« PreviousContinue »
inansion of Gunston Hall. He was proud, yet extremely courteous; and while no man could be a warmer and more faithful friend than he, his bearing was such as to excite admiration rather than love. His strong mind was thoroughly cultivated, and he was conversant with the minute particulars of English general history, and especially with the political history of the English empire. His mind was quick to perceive; his judgment equally quick to analyze and arrange; and these qualities made him a most skilful statesman. In council he was eminently wise; in debate he was distinguished for extraordinary ability; and as a political writer, he was without a peer in his country, when the rising dispute with Great Britain was occupying the thoughts of men in both hemispheres. Such was the man with whom, at Mount Vernon and at Gunston Hall, Washington held close conference for many years, while the flame of the Revolution was slowly kindling.
The storm of the stamp act season passed by, but it was succeeded by many others. In the intervals Washington was engaged in agricultural pursuits at Mount Vernon, and the pleasures of social life. In all the public affairs of his neighborhood, he was an active participant; and as early as 1765, the year when the stamp act became a law, he was a vestryman of both Truro and Fairfax parishes, in which Pohick in the country, and Christ Church in Alexandria, were the respective places of worship. In that year his name is appended tv a declaration, with others, that he would "be conformablo to the Doctrines and Discipline of the Church of England, as by law established.” With his name appear those of George Mason, George William Fairfax, Edward Payne, Captain Charles Broadwater, and more than twenty others.
During the earlier years of his married life, Washington attended Pohick church, seven miles from Mount Vernon, more frequently than any other. The first church of that name was a frame building, and stood on the south side of Pohick creek, about two miles from the present edifice. About the year 1764, it became so dilapidated as to be no longer fit for use. The parishioners were called together to consult upon the erection of a new one. Among those assembled was Washington, and the father of George Mason, then advanced in years and greatly respected. When the question of the location of the new church came up for consideration, there was a difference of opinion. Mr. Mason was in favor of the old site, and Washington was opposed to it. Mr. Mason made a pathetic appeal in favor of the old site, pleading that there was the spot where their fathers had worshipped, and it was consecrated by their graves which surrounded it. Washington and others took the ground that the spot was far less convenient for the parish than a more central one. The subject took a shape that required more reflection, and a second meeting was called. Meanwhile, Washington made a careful survey of the whole neighborhood, marking the place of every house, and the relative distances, on a distinct map. When the second meeting was held, Mason again appealed to the sympathies of the people, when Washington appealed to their coinmon sense, by simply presenting his map and explaining it in a few words. His almost mute argument prevailed, and the site of the present church was selected.
Preparations were now made for the erection of the new church, but it was not completed until the year 1773. Washington drew the ground-plan and elevation of the building for the use of the architect, and these (the originals) are before me while I write. They are very neatly sketched with China ink, upon good drawing paper, and occupy a space thirteen by fifteen inches square. The engraving is from a carefully
drawn copy on a small scale, but shows every line as seen in Washington's drawing.
Of the ministers who officiated at Pohick, there were none more beloved than the Reverend Lee Massey. He was the companion of Washington from his youth, and at his solicitation, and that of Mason, Fairfax, M'Carty, Chichester, and others of that parish, he was induced to relinquish the profession of the law, study divinity, and become their pastor. His speech becoming impaired by the loss of his front teeth, he left the pulpit, and studied medicine as a means of affording relief
to the poor.
Another clergyman, who officiated occasionally at Pohick church, after the regular stated services of the Church of Eng. land had ceased there, was the eccentric Mason L. Weems, the earliest biographer of Washington. The style of that biography was so attractive to the uncultivated readers of his day, that it passed through some forty editions, and even now it finds a sale. His character appears to have been a curious compound of seriousness and levity, truthfulness and exaggeration, reverence and profanity. He was an itinerant in every sense of the word. He was a man of considerable attainments as a scholar, physician, and divine; and his benevolence was unbounded. When a boy of fourteen years, he was found at night teaching half-clad, half-fed children, who gathered eagerly around him; and all through life he was ready to share a crust with the unfortunate. He used wit and humor freely on all occasions. " Whether in private or public, in prayers or preaching,” says Bishop Meade, “it was impossible that either the young or old, the grave or the gay, could keep their risible faculties from violent agitation.” He would pray with the negro servants at night, and fiddle for them by the road-side by day. For many years he was a travelling bookseller, preaching when invited, haranguing the people at courts, fairs, and other public gatherings, and selling the Bible out of one hand and Paine's Age of Reason out of the other, alleging as an excuse for the latter performance, that he always carried the antidote with the poison. His fund of
anecdote was inexhaustible; and after giving a promiscuouis audience the highest entertainment of fun, he found them in good mood to purchase his books. At Mount Vernon he was always a welcome guest, for Washington loved his goodness of heart and overlooked his foibles. Mr. Weens died at Beaufort, South Carolina, in May, 1825, at an advanced age.
After the Revolution, for reasons not clearly seen, Washington attended Christ Church, at Alexandria (of which he was a vestryman), instead of Pohick. Others of the latter parish followed, and after a while regular services ceased in that part of