It was a desperate undertaking. There were 10,000 men, and the width of the river at the point of crossing was nearly a mile. It would seem hardly possible that such a movement could, in a single night, be made without discovery by the British troops, who were lying in camp but a short distance away. The night must have been a long and anxious one for Washington, who stayed at his post of duty on the Long Island shore until the last boat of the retreating army had pushed off. The escape was a brilliant achievement and saved the American cause.
After serving two terms as President with great success he again retired in 1797 to private life at Mount Vernon. Here he died on December 14, 1799, at the age of sixty-seven, loved and honored by the American peop
George Washington as a young soldier
Washington had another narrow escape from death. He had expected on reaching the Alleghany River to cross on the ice, but to his dismay he found the ice broken up and the stream filled with whirling blocks. There was no way of getting over except on a raft which he and his companion had to make with a single hatchet. Having at last finished it, they pushed off, and then began a desperate struggle with the current and, great blocks of floating ice. Washington, in trying to guide the raft with a pole, was thrown violently into the water. By catching hold of one of the raft logs he recovered himself, and by heroic effort succeeded in reaching an island nearby. Here the travellers suffered through a night of intense cold, not daring to kindle a fire for fear of the Indians.
After his marriage with Mrs. Custis, who had large property of her own, Washington became a man of much wealth. He was at one time one of the largest landholders in America. As a manager of all this property, he had much to do. Let us delay our story a little to get a glimpse of the life led by him and other Virginia planters of his time.
We must remember that travelling was no such simple and easy matter then as it is now. As the planters in Virginia usually lived on the banks of one of the many rivers, the simplest method of travel was by boat, up or down stream. There were cross-country roads, but these at best were rough, and sometimes full of roots and stumps. Often they were nothing more than forest paths. In trying to follow such roads the traveler at times lost his way and occasionally had to spend a night in the woods. But with even such makeshifts for roads, the planter had his lumbering old coach to which, on state occasions, he harnessed six horses and drove in great style.