Lawrence Washington, by unknown artist, c. 1743. Purchase, 1936 [W-126]Lawrence Washington was the elder half-brother of George Washington, being the oldest living child of Augustine Washington and his first wife Jane Butler. George Washington idolized his elder brother from a young age. After losing his father prematurely at age eleven, young George looked to Washington as a paternal influence, as well as a brother. Washington was given experiences that helped him move into the upper echelon of the Virginia gentry of the time, introducing George to that fascinating world, a world he could only hope to be a part of with the help of his brother. It was through his brother's steadily growing influence and powerful connections that George Washington was able to start getting a foothold in a world that otherwise would have been completely unattainable to him. It was also through Washington that George was able to inherit Mount Vernon, the home he loved dearly. 

It was in 1738 that a four year-old George Washington first met his older brother. Washington had been abroad in England, enrolled in the Appleby Grammar School, getting a proper education as their father had before him. Born in 1718, in Westmoreland County, Virginia, Washington returned ambitious to make his mark in the colony his family had lived in for four generations. It was not long before the young man started his ambitious path towards the top. On June 9, 1740 Washington was given a commission as a Captain in one of four Virginia Foot Regiments being raised to fight in the War of Jenkins’ Ear, a war in the West Indies between Britain and Spain. The commission came from the court of King George II of England.1

While serving as a Captain in the Virginia Foot Regiments, Captain Washington met and greatly admired Admiral Edward Vernon. Admiral Vernon was co-commanding the campaign with General Wentworth, a man who held a low opinion of Colonial Troops. Captain Washington became a Marine under Admiral Vernon's command on board the Admiral's ship.2 It was during the two years Captain Washington was away fighting in the West Indies that he contracted tuberculosis, the disease that would eventually take his life only a decade later. 

Upon returning to Virginia in the fall of 1742, Captain Washington began to take control of the estate that would become his, then known as Little Hunting Creek, in Fairfax, Virginia. The Virginia Regiments were disbanded, yet Captain Washington still had a taste for the military life. He won the post of Adjutant General for the militia of Northern Virginia, along with a promotion to Major. He also won the hand of Anne Fairfax of Belvoir, an estate nearby his own in Fairfax, Virginia, achieving a very advantageous marriage for himself. Her father was the Honorable Colonel William Fairfax, the cousin and land agent for Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron. Their marriage took place the summer after Major Washington's father died. The death of his father, Augustine Washington, led to Major Washington inheriting the Little Hunting Creek property. 

Major Washington, now firmly in a new world of affluence due to his marriage, renamed his property Mount Vernon in honor of Admiral Vernon. Major Washington succeeded as well in becoming a member of the House of Burgesses in Virginia, representing Fairfax County. This brought even more affluence and respect to the Washington name. Major Washington also began to take a more invested interest in his younger brother George. George was a frequent visitor at Mount Vernon, and became well acquainted with the Fairfax family at Belvoir. It would be due to these connections that the young man would be able to have a phenomenal rise in social status and wealth at the young age of 15. Virginia at the time was a place where the success of a man and his family depended on the connections forged in the genteel parlors of richer men, who would help obtain opportunities that otherwise would never be given. Rising in society was all about attaining high esteem in the eyes of the right, and rich, people. Being the third son, and having inherited a small property that would never yield George enough products to let him ascend the social ladder, Major Washington's connection with the Fairfax family would be the only lifeline given to the fatherless boy. 

When young George was 15, Major Washington and Colonel Fairfax endeavored to have him join the British Navy. Due to George's mother, Mary Ball Washington's, patent disapproval of this career for her eldest son, George became a land surveyor. It was the Fairfax family and Major Washington that gave him the surveying opportunities he needed to be a success. Within a year George went from not being able to muster up enough corn to feed his horse3 to becoming a young man with ever increasing wealth. 

At the same time Major Washington's health was deteriorating. He went to England for medical advice. Then journeyed to Barbados with his brother George seeking treatments. It was here that George contracted smallpox, which immunized him against the epidemic that would spread throughout the military camps of the Revolutionary War. When George returned to Virginia in early 1752, Major Washington continued on to Bermuda with dwindling hope about his condition. It was there that he finally accepted his fate. Major Washington returned to Virginia in June of 1752, and died shortly thereafter in July from tuberculosis.

In his will Major Washington left Mount Vernon to his daughter Sarah, his only living child. He made provisions for the property should Sarah die without offspring. Sarah died not two years later, which then, in accordance with the will left Mount Vernon to his wife. Anne Fairfax Washington, had remarried by that time to George Lee, and no longer lived at Mount Vernon. George Lee and Anne Washington Lee decided to lease the property to George. It was when Anne Washington Lee died in 1761, George ceased leasing Mount Vernon as, in accordance with his late brother's will, Mount Vernon was officially his own property.4

 

Kiera E. Nolan, MSLIS

Reference Librarian, National Society Daughters of the American Revolution

 

Notes:

1. Court of King George III, of the United Kingdom. Commission of Lawrence Washington as Captain in the provincial forces under Admiral Vernon in the Cartegena Campaign, 1740 June 9. (Mount Vernon, Virginia: Mount Vernon Ladies Association, 1740).

2. Lawrence Washington. Letter : Jamaica, to [Augustine Washington], Virginia, 1741 May 30. (Mount Vernon, Virginia: Mount Vernon Ladies Association, 1741).

3. George Washington. Letter : to Major Lawrence Washington at Williamsburg, 1749 May 5. (Mount Vernon, Virginia: Mount Vernon Ladies Association, 1749)

4. Lawrence Washington. Will of Lawrence Washington, 1752 June 20. (Mount Vernon, Virginia: Mount Vernon Ladies Association, 1752).

Bibliography:

Chernow, Ron. Washington: A Life. New York, New York: Penguin Press, 2010.

Levy, Philip. Where the Cherry Tree Grew: The Story of Ferry Farm, George Washington's Boyhood Home. New York, New York: St. Martin's Press, 2013.

Robert Dalzell, Jr., and Lee Baldwin Dalzell. George Washington's Mount Vernon: At Home In Revolutionary America. New York, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Washington, George. Letter : to Major Lawrence Washington at Williamsburg, 1749 May 5. Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, 1749.

Washington, Lawrence. Commission of Lawrence Washington as Captain in provincial forces serving under Admiral Vernon in the Cartagena Campaign, 1740 June 9. Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, 1740.

—. Letter : Jamaica, to [Augustine Washington], Virginia, 1741 May 30. The Mont Vernon Ladies Association, 1741.

—. Will of Lawrence Washington, 1752 June 20. Mount Vernon Ladies Association, 1752.

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