There were no good schools in Virginia at that time. In fact, the people did not care much about learning.
There were few educated men besides the parsons, and even some of the parsons were very ignorant.
It was the custom of some of the richest families to send their eldest sons to England to the great schools there. But it is doubtful if these young men learned much about books.
They spent a winter or two in the gay society of London, and were taught the manners of gentlemen—and that was about all.
George Washington's father, when a young man, had spent some time at Appleby School in England, and George's half-brothers, Lawrence and Augustine, who were several years older than he, had been sent to the same school. But book-learning was not thought to be of much use. To know how to manage the business of a plantation, to be polite to one's equals, to be a leader in the affairs of the colony—this was thought to be the best education.
And so, for most of the young men, it was enough if they could read and write a little and keep a few simple accounts. As for the girls, the parson might give them a few lessons now and then; and if they learned good manners and could write letters to their friends, what more could they need?
George Washington's first teacher was a poor sexton, whose name was Mr. Hobby. There is a story that he had been too poor to pay his passage from England, and that he had, therefore, been sold to Mr. Washington as a slave for a short time; but how true this is, I cannot say.
From Mr. Hobby, George learned to spell easy words, and perhaps to write a little; but, although he afterward became a very careful and good penman, he was a poor speller as long as he lived.
When George was about eleven years old his father died. We do not know what his father's intentions had been regarding him. But possibly, if he had lived, he would have given George the best education that his means would afford.
But now everything was changed. The plantation at Hunting Creek, and, indeed, almost all the rest of Mr. Washington's great estate, became the property of the eldest son, Lawrence.
George was sent to Bridge's Creek to live for a while with his brother Augustine, who now owned the old home plantation there. The mother and the younger children remained on the Rappahannock farm.
While at Bridge's Creek, George was sent to school to a Mr. Williams, who had lately come from England.
There are still to be seen some exercises which the lad wrote at that time. There is also a little book, called The Young Man's Companion, from which he copied, with great care, a set of rules for good behavior and right living.
Not many boys twelve years old would care for such a book nowadays. But you must know that in those days there were no books for children, and, indeed, very few for older people.
The maxims and wise sayings which George copied were, no doubt, very interesting to him—so interesting that many of them were never forgotten.
There are many other things also in this Young Man's Companion, and we have reason to believe that George studied them all.
There are short chapters on arithmetic and surveying, rules for the measuring of land and lumber, and a set of forms for notes, deeds, and other legal documents. A knowledge of these things was, doubtless, of greater importance to him than the reading of many books would have been.
Just what else George may have studied in Mr. Williams's school I cannot say. But all this time he was growing to be a stout, manly boy, tall and strong, and well-behaved. And both his brothers and himself were beginning to think of what he should do when he should become a man.