Εικόνες σελίδας
PDF
Ηλεκτρ. έκδοση

When William the Conqueror had mastered the immediate periis of his invasion, he found himself faced and menaced by countless dangers, arising within the territories which, by the unquestionable right of the strongest, he called his own. Among the most important uprisings that called for his attention, was that of the independent and warlike Northumbrian race. Having subjected these formidable insurgents, and, after the fashion of his time, moved for their conciliation by despoiling their leaders of lands, castles, titles, and wealth, the king looked about for a means by which, in wisely distributing these confiscated estates, he might win to himself a strong and undoubted personal loyalty, and confront the constant forays of the half savage Scots with an array of feudatories which should forever bar their southward progress. Of the allegiance of the hereditary nobility William was none too sure, and hence he turned to the ecclesiastical powerever ready, as it has been,

"To bend the pregnant hinges of the knee

Where thrift may follow fawning." To this end he established Episcopal sees all along the frontier line, and advanced his trustiest Norman and other foreign followers to the dignities appertaining thereto. One of the wealthiest and most important of these religious establishments was that of Durham, to which were transferred the sacred bones of St. Cuthbert, esteemed a saint especially opposed to the Scots. Not contented with the mere conferring of the ecclesiastical dignity, the king erected the see of Durham into a palatinate, making its bishop a count palatine, with a temporal jurisdiction second, within the diocese, only to the crown, and imposed upon the prelate all the military obligations known to the feudal system. The vast estate thus transferred to the bishop of Durham was by him re-allotted among his followers, all of whom, it is almost needless to say, were of Norman blood, or of the same political persuasion as their immediate lord and his lord, the king. From these vassals of the see was exacted not alone the money tribute necessary to fill the a ffers and sustain the state of the soldier bishops, but many and arduous warlike duties, and the elevation of the holy banner of St. Cuthbert was a signal to arms that none in all the vicinage might ignore.

The bishops, from the first, lived in state little less than royal. The great castle that was at once the episcopal palace and the fortress of the count palatine was the centre of a court scarcely less brilliant than that of King William, and the gay processions that moved out from its portals, to the battle or the hunt, suffered small. loss by comparison with any in the land.

Among the knights who accepted estates and service from the bishop of Durham, during the Twelfth century, was William de Hertburn, the earliest ancestor of Washington, of whom history gives us any trace. evidently a Norman by blood, and his family long continued to bear Nor

He was

man names of baptism. The surname, De Hertburn, was taken from the village of Hertburn-now Hartburn-situated upon the river Tees, and included in his estate. In the “ Bolden Book," a record of all the lands possessed by the diocese of Durham in 1183, is found the first mention of De Hertburn, it being there recorded, in barbarous Latin, that the knight had exchanged the village of Hertburn for the manor and village of Wessyngton, also included in the diocese.

With the exchange of estates, Sir William de Hertburn became Sir William de Wessyngton, still a vassal of the bishop; still an attendant at his feasts and pageants; his companion in the hunt; his follower in the graver game of war. The last named obligation was no light one, as the gallant Sir William, and many a long-haired, bravely armed, and proudly mounted cavalier of the De Wessyngtons after him found. When the Scots were not engaged in some bloody foray over the border, the king and bishops were often armed, mounted, and pushing northward in retaliation, and the times were neither few nor far between, when came the call to assist in the punishment of a presumptuous noble or baron, within the shadow of the throne. So the De Wessyngtons remained among the preux chevaliers of the crown, residing at Wessyngton, being born, marrying, giving in marriage, dying;—fighting, hawking, carousing, gaming,—no doubt conspiring, after the manner of their kind,—for more than two hundred years. Then one called, as the free and liberal spellers of the day have it, Sir William de Wesching.. ton, procured the abrogation of the strict entail of the estate, and, having fought at Otterbourne against the Scotch under Sir William Douglas, came home to his castle and died, and, no doubt, having received absolution from a fat chaplain, joined his ancestors beyond the jurisdiction of living king or bishop. He left behind him no son, and, his daughters marrying, not Wessyngtons, but Temples and Blaykestones, dwelt at the old castle, and sat in the councils of the palatinate.

Fortunately, however, there were collateral branches of the family, and we find them prominent in matters of church and state, and widely scattered through the kingdom, until, before the middle of the sixteenth century, Laurence Washington, head of that branch of the family from which came the American offshoot, was born, to find himself heir to the name, deprived by custom of the prefix de, and evolved, by the agency of generations of bad spellers, to its present form.

This Laurence Washington, of Warton, in Lancashire, was for a time mayor of Northampton, and, in 1538, received from Henry VIII. the grant of the manor of Sulgrave, in Northamptonshire, with an extensive estate adjacent. The Washingtons seemed to profit by confiscation, for this grant, like that of nearly five centuries before, came to them by such an exercise of the royal prerogative. In this instance the sufferer was the monastery of St. Andrew's; which shared the fate of dissolution with all other priories of the kingdom. This

[ocr errors]

estate was the property of the Washington family up to 1620. Directly descended from Laurence Washington was Sir William Washington, of Packington, in the county of Kent, who married a sister of George Vil. liers, Duke of Buckingham. This marriage is an important event in the history of the family, as it is more than likely that it determined the Washingtons in their allegiance to Charles I. and the royalist party, thus proving, indirectly, the cause of the later emigration to America.

Lieutenant-colonel James Washington fell, while fighting in the cause of Charles I., at the siege of Pontefract castle, and still another, Sir Henry, son and heir of Sir William, distinguished himself by a stubborn defense of the city of Worcester, against the army of the Protector, continued long after the king, giving up his cause as hopeless, had fled to the parliamentary camp.

During the rule of Cromwell, England was neither a safe nor a comfortable residence for those who had adhered to the Stuart cause, and it may have been fear of suffering by the severe treatment which befell all suspected of complicity in the insurrection of 1655, that led John and Andrew Washington to emigrate in the year 1657 to Virginia, the favorite refuge of exiled cavaliers. The two were brothers, great-grandsons of Laurence Washington, the original grantee of Sulgrave, and the former was the greatgrandfather of George Washington. The brothers purchased lands in Virginia upon the “Northern neck,” between the Potomac and Rappahannock rivers. They were possessed of liberal means, and their purchases were proportionately large. Both were men of education and refinement, and were at once recognized as such by their neighbors, their homes being among the gathering-places of the expatriated cavaliers who were land owners in the vicinity.

This sketch has only to do with John Washington and his descendants. He shortly married Miss Anne Pope, residing in the vicinity, and, building him a home, near the confluence of Bridge creek and the Potomac, became in turn, an extensive planter, a magistrate, and a member of the State House of Burgesses. He was also, with the rank of colonel, a leader of the Virginia militia, against the Seneca Indians, who were then upon one of their periodical warlike expeditions against the whites. As an indication of the honor in which he was held, his parish was called, and still bears the name of Washington, anticipating, by more than a century, the impress that his great-grandson was destined to make upon the nomenclature of the country. In 1696 his grandson, Augustine, father of the future President, was born upon the estate, which had greatly appreciated in value. When but nineteen years of age, he married Jane, daughter of Caleb Butler, a leading planter of Westmoreland county, April 10, 1715. By this marriage he became the father of four children, of whom but two, Lawrence and Augustine, grew to manhood. The mother died November 24. 1728.

The grief of the father cannot justly be judged by the period during which he remained single, which continued until March 6, 1730. He then married Mary, daughter of Colonel Ball. This lady was a person of exceptional beauty, wit and culture, and has been described as “the belle of the Northern neck.” Be that as it may, her blood and breeding were doubtless of the best, and it would be difficult to define, as it is to overestimate, her hereditary and personal influence in forming and

[graphic][merged small]

molding her first-born child—George Washington—hence her proximate influence over the destinies of the North American colonies of Great Britain, and the great Republic of which they were the basis.

Conjecture is lost in considering the possible results had she borne a child less splendid in natural powers

, less fine in his appreciation of the distinctions between right and wrong, less disinterested and in every way less nobie.

i

CHAPTER II.

CHILDHOOD AND EDUCATION.

G

EORGE WASHINGTON was born at the old homestead on the 22d J of February, 1732, the eldest of seven children who were the fruit of this second marriage. The others were, in the order of their ages, Samuel, John, Augustine, Charles, Elizabeth, and Mildred. All trace of this old house and the little paradise about it has long since passed away, but Irving says that the spot was, many years after, marked as the birthplace of Washington, by an inscribed stone, placed upon the site of the dwelling by George W. P. Custis.

A rather extended statement of Washington's family antecedents has been made, but not without definite reason. While it is well reasoned that, other things being equal, ability, virtue, and honesty, may rather be looked for from that man who is the descendant of generations of honest, virtuous, and able men, than from one who comes from an inferior and vicious ancestry, it is also true that such a training an such a lineage as Washington's, tend to bring forth men cautious and conventional rather than otherwise. Such are more likely to stand with established authority than to oppose it; to uphold a throne, as did the earlier Washingtons that of Charles Stuart, than to assail it; to be the conservators rather than the revolutionists of the world.

The simple fact that Washington needed to go but two generations back to find his ancestor an exile, if not a fugitive, by reason of loyalty to the throne, must have had great weight in forming his mind. The further reflection that for six centuries no Washington had ever proved disloyal to his king-who can measure its force when presented, as it doubtless often was, to the mind of a thoughtful, if not imaginative boy? If ever a child had the antecedents to secure him from the possibility of being either a Jacobin or a demagogue, it was George Washington.

So much for blood. So far as training and association are concerned,

« ΠροηγούμενηΣυνέχεια »