tv George Washington and Sportsmanship CSPAN October 2, 2017 12:00am-1:01am EDT
/history. fifth-gradea grandnephew of george washington talks about his book, writing with george, sportsmanship and chivalry in the making of america's first president. he describes the first presidents prowess in sport. >> we are lucky to have a wonderful author and a journalist and historian and friend of mount vernon speaking to us. he is a writer who has spent the
last 20 years in afghanistan and iraq and other nations. he is a washington ancestor. a descendent. you are not that old. he is the fifth great grandnephew of george washington through his brother. he began his writing at uc berkeley covering the rugby team. then conflict reporting on parma and cambodia. he has interviewed many important leaders. also to publications for you know, the atlantic monthly and the new york times. he is the author of two other books. my brother my enemy. al qaeda's greatest escape. he has received three pulitzer prize nominations for his articles. most importantly among all of this he has been one of the research fellows at the mount
vernon research fellows. he is somebody who puts us off to go cover a war. that is unusual but we are very accommodating. we welcome him in suggesting -- presenting his newest book read writing with -- riding with george. let's give a warm welcome to him. [applause] phillip: thank you very much. it is obvious a incredible honor to speak here at the home of george washington. which arguably is the best home in america. i would like to thank not only
stephen mcleod who runs the program and the chief curator. mary thompson who is a chief historian here and was instrumental in helping me write several chapters. i don't believe she is here this evening. dawn bonners and to greater pastors. i would like to start by mentioning that this book is about his early life. it is about the formation of his character. when i speak about sportsmanship i speak about it in the old sense of the word. i think shakespeare put it best to say i see our wars will go on
to sport. sport is a term that will encompass entertainment. any soldier worth his weight would definitely prepare to be dancing on a floor with a lady than dancing in a war. i start to see if there are any young men or women and the audience. one came up to me recently. max is the sole representative of that younger generation. sometimes i don't get any. george washington's story if you will is a story of sportsmanship, chivalry and if i can add one line to the subtitled serendipity. i would just like to provide a
little background on what was happening in england before the washington family arrived of events date. king james wrote what is known as the book of sport. this was a royal pronouncement, it was a royal pronouncement that was seen as a rebuke to the puritans. i will quote from it. he said be not disturbed. we discourage from any lawful recreation like dancing from men or women, archery, leaping, bolting or any recreation. charles the first two was his son went on to republish that book of sport. he was attacked roundly by the round heads. they went after him because
sport was associated in many ways with alcohol and wild living. the county fairs often got out of hand. the puritans did not like that. i won't say that this was one of the causes of the english civil war, it definitely had a claim to it. there were some people who like to have fun. there were others who did not. this leaves me in a way with washington. his first son was lawrence washington. the reverend lawrence washington who was accused of stealing wine from the communion altar and then serving it while drunk. [laughter] this was obviously a politically
charged accusation. they went after him pretty hard and he had to move from one parish to another. his reputation was solely. his son john decided to become a captain. he bought a ship called it the seahorse and it embarked from a little town in denmark called elsinore if anyone knows where that is. i do like ask this audience. he arrived in virginia and he purchased some tobacco and when he was off of the potomac river that we are next to hear his ship runs ashore. it runs ashore and loses the cargo. he gets away safely. he comes a short and long story short in the course of two years he falls in love with virginia. he also falls in love with another young lady. her mother is a wealthy business
man. he needs to get out of this ship wreck and get on with his life. he asks his future father-in-law to help them. nathaniel hope provides him with 60 beaver skins. john should be recognized for that. he also was was enough to buy a property here at mount vernon. he is the great-grandfather of george washington. eventually we will see why that is so important because the family moved here for you young george moved around when he was young. at the age of five or six he was near fredericksburg virginia. his family settled down at his father was a businessman. a hard-working man. he was a bustling seaport.
they were taking into what shipsing in two or three every other day. the inhabitants were one thing. everyone knows a port comes with sailors. there was gambling, there were fighting on the street. george lives and across the river from all of this. he does beckett to partake of it all the time because he has a mother who is brothers turn and austere. who is very devoted to the lord. what think she insists upon is the idea of gentility. she instills -- the washington family even after four generations was that one of the first families in virginia. she insists that the washington can live and be socially received by the first families of virginia if they behave with good manners.
we see from the records that she tried to live what we would call agent deal lifestyle. despite the fact that she has a second wife. over the course of the next several years george learns how to ride a horse. we do not have the videotape. we do know that george washington would eventually become the greatest equestrian of his day. i would argue that the fact that his mother inherited riding horses by the age of 16 probably some think that's probably had something to do with it. george washington has the
fortuitous opportunity through his half-brother returning from a battle to meet with the fairfax family. lawrence washington who is suffering from consumption acquired and the caribbean fairfax. ann this is one of the wealthiest families in virginia. why are they the wealthiest? lord fairfax who would arrive shortly has 5 million acres in what we call the northern neck. that is that what we think of today on the parcel of land that goes out to westmoreland county. it is the entire shenandoah valley. what we think of it as the wild wild west in the 1700s.
the manor is also the seat of power for the only british pair in virginia. i am running behind with my slides. he arrives in virginia in 1747 with his hunting dogs. he is ready to hunt and he goes off everywhere he can. he is obsessed with hunting, he is in his early 50's and a bachelor. he did not have much luck with the ladies. william fairfax take george under their wing. they will show him what it is
like to hunt a fox. hunting foxes in this era was usually a much wilder affair than it is today. the fox hunting would go on for hours and hours. george throughout his life would document the hunts. sometimes he would let the fox go sometimes he would take it. he would go riding and he polished his equestrian skills. he was also engaged in some serious male bonding. with the fairfax family he was able to show off and display his equestrian skills and also further his mind. william fairfax introduced him to alexander the great and the writings of caesar. there was another person in the family who would become very important for george. particularly when it relates to his manners.
unfortunately she was the wife of another man. this is the daughter -- wife of george william fairfax. she is two years older than george. when he is about 15 he meets sally fairfax. the foundations of that house are still there. if you can get past security you can go spend some time there ruminating among the ruins. sally fairfax taught george what i would call is the art of flirtation. she did not give him what he wanted. she was fluent in french. sally fairfax introduced him to theater as well. they practiced lines. this was very popular parlor talk in the 18th century.
sally fairfax was a student with this. he would acquire a love for this. he went with his brother to barbados to the theater this would come up later in life when he gets to williamsburg. if i can explain some of the fun i had writing this book. there was a fox hunt and i was trying -- do anyone know a writer named george plimpton? i grew up in the 80's in the shadow of these writers who wanted to grow and show the readers the sports they were seeing. i tried to participate in the foxhunting. that is not me on the horse. that is had of the foxhunting association of america. he is leaving over a stone wall.
you do not want to miss because you will kill yourself. it is a exciting sport rate it still goes on to this day in the same form -- in much the same form. he wore a similar outfit later in life to the one that he is wearing in this picture. george washington becomes a incredibly good fox hunter. what does that add to his future? it adds not only the fact that patron but he is also a great equestrian. he is in love with the idea of war. the reason i started this is because i wanted to understand the confluence of war.
with my own background i have been a sports reporter and a war reporter. i wanted to understand the interaction of war. george washington was incredibly attracted to the idea of work as a young man. so much so that in his first battle where the indians were slaughtering the french he wrote home to his brother and he said the sound of the bullets was charming. when king george heard when of this he said he had enough bullets going past is here. george washington was not only in love with the idea of being a soldier but he also was
tempestuous leak engagements trying to please the governor but also understanding that he have the fairfax backing him. the governor of virginia was reward him when he started a war. they were awarded him even when he lost the battle at necessity at this recent williamsburg. if i can say that his motto for the french and indian war was i would rather be lucky than good. george washington gets to the battle and there have been other books written about this particular battle. i will say serendipity comes into life because he should have been killed. he was writing around -- riding around and he gets on his third horse. he has lost two horses. he has three bullets in his
jacket and one in his hat. he is the only officer who is not wounded. most of the other officers are dead. he leads a retreat which is memorable because he is suffering from dysentery. he has four pillows on his saddle. he writes home and he says it was harder to stop the regulars from running away than it was to stop a bear. he is very impressed with the virginian forces. that is planting the seed of possibly defeating the british who he was a little angry at because they had not given him a commission in the army.
george washington gets to the continental congress and he is wearing his uniform you see. he walks into the continental congress still with some envision and we of george washington as the most humble of the founding fathers. the fact that he was six foot two inches towering over everyone. he was the only one wearing a uniform certainly helped him be selected. john adams did not help by exaggerating that he came with magnanimity. he walks in and he becomes the general leading the continental army. we get to the battle of princeton and george washington at this point, everyone knows what happened to trenton. at the moment for me in my
research sports and the war really come together and we see the complete george. it is not at trenton which was a very daring operation. he knew he would win or lose. he crossed the delaware three or four days later and gets trapped by his nemesis. he gets trapped in trenton proper. he is waiting for a attack. the british say they haven't cornered and they say we haven't cornered we will take him in the morning. george washington says they will not cigarette to see it happens. he covers wagon wheels in cloth and goes down the back road towards princeton. it was easier for the wagon to move because the road was frozen over.
his best friend, a doctor one of his very good friends who had fought with them in the french and indian war. who also care for his ailing mother. mercer is in the front row going to princeton. he meets with a kernel who is a classic british officer. he is running with two dogs at the feet of his horse. he has this janus a claw and he is ready to take on the continental army. by the very force of personality and numbers the continental army
is on their backflip and they are retreating. this is maybe the moment that is so crucial because george washington was the commander and he was expected as those commanders to remain on a hill looking down at the battle. washington takes matters into his own hand and he rides in on his great horse and enter stage right. he says to the retreating philadelphia associated parade with me my fellows. there are only a handful of the enemy and we will have them shortly. the troops lineup, the continental army on one side the british on the other. washington is right in the middle. he raised the horse up almost saying shoot me. it is crazy for a commander to
do that. his aid tells his grandson a couple of decades later that he thought he would die. there is george washington raced in smoke. there are the dogs running and the other direction. george washington held his men and said it is a fine fox chase. they went off after him. his whole troops have to restrain him this is a important moment because it brings together the notion of how he perceived war. what if best friends had just been murdered on the cold ice at princeton. the game has continued. he is courageous.
he does not care if they shoot him or not. he goes after. i think it also shows because he would write a letter of recommendation. he had no enemies. he considered war to be something of a game and sport. i will get to how that changed later in life and his own mind. it also brings into play the notion of how he perceived the fight. he had a certain a plump. i think that describes imperfectly and he became the character of the army. he became what everyone in who was a soldier wanted to do. it also extended a fig leaf constantly. he treated them well. he decided the british were essentially murdering during the war and he wanted to treat them
well. he wanted to treat them with fair play. i think it was part of his code of honor. he wanted to reach out and he was able to get the germans from trenton to settle down and become proper americans. that was a feat unto itself. he did not give up on this notion of gentility, the notion that his mother had implanted in his mind. even during the revolution he had these matters. i was talking earlier. i was going to these volumes. can you imagine a commander in chief thinking about the future of this country and he is sending a way to europe. they did arrive and they are in the possession.
he wanted to form a nation that would be republican. he had been hobnobbing with the first family of virginia. george washington recognized that the needed to be a certain amount of protocol. he wanted to balance the aristocrats. the way he did this is by encouraging a dialogue. he was able to have a parlor reception where he would write to women. he was really obsessed and this
was of course when the war was going on. there are rumbles of war between france and england. war has broken out and all of the aristocrats have been killed. that is a great concern for those of virginia. they want to know how far can we remain aristocrats. thomas jefferson who plays the foil and is a constant critic of him during his first two terms is constantly accusing him of wanting to become the king. a kid so repetitive at some point that at one point he is becoming a -- they are sitting on the couch and the dancers are coming up and they are bowing to george
and martha. jefferson is outraged. he can't believe these are minor cult behaviors. not only does jefferson attack george and himself. he hires a man who i spoke earlier with. he is now employed by the state department. he was a employee. he was working on a scathing article and attacking washington. when he wrote a little ditty about the newspaper. he said george washington would be dragged to the streets and sent to the guillotine. jefferson is there in the
meeting and he is scribbling notes. he goes into a rage and how can you say this about me. i wanted to be a farmer. this is outrageous. he also recognizes that the republic will need to be built in a similar ways that he has. there is going to be chance involved. he wanted people of merit with his own personal story. i argued that he studied his entire life did his own personal story suggests a rise through good matters. if anybody knows the harvard professor howard gardner people learn in different ways. there is historians in the room
today. people who engage with these activities -- george washington was engaging with activities of learning. his personal story is not necessarily about dragon himself from his bootstraps. he did have a opportunity. he earned it. george washington wanted to stress that he wanted a meritocracy. he wrote his own nephew the son
of jack. if it could help you get a attorney in virginia and even if you are qualified i could not help you because you are my relative. he kind of drew the line there. he did this before he took office. he wanted to promote people that have the opportunity to rise on their own. so this essentially is his story becoming our story. the creation of a republic happens and it is the story of good matters. i would just like to add also because it was my great great
grandfather that washington was a flawed character. he left some things on -- unsolved he could have actually released his slaves. his slaves only represented 3% or 4% of his entire well. -- wealth. he died as the wealthiest man. he struggled in his mind constantly during the revolution about putting their lives on the line what he was going to do about the issue of slavery. he was traveling with his personal valet. it was obviously awkward for him to have been fighting for freedom that have his personal slave there. he would go back and forth and letter writing.
you can see this going back and forth in lafayette. he said we should buy a plantation in south america and we can free the slaves and see what happens. i am paraphrasing but he wanted to experiment with the idea of freeing the slaves. when you go by mount vernon we can discuss it. he wrote him a couple of letters in this regard. he never resolve this. you may say what happens in the end is a great tragedy. the owner of mount vernon who is also a hunter is also a slave owner. he becomes the aid to robert e lee. he wanted this is a premature. in the first battle he is shut them off of his horse.
they came out of the bushes and they shot him. it was a big story in the new york times. his family grew up as orphans. washington lost everything but it has been preserved now. there was something unresolved and that legacy. they had written that slavery makes every man a tyrant. george new that in his subconscious. rather than and on a very pessimistic note. i would like to note that mount vernon has acquired some new letters. there is one letter that reminds me just about how much he learned to the course of his life. this letter he wrote before or
before chester died in 1788. it reminds me of exactly how george was when he was a young man through the french and indian war. he says you are a young military man who read the harvest of law. how many seeds are sown? he then goes on to write about chivalry and he says knight errant three and matt harold was on -- mad heroism may be at the end. they say towards a be turned into plowshares. they said that the nation no more no more. i think george washington stared as clear of war because he had participated in the barbarism of war.
he learned and it is a great story of heroism. it is also a great cautionary tale. he had the opportunity to as was -- as winston churchill said it allows you to see all the elements of human emotion and caf au lait it in one day. he had come out of it alive. day.capsulated in a without any apparent ptsd. that is where i am going to wrap it up. i think we do move then -- my slides have not gone through. i would just like the less like if anyone would like to become a fox hunter. come on. the battery is dying.
[laughter] is moving but slowly. so, this horse if you will is a new code a horse -- new code up horse and she let me write it for the day. it was a wild horse in north dakota. it was actually came to the age of five. she was pretty worried because i was going to get killed. it did not do that. part of the story and the fun is to learn about the world. winston churchill always said the best seat to observe the world is always from the saddle of a horse. you can do that too. i will take some questions now if anyone is in the audience. i think emily has a microphone. >> so, excellent talk. i was just curious because earlier you talk about the charms of war and how he was in love with the adventure side of war. there has been a lot of great military and sometimes political leaders like ulysses s. grant who found war to be a antidote to depression. this temperament that was prone
was inactive otherwise? phillip: this question has come up before. i think george washington during war suffer from bouts of depression. we see that in his letters. this is a long war. he often thinks that it is a lost cause. even when he takes the command of two boston he looks around and he sees a lot of ruffian frontiersman. he has to be reminded by command that these are the best marksman in the world. over the course of the lord his temperament and his attitude improves and he is less depressed. is he participating in war , maybe to relieve some psychological desire.
i did not mention that he was depressed in the british empire. he was the perfect and soldier. the british empire encouraged him to do everything that he did. he did it in a exceptional way. he became the greatest equestrian. he led battles. he jumped into the line of fire. the british empire encouraged glory during war. if you got it war that was great. you are remarkable. it was a very strong motivation for him. i think for many participants in the revolution. i think that this letter is pretty clear that those of not taking into account of war and those days of night air entry if
you will are something that necessarily great. he is able to temper his attitude towards war. by the way, if you people from the california berkeley. as well as from my high school. then sell washington was not really our football coach. can i get another question? >> i have a question regarding the beginning of the talk you mentioned john washington. you did not mention his partner nicholas spencer who was a member of the junior government. phillip: washington, george promised mount vernon to jack during the french and indian
war. john died before the war ended. so he be that she comes to live there once george dies. he had no children. it goes to the rest of the siblings of jack. >> nicholas spencer was a partner with john -- phillip: that allowed him to acquired the land that we are standing on today. absolutely. the fact that he acquired it is fairly amazing because they were not based here most of the time. it was westmoreland county as we know it.
as all of the washington's they were out there. greg you didn't talk about washington's other sports. he was a very good runner, swimmer he was a all-around athlete. phillip: i was trying to avoid that because usually i get asked if i am a dancer. i tried out the governors mansion -- i will get into a couple of those in a moment. it has was particularly important for george. he could do the french minuet like no other. he would do it during his presidency. i learned french menu it.
it is a dance that cannot only be put to music but it is also a spontaneous dance that one can show off their feathers. george washington was constantly judged as everyone was as you would dance. if you made a misstep they would laugh. i had that happen and i lost confidence entirely. [laughter] george washington did not have that problem. he was also 6'2" inches and that was astounding. it was a bigger misstep than anyone else. the other sports -- i included some slides that had some of the major artifacts that prove he was a great lover of all sports. we have this hunting horn that
he used during his fox hunts. it was acquired in england. we have his silver writing spurs. we all considered mount vernon our home. he also had a bait and tackle kit. i thought that was interesting because i thought he was a fly fisherman. he actually took hamilton and jefferson up to sandy point and try to calm them down. he enjoyed fishing with his brothers. part of the legends that i dealt with early because that much as been written about his exceptional athletic prowess. the legacy that i dealt with
suggested things that were not true. throwing a silver dollar across the potomac river does not exist. he did have a amazing arm. people noted this. he was just adept at everything he did. they found two bowling balls. two bowling balls were found in a shed after he died. they know they used them. in the book i have a few interludes where i talk about williamsburg and we talk about that little town in america. it is a lighthearted chapter where i spent my time bowling with a actor who studied the character. we go long bowling and it is a fascinating sport. he did all of these things well. he enjoyed them. there was archery, one of the things i learned is what this
chapter on sword fighting. the daily beast exerted -- excerpted it. we had a talk year -- here that went into his acquisition of dozens of swords and his fascination with swordsmanship. he took lessons in virginia. i wanted to reprise some of that as well. he never raised his voice and anger during a battle. he would be quick the swords and said it should never be raised in anger against a rival. unless it is in defense of your country.
then you should be prepared to die with it in your hand. he could swordsmanship very seriously. he also had to discourage dueling during the revolution. men who would get upset at each other would often challenge each other's. to temper people and keep them from cutting each other up on his officer corps. this fascination with all of these activities. he continued to ride. he would ride a horse when he went into town. if he wanted to display his equestrian skills. he also wanted to be on his horse that said who he was. in the back there. but for the microphone.
>> you mentioned that he was a good swimmer. did he swim in the potomac? if so, where. phillip: april was whether the potomac. i don't have evidence of that. he did swim in one river. famously he lost his clothes what time. someone great up with his close. and he had to take them to court. [laughter] he was not too pleased with leaving -- losing his outfit. i think he was 21 at the time. there was another incident where he had to deliver a letter and he was telling the french to get out of the ohio valley.
in return he built a raft and he flips himself because of the current into the icy river. that he had to swim to shore. fortunately he gets out and does not die. he gets to the island and the river freezes over and then he walks on water. [laughter] he always said someone was looking out for me. i am sure there was someone. >> we obviously know about his chivalry. what about the story of the cherry tree? phillip: there have been other books written on cherry trees.
i will say that i was having a party one day and there was a cherry tree blocking. there were a lot of myths that happen. many of them are interesting because he broke a horse and the horse had a heart attack. the stories and the expert in this mythology -- they suggest to me a incredible athletic prowess. well they are not true everybody but it to tell you how amazing as a athlete and sportsmen he was. there was a tie those a bigger story. also, in the back there is a question.
>> do you have any information about the jewels? [laughter] phillip: i knew some of the from the throw me for a loop. >> after he actually -- washington intervened and it was who started it? the second were actually hamilton and burr. so -- phillip: i can only speak to the earlier moments when charles lee
betrayed the continental army and they fell into disrepute. george washington exploded onto the battlefield. he was very disappointed with charles lee. he was not of the lee family to be sure. they were not of the first family of virginia. he had married a indian america. i did not study this. there are at least two or three. that made history. it is amazing to make that a 10-year-old had a question like that you [laughter] one of the things i would like to do with my book is riding horse across america and go to
the schools to teach about sportsmanship and i need a sidekick. if your mother lets you go for a year maybe you can. >> guess where i learned that? dueler learned about that -- how i learned ?bout that duel >> how? >> the hamilton musical. >> i think there are a lot of people who would like to see a miracle about george. maybe one day that would come about. we are not sure. i think we can go for a couple of more questions. for my other people the tavern that which is attached to the restaurant is open at 8:30 p.m. and we can go have a drink and i think george would approve. [laughter]
go ahead. >> i have heard that george washington was fairly a except with his friends. aloof.y i am wondering about etiquette was a way he could maintain that aloof miss and not be so familiar with folks. phillip: there is a moment in his youth when he is in barbados and he writes to the governor. he said that he was not the kindest man but he was straight and he was respected. there is another incident -- i will remember it in a second. washington observed people very
closely. he also decided in his own mind that he had to maintain a certain aloofness he could not be overly familiar with friends. it was a bit of acting. i think he loved everybody. he had a great love and affection for everybody. he did famously remain aloof. we can go into the stories of people would cap them on the shoulder and would say hey how are you doing? he would just scowl. sir? >> how do you explain with the other writings that you have done this fearlessness?
phillip: that is a good point. i think it was encouraged by the british empire. some young men were exceptional about this. it is the same like how you do you become a leader in war? he should have been killed on several occasions. he was not. the indians came up to him to decades later and said they cannot kill you. basically george washington kept going because he was never injured. he was rewarded every time he was incredibly courageous. there is a certain attraction to war. winston churchill writes about that incident other writers. young men have a fascination with war. he was fascinated with combat. he did those things that set him apart from other men. >> can we give him a big round of applause? [applause]
before we let you go and go sign books and everyone should buy one because they give you a sense of these great stories. what is the next book you are going to work on? philip: i am relying on you for that. [laughter] i went to look at a historical figure who has a life like george. that is going to be hard to find. maybe i will have to retire and become a schoolteacher. unless you join me to write across the country on a horse. >> thank you so much. we appreciate that. [applause] everybody go get a book, and we will see you next month.