But although incessant activity devoted to various kinds of work was a characteristic of Washington’s life at Mount Vernon, his attention to social duties and pleasures was hardly less important. He aimed to be a country gentleman of influence, and he knew that he could achieve this only by doing his share of the bountiful hospitality which was expected of such a personage. Virginia at that time possessed no large cities or towns with hotels. When the gentry travelled, they put up overnight at the houses of other gentry, and thus, in spite of very restricted means of transportation, the inhabitants of one part of the country exchanged ideas with those of another. In this way also the members of the upper class circulated among themselves and acquired a solidarity which otherwise would hardly have been possible. We are told that Mount Vernon was always full of guests; some of these being casual strangers travelling through, and others being invited friends and acquaintances on a visit. There were frequent balls and parties when neighbors from far and near joined in some entertainment at the great mansion. There were the hunt balls which Washington himself particularly enjoyed, hunting being his favorite sport. Fairfax County, where Mount Vernon lay, and its neighboring counties, Fauquier and Prince William, abounded in foxes, and the land was not too difficult for the hunters, who copied as far as possible the dress and customs of the foxhunters in England. Possibly there might be a meeting at Mount Vernon of the local politicians. At least once a year Washington and his wife—“Lady,” as the somewhat florid Virginians called her—went off to Williamsburg to attend the session of the House of Burgesses. Washington seldom missed going to the horse-races, one of the chief functions of the year, not only for jockeys and sporting men, but for the fashionable world of the aristocracy. Thanks to his carefulness and honesty in keeping his accounts, we have his own record of the amounts he spent at cards—never large amounts, nor indicative of the gamester’s passion.
Thus Washington passed the first ten years of his married life. A stranger meeting him at that time might have little suspected that here was the future founder of a nation, one who would prove himself the greatest of Americans, if not the greatest of men. But if you had spent a day with Washington, and watched him at work, or listened to his few but decisive words, or seen his benign but forcible smile, you would have said to yourself—“This man is equal to any fate that destiny may allot to him.”
THE FIRST GUN