Samuel Washington: George’s Brother and Wartime Confidant

Samuel Washington was born in Westmoreland County on November 16, 1734 at “…about 3 in the morning.” He was the third child and second oldest boy of Augustine and Mary Washington.[1]  Aside from his relationship to his famous older brother, George Washington, there is relatively little known about Samuel Washington when compared to what is known about George.

In 1738, when Samuel was about four-years-old, the family moved to Ferry Farm, where he spent his childhood.  When Samuel was eight-years-old, Augustine died in April 1743.  According to Augustine’s will, his sons were to receive their inheritance when they turned 21-years-old.  Until then, Mary controlled their inherited property.

This property included enslaved men, women, and children.  Samuel received ten of his father’s slaves: Dick, Ralph, Tom, Merry, Rosa, Pegg, Milla, Sarah, Charles, Virgin, and Will.  Of these, only Dick is listed as one of the “Negroes at the Home House” in Augustine’s probate inventory, meaning that he came from the enslaved community living at Ferry Farm.

Samuel also inherited land from Augustine, namely Chotank Farm in Frederick County and a portion of land in Westmoreland County. [2]  When Samuel reached age of 21 in 1755, he sold the Westmoreland property and moved to Chotank Farm with his new wife, Jane Champe.[3]

augustine-washington-family-tree

The Family of Augustine Washington (click photo to enlarge)

Over the course of his life, Samuel married five times.  Each of his wives died from illness or during childbirth.  Similarly, several children of Samuel and his wives passed away.  Thornton Washington, a son Samuel fathered with second wife Mildred Thorton, survived to adulthood and fought in the American Revolution[4]  Samuel and Anne Steptoe Allerton, his fourth wife, had three children who survived childhood: George Steptoe Washington, Lawrence Augustine Washington, and Harriot Washington.[5]

In 1770, Samuel moved his family from Frederick County to a new home called Harewood (now in Jefferson County, West Virginia).[6]  At Harewood, he was situated far from the Revolutionary War.  Samuel was sickly for much of his life, most likely with tuberculosis, which precluded him from actively fighting in the war. He still joined his local militia in 1771 and eventually became a colonel.[7]  He also played a role in local politics, both before and during the Revolution. In 1766, he signed the Leedstown or Westmoreland Resolves [PDF] against the Stamp Act.  The same year, Samuel was named a justice in Stafford County[8], and in 1769, was appointed by the governor as a member of the new Commission of the Peace.[9]

harewood

Harewood as it appears today near Charles Town, West Virginia. Credit: Acroterion/Wikipedia

Although Samuel’s direct involvement in the war was limited, George Washington saw his brother as a confidant. For much of the Revolution, George sent Samuel many letters describing the war’s course and hardships. He even included sensitive information such as troop movements. Multiple times, George wrote to his brother to tell him the news of the front, frequently describing the battles and their outcome, lamenting the lack of troops and supplies, and once even sent Samuel a list of the names of prisoners taken.  George could express to Samuel his uncertainties about the war and the future of the country he was fighting to create. In 1776, George confessed to his brother; “We are, I expect, upon the Eve of something very important; what may be the Issue; Heaven alone can tell, I will do the best I can, and leave the rest to the supreme direction of Events”

In 1780, George wrote his brother in frustration, saying “We are always without an Army—or have a raw and undisciplined one, engaged for so short a time that we are not fit either for the purposes of offence or defence, much less is it in our power to project schemes & execute plans which depend upon well-disciplined and permanent Troops—One half the year is spent in getting Troops into the Field—the other half is lost in discharging them, from their limited Service, & the manner & time in which they come and go.” This expression of doubt shows how comfortable George was with telling his brother the bleak truth about what was happening in war.

Since there are no surviving letters from Samuel, it is necessary to rely on what George wrote to his brother to get an idea of their relationship. On a personal level, the two men seem to have been close given the level of trust George showed by sharing his innermost thoughts about the war and the state of the army with Samuel.  Beyond affairs of state, at times, George simply missed Samuel, telling him in 1772 that “I was in great hopes to have met with you at Fredericksburg, or seen you at this place on your way up but it would almost seem as if you had foresworn this part of the Country.”  There were other letters similar to this, asking Samuel when he would visit George at Mount Vernon. During the Revolution, there was little opportunity for visiting and travel, but the brothers were able to stay in touch, up until Samuel’s death.

Samuel did not live to see the new country that his brother was fighting to create. In 1781, shortly before the Battle of Yorktown, Samuel’s health declined sharply and he died in September.[10] It is believed he died of tuberculosis.  Thornton Washington, Samuel’s eldest son, died in 1787, leaving George Steptoe, Augustine Lawrence, and Harriot to be cared for by Samuel’s siblings. Betty became the main caretaker of Harriot while Charles and George had many disputes over the welfare of their two nephews, mainly arguing over money.

Samuel left many debts unpaid after his death. In 1783, an exasperated George pondered in a letter to his younger brother, John Augustine, “How did my Brothr. Saml. Contrive to get himself so enormously in debt? Was it by purchases? By misfortunes? Or shear indolence and inattention to business?”[11] Whatever the reason, there was little that remained to pay off Samuel’s debts, his children were nearly destitute. Samuel’s wealth was most likely tied up in land and that land was sold off to pay his debts. Because neither his will nor any probate inventory have been found, it is nearly impossible to discover what his assets were before his death. Charles, John Augustine, Betty and George all pitched-in over the next several years to make sure that Samuel’s children were well cared for.  In his will, George Washington exonerated the debts that were owed him by Samuel and said that he did not expect Samuel’s children to repay him for their education or anything else that may have been given to them.

Madeline Fanta
Summer Fleming-Smith Scholar

[1] Augustine and Mary Washington family bible; Felder, Paula S. Fielding Lewis and the Washington Family: A Chronicle of 18th Century Fredericksburg, American History Company, 1998: pg. 4

[2] Ambler, Charles Henry, George Washington and the West, Historic Pittsburgh Text Collection, 1873- 1957: pg. 32 http://bit.ly/2cpnGgO [Accessed 8/17/16].

[3] Bedinger Family History and Genealogy Website, http://www.bedinger.org/col-samuel-washington.html [Accessed 8/17/16].

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Grizzard, Frank E. Jr. George! A Guide to All Things Washington, Charlottesville, VA: Mariner Publishing, 2005: pg. 337

[7] Bedinger Family History and Genealogy Website, http://www.bedinger.org/col-samuel-washington.html [accessed 6/15/2016].

[8] Bushong, Millard Kessler, A History of Jefferson County, West Virginia, 1719-1940, Westminster, MD: Heritage Books Inc. 2007: pg. 308

[9] Felder, pg. 152.

[10] Bedinger Family History and Genealogy Website http://www.bedinger.org/col-samuel-washington.html [accessed 6/15/2016].

[11] Grizzard, pg. 337

Advertisements