Talk: George Washington

Event details

  • January 16, 2018
  • 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
  • Hughes Library, 25 Heritage Green Pl. Greenville, 29601
  • 864-244-1499

 View Map  Cost: Free

Talk: George Washington

Join an audience that loves talking back to history to discuss the courage of George Washington – with AV Huff.

Fearless in battle and also a canny political genius, Washington could have been King, but he chose to be a citizen. A gifted tactician and strategist, some of Washington’s most courageous acts occurred after the battles were over and the creation of a nation began. Let’s talk about it.

This event is NOT a costumed performance. Ron Carnegie, the George Washington at Colonial Williamsburg, will perform as George Washington in Winter Chautauqua (Feb 2,3,4)

AV Huff, PhD is a distinguished author, award-wining teacher, and public servant. A beloved OLLI Teacher, AV’s classes seldom have an empty seat.

He is Professor of History Emeritus and Retired Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean, Furman University. His PhD is from Duke University. Dr. Huff served on Chautauqua’s Board from its inception in 1999 and is director emeritus.

AV is passionate about southern history and is author of Greenville: The History of the City and County in the South Carolina Piedmont. Dr. Huff has led previous Chautauqua Talks on historic South Carolina figures ranging from the controversial John C. Calhoun to escaped slave and US military commander Robert Smalls.

The Unwavering Bravery of George Washington

by Ron Carnegie Jr

“The right wing, where I stood, was exposed to and received all the enemy’s fire … I heard the bullets whistle, and, believe me, there is something charming in the sound.”

–  George Washington, May 31, 1754


This letter to his brother John Augustine and was written just after Washington’s first military encounter. Only 22 years old at the time, these words mark a bravery that would be displayed over and over again in Washington’s several years of Public Service. Perhaps the most obvious aspects of this are his physical bravery, but he displays great moral and social bravery as well.

A year after Washington’s reputation had been destroyed by the disaster of Fort Necessity, he convinced British General Braddock to appoint him as an Aide to Camp. Ambushed along the Monongahela, the British found themselves in yet another disaster. In the confusion of the situation and with most of the Officers dead or wounded young George took up the responsibility of command. The Virginians put up a defense and allowed for a fighting retreat. When they were finally out of harm’s way, Washington would recount that he had three or four holes in his regimental coat, and that two horses had been shot out from under him.

There are several similar accounts from the American Revolution. Just his rank alone put him at great risk; Washington stated that “my life is irrevocably entwined in our cause.”

Much talk is made of what would have happened to the signers of the Declaration of Independence had the cause failed. There is no need to speculate with Washington. His fate would certainly be death. Only two letters between George and Martha survive. The first is the letter informing her of his commission as General and Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, it includes a will.

With all of the accounts of Washington’s bravery and lack of concern for his personal safety on the battlefield it is, in my opinion, just as important to remember his bravery demonstrated by leaving his comfortable retirement to take the position of President of the United States. Washington always held his reputation as one of his most valued possessions. He had lost it once, rebuilt it, and then with the victory against the British seen it shine ever brighter. He didn’t need to do anything more to assure his place in posterity, and taking upon himself the role of President could certainly see it tarnished if all failed.

Similarly, often his decisions as President were guided by difficult choices based upon his interpretation of the Constitution. Washington was well aware of the unprecedented nature of his role and that any misstep could prove fatal to the Union, or to the Constitution, or to our liberties. His decisions were with posterity in mind, rather than his personal opinions, friendships or desires.

George Washington, while sometimes reluctantly, took on all of these challenges as they were presented, and perhaps in his greatest display of bravery, he steeled himself for “whatever Providence might have in store.”

Timeline from George Washington Papers at George Washington University

  • 1732: George Washington is born in Westmoreland County, Virginia to Augustine Washington and his second wife Mary Ball
  • 1738: Washington family moves to Ferry Farm (a plantation on the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg); George Washington spends most of his youth here
  • 1743: Augustine Washington, George’s father, dies.  George Washington is only 11 years old. Although George Washington is the older child of his household, Augustine leaves most of his property to his sons from his first marriage.  Following the death of his father, George Washington’s formal education ended.  Washington inherited 10 slaves from his father’s estate.
  • 1749: George Washington is appointed county surveyor of the frontier county of Culpeper.  He was seventeen years old.
  • 1751-1752: George Washington travels to Barbados with his half-brother Lawrence in an attempt to cure the latter of a respiratory illness. George contracts smallpox while he is on the island. The trip is the only time George Washington travels outside of the North American continent.
  • 1753: Virginia Governor Robert Dinwiddie sends Major George Washington to the Ohio Valley to deliver a message to the French, demanding that they leave the area.  A few months later, Major Washington and 150 soldiers to the Ohio Valley to fight for Virginia’s claim of the land.  Washington’s men engaged in a combative confrontation with French soldiers.  Following this skirmish, Washington and his men retreated to the makeshift Fort Necessity, where Washington was forced to surrender.  This event deeply embarrassed Washington and he resigned his commission.  This failed campaign also sparked the French and Indian War.
  • 1755: Washington returns to the Ohio frontier as a volunteer aide for General Braddock.  During a battle between the French and the British near the Monongahela River, Washington exhibited great courage and leadership.  He was later recognized for his conduct in battle with a promotion and was given command of the entire military force of Virginia.
  • 1759: On January 6, 1759, George Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis.  A native of the Tidewater region of Virginia, Martha Custis was a young widow who had inherited an enormous amount of wealth after the passing of her first husband, Daniel Parke Custis, and was the mother of two young children, Jacky and Patsy.  Following their marriage, the newlywed couple, Jacky, and Patsy moved to Mount Vernon.
  • 1759-1775: George Washington was a Gentleman Farmer at Mount Vernon in the years between his marriage to Martha and the onset of the American Revolution.  Washington experimented with different farming techniques while also expanding his home at Mount Vernon.
  • 1775: The newly formed Congress appointed George Washington to be the commander of the Continental Army.  Washington would hold this position for the entirety of the American Revolution, totaling eight years.
  • 1783: Following the end of the American Revolution, Washington addressed Congress on December 23 in Annapolis and resigned his commission.  Through this action, Washington gave the power back to the people and was declared a hero around the world.
  • 1787: Although determined to retire from public life after the Revolutionary War, Washington enters the public sphere and is unanimously elected president of what is now known as the Constitutional Convention.
  • 1789: George Washington is unanimously elected as first President of the United States
  • 1793:  Washington begins his second term as President
  • 1797: Refusing a third term, Washington retired from the presidency and all public life.  By leaving office after two terms, Washington set a precedent that has been held to by most of the American presidents who followed him.  He returns to Mount Vernon and enjoys a peaceful retirement.
  • 1799: George Washington passed away on December 14 from a throat infection called epiglottitis in his bedroom at Mount Vernon. He was surrounded by close friends and his loving wife Martha.
  • The price of greatness is responsibility.
  • If you’re going through hell, keep going.
  • Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference.
  • I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.
  • A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.
  • We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.
  • I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.
  • It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried.
  • An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile, hoping it will eat him last.
  • The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.
  • Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.
  • There are a terrible lot of lies going around the world, and the worst of it is half of them are true.
  • A fanatic is one who can’t change his mind and won’t change the subject.
  • All great things are simple, and many can be expressed in single words: freedom, justice, honor, duty, mercy, hope.
  • Broadly speaking, the short words are the best, and the old words best of all.
  • Nothing in life is so exhilarating as to be shot at without result.
  • Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty by Stephen Waldeman (2008)
    While not specifically about Washington (it is actually about the First Amendment and Freedom of Faith) this book includes one of the best and unbiased discussions of Washington’s personal faith, the single most hotly debated topic of Washington scholarship today.
  • George Washington and the New Nation: 1783-1793 by James T Flexner (1970)
    This is basically volume three of one of the most important biographies of Washington. This book details Washington’s life from arriving home as the victorious retired General of the Revolution through to the end of his first term as president.
  • George Washington: Anguish and Farewell 1793-1799 by James T Flexner (1972)
    The fourth book of Flexner’s Washington opus. This book deals with Washington’s troublesome second term, his leaving the office of presidency and entrance into retirement and eventual death. Not the happiest of the series, but it does include the period of my presentation and Washington’s stepping away from power for the second time.
  • George Washington in the American Revolution (1775-1783) by James T Flexner (1968)
    The second book in Flexner’s quartet, detailing the war years.
  • George Washington: The Forge of Experience, 1732-1775 by James T Flexner (1965)
    The first of the Flexner books and probably the hardest to get through as well. Very little is known of Washington’s childhood and both Flexner and Freeman fill this absence with a long genealogy of Washington’s forefathers. A subject Washington himself didn’t care much about. This book does cover Washington’s formative years as a surveyor, Colonel in the French Indian War and his introduction to politics as a member of Virginia’s House of Burgesses.
  • Washington: The Indispensable Man by James T. Flexner (2012)
    Flexner’s four volume series on Washington is considered by many to be the most comprehensive biography available. Indispensible Man does condense this into one volume without losing much of importance. One of the two most readable books on this list.
  • Maxims of George Washington: Political, Military, Social, Moral, and Religious edited by John Frederick Schroeder (1989)
    This is not a biography, but rather a collection of Washington quotes gathered by various topics. It is also well annotated so the full documents from which the quotes were taken may be found.
  • 1776 by David McCullough (2006)
    Not Really a biography of Washington, but great character studies of many of the men instrumental to the American Revolution, and a great introduction to the war.
  • Washington by Douglas Southall Freeman (1948-54)
    Freeman is in my opinion the single best biographer of Washington, though his work can be a little dry and very occasionally there is newer scholarship. I prefer the original seven volume work, but there is a more convenient abridged version which is still over 700 pages long. The condensed copy is not only a bit more manageable, it has the advantage of being a little more readily available, the original being long out of print.
  • Washington: A Life by Ron Chernow (2010)
    Certainly the best of more modern books on Washington, and it reads like a novel.