George Washington: A Man of Letters



George Washington was born in 1732. His father died when he was young and he had to leave school to help his mother, Mary Ball Washington, run the family farm. He did have some education, but was mainly self taught. At the age of 14, he spent time copying the 110 "Rules of Civility and Behavior" from the popular work at the time, Youth’s Behaviour, or Decency in Conversation Amongst Men.


He also taught himself geometry and surveying so he could apprentice as a young adult. These skills paid off as he was fired as a surveyor then joined the army where his knowledge of manners and behavior helped him in some early missions to deal with the French on behalf of Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia.


George Washington's early education served him throughout his lifetime, where he would draw upon the lessons from the 110 "Rules" he had spent so much time learning and remembering. Although he lacked formal education, something he felt shame for during his lifetime, he was a man of letters. I mean this figuratively for although he was not formally educated, he did participate in the the founding of the nation. But I also mean this literally as he left behind and estimated 18,000 to 20,000 letters that he wrote to family, friends, and colleagues.


It is through these letters that we know so much about our first president of the United States. And, fortunately many of these letters are available online. You can go to the National Archives website online to access many of them: https://founders.archives.gov/about/Washington


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