George Washington Was Comically Dishonest
George Washington was born lucky. While his own family was strictly middle-class by the standards of plantation Virginia, George had the great good fortune to have a brother, Lawrence, who was considerably older and had already made something of himself by serving as an officer in the militia and marrying into one of the wealthiest families in the state.
Marrying money certainly didn’t hurt Lawrence’s successful bid for a seat in the House of Burgesses, which is what he was doing when his 16-year-old brother George moved in and talked him into paying for his education as a land surveyor.
At the time, a surveyor was regarded as something like a doctor or lawyer, and the pay was commensurate with the prestige. At 17, George passed the qualifying exams and, by age 20, owned over 2,000 acres of land.
Owning 2,000 acres, farmed by free labor of course, would have been more than enough to set up George Washington for life, but it wasn’t nearly enough for the ambitious young man he was growing into. Having read all of two books about warfare, Washington decided it would be fun to become an officer in the British army.
After being turned away several times, he seems to have concluded that he was being discriminated against for being a colonial, rather than for the aforementioned two-books’ worth of training he brought to the table with him.
Fortunately for him, his brother was friends with Virginia’s governor, and George was eventually handed the rank of major and a command in the quietest part of the state, where he was unlikely to cause trouble.
That was when trouble broke out in the form of the first truly global conflict, which in America was called the French and Indian War. Early in the fighting, Washington built Fort Necessity in a swampy lowland, lost a comically one-sided fight with the French, and surrendered almost immediately.
When presented with the official surrender document, rather than admit he couldn’t read French, Washington signed on the dotted line—and unwittingly took responsibility for numerous war crimes including the murder of a French diplomat.
When his error was revealed later, Washington first blamed his translator, and then the superior officer who ordered him to the area. Scattering blame works almost as well as being tight with the governor. Washington faced no serious repercussions for the disaster.
To encourage service at the outset of the war, the governor of Virginia had offered common soldiers a bounty of land for enlistment. Officers were excluded from the offer, as they were expected to lead as part of their civic duty. At the end of the war, with a new governor in Richmond, that land bill came due.
It was around this time that now-Commander Washington and his fellow officers conspired to convince the new governor that what the grant actually meant to say was that it was the officers who were owed land. By means of this ruse, Washington personally gained over 20,000 acres of land that had originally been earmarked for the common soldiers.