First Scenes for an Imaginary Film

  • Scene 1: Mount Vernon, Virgina. George Washington on a bucking horse. Just like we’ve seen many times before in Westerns, he’s trying to break it, tame it for riding. Washington always broke his own horses, and he’s breaking another one now. He’s in his shirt, without vest, waistcoat, or powdered wig.
  • Scene 2: Washington at a big breakfast of ham and other meats, freshly baked goods, butter, jellies, etc. He’s sitting and fully dressed. At 6'2" he dwarfs his wife Martha, who is also fully dressed, and is sitting at the table with him. A black domestic servant (actually a slave) adds more food to an already full table.
  • Scene 3: Washington is on his white horse (Nelson, not the freshly broken one). The best horseman in America, perhaps of his age, he is with William Lee, his trusted black slave-valet, who is on a second horse. Billy is nearly is as good a horseman as Washington. They have an easy manner between them, but the relationship is really that of master/slave. Martha bids goodbye to her husband without a word.
  • Scene 4: A tracking shot of Washington riding away from his Mount Vernon mansion. As the camera follows him onto the open road, the whole of his slave enterprise is on view with some one hundred slave quarters stacked aside the fields. Music rises but does not resolve.
  • Scene 5: Washington enters Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania State House (now known as Independence Hall) is in the background. He's not tired, but refreshed from the five days’ journey. Along with other prominent colonists, he is there for the Second Continental Congress. His age is 43.

George Washington was the fixed point in the American Revolution. Or perhaps he was the stone that skipped across the age without sinking. He led the battle that initiated the French and Indian War, he commanded the Continental Army during the American Revolution, he was the President of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, and he was the first President of the United States (1789 - 97). King George III said of him — if he retires from the military and returns to his private life after the war, he will be the greatest man in the world.

Washington did exactly that.

Washington was fully involved with what made America America. He was one of the richest men in the thirteen colonies (though not as rich as Boston merchant John Hancock), he grew tobacco, he speculated in land, he held more than 300 slaves at his death (whom he freed), he fought Indians, and finally, he wanted political freedom for himself and for his countrymen.

No one who met Washington ever walked away unimpressed. He was a physical being who was an aggressive risk-taker as well as a man of rectitude — but also, for the ladies, he was wonderful dancer, a popular partner.

JDN | 26-Apr-2010

Despite deceptive appearances, the British were far from luxuriating in Philadelphia while Washington and his army suffered at Valley Forge. Every public building was used to house two thousand sick and wounded British and Hessian soldiers. The army was placed on half-rations, and there was a shortage of medical and hospital supplies that caused tension between the British and the Hessians. Unable to obtain supplies, the city became a prison for as many as fifty thousand inhabitants and troops.

Andrew Jackson O’Shaughnessy
The Men Who Lost America: British Leadership, the American Revolution, and the Fate of the Empire (2013)