George Washington: His View of the Militia as a Lower Class

George Washington harbored a notable disdain for the colonial and revolutionary American militia, which he frequently voiced in his writings from the beginnings of his military career during the French and Indian War well into the American Revolutionary War. His opinion of the militia was ever evolving. During his presidency, at the very birth of American liberalism, the idea of a standing army brought fears that individual rights might be usurped by that very military power. That concern led many, including Washington, to consider the militia as an alternative to a costly and massive standing army.[i] General Washington’s reversal of opinion was likely influenced by the recurring and crucial victories by the revolutionary militia; however his earlier condemnation of militia leaders and units was an extension of his acceptance of and belief in an aristocratic social hierarchy throughout his private and military life.

Washington, without doubt, was one of the greatest figures of his time and also, one of the most ambitious. His reputation, ethics and accomplishments during his lifetime created a myth of a man who was of unblemished character – a man bearing no warts. Many small discrepancies in Washington’s character have been overlooked by historians. One of those less admirable traits which is often glossed-over was his view of social classes. He spent his youth and early adulthood attempting to rise as high on the social ladder as possible, and this led him first to land speculation, then the military, and lastly to politics. His ambition to be among the upper class colored his opinion of those subsisting in the colonial lower class, a common pattern among the rich and elite of the eighteenth century, especially in England. Washington managed to cover his haughtiness in most settings but it frequently found a sounding board in the militia who were typically members of the struggling lower-class.  As with most instances of bias, Washington’s was a product of his upbringing and eighteenth-century society. He was a man, like all others, who was a creation of the norms and attitudes of his time.

Contrary to popular belief, Washington did not begin life as heir to the family wealth; his brother Lawrence was first in line to receive the estate, which deprived George of an education abroad and the financial toehold he needed to make an easy ascent in society. Washington’s family acquired large amounts of land, but when his father died when George was eleven, financial circumstances became strained.[ii] Whether driven by those early hardships or another catalyst, in his youth Washington showed a consuming ambition to ascend the socioeconomic ladder. He chose to maximize his efforts throughout his life by exploiting all available opportunities.

One of the more profitable professions colonial gentlemen dabbled in was surveying land. Washington’s admission into that vocation placed him in close proximity to the colonial upper class. A nearby well-to-do neighbor named Thomas Fairfax tutored and paid Washington for surveying work until he was hired as the official surveyor for Culpeper County. The position of county surveyor brought Washington an annual salary of £150, a decent amount for anyone in the early eighteenth-century, especially a seventeen year old.[iii] Obtainable land was a rare commodity in England. What land there was, was controlled by the existing nobles, but in America, most colonials, like the Washingtons, were land-poor. Surveying parties were the first step in obtaining legal title to vast tracks of frontier wilderness waiting to be improved and exploited. It placed Washington in a position to make money, increase his and Fairfax’s properties, and familiarize him with the western frontier. This experience would increase his rise in his ambitious forthcoming military endeavors.

Not having a royal court or an established nobility of their own, aspiring colonials mimicked and molded themselves after those few accessible mentors such as Fairfax.[iv] Lord Fairfax was what young Washington endeavored to be, titled, a former member of the royal court in England, wealthy, gentlemanly, refined, and ambitious. At the age of sixteen when he first met Fairfax, Washington was, at best, socially distant from the budding upper class of colonial America. The friendship with Fairfax marked the genesis of Washington’s idea of how an upper-class gentleman should look and act.

Around the age of thirteen Washington copied a set of 110 maxims titled Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. The effort may have been an academic assignment from his tutor but the theme of the instruction stuck with Washington throughout life. Many of the rules outlined in the pamphlet, of undetermined authorship, overemphasize the importance of operating in a hierarchal society and how “betters” and “inferiors” should behave, especially within each other’s presence.[v] Young Washington absorbed and took to heart those rules, making him acceptable to men like Lord Fairfax, while “artificers & Persons of low Degree” who toiled in the fields and on the frontiers were not similarly learning to “Respect and highly honor” their betters.[vi] Washington based his personal philosophy regarding social behavior on the text within Rules of Civility. From the gamut of instructions on manners, ranging from avoiding spitting in fires to brushing off one’s clothes at frequent intervals, almost to the last example, Washington would later encounter their antithesis in the behaviors of the American militiaman.

Ambitious colonials in general did not waste what they observed about being upper-class. They quickly learned to flaunt their newfound status. As the anonymous author of American Husbandry observed in most aspects of their lives “a great Virginia planter makes a greater show, and lives more luxuriously than a country gentlemen in England.”[vii] Washington was no different, and was known for his meticulous attention in having clothes and amenities created for him which reflected Old World ideas of aristocracy. Saul K. Padover argues Washington held only to motives of longevity and functionally in his purchases, not to fad or arrogance.[viii] One of the documents Padover cited to back his assessment was a 1768 request written to purchase a carriage from a London manufacturer. Within the letter Washington requested that the carriage should be made sturdy for serviceability but “made in the newest taste” assuring it to be “handsome” and “genteel.” Washington demanded that it be made by “celebrated” workmen. He chose the color green because it was, he thought, pleasing to the eye. He preferred green unless the maker knew of any other color “more in vogue,” in which case he wanted fashion over ordinary. He added that he wanted light gilding on the molding and any ornamental decorations that were not tawdry in appearance. He ended his description by ordering a harness with his crest engraved upon it. [ix] While it was easy to discern Washington’s attention to serviceability, the enthusiasm for maintaining a socially acceptable appearance was also evident.

Nowhere in the colonies was the love of the English upper-class more apparent than in the thriving city of Charleston, South Carolina. It was in the pre-revolutionary period that Charleston took its place as the wealthiest city in the colonies. It was also the quickest to produce an elite group of men who might have been viewed as peers with the English nobility by old world standards. One of these elites was Peter Manigault, who, much like Washington, wanted and purchased the finest English commodities. One of these purchases bore a strange, but apparently common, resemblance to Washington’s purchase. Manigault wrote to a friend in London that he wished to commission him to purchase and ship “a light Coach, without a Boot, the Bottom part of the Body not rounded as was lately the Fashion, lined with blue English Leather, the Cloth on the Coach Box blue trimmed with Yellow…painted fashionably but not gaudy.”[x] The two orders placed by men more than 1000 miles apart showed the obsession of colonials to purchase those same extravagancies which allowed them to look the part of English nobility.  Washington showed the same concerns with status when ordering clothes and especially uniforms, in which he spent so much of his public life. The uniform was a visible proclamation of the character of an officer and a gentleman and he made certain those officers under his commands understood the importance of appearance.[xi]

Yet another method by which colonials increased their rise among the upper class was quite commonplace among their Old World prototypes, marriage for the sake of hastening social and economic progression. George was certainly aware that his brother Lawrence had planted himself among the colonial aristocracy when he wed William Fairfax’s daughter, Ann.[xii] As most modern historians agree, Washington was undoubtedly among those who married for fiscal motives and allowed love to enter later. At the time of her marriage to George, Martha was probably the wealthiest woman in the colony. Her marriage to Washington instantly propelled him into the privileged Virginia tidewater society.[xiii] For Washington, a militia officer appointed by the Virginia Royal Governor, the marriage to Martha Curtis completed his transformation from the colonial farmer of his youth to wealthy New World aristocrat. He was dressed in the finest apparel of a British officer. According to his servant, “Many of the grandest gentlemen in their gold lace were at the wedding, but none looked like the man himself.”[xiv] The wedding was a prime opportunity for Washington to show, more than monetarily, he was one of them – the elite of the colonies.

Before Washington became the husband to the wealthiest woman in the colony, he sought one of the more common methods for a young man to quickly obtain the prestige and poise of an upper-class gentleman in the eighteenth-century, through military service to King and Empire. Once again, George had seen how his brother Lawrence’s rise was hastened by his rubbing of elbows with Vice Admiral Vernon and Governor Gooch during the Caribbean expedition against Spain. If service had not directly led to Lawrence’s marriage to Ann Fairfax, it had certainly placed him in near proximity to her and her father. Washington’s were not in any way ashamed to simply ask for promotion and position. In June 1752 George offered himself to Governor Dinwiddie for one of the district adjutancy positions, which included the accompanying rank of major.[xv] Washington received his commission as major over the southern district in December 1752 and then promptly volunteered himself, having embellished his wilderness expertise, to go to the French in the Ohio Valley.[xvi] Although Washington possessed only a minimal martial education, which he had learned from a handful of books he owned on military subjects, he knew to look to his counterparts, British regulars for example. By October 1753 he was meeting with French officers who received him as a peer upon the presentation of his commission and letter. He felt sufficiently qualified by that point to judge the French commander as having the “air of a soldier.”[xvii] The trip would not end well for Washington or the British.  It marked the first shots of the French and Indian War and the first case of Washington overestimating his abilities as an officer.

Washington later volunteered to serve under General Braddock and as a relatively untrained officer he initially found certain traits of the general disconcerting, but later borrowed those same mannerisms. As aide de camp to the general, Washington did not fail to see how he could exploit the situation.  He wrote to his brother, John, that in his position under Braddock he saw an opportunity to form an association which might be useful later if he decided to press his career in the military to further his “fortune.”[xviii] However, in a June 1755 letter to William Fairfax, Washington was concerned Braddock complained so to superiors that his and his fellow soldier’s reputation would be stained, as the general blamed all “Disappointments to, [public] Supineness (sp); and looks upon the Country, I believe, as void of, Honour and Honesty.”[xix] Ironically, Washington as commander of patriot forces would echo, almost verbatim, those same sentiments about the colonial militia.

Regular officers, English and French, shunned the colonial militia when possible, and regarded them as unamusingly pitiful when in their presence. Washington may have begun to couple this same outlook with the traits of being a good officer as early as the French and Indian War. Washington understood a distinguished officer was considered an honored and admired person among English nobility and typically chose to duplicate their conduct whenever possible. General Braddock, before his infamous defeat, who Washington was closest to by advantage of position, was not shy when it came to publicly voicing his derision for colonial militia. Braddock told Benjamin Franklin a few weeks before he marched his army into ambush, that “savages may, indeed, be a formidable enemy to your raw American militia,” but when faced by the regulars their primitive tactics would be ineffective, or not even considered an obstacle.[xx] When Washington witnessed the general’s defeat firsthand he may have felt, as Braddock had predicted, the militia was largely at fault and deserving of the shunning they often received by the officer corps.

Washington, himself, experienced a recorded instance of social exclusion in 1754 from Captain James MacKay, holding a regular commission from the King, who refused to bivouac or make preparation for battle with a man holding a senior rank in the militia.  Governor Dinwiddie was forced to “quell the great Feud.”[xxi] In December 1755, Washington took a lesson from MacKay and refused to submit to an outdated King’s commission held by Captain Dagworthy. Washington complained to Dinwiddie when Dagworthy refused to recognize Washington’s authority, “I can never submit to the command of Captain Dagworthy, since you have honoured me with the command of the Virginia Regiment, &c.”[xxii] Washington had learned being a good officer included establishing superiority and subordination, or as the pamphlet on proper behaviors he reproduced in his youth would have labeled it, establishing inferiors and betters.

Washington may have complained to the governor when Braddock’s demeaning comments included him but considered it acceptable to attribute any disappointments he, himself encountered to the deficiencies he perceived were missing from the militiaman’s character. He wrote to John Washington, when regular cavalry failed to show up to escort him and he would likely thereby be detained waiting on the militia to arrive because, equal success could be had in attempting to raise the dead to action.[xxiii] Almost a year later, Washington’s opinion of the militia was becoming gradually more venomous.  He wrote to John Robinson in April of 1756, that the fear they possessed was equaled only by “their perverseness.”[xxiv] Washington’s correspondence grew ever bolder. Addressing his feelings to the governor he complained:

They are obstinate, self-willed, perverse; of little or no service to the people, and very burthensome to the Country: Every mean individual has his own crude notion of things, and must undertake to direct. If his advice is neglected, he thinks himself slighted, abased and injured; and, to redress his wrongs, will depart for his home. These, Sir, are literally matters of fact; partly from persons of undoubted veracity, but chiefly from my own observations.[xxv]

 

The opinion did not seem to rest squarely with Washington but was rather a shared view of British officers in general. General James Abercromby reported they were the “lowest dregs of people,” their units made up of “riff-raff.”[xxvi] The Earl of Loudoun described the New England militiamen as being “by all accounts frightened out of their senses at the name of a Frenchman.”[xxvii] It seemed to be only the colonial militia who drew such vehement insult and points to an explanation founded in social prejudice verses fact. The British regular army of the time was more likely to be categorized as, riff-raff, and aside from the officer corps was almost to the man made up of the flotsam and jetsam of English, Irish and Scottish lower society. They were typically driven to the army for all the wrong reasons: poverty, a criminal sentence, or an absence of ambition for the yeoman’s life, which their American militia counterparts had taken to and were despised for by their officers.[xxviii]

The hypocrisy did not go unnoticed by those who were being belittled and discriminated against. In a letter to Dinwiddie, Washington once more ranted about inactions of the militia and stated that without the backing of a party of soldiers or the threat of his sword no orders were followed, “to such a pitch has the insolence of these People arrivd (sp).” He went on to advise that he had stood his ground and had not given in to the militia demands and confided to the governor that he would not “unless they [executed] what they threaten i.e., ‘To blow out [his] brains.’”[xxix] Washington was well known among the wealthy, political, and military elites for his charismatic and magnetic personality, however, he was so far removed from the ordinary citizens who made up the militia that it appears they thought him a tyrant. Washington continued for years to meet this same opposition, and sometimes open defiance of his leadership style.

By the time a uniformed Washington positioned himself in the back of the Second Continental Congress – poorly shrouding his show of proffering his military expertise – he had jettisoned all that was the old militia officer, fiscally, socially and metaphorically. But militarily he had retained the rigid personality of the quintessential British officer, something he would never shake off.  Washington took over as commander of the Patriot forces and shortly thereafter began to attack the militiamen, on a personal not professional basis. Washington did concede that he felt if the men had better officers – certainly this meant the British style officers he so admired – they would fight better. However, he could not bring himself to leave out his personal assessment and included one of his usual barbs, “although they are an exceeding dirty & nasty people.”[xxx] Other professional soldiers saw the potential of a properly motivated and employed militia. General Frederick Haldimand, a veteran of the French and Indian War and Gage’s second-in-command, quipped, “The Americans would be less dangerous if they had a regular army.”[xxxi] A Hessian officer writing from New Jersey saw little threat from the rebels in the open field, conventional warfare; however, he dreaded the thought of marching, living or fighting in the woods where they were “redoubtable,” leaping from tree to tree and over-loading their muskets with three balls with each deadly-accurate shot.[xxxii] Their unorthodox tactics may not have been seen as chivalrous or in keeping with the moral code of warfare of the day, but the militia were effective in inducing fear into their enemy.

Some American officers, on the other hand, who had received training in the art of eighteenth-century warfare, joined Washington in frequently attributing the qualities of cowardice, lack of discipline, and using their short enlistments as excuses to avoid battle to the militiamen’s character.  They typically echoed Washington’s highbrow opinion, presumably also learned from their British examples. Washington wrote, “All the General Officers agree that no Dependance can be put on the Militia for a Continuance in Camp, or Regularity and Discipline during the short Time they may stay.”[xxxiii] Few officers addressed the issue of insufficient training in order to equip the militia to stand on-line and fire volleys at an enemy playing by the same rules. Still fewer, including Washington, acknowledged the fact the militia units were not armed with muskets which would accept a bayonet, the tool which was to ultimately drive the enemy from the field and thus guarantee victory.

In September of 1776 Washington was unable to reconcile with himself that the troops who had fought the British at Lexington and Concord and had unmercifully bloodied them at Breed’s Hill were the same men he had been given the opportunity to lead. He was somehow unable to look back less than a year prior and see their courage, which held to the last ounce of powder and ball under William Prescott on top of Bunker Hill, through his bias. Instead, he was predisposed to hold them in contempt as cowards and rabble. He claimed that depending on the militia was “assuredly, resting upon a broken staff.”  Men taken from their gentle home life and not familiar with the “din of Arms…makes them timid, and ready to fly from their own Shadows.”[xxxiv] Although Washington’s European-style thinking in tactics won him fewer battles than he lost, it took him until the cause was almost lost before he restored the militia, directly under him, to the roles they had excelled at during the first year the war. He also failed to discern that the men he viewed as cowards and afraid of their own shadows were keeping British allied Indians and British-trained Tories from conquering large swaths of the rebelling colonies.

In spite of being present at Braddock’s defeat during the French and Indian War, Washington could not bring himself to commit the militia units to the style of warfare they were best at, irregular warfare, or what militia officers in the South referred to as “Indian play.”[xxxv] Washington’s gentlemanly military upbringing would not allow him to lower himself and his officers to such uncouth practices as having soldiers dodge from tree to tree and fire from behind cover as Shelby, McDowell and Cleveland suggested to their men at the victorious Battle of King’s Mountain.[xxxvi] It was fortuitous for the revolution every field commander did not share Washington’s views.

One man, who stands out as capable of leading raw militia in a way Washington could never master, or would have never attempted to, was Colonel Daniel Morgan. Although both were Virginians and their military endeavors had taken them on many of the same paths, Morgan was the opposite of Washington in almost every way, especially in social class. During the Braddock campaign, Morgan was among the wagoners who were loathed by the British officers. The ordinary Americans who were seen by the officers as the epitome of undisciplined – a term Washington overused in describing the militia – scum. The colonials, to the officers’ chagrin, did everything to uncivilized excess, settled their differences with fists, drank, gambled and seduced Indian women, at every opportunity.[xxxvii] While Washington had copied to perfection the conduct of a British officer, Morgan had defied British regiment with such vigor he received five-hundred lashes for striking an officer during a 1756 campaign. In spite of such insubordination, Morgan was later promoted to ensign for bravery under fire.

During the revolution, Washington showed a unique and out-of-character admiration for the rough and rowdy Morgan. He often used Morgan and his rifle corps as irregular troops and allowed them leeway he allowed no other militia forces, even though Morgan’s men were made from the same mold as any other backwoods militiaman. Morgan’s unconventional leadership style gained victories with the militia that were paralleled only by other militia officers who were more peers to their men than lairds over them.

What Morgan trained and encouraged his riflemen to do in combat far exceeded Washington’s sense of noble warfare. Conducting operations such as specifically targeting officers, which Morgan’s Riflemen routinely did, was considered barbaric by officers such as Washington.[xxxviii] The distaste for anything other than gentlemanly warfare was clearly displayed by an incident which occurred at the Battle of Brandywine. Major Patrick Ferguson, renowned as the best shot in the British Army, had the opportunity to snipe and kill two American officers riding in the open in front of his position. Ferguson later stated that he ordered three of his better marksman to sneak close to the two and shoot them, but he recanted. The idea of ordering such an unconscionable act “disgusted me,” he said, for “it was not pleasant to fire at the back of an unoffending individual.”[xxxix] One of those officers, Ferguson was later convinced, was Washington. Ferguson was later killed in a turning-point victory for the American forces at the Battle of King’s Mountain. There, Loyalists trained and led by Ferguson, dug-in on a steep mountain, were defeated by untrained militia who were told by their leaders to act as their own officers and fight as Indians would.[xl] While Washington allowed Morgan’s tactics, he never accepted them as legitimate warfare. Out of desperation he may have looked at them as a necessary evil and at Morgan’s commission as a pact with the devil. Washington, in spite of Morgan’s successes, including Burgoyne’s surrender at Saratoga, nearly lost his talent permanently when Morgan retired because of what he saw as an unjustified refusal to promote him.

In order to bring Washington’s prejudice against the militiamen based on their socioeconomic place in society, to light, a comparison of two other groups considered at the bottom rung of colonial society should be considered.  Whether full or mixed-blood, Africans and Indians were looked down upon as something short of human beings. Blacks were regarded as property and typically discussed by Washington only in that setting. Oddly, he often relegated the militiamen to menial labor that he also used slave labor for, such as erecting or tearing down forts. When a majority of militia arrived for duty in June of 1757 without ammunition or weapons, Washington decided they should “assist in forwarding the public works,” instead of arming them. He was more than indignant when “they were deaf to this and every other proposition which had any tendency to the interest of the Service,” and reported them to the governor.[xli] Washington instructed one of his officers that he thought it “advisable to detain both Mulatto’s and Negroes in your Company; and employ them as Pioneers or Hatchet-men.”[xlii] Washington informed another officer in an almost apologetic tone that his “Soldiers” were to dine with the “militia [then] at work on the fort.”[xliii] It was in Washington’s nature to segregate and exclude those of lesser status and he appears to have seldom realized he was committing such acts.

There were occasions when it was obvious Washington said exactly what was on his mind. When he was forced to select four men from Morgan’s command for a personal rear guard, he stated, “You will therefore send me none but Natives, & Men of some property, if you have them.” Washington went on to explain that he wanted the picking of natives to be discreet, so as to have it appear there was no “invidious distinction between them and the foreigners.”[xliv] It was also curious Washington addressed the request for men under Morgan to Lt. Col. Febiger, one of Morgan’s regimental commanders, not to Morgan himself. In a letter to Richard Henry Lee, Washington candidly attributed the militia’s reluctance to build defense works to “an unaccountable kind of stupidity in the lower class of these people.” In both cases, Washington forgot to suppress his intolerance of the lower-class in semi-public documents.[xlv]

Frequently during wartime men learned to cope with the unnatural state of kill or be killed by dehumanizing the enemy. The same psychological technique found a use with those who were exploited in eighteenth-century society such as Indians and slaves. They were best viewed in that method to avoid any conflicts in conscience. Dehumanizing was also an evident aspect of Washington’s bias toward the militiamen. The militiamen were also in this way associated with the chattel-property, blacks and the animal-like Indians. Militia, like the Indians grew up hunting, skulking and sneaking around in the woods looking for unwitting prey. Indians and militiamen were both naturally uncontrollable and had to be reined-in with harsh authority by the more civilized members of society, and they were all tools to be used by Washington at his discretion.  Tanaghrisson (Half King), a British ally during the French and Indian War, bluntly stated that Washington ordered them about as if they were in fact “his slaves.”[xlvi] Further, despite their knowledge of woodland warfare he infuriated them by never accepting their advice, to the point that they abandoned him. By Washington’s thinking, why would he accept advice from beasts? He considered Indians nothing more than “wolves” that used stealth to do their mischief of thievery, such as taking cows for their provisions.[xlvii] In a later correspondence, Washington criticized the militia’s apathy in rationing their provisions properly, and compared them to the same type of wolves. Washington, probably in an exaggeration, stated that while marching they killed and ate the first farmer’s cow they came across for breakfast and then repeated the process for lunch and dinner. What they could not consume in the moment, they left on the road for other beasts to finish.[xlviii]  Washington conveyed to Governor  Dinwiddie that a majority of his militia had enlisted in March of 1754 for the “Regimental [uniform],” and those who had discovered they were not issued a uniform were so disappointed they would not enlist or volunteered to have the price of a uniform come out of their pay. He added that as a further benefit of uniforms it would impress the Indians as it was their “nature to be struck with, and taken by show.”[xlix] The governor never replied whether he accepted Washington’s assessment or not. Washington had after all, just informed him in the same letter that many of the men were too poor upon entering service to afford clothes, but would rather go hungry if only they could see themselves in a sharp uniform. Washington seemed to view both Indians and militiamen as possessing an insatiable hunger for beads, trinkets and pomp. These were the same men, regardless of color, that he considered idle, nasty, and prone to stealing and all manner of licentiousness.[l]

The discrimination Washington showed toward the militia appeared to be obvious to a great many of the men. They felt the sting of Washington’s tyrannical treatment and his loathing which seemed directed at them personally, and they left in such masses that it caused Washington to become ever more punitive. Washington reported that on any given night twenty or more men would desert, and these numbers were more typical than out of the ordinary.[li] He told Governor Dinwiddie in a letter of August 1754 seldom a night went by that two to four did not desert. His answer was always to request a heavier punishment including execution. The harshest punishments, typically hundreds of lashes were reserved for those men of lesser status and not for officers and gentlemen.[lii] During the French and Indian War desertion under Washington was epidemic. There were occasions when service under Washington became so objectionable to militiamen that they recruited potential deserters, formed their own units, swore oaths to renegade leadership and contemplated murdering anyone who attempted to return them to military duty.[liii] During the revolution, where command was more decentralized, and militia leaders and their units were at more distance from Washington, the desertions were greatly reduced. Washington still complained the militia was predisposed to desertion.

Modern scholars and military historians can only speculate how many more battles Washington might have won, or how much quicker independence would have been obtained, had he been able to set aside his long-standing bias against militiamen. While Washington was a charismatic leader to regular officers and Continental troops he was never able to step down to the level of the second-class militiaman and lead them properly into battle as Colonel Morgan did at Cowpens or Saratoga. On the part of the militiamen their unwillingness to perform for certain officers was attributed by one of Nathaniel Greene’s biographers to distrust of regular officers. Greene who was not himself a proponent of the militia in the beginning of the war learned quickly how to incorporate them and lead them in battle in a way which achieved victory. After Greene saw their unwavering stand, outnumbered two-to-one by British regulars, at Eutaw Springs, he complemented them by saying “such conduct would have graced the veterans of the great king of Prussia.”[liv] The militia units who played such an important role in the victory at Eutaw Springs were reinforced by General Jethro Sumner’s continentals who drove the British from the field with bayonet. These battles, once again, highlighted Washington’s inability to set aside upper-class ideas for the sake of military objectives.

Washington’s ambition left him the legacy of being one of the richest president in the history of the United States. His wealth vastly separated him from the ordinary men who made up the militia. In John Shy’s “A New Look at the Colonial Militia” he argues the majority of militia came from the ranks of second-class citizenry. He added that this developed into a predisposition by British officers to treat them as lacking in military abilities.[lv] However, on every front where those second-class citizens lived, the Indian-harried frontier and later in the Tory stronghold south, they prevailed over their enemies. Militia leaders who developed and deployed the militia units consistent with their woodland and unconventional upbringing gave the Patriot cause crucial victories that were seldom reproduced by Washington’s Continentals. Washington was not alone in his predisposition toward and his stereotyping of militiamen. Washington seldom found the ability throughout the war to set his opinion aside. Had he been capable of doing so, he would very likely have bolstered his military exploits, as well as, been seen in higher regard as the first commander-in-chief of the United States, another glory his aggressively aspiring nature would have desired. If he was later able to put those prejudices aside it would be almost impossible to determine. Ironically, after the Revolution he was forced, by necessity, to twice call out militias to put down Shay’s and the Whiskey Rebellion. In both uprisings the rebels were the same revolutionary militiamen in armed protest of their economic status. Perhaps fed by economic depressions which directly lead to rebellions, Washington recognized that his job as president included improving the lot of the lower classes. In 1785 he addressed one aspect of their improvement, their education, but only to the extent they would be taught the skills which would keep them laboring in menial professions.[lvi] They had their place in society and he had his. He was as content with the status quo as he had been in the 1750s.

[i] Tal Tovy, “Militia or Regular Army?” European Journal of American Studies 1 (2010), 2.

[ii] Among other land assets, Augustine Washington owned over 63,000 acres. George Washington Nordham, George Washington and Money (Washington D.C.: University Press of America, 1982), 9.

[iii] The last royal governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, earned £2000 as Governor of New York during the same decade. William C. Lowe “The Parliamentary Career of Lord Dunmore, 1761-1774,” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, 96. No. 1. (Jan. 1988), 25.

[iv] Arthur M. Schlesinger, “The Aristocracy in Colonial America,” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Third Series 74, (1962), 3-4.

[v] Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation, edited by J.M. Toner. (Washington, D.C.: W.H. Morrison. 1888), 3, 19.

[vi] Washington’s Rules, 20.

[vii] American Husbandry Vol. 1, (London: J. Bew, 1775), 242.

[viii] Saul K. Padover, “George Washington – Portrait of a True Conservative,” Social Research 22, no. 2 (1955)199-200. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40982417.

[ix] “From George Washington to Robert Cary & Company, 6 June 1768,” Founders Online.

[x] Peter Manigault to Thomas Gadsden (7 July 1766) “The Letterbook of Peter Manigault, 1763-1773” in The South Carolina Historical Magazine 70, no. 2 (1969), 92.

[xi] “General Orders, 17 November 1775,” Founders Online.

[xii] George Washington, George Washington Remembers: Reflections of the French and Indian War, edited by Fred Anderson (Lanham, MD.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2004), 68.

[xiii] Robert P. Watson, “Remembering Martha,” OAH Magazine of History 14, no. 2 (2000), 54.

[xiv] Saul K. Padover, “George Washington – Portrait of a True Conservative,” Social Research 22, no. 2 (1955)199-200. http://www.jstor.org/stable/40982417.

[xv] “From George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie, 10 June 1752,” Founders Online.

[xvi] “Commission from Robert Dinwiddie, 30 October 1753,” Founders Online.

[xvii] “Journey to the French Commandant: Narrative,” Founders Online.

[xviii] “From George Washington to John Augustine Washington, 14 May 1755,” Founders Online.

[xix] “From George Washington to William Fairfax, 7 June 1755,” Founders Online.

[xx] Benjamin Franklin, Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, ed. John Bigelow (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott, 1869), 311.

[xxi] “To George Washington from Robert Dinwiddie, 25 June 1754,” Founders Online.

[xxii] “From George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie, 5 December 1755,” Founders Online.

[xxiii] “From George Washington to John Augustine Washington, 28 May 1755,” Founders Online.

[xxiv] “From George Washington to John Robinson, 16 April 1756,” Founders Online.

[xxv] “From George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie, 9 November 1756,” Founders Online.

[xxvi] Fred Anderson, A People’s Army: Massachusetts Soldiers and Society in the Seven Year’s War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1984), 61.

[xxvii] Anderson, A People’s Army, 52.

[xxviii] Anderson, A People’s Army, 27.

[xxix] “From George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie, 11–14 October 1755,” Founders Online.

[xxx] “From George Washington to Lund Washington, 20 August 1775,” Founders Online.

[xxxi] John W. Shy, A People Numerous and Armed: Reflections on the Military Struggle for American Independence (Ann Arbor, MI.: University of Michigan Press, 1990), 108.

[xxxii] William L. Stone trans., Letters of Brunswick and Hessian Officers During the American Revolution (Albany, N.Y.: Joel Munsell’s Sons, Publishers, 1891), 90.

[xxxiii] “II. Letter Sent, 10–11 July 1775,” Founders Online.

[xxxiv] “From George Washington to John Hancock, 25 September 1776,” Founders Online.

[xxxv] Lyman Draper, King’s Mountain and Its Heroes: History of the Battle of King’s Mountain, (Cincinnati: Peter G. Thomson Publisher, 1881), 196.

[xxxvi] Ibid.

[xxxvii] Don Higginbotham, Daniel Morgan: Revolutionary Rifleman (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979), 4.

[xxxviii] Higginbotham, Daniel Morgan, 209-210.

[xxxix] Patrick Ferguson, Biographical Sketch or Memoir of Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick Ferguson: Originally intended for the British Encyclopedia, ed. Adam Ferguson (Edinburgh: John Moir, 1817), 16-17.

[xl] Draper, Kings Mountain, 196.

[xli] “From George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie, 27 June 1757,” Founders Online.

[xlii] “From George Washington to Peter Hog, 27 December 1755,” Founders Online.

[xliii]“Orders, 23 June 1756,” Founders Online.

[xliv] “George Washington to Colonels Alexander Spotswood, Alexander McClanachan, and Abraham Bowman and Lieutenant Colonel Christian Febiger, 30 April 1777,” Founders Online.

[xlv] “From George Washington to Richard Henry Lee, 29 August 1775,” Founders Online.

[xlvi] Samuel Hazard, ed., Minutes of the Provincial council of Pennsylvania, Colonial Records, 1683-1790, 16 Volumes (Harrisburg: Theo. Fenn and Co., 1851) 6: 151.

[xlvii]“From George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie, 7 April 1756,” Founders Online.

[xlviii] “From George Washington to John Robinson, 9 November 1756,” Founders Online.

[xlix] From George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie, 10 June 1754,” Founders Online.

[l] “From George Washington to Colonel Daniel Morgan, 9 August 1777,” Founders Online.

[li] “From George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie, 4 August 1756,” Founders Online.

[lii] Harry M. Ward, George Washington’s Enforcers: Policing the Continental Army (Carbondale, IL.: Southern Illinois University Press, 2006), 15.

[liii] See the case of Mr. McCarty; “From George Washington to Robert Dinwiddie, 10 December 1756,” Founders Online.

[liv] William Johnson, Sketches of the Life and Correspondence of Nathanael Greene: Major General of the Armies of the United States, in the War of the Revolution, Vol. II. (Charleston, SC.: A. E. Miller. 1822), 225.

[lv] John W. Shy, “A New Look at the Colonial Militia” William and Mary Quarterly 20, no. 2 (1963), 184; Ward, George Washington’s Enforcers, 15.

[lvi] “From George Washington to Trustees of the Alexandria Academy, 17 December 1785,” Founders Online.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *