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Letters Reveal George Washington's Views of Manhood

Feb. 20, 1962 - The role of “father” played by the childless George Washington before he assumed the larger role of Father of his Country is depicted in two letters that recently changed hands. Washington’s warnings and advice concerned two teenagers, one of whom was 17-year-old John Park Custis, son of Martha Washington by a previous marriage. That letter is now at Columbia University. Washington’s other letter as a stand-in father was sent to a nephew on the eve of the first President’s Inauguration. Its recipient, 16-year-old George Steptoe Washington, came under Washington’s wing after the child’s father, Samuel, died in 1781. In Washington’s opinion, his nephew had “now arrived at that age when you must quit the trifling amusements of a boy and assume the more dignified manners of a man.” Washington found it “absolutely necessary if you mean to make any figure upon the Stage,” that the first steps be “right.” Good company, young George’s mentor wrote, were the means of improving manners and cultivating one’s mind, and were “much less expensive than bad.” Washington cautioned against “vice and dissipation which too often present themselves to youth in every place” and promised on condition of good behavior that George could always depend upon his “warmest attachment and sincere regard.”

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