Once every summer a ship came up the river to the plantation, and was moored near the shore.
It had come across the sea from far-away England, and it brought many things for those who were rich enough to pay for them.
It brought bonnets and pretty dresses for George's mother and sisters; it brought perhaps a hat and a tailor-made suit for himself; it brought tools and furniture, and once a yellow coach that had been made in London, for his brother.
When all these things had been taken ashore, the ship would hoist her sails and go on, farther up the river, to leave goods at other plantations.
In a few weeks it would come back and be moored again at the same place.
Then there was a busy time on shore. The tobacco that had been raised during the last year must be carried on shipboard to be taken to the great tobacco markets in England.
The slaves on the plantation were running back and forth, rolling barrels and carrying bales of tobacco down to the landing.
Letters were written to friends in England, and orders were made out for the goods that were to be brought back next year.
But in a day or two, all this stir was over. The sails were again spread, and the ship glided away on its long voyage across the sea.
George had seen this ship coming and going every year since he could remember. He must have thought how pleasant it would be to sail away to foreign lands and see the many wonderful things that are there.
And then, like many another active boy, he began to grow tired of the quiet life on the farm, and wish that he might be a sailor.
He was now about fourteen years old. Since the death of his father, his mother had found it hard work, with her five children, to manage her farm on the Rappahannock and make everything come out even at the end of each year. Was it not time that George should be earning something for himself? But what should he do?
He wanted to go to sea. His brother Lawrence, and even his mother, thought that this might be the best thing.
A bright boy like George would not long be a common sailor. He would soon make his way to a high place in the king's navy. So, at least, his friends believed.
And so the matter was at last settled. A sea-captain who was known to the family, agreed to take George with him. He was to sail in a short time.
The day came. His mother, his brothers, his sisters, were all there to bid him good-bye. But in the meanwhile a letter had come to his mother, from his uncle who lived in England.
"If you care for the boy's future," said the letter, "do not let him go to sea. Places in the king's navy are not easy to obtain. If he begins as a sailor, he will never be aught else."
The letter convinced George's mother—it half convinced his brothers—that this going to sea would be a sad mistake. But George, like other boys of his age, was headstrong. He would not listen to reason. A sailor he would be.
The ship was in the river waiting for him. A boat had come to the landing to take him on board.
The little chest which held his clothing had been carried down to the bank. George was in high glee at the thought of going.
"Good-bye, mother," he said.
He stood on the doorstep and looked back into the house. He saw the kind faces of those whom he loved. He began to feel very sad at the thought of leaving them.
He saw the tears welling up in his mother's eyes. He saw them rolling down her cheeks. He knew now that she did not want him to go. He could not bear to see her grief.
"Mother, I have changed my mind," he said. "I will not be a sailor. I will not leave you."
Then he turned to the black boy who was waiting by the door, and said, "Run down to the landing and tell them not to put the chest on board. Tell them that I have thought differently of the matter and that I am going to stay at home."
If George had not changed his mind, but had really gone to sea, how very different the history of this country would have been!
He now went to his studies with a better will than before; and although he read but few books he learned much that was useful to him in life. He studied surveying with especial care, and made himself as thorough in that branch of knowledge as it was possible to do with so few advantages.