Sunday, September 2, 2018

George Washington: Farmer - A Man In Love with the Soil

George Washington as Farmer by Junius Brutus Stearns. 1851

George Washington: Farmer 
by Paul Leland Haworth (1876-1936) 
Ch 1 A Man In Love with the Soil

One December day in the year 1788 a Virginia gentleman sat before his desk in his mansion beside the Potomac writing a letter...
The letter was addressed to an Englishman, by name Arthur Young, the foremost scientific farmer of his day, editor of the Annals of Agriculture, author of many books, of which the best remembered is his Travels in France on the eve of the French Revolution, which is still read by every student of that stirring era.

"The more I am acquainted with agricultural affairs," such were the words that flowed from the writer's pen, "the better I am pleased with them; insomuch, that I can no where find so great satisfaction as in those innocent and useful pursuits. In indulging these feelings I am led to reflect how much more delightful to an un-debauched mind is the task of making improvements on the earth than all the vain glory which can be acquired from ravaging it, by the most uninterrupted career of conquests."

Thus wrote George Washington in the fullness of years, honors and experience. Surely in this age of crimson mists we can echo his correspondent that it was a "noble sentiment, which does honor to the heart of this truly great man." Happy America to have had such a philosopher as a father!

"I think with you that the life of a husbandman is the most delectable," he wrote on another occasion to the same friend. "It is honorable, it is amusing, and, with judicious management, it is profitable. To see plants rise from the earth and flourish by the superibr skill and bounty of the laborer fills a contemplative mind with ideas which are more easy to be conceived than expressed."

The earliest Washington arms had blazoned upon it "Cinque foiles," which was the herald's way of saying that the bearer owned land and was a farmer. When Washington made a book-plate he added to the old design spears of wheat to indicate what he once called "the most favorite amusement of my life..."

Nor was his enthusiasm for agriculture the evanescent enthusiasm of the man who in middle age buys a farm as a plaything and tries for the first time the costly experiment of cultivating the soil. He was born on a plantation, was brought up in the country and until manhood he had never even seen a town of five thousand people. First he was a surveyor, and so careful and painstaking was he that his work still stands the test... After the capture of Fort Duquesne had freed Virginia from danger he resigned his commission, married and made a home. Soon after he wrote to an English kinsman who had invited him to visit London: "I am now I believe fixed at this seat with an agreeable Consort for Life. And hope to find more happiness in retirement than I ever experienced amidst a wide bustling world."

Thereafter he quitted the quiet life always with reluctance. Amid long and trying years he constantly looked forward to the day when he could lay down his burden and retire to the peace and freedom of Mount Vernon, there to take up again the task of farming.. he wrote to his old comrade-in-arms the Marquis de Chastellux: "I am at length become a private citizen on the banks of the Potomac, where under my own vine and fig-tree free from the bustle of a camp and the intrigues of a court, I shall view the busy world with calm indifference, and with serenity of mind, which the soldier in pursuit of glory, and the statesman of a name, have not leisure to enjoy."