A Boy's Working Holiday In The Wildwood

We wish to say something here about a curious old man who lived in

Virginia when George Washington was a boy, and who was wise enough to

see that young Washington was anything but a common boy. This man was an

English nobleman named Lord Fairfax. As the nobles of England were not

in the habit of coming to the colonies, except as governors, we must

tell what brought this one across the sea.

It happened in
his way. His grandfather, Lord Culpeper, had at one time

been governor of Virginia, and, like some other governors, had taken

care to feather his nest. Seeing how rich the land was between the

Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers, when he went home he asked the king to

give him all this land, and the king, Charles II., in his good easy way

of giving away what did not belong to him, readily consented, without

troubling himself about the rights of the people who lived on the land.

A great and valuable estate it was. Not many dwelt on it, and Lord

Culpeper promised to have it settled and cultivated, but we cannot say

that he troubled himself much about doing so.

When old Culpeper died the Virginia land went to his daughter, and from

her it descended to her son, Lord Fairfax, who sent out his cousin,

William Fairfax, to look after his great estate, which covered a whole

broad county in the wilderness, and counties in those days were often

very large. Lord Fairfax was not much concerned about the American

wildwood. He was one of the fashionable young men in London society, and

something of an author, too, for he helped the famous Addison by writing

some papers for the "Spectator."

But noblemen, like common men, are liable to fall in love, and this Lord

Fairfax did. He became engaged to be married to a handsome young lady;

but she proved to be less faithful than pretty, and when a nobleman of

higher rank asked her to marry him, she threw her first lover aside and

gave herself to the richer one.

This was a bitter blow to Lord Fairfax. He went to his country home and

dwelt there in deep distress, vowing that all women were false-hearted

and that he would never marry any of them. And he never did. Even his

country home was not solitary enough for the broken-hearted lover, so he

resolved to cross the ocean and seek a new home in his wilderness land

in America. It was this that brought him to Virginia, where he went to

live at his cousin's fine mansion called Belvoir, a place not far away

from the Washington estate of Mount Vernon.

Lord Fairfax was a middle-aged man at that time, a tall, gaunt,

near-sighted personage, who spent much of his time in hunting, of which

he was very fond. And his favorite companion in these hunting

excursions was young George Washington, then a fine, fresh, active boy

of fourteen, who dearly loved outdoor life. There was a strong contrast

between the old lord and the youthful Virginian, but they soon became

close friends, riding out fox-hunting together and growing intimate in

other ways.

Laurence Washington, George's elder brother, who lived at Mount Vernon,

had married a daughter of William Fairfax, and that brought the Mount

Vernon and Belvoir families much together, so that when young George was

visiting his brother he was often at Belvoir. Lord Fairfax grew to like

him so much that he resolved to give him some important work to do. He

saw that the boy was strong, manly, and quick-witted, and anxious to be

doing something for himself, and as George had made some study of

surveying, he decided to employ him at this.

Lord Fairfax's Virginia estate, as we have said, was very large. The

best-known part of it lay east, but it also crossed the Blue Ridge

Mountains, and ran over into the beautiful valley beyond, which the

Knights of the Golden Horseshoe had visited more than thirty years

before. This splendid valley was still largely in a wild state, with few

inhabitants besides the savage Indians and wild beasts. Before it could

be fairly opened to settlers it must be measured by the surveyor's chain

and mapped out so that it would be easy to tell where any tract was

located. It was this that Lord Fairfax asked young Washington to do, and

which the active boy gladly consented to undertake, for he liked

nothing better than wild life and adventure in the wilderness, and here

was the chance to have a delightful time in a new and beautiful country,

an opportunity that would warm the heart of any live and healthy boy.

This is a long introduction to the story of Washington's wildwood

outing, but no doubt you will like to know what brought it about. It was

in the early spring of 1748 that the youthful surveyor set out on his

ride, the blood bounding warmly in his veins as he thought of the new

sensations and stirring adventures which lay before him. He was not

alone. George William Fairfax, a son of the master of Belvoir, went with

him, a young man of twenty-two. Washington was then just sixteen, young

enough to be in high spirits at the prospect before him. He brought his

surveyors' instruments, and they both bore guns as well, for they looked

for some fine sport in the woods.

The valley beyond the mountains was not the land of mystery which it had

been thirty-four years before, when Governor Spotswood and his gay troop

looked down on it from the green mountain summit. There were now some

scattered settlers in it, and Lord Fairfax had built himself a lodge in

the wilderness, which he named "Greenway Court," and where now and then

he went for a hunting excursion.

Crossing the Blue Ridge at Ashby's Gap and fording the bright

Shenandoah, the young surveyors made their way towards this wildwood

lodge. It was a house with broad stone gables, its sloping roof coming

down over a long porch in front. The locality was not altogether a safe

one. There were still some Indians in that country, and something might

stir them up against the whites. In two belfries on the roof hung

alarm-bells, to be rung to collect the neighboring settlers if report of

an Indian rising should be brought.

On the forest road leading to Greenway Court a white post was planted,

with an arm pointing towards the house, as a direction to visitors. As

the post decayed or was thrown down by any cause another was erected,

and on this spot to-day such a post stands, with the village of White

Post built around it. But when young Washington and Fairfax passed the

spot only forest trees stood round the post, and they rode on to the

Court, where they rested awhile under the hospitable care of Lord

Fairfax's manager.

It was a charming region in which the young surveyors found themselves

after their brief term of rest, a land of lofty forests and broad grassy

openings, with the silvery river sparkling through their midst. The buds

were just bursting on the trees, the earliest spring flowers were

opening, and to right and left extended long blue mountain-ranges, the

giant guardians of the charming valley of the Shenandoah. In those days

there were none of the yellow grain-fields, the old mansions surrounded

by groves, the bustling villages and towns which now mark the scene,

but nature had done her best to make it picturesque and beautiful, and

the youthful visitors enjoyed it as only those of young blood can.

Up the banks of the Shenandoah went the surveyors, measuring and marking

the land and mapping down its leading features. It was no easy work, but

they enjoyed it to the full. At night they would stop at the rude house

of some settler, if one was to be found; if not, they would build a fire

in the woods, cook the game their guns had brought down, wrap their

cloaks around them, and sleep heartily under the broad blanket of the

open air.

Thus they journeyed on up the Shenandoah until they reached the point

where its waters flow into the Potomac. Then up this stream they made

their way, crossing the mountains and finally reaching the place which

is now called Berkeley Springs. It was then in the depth of the

wilderness, but in time a town grew up around it, and many years

afterward Washington and his family often went there in the summer to

drink and bathe in its wholesome mineral waters.

The surveyors had their adventures, and no doubt often made the woodland

echoes ring with the report of their guns as they brought down partridge

or pheasant, or tracked a deer through the brushwood. Nothing of special

note happened to them, the thing which interested them most being the

sight of a band of Indians, the first they had ever seen. The red men

had long since disappeared from the part of Virginia in which they


These tenants of the forest came along one day when the youths had

stopped at the house of a settler. There were about thirty of them in

their war-paint, and one of them had a fresh scalp hanging at his belt.

This indicated that they had recently been at war with their enemies, of

whom at least one had been killed. The Indians were given some liquor,

in return for which they danced their war-dance before the boys. For

music one of them drummed on a deer-skin which he stretched over an iron

pot, and another rattled a gourd containing some shot and ornamented

with a horse's tail. The others danced with wild whoops and yells around

a large fire they had built. Altogether the spectacle was a singular and

exciting one on which the boys looked with much interest.

While they had no serious adventures, their life in the forest was not a

very luxurious one. In many ways they had to rough it. At times they

were drenched by downpours of rain. They slept anywhere, now and then in

houses, but most often in the open air. On one occasion some straw on

which they lay asleep caught fire and they woke just in time to escape

being scorched by the flames.

"I have not slept above three or four nights in a bed," wrote George to

a friend, "but after walking a good deal all the day I have lain down

before the fire on a little straw or fodder, or a bear-skin, whatever

was to be had, with man, wife, and children, like dogs and cats; and

happy is he who gets the berth nearest the fire."

Their cooking was often done by impaling the meat on sharp sticks and

holding it over the fire, while chips cut with their hatchet took the

place of dishes. But to them all this was enjoyment, their appetites

were hearty, and anything having the spice of adventure was gladly

welcomed. It was the event of their young lives.

It was still April when they returned from their long river ride to

Greenway Court, and here enjoyed for some time the comforts of

civilization, so far as they had penetrated that frontier scene. Spring

was still upon the land, though summer was near by, when George and his

friend rode back across the Blue Ridge and returned to Belvoir with the

report of what they had done. Lord Fairfax was highly pleased with the

report, and liked George more than ever for the faithful and intelligent

manner in which he had carried out his task. He paid the young surveyor

at the rate of seven dollars a day for the time he was actually at work,

and half this amount for the remaining time. This was worth a good deal

more then than the same sum of money would be now, and was very good pay

for a boy of sixteen. No doubt the lad felt rich with the first money he

had ever earned in his pocket.

As for Lord Fairfax, he was in high glee to learn what a valuable

property he had across the hills, and especially how fine a country it

was for hunting. He soon left Belvoir and made his home at Greenway

Court, where he spent the remainder of his life. It was a very different

life from that of his early days in the bustle of fashionable life in

London, but it seemed to suit him as well or better.

One thing more we have to say about him. He was still living at Greenway

Court when the Revolutionary War came on. A loyalist in grain, he

bitterly opposed the rebellion of the colonists. By the year 1781 he had

grown very old and feeble. One day he was in Winchester, a town which

had grown up not far from Greenway, when he heard loud shouts and cheers

in the street.

"What is all that noise about?" he asked his old servant.

"Dey say dat Gin'ral Washington has took Lord Cornwallis an' all his

army prisoners. Yorktown is surrendered, an' de wa' is ovah."

"Take me to bed, Joe," groaned the old lord; "it is time for me to die."

Five years after his surveying excursion George Washington had a far

more famous adventure in the wilderness, when the governor of Virginia

sent him through the great forest to visit the French forts near Lake

Erie. The story of this journey is one of the most exciting and romantic

events in American history, yet it is one with which most readers of

history are familiar, so we have told the tale of his earlier adventures

instead. His forest experience on the Shenandoah had much to do with

making Governor Dinwiddie choose him as his envoy to the French forts,

so that it was, in a way, the beginning of his wonderful career.