Brother Washington the man, the myth, the legend

It’s not easy to write about George Washington in the modern era as he has been turned into stone, pigmented, printed and painted without stop for over 200 years. After all the years of quaint stories and fanciful flights about the man, it’s hard to find the reality. As we pause to celebrate Washington’s Birthday this year, we should reflect on the kind of man he was without the veneer of stone and paint or even the glory of his achievements.

The historical facts of Washington’s early life are somewhat in flux but we do know the tragedies he suffered as a young man in the colonial period and what he did as a young gentleman in the Virginia Colony to some extent. After reading a biography of the man Washington a few years back, it was quite clear that he was the right man at the right time in the right place in history. 

Washington knew early in his life he would be a Freemason. I am assuming this just by the type of man he was and the fact he was initiated at aged 20 in a Lodge in Fredericksburg, Virginia on August 4th 1753. The truth is Washington’s participation in or attendance in lodge beyond receiving the degrees is not fully known. We do know he spent many years away from home in the French and Indian War of 1754-1761, which would account for the total of the 7 years war with the French. 

As a Mason Washington’s life is somewhat clearer. A good timeline of Washington’s Masonic life can be found here.

So let’s look a little closer at Washington’s early life. 

Washington’s early years

Born February 22, 1732, in Westmoreland County, Va., George Washington was the first son of his father Augustine’s second marriage; his mother was the former Mary Ball of Epping Forest. When George was about three, his family moved to Little Hunting Creek on the Potomac, then to Ferry Farm opposite Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock River in King George County.

Washington’s father died in 1743, and young George grew restive under his mother’s management. He proposed at one point to follow the sea, but instead divided his adolescence among the households of relatives, finding a home and a model in his half-brother Lawrence at Mount Vernon.

An Older brother’s influence

From Lawrence, Washington learned trigonometry and surveying and cultivated a taste for ethics, novels, music, and the theater. A ranking officer in the Virginia militia, Lawrence had served with Admiral Edward Vernon – for whom the plantation was named – and thus imbued George with aspirations for military service.

The Fairfax family influence

Another early influence on George Washington was the powerful Fairfax family of neighboring Belvoir, who introduced him to the accomplishments and proprieties of mannered wealth and provided him his first adventure. In 1748, Lord Fairfax sent George with a party that spent a month surveying Fairfax lands in the still-wild Shenandoah Valley.  It was on this expedition that George began to appreciate the uses and value of land, an appreciation that grew the following year with his appointment as Culpeper County surveyor, certified by the College of William & Mary.

Lawrence Washington dies

Lawrence, suffering from a lung complaint, undertook a Barbados voyage in search of health in a warmer climate, and George accompanied him. The younger brother contracted smallpox and returned to Virginia alone, but with an immunity to a disease that later ravaged colonial-era armies. Lawrence died in 1752, and the Mount Vernon estate passed by stages into George’s hands until he inherited it outright in 1761.

Washington’s military career begins

Washington also succeeded to Lawrence’s militia office. Governor Robert Dinwiddie first appointed him adjutant for the southern district of the colony’s militia, but soon conferred on him Lawrence’s adjutancy for the Northern Neck and Eastern Shore. And so it happened that in 1753 the governor sent 21-year-old George Washington to warn French troops stationed north of the forks of the Ohio River (modern Pittsburgh) that they were encroaching on territory claimed by Virginia. 

The French ignored the admonition, and the mission failed. Nonetheless, when Washington returned, Governor Dinwiddie instructed Williamsburg printer William Hunter to publish his official report as The Journal of Major George Washington, thus making the young officer well known at home and abroad.

In terms the years between 1753 onward are fairly well known as his resentment to the British Crown and events leading to the eventual War of Independance and onto become the first President of the United States of America.

Of course what is less well known is George Washington’s connection to Freemasonry. Some researchers have even tried to assert that Washington was not really a member or that he distanced himself. These assertions are usually based on a single correspondence between a leading Pastor and Washington after he is sworn in as President.  You can read Mr. Snyder’s letter in his own handwriting here.

George Washington’s responses to Mr. Snyder’s letters are here (scan almost unreadable).

To summarize Washington writes to thank Mr. Snyder for the book (Proofs of a Conspiracy…. by John Robison) and that he did not get the chance to read it, but he is satisfied that the ideals and aims of the “Illuminati” have not made it into Masonic Lodges in the US.

The funny part is that when Mr. Snyder wrote this letter to Washington warning him of the danger of the Illuminati, the danger was already past. The Bavarian Illuminati had been exposed and dismantled and jailed the year before Robison published his book. 

Some have even gone so far, based on the language of Washington’s letter referenced above that Washington did not approve or associate with Freemasons. Yet one cannot escape the reality that Washington laid both the Capitol and White House cornerstone’s in full Masonic regalia and participated in the ceremony. 

Throughout his life he was keenly aware of masonic principles and spoke often about them. In many letters and correspondence he often referred to God as the Great Architect of the Universe. During the War of Independence most of his closest advisors and field generals were Freemasons, about 75%. One notable among this group is Benedict Arnold. Of course we know the story and betrayal. In fact there is evidence that Arnold’s name was not only lined out of the book of members, that he was a member of, but almost scratched beyond recognition and the word traitor written in at some point after.

WB Chris Hodapp of Freemasons for Dummies did this interesting write up of Benedict Arnold’s final resting place a few years back.

Washington was of course elected Charter Master of a Lodge which subsequently changed their name to Alexandria-Washington Lodge № 22. Washington never presided over this Lodge while Master, the Sr. Warden served as Master pro tem. for the duration of Washington’s term.

If you’re ever in Washington DC or Alexandria right across the Potomac you can visit the George Washington Masonic Memorial. Tour and hours of operation can be found on their website here. 

One thing that was true about George Washington, from all sources that knew him personally,  was that he was a man of honor and integrity. He went to great lengths to always uphold civility and manners. He personified Masonic ideals and truths, truths that even today are needed and necessary.