Continental Colonel William Washington
This bio was graciously contributed by Stephen E. Haller, Senior Director of Collections for the Indiana Historical Society and author of William Washington: Cavalryman of the Revolution.
Early Life: 1752-1775
Washington's father, Bailey Washington of Stafford County, was the son of Henry and Mary Washington. Henry's father, John, was a brother of Lawrence Washington, who was George Washington's grandfather. John and Lawrence's father, John Washington, had emigrated from England. He and George, who was twenty years his senior, were second cousins, once removed. George also had a nephew, William Augustine Washington of Westmoreland County.
William was born on February 28, 1752. He grew up with three brothers and two sisters on his family's 1200-acre Virginia plantation in Stafford County. Their home is no longer standing today and was located within the boundaries of today's U. S. Marine Corps Base at Quantico. He was athletic, adept at fishing, swimming and hunting, and above all a superbly skilled horseman. Henry "Light Horse Harry" Lee, described him as "possessed [of] a stout frame, being six feet high, broad, strong and corpulent."
Princeton-educated Lee also patronizingly observed that "his occupations and his amusements applied to the body, rather than the mind; to the cultivation of which he did not bestow much time or application, nor was his education of the sort to excite such habits, being only calculated to fit a man for the common business of life. In temper he was good-humored; in disposition amiable; in heart upright, generous, and friendly; in manners lively, innocent, and agreeable." A South Carolina contemporary also commented on his education: "As a classical scholar, his merit placed him among the first on the list...But that modesty rather concealed, than displayed his talents - He was learned without ostentation." Young William had acquired a proficiency in Greek and the Classics in addition to his theology studies while studying for the ministry on the eve of Revolutionary War.
Revolutionary War: 1775-1776
The 3rd Virginia Regiment formed in summer of 1775 at Fredericksburg under Hugh Mercer and George Weedon, and Washington was quickly elected a company captain. His likable personality combined with his size to make him stand out among his peers. The 3rd Virginia marched to New York in August 1776 and fought at Harlem Heights (not Long Island). After the Patriot army's retreat from New York and through New Jersey, James Monroe, who would later become the fifth U. S. President, described William as "an officer whose good conduct had already been noticed."
William's fellow officers would praise his gallantry and decisive action to prevent the Hessian artillery from forming during a critical stage of this decisive Battle of Trenton, New Jersey, on December 26, 1776. Monroe later recalled how his commander "moved forward with the vanguard in front, attacked the enemy's picket, shot down the commanding officer, and drove it before him...rushed forward, attacked, and put the troops around the cannon to flight, and took possession of them." Both Monroe and Washington were two of the mere handful of Patriot casualties.
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