The firstborn of George Washington’s youngest brother, Charles and his wife, Mildred Thornton Washington, George Augustine Washington was a favored nephew of George Washington. The record of George Augustine Washington’s youth in Fredericksburg, Virginia stands largely blank. His formative years saw his family’s loyalty to the mother country transform from frustration to open rebellion.1 It was of no surprise, then, when George Augustine Washington cast his lot against Great Britain and joined the ranks of the Continental Army.2 He initially was offered a junior officer’s commission in William Grayson’s Additional Continental Regiment in 1777, but declined in favor of an equal position in the more prestigious corps of light horse. The following year, he was commissioned a cornet in the partisan legion forming under the command of Major Henry Lee.3 George Augustine Washington resigned his commission at the end of 1778, likely due to illness, but reemerged as a volunteer aide-de-camp at General George Washington’s headquarters the following summer. After several months of diligence, George Augustine Washington was commissioned an Ensign in the 2nd Virginia Regiment on February 16, 1780 and was detached for duty with the Commander-in-Chief’s Guard.4

Some months later, when the Marquis de Lafayette was appointed to the command of a light infantry division to operate in the southern theater of the war, he invited George Augustine Washington to serve as an aide-de-camp on his staff. Young Washington fought with Lafayette’s corps in Virginia during the summer of 1781.  Although illness prevented his being present at the Battle of Green Spring, George Augustine Washington played a distinguished part in the siege of the British Army under Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown.5

When the Marquis de Lafayette returned to France in December of 1781, George Augustine Washington resumed duty with the Commander-in-Chief’s military family.6 Again, ill health forced him to relinquish his marital duties in the spring of 1782. For the next three years, he traveled the length of the eastern seaboard of the United States, as well as to Barbados and Bermuda, in search of relief.7 General George Washington arranged for the support and financial assistance in the different locales of his nephew’s recuperation.8 The young man returned to Virginia “in better health than when he set out, but not quite recovered” in May of 1785. No sooner had he returned than he proposed marriage to Frances “Fanny” Bassett. George and Martha Washington delighted in the match and invited the young couple to reside with them once they were married.9 The wedding took place at Mount Vernon “after the Candles were lighted” on October 15, 1785.10 A year later, George and Martha Washington gifted the newlyweds over two thousand acres of land on which to build their life together.11

As it happened, Lund Washington indicated his intention of resigning his management of the Mount Vernon plantation in the autumn of 1785. George Washington naturally concluded to offer the position to George Augustine Washington, who agreed to begin after spending the winter months with his new in-laws in New Kent County, Virginia. Upon his return to Northern Virginia in the spring of 1786, “Major” Washington – an honorific title that George Washington often used to refer to George Augustine – began learning the day-to-day management of the plantation under his uncle’s instruction. During George Washington’s attendance of the Constitutional Convention of 1787 in Philadelphia, George Augustine ably supervised the operations on his own. A key, perhaps, to his success was in closely following the detailed instructions that George Washington regularly sent him, similar to his shift as a military aide. George Augustine replied in turn with reports of the work that had been completed or the reason why a project was unable to be finalized. One senator would later observe shrewdly that “the etiquette and arrangement of an army is preserved” at Mount Vernon.12

When George Washington was elected as the President of the United States of America in 1789, he further entrusted George Augustine Washington “with the general management of all my concerns,” which again he handled proficiently. A guest visiting Mount Vernon during this time described him as a “handsome, genteel, attentive man.”13 Nonetheless, the sickness that had afflicted George Augustine Washington while he was a soldier returned.  By 1790, he was compelled to take periodic trips in search of relief for what is now believed to have been tuberculosis. His health continued to steadily deteriorate, prompting President Washington to comment that his nephew was “a shadow of what he was” during a visit to Mount Vernon in September of 1792.14 After months of suffering, George Augustine Washington died on February 5, 1793, at Eltham, the estate of his late father-in-law in New Kent County, Virginia. His passing undoubtedly effected his uncle George, who acknowledged, “Altho’ it had been long expected… I have felt it very keenly.”15 Upon his return to Mount Vernon in the spring of 1793, the President requested his old friend the Reverend Bryan Fairfax to perform “funeral obsequies” on April 11, 1793.16

In perhaps his most earnest act of remembrance for this nephew, George Washington left legacies to the three surviving children of George Augustine and Fanny Washington – Anna Maria, George Fayette, and Charles Augustine Washington – in his will: “as on account of the affection I had for, and the obligation I was under to, their father when living, who from his youth had attached himself to my person, and followed my fortunes through the viscissitudes of the late Revolution - afterwards devoting his time to the Superintendence of my private concerns for many years… thereby affording me essential Services, and always performing them in a manner the most felial and respectful.”17

 

Samuel K. Fore
Harlan Crow Library

 

Notes:

1 Robert L. Scribner, ed., Revolutionary Virginia: The Road to Independence. Vol. I: Forming Thunderclouds and the First Convention, 1763-1774 (Charlottesville: Virginia Independence Commission, 1973), 24 & 137.  

2 Enclosure: Washington Genealogy, 2 May 1792, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-10-02-0211-0002; Francis T. Brooke, “Narrative of My Life for My Family,” 1849. Robert Alonzo Brock Collection, The Huntington Library, San Marino, California.

3 George Washington, Grayson’s Additional Continental Regiment & George Washington, Grayson’s Lee’s Legion, Compiled Service Records of Soldiers Who Served in the American Army During the Revolutionary War, 1775-1783 (M881), National Archives of the United States.

4 George Washington to Colonel Michael Jackson, 11 August 1779, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-22-02-0087 is the first known draft by George Augustine Washington; General Orders, 27 April 1780, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/03-25-02-0348.

5 Marquis de Lafayette to Nathanael Greene, August 25, 1781 in Stanley J. Idzerda, et al, eds. Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776-1790. Vol. IV, 1 April-23 December 1781 (Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 1981), 352-353; M. J. P. … Du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, Memoirs, Correspondence and Manuscripts of General Lafayette, (New York, Saunders & Otley, 1837), 272-273.

6 Lafayette to William Heath, August 2, 1780 in Idzerda, Stanley J., et al, eds. Lafayette in the Age of the American Revolution: Selected Letters and Papers, 1776-1790. Vol. III, 27 April 1780-29 March 1781 (Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 1980), 123-124; Lafayette to Thomas Nelson, August 12, 1781 in Idzerda, Stanley J., et al, eds. Ibid., Vol. IV, 1 April-23 December 1781 (Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press, 1981), 314-315.

7 George Augustine Washington to Bushrod Washington, June 24, 1782, Bushrod Washington Family Papers, Smith Library, Mount Vernon; George Washington to William Channing, 7 June 1783, Founders Online, National Archives, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/99-01-02-11394; George Washington to Charles Washington, 28 February 1784, Founders Online, National Archives, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-01-02-0122; George Washington to David Parry, 25 April 1784, Founders Online, National Archives, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-01-02-0224; George Augustine Washington to George Washington, 14 August 1784, Founders Online, National Archives, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-02-02-0039.

8 George Washington to Charles Washington, 28 February 1784, Founders Online, National Archives, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-01-02-0122.

9 George Washington to Burwell Bassett, 23 May 1785, Founders Online, National Archives, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-03-02-0009;  George Washington to Lafayette, 25 July 1785, Founders Online, National Archives, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-03-02-0143.

10 [Diary entry: 15 October 1785], Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/01-04-02-0002-0010-0015.

11 George Washington to George Augustine Washington, 25 October 1786, Founders Online, National Archives, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/04-04-02-0279.

12 Kenneth R. Bowling & Helen E. Veit, eds., Documentary History of the First Federal Congress of the United States of America. Vol. IX: The Diary of William Maclay and Other Notes on Senate Debates (Baltimore & London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), 258.  

13 William Blount to John Gray Blount, September 20, [17]90 in Alice Barnwell Keith, Alice Barnwell, ed. The John Gray Blount Papers. Vol. II, 1790-1795. (Raleigh: State Department of Archives & History, 1959), 118; George Washington to Lafayette, 10 June 1792, Founders Online, National Archives, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-10-02-0295

14 George Washington to Tobias Lear, 21 September 1792, Founders Online, National Archives, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-11-02-0069.

15 George Washington to David Humphreys, 23 March 1793, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-12-02-0287.

16 George Washington to Bryan Fairfax, 9 April 1793, Founders Online, National Archives, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-12-02-0347.

17 George Washington’s Last Will and Testament, 9 July 1799, Founders Online, National Archives, https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/06-04-02-0404-0001.

Further Reading:

Abbot, W. W., et al, eds. The Papers of George Washington: Confederation Series, Jan. 1784 – Sept. 1788. 6 vols. Charlottesville & London: University Press of Virginia, 1992-1997.

Fusonie, Alan and Donna Jean. George Washington, Pioneer Farmer. Mount Vernon: Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, 1998.

Thompson, Mary V. “The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret”: George Washington, Slavery, and the Enslaved Community at Mount Vernon. Charlottesville & London: University Press of Virginia, 2019.

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