He was “the Father of Our Country,” and “First in the hearts of his countrymen,” but how much were you taught about George Washington? As for me I recall: cannot tell a lie ….crossing the Delaware…praying at Valley Forge … President. Today’s students may know even less. There’s the ever present but never named textbook that spends more time talking about Marilyn Monroe than our first president (I did track it down to a 1973 study which would put it in my era—maybe that’s why I don’t remember much). We seem to know one our two facts about his childhood (and just so you know that chopping down the cherry tree is most likely not true) and the jump to his leading the Continental armies in the American Revolution—jumping over nearly 40 years of his life. So this week I’m pleased to present a book to help fill in that gap.
George Washington: Frontier Colonel
Sterling North and Lee J. Ames (illus.). New York: Random House, 1957. 184 pp.
The title is a bit misleading. This 12 chapter book begins with Washington’s birth and doesn’t get to his activities in the French & Indian War until chapter six and the last two chapters deal with his marriage and election. Even worse, he’s demoted from colonel to captain after his defeat and surrender at Fort Necessity.
We did focus on those middle chapters during our study of the French & Indian War (the fighting in North America that was part of the much larger Seven Years War). It was during this time that he earned his moniker “Bulletproof George Washington” when he had two horses shot from beneath him and found several bullet holes in his hat and coat. This episode appears in the book (but not the prophecy from the Chief overseeing the attack as included in David Barton’s book). Did you know though that this was not the only time that divine protection saved Washington from being shot to death? Several years earlier Washington had been sent into the wilderness to send a warning to the French to leave English territory. He was on his way back with valuable information about French forces and their locations when the native guide turned around and tried to shoot him point blank. The bullet missed both Washington and his traveling companion.
There is no dialogue in the book – it would all be a guess as to who said exactly what anyway. Instead you’ll find passage after passage taken from Washington’s own letters and journals—especially during the military campaigns. Most of the spelling of these passages has been modernized but students might wonder why some words (even those in the middle of sentences) have been capitalized.
I’ve found several reviews for this book on Amazon (it is in reprint) that claims it’s” too full of facts” and “boring.” Perhaps the reviewers are used to books with more drama and violence to keep the readers attention. Sterling North doesn’t overlook the warfare going on, but he doesn’t dwell on it or glorify it either. The author also tries to stretch the reader’s skills with more difficult sentence patterns and vocabulary than what is printed for the masses today. This passage serves as an example of the text and I believe also sums up why we still revere the man today.
Washington has often been pictured as the flawless and almost superhuman Father of his Country—an austere man both saintly and wooden who faced every disaster unflinchingly. He was a brave man, no doubt about it, but much braver than such a false image would indicate. Like all mankind he knew hours of bleak discouragement. Often he felt that his “honor” had been dimmed, but he was eager to burnish it bright once again by further public service. He suffered from moments of depression, but he rose above them. He was a greater man for having had his periods of doubt.
Sterling North is perhaps best known for his book, Rascal. We’ll be hearing from him again when I post about So Dear to My Heart. George Washington: Frontier Colonel was one of two titles he wrote for the famous Landmark Book series. He must have liked what he was doing because he went on to found and edit a competitive series, North Star Books, with publishers Houghton Mifflin.
My copy of the book was truly part of a treasure trove. Someone had donated a whole box of Landmark Books from their private collection to our local library book sale. I snatched up all 30 of them for 50 cents each. (I know you bibliophiles out there are wishing you’d had a chance at them, but all rejoice with you on the day you get lucky).
You can see all my rescued books by clicking here.
I’m linking up with: