We remember George Washington most for his leadership during the American Revolution and his presidency of our fledgling nation. However, he had many other roles in his life, according to Joseph P. Ellis, author of the All Fairfax Reads selection, His Excellency: George Washington.
For Ellis, Washington’s years at Mt. Vernon between the French and Indian War and the start of the American Revolution seem the most incongruous:
“Perhaps the most jarring picture, because it clashes so dramatically with his subsequent reputation as the epitome of public virtue, is that of the indulged Virginia gentleman for whom the phrase ‘pursuit of happiness’ meant galloping to hounds.”
According to his diaries, Washington’s days at Mt. Vernon were often spent in foxhunting, breeding hounds, and traveling to Alexandria, Annapolis and Williamsburg for the horse races.
Ellis writes that during one 49-day period in 1768, Washington spent between two and five hours daily foxhunting. He traveled in an expensive coach made in London that had leather interiors and his coat of arms emblazoned the side.
Washington played cards about 22 times a year and seemed to win as much as he lost in bets. He bought his Madeira by the butt (150 gallons) and the pipe (110 gallons). Two menservants attended to his needs.
For 15 years, between 1759 and 1774, Washington was the epitome of the Virginia gentleman. His days of fame were yet to come.
For more on life in the colonial period, including original sources, see these librarian-recommended Web sites.
Archiving Early America
Colonial Hall: A Look at America's Founders
Colonial Williamsburg's PastPortal Digital Library