and her sister Clara. A distinctly feminine voice permeates the pages of the two books. Both authors focused on Washington’s public life and placed a strong emphasis on the female connections that shaped the man.
George Washington was known to have a temper as a young man, and his ability to master that flaw promoted his rise to leadership positions. That emotion, however, likely lurked beneath his typically composed exterior. Purportedly, it exploded in the sizzling heat of the battlefield at Monmouth, N.J., on June 28, 1778, when Washington saw troops under Maj. Gen. Charles Lee withdrawing contrary to orders. An observer later recalled that Washington’s wrathful bellowing shook the leaves on the trees. Legitimate doubt surrounds that recollection, but unquestionable documentary evidence can be advanced to support Washington’s capacity for anger.
Currently, the editors at the Washington Papers are working on volume 31 of George Washington’s Revolutionary War papers, and we have started work on volume 32. These volumes of The Papers of George Washington cover the period from March 7 to July 4, 1781. Some of the most valuable primary sources for our annotation of Washington’s correspondence written during this period are three diaries.