Recent Articles

Was George Washington Religious?

By Stephen Yoch   The short answer: Yes . . . and No.   On paper, George Washington was a member of the Anglican Church. It would be a stretch to call him a deeply religious man. George and Martha went to church, but George often left early and his attendance was increasingly spotty as the years went on. Indeed, there is evidence that he rarely took communion.   From his earliest days growing up on the farm, Washington’s religious teaching focused on actions rather than faith. Washington’s troubled relationship with his mother could have resulted in him choosing behaviors that differed from his mother’s examples. Thus, to some extent, his mother’s apparent religious zeal may have made him less demonstrative in later life.   Washington never mentioned “Jesus” in his personal correspondence, and referred to “Christ” rarely in public papers. George considered God to be a distant and impersonal … Read More

George Washington, Dancing Machine

By Stephen Yoch   We think of George Washington as the old guy on the dollar bill. In fact, throughout his entire life, Washington was an active man who loved to dance.   Dancing was serious business in Virginia. Instructors traveled throughout the colony giving lessons to children of the rich. Indeed, the Washingtons had a dance master hold classes at Mount Vernon for several years. George enjoyed all types of dance, whether it was minuets or fast paced Irish jigs, his dance card was always full. His large size did not encumber him, he was always described as graceful.   While her husband was happiest on the dance floor, Martha Washington had only a mild interest in dancing. She limited her time on the dance floor to marches and minuets. Nevertheless, she did not object when Washington, as one of the best dancers in Virginia, danced well into the … Read More

Aren’t All Presidents Mama’s Boys?—Not Our Founding Father

By Stephen Yoch   Little Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and FDR were mama’s boys. Isn’t that a prerequisite to being president?   The father of our country was the exception that proved the rule.   The paradigm for U.S. presidents is an absent father and an overprotective, doting mother. There is certainly evidence that a number of presidents were heavily influenced by their mothers. Indeed, many were literally named after their mothers:   Rutherford Birchard Hayes was named after his mother Sophia Birchard Woodrow Wilson was named after his mother Janet Woodrow Franklin Delano Roosevelt was named after his mother Sara Delano John Fitzgerald Kennedy was named after his mother Rose Fitzgerald Lyndon Baines Johnson was named after his mother Rebecca Baines Richard Milhous Nixon was named after his mother Hannah Milhous Ronald Wilson Reagan was named after his mother Nellie Wilson Whether it was Abraham Lincoln or Woodrow Wilson, … Read More

How George Washington’s Failure in Boston Saved the Revolution

By Stephen Yoch   In July 1775, George Washington was dispatched by the Second Continental Congress to lead the fledgling Revolutionary Army against the British occupying Boston. With the help of a brilliant Boston bookseller, Henry Knox, 60 cannons were dragged from Fort Ticonderoga and raised to the Dorchester Heights, forcing a British retreat and giving America its first victory of the Revolution. None of this would have happened if Washington’s first visit to Boston in February 1756 had not been spectacularly unsuccessful.   Two decades earlier, George Washington was one of the most famous young men in America. In July 1755, the British had been routed by the French and Indians under General Edward Braddock just outside Fort Duquesne, near modern-day Pittsburg. While the British force was almost completely annihilated, Washington fought bravely, and was one of the few officers who not only kept his head, but escaped unscathed. … Read More

Washington Shared One Unhappy Trait with Many Other Leaders– He Was Raised Without a Father

By Stephen Yoch   George Washington is often called the father of our country, which is ironic for two reasons. First, he fathered no children; and second, he spent most of his childhood without a father. Washington’s dad died when George was 11. Even before his death, his father was often absent, traveling for business.   Washington’s mother never remarried. George, as the eldest of her children, was forced to bear the heavy burdens of providing leadership of his five other siblings and assisting his mother in managing their limited resources. As a result of his father’s death, George was not given a first class education. He felt the burden of that lack of education for the rest of his life.   Historians and psychologists can only speculate on the impact of the early loss of a father on a developing adolescent. What is clear is that an inordinate number … Read More

George Washington: A Man “Too Illiterate, Unlearned, and Unread for his Station”

By Stephen Yoch   John Adams complained in a letter to Benjamin Rush that President Washington was “too illiterate, unlearned, and unread for his station.”   Thomas Jefferson was equally unkind, describing Washington as an awkward public speaker with a mind that was “slow in operation, being little aided by invention or imagination, but sure in conclusion.”   Was that true? Was Washington dumb or inadequately educated?   The short answer is no (and yes). In truth, Washington was bright and tenacious, with broad interests and knowledge. However, he also had an extremely limited formal education. The remaining founders presented perhaps the greatest concentration of intellectual power the country has ever known. Most enjoyed a university education. For example, John Adams attended Harvard, James Madison went to Princeton, Benjamin Franklin received honorary degrees from both Harvard and Yale, John Jay and Alexander Hamilton both attended Kings College (renamed Columbia University). … Read More

Did a Scottish Revolutionary Teach George Washington to be a Rebel?

By Stephen Yoch   Many know that George Washington’s first job was as a county surveyor in Virginia; in fact, at 17, he was one of Virginia’s youngest in the profession. But few know who instructed him how to master the complicated task of 18th-century surveying. The journal of George Hume supports a claim that he was the man who taught young Washington the trade of surveying.   In 1715, the first Jacobite Rebellion sought to restore James II and the ancient Stewart line to the Crown. Hume’s father, the Tenth Baron of Wedderburn, led his 17-year old son and other Scottsmen at the Battle of Sheriffmuir where they were defeated, captured, and then sent to Marshalsea Prison in London. Later, awaiting his fate. Lord Hume chose to forfeit all of his lands and titles to avoid the English axe, and his son was banished to the colonies.   Upon … Read More

George Washington: Action Hero

By Stephen Yoch   We all think of George Washington as the old guy with wooden teeth and a powdered wig. (By the way, he didn’t wear a wig and his teeth were not made of wood.) But as a young man, Washington was America’s first “action hero.”   At age 21, Washington led an intrepid group of men across 250 miles of frozen wilderness to deliver a diplomatic pouch to the French demanding they leave the country. Upon Washington’s return, the Governor of Virginia ordered George to record his experiences. In a 7,000-word journal, the insightful young Washington identifies for the first time the confluence of the Ohio and Monongahela Rivers as an excellent location for a fort, noting that the land was “extremely well situated” with “absolute command of both rivers.” That location would become the French-built Fort Duquesne, later renamed by the Americans Fort Pitt, and ultimately, … Read More

Why is Mount Vernon Named Mount Vernon?

By Stephen Yoch   Ironically, the home of the father of our country was not named after an American; it honors a British Admiral whom George Washington never met.   Upon the death of their father, George Washington’s older brother Lawrence inherited a picturesque piece of land overlooking the Potomac named Epsewasson.   Lawrence Washington, a military hero who served in the bizarrely named War of Jenkins Ear, led a group of Virginia soldiers in a campaign to South America. During the long voyage and shipboard duty, Lawrence became an admirer of Admiral Edward Vernon. Lawrence wrote letters home that made a tremendous impression on his younger brother George. He detailed how “the enemy killed of ours some 600 and the climate killed us in greater number . . . a great quantity of officers amongst the rest are dead. War is horrid in fact, but much more so in imagination.” … Read More