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secondary considerations with Washington, and, on the morning of the 12th of September, he departed, with all his military guests, from his delightful dwelling-place, journeyed to Fredericksburg to embrace his aged mother and receive her blessing, and then hastened on toward Yorktown, where Cornwallis had intrenched himself with a view of overrunning Virginia.
There was great sorrow at Mount Vernon on the morning of the departure of the master. It was a grief to the devoted wife to part so soon from her husband, who was on his way to battle, perhaps to death; but more poignant was her grief as a mother, for John Parke Custis, her only surviving child, in whom her fondest earthly affections were centred, followed Washington to the field as his aide-de-camp. He was then in the flush of manhood, eight-and-twenty years of age, and full of promise. He was a member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, and very popular wherever known. He now went out to battle, for the first time, leaving his wife and children and his fond mother in the pleasant home at Mount Vernon, with every material comfort around them, but with hearts filled with sadness, and spirits agitated with anxiety and apprehension.
Oh, how eagerly did those wives and mothers at Mount Vernon watch for the courier who daily brought intelligence from the camp! At length there came a messenger with tidings which produced mingled joy and alarm. He came to tell of a triumph at Yorktown, and of mortal sickness at Eltham, thirty miles from the field where victory had been won. At Yorktown, the allied armies, after a siege of twelve days, had compelled Cornwallis to surrender, with all his army, seven thousand strong.
Joy was awakened all over the land as intelligence of this glorious event was spread, by swift couriers, from hamlet to hamlet, from village to village, from city to city. The name of Washington was upon every lip, as the Benefactor, the Liberator, the Saviour of his country. And there was peculiar joy and pride at Mount Vernon, when, at early dawn on a frosty morning, a messenger brought the intelligence that prophesied of peace and the speedy return of the loved ones to the safety and repose of domestic life.
But, as we have said, the same messenger brought intelligence that produced serious alarm, and preparations were immediately made at Mount Vernon, for a journey. Young Custis was very sick with camp fever at the house of Colonel Bassett, the husband of his mother's sister, at Eltham. His mother and wife were soon upon the road; and, in an agony of suspense, they urged the postillion to increase the speed of his horses. When they arrived at Eltham, all hope for the loved one's recovery had vanished.
Washington had sent his old and faithful friend, Doctor Craik, to attend the sufferer, and as soon as his arrangements at Yorktown could be completed, the chief followed. He arrived at Eltham "time enough" he wrote to Lafayette, "to see poor Mr. Custis breathe his last." In that hour the young wife was made a widow, and the mistress of Mount Vernon a childless woman. The great man bowed his head in deep sorrow, while his tears flowed freely. Then he spoke soothing words to the widowed mother, and said, "Your two younger children I adopt as my own." These were Eleanor Parke Custis and George Washington Parke Custis, the former two years and six months of age, and the latter only six months.
They both lived beyond the age of threescore and ten, and Eleanor was considered one of the most beautiful and brilliant women of her day. She married Lawrence Lewis, the favorite nephew of Washington. The nuptials were celebrated on the
chief's birthday, 1799. Three days before, Washington, as her foster-father, wrote from Mount Vernon to the clerk of Fairfax county court, saying:
"SIR: You will please to grant a license for the marriage of Eleanor Parke Custis with Lawrence Lewis, and this shall be your authority for so doing."
The portrait of this beautiful lady, from which our engraving
is copied, was painted at Philadelphia by Gilbert Stuart. adorned the mansion at Mount Vernon for several years, and is preserved with care among the Washington treasures of Arlington House.
Late in the autumn of 1781, Washington again visited Mount Vernon for a brief season. It was when he was on his journey to Philadelphia, in November, bearing the laurels of a victor. He was accompanied as far as Fredericksburg by a large retinue of American and French officers; and there, after an interview with his mother, he attended a ball given in honor of the occasion. The aged matron went with him to the assembly, and astonished the French officers by the plainness of her apparel and the quiet simplicity of her manners, for they expected to see the mother of the great chief distinguished by a personal display such as they had been accustomed to behold among the families of the great in their own country. They thought of the Dowager Queen of France, of the brilliant Marie Antoinette, and the high-born dames of the court of Louis the Sixteenth, and could not comprehend the vision.
Washington retired with his mother from the gay scene at an early hour, for there was grief in his heart because of the death of his beloved Custis; and, the next morning, attended by two aides and Billy, he rode to Mount Vernon. His stay there was brief. Public duties beckoned him forward. "I shall remain but a few days here," he wrote to General Greene, "and shall proceed to Philadelphia, when I shall attempt to stimulate Congress to the best improvement of our late success, by taking the most vigorous and effectual measures to be ready for an early and decisive campaign the next year.'
Happily for the country, no other campaign of active mili
tary operations was needed; and, in the course of a few months, the war was virtually at an end. The desire for peace, which had long burned in the bosom of the British people, now found such potential expression, as to be heeded by the British ministry. The intelligence of the fate of Cornwallis and his army had fallen with all the destructive energy of a bombshell in the midst of the war party in parliament. When Lord North, the premier, heard of it, he paced the room violently, and, throwing his arms wildly about, exclaimed, “O God! it. is all over! it is all over!" The stoutest declaimer in favor of bayonets and gunpowder, Indian and German mercenaries, as fit instruments for enslaving a free people, began to talk of the expediency of peace; and at length, by mutual consent, commissioners were appointed by the contending parties to treat for peace on the basis of the independence of the United States. They were successful; and, early in the spring of 1783, the joyful news, that a treaty had been signed at Paris, reached America, by the French ship Triomphe, sent for the purpose, by Count d'Estaing, at the request of Lafayette.
Washington was then, with his wife, at Newburgh, the headquarters of the continental army, happy in having just frustrated a scheme of some officers to produce a general mutiny among the discontented soldiers. The intelligence came to him in dispatches from Robert R. Livingston, the Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and also in a letter from Alexander Hamilton, and other New York delegates in Congress. It was hailed by the chief with joy, and he immediately wrote the following letter to Governor Clinton, which is copied from the original manuscript, now in the archives of the state of New York: