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Daily Life on a Colonial Plantation

A London Hanging, 1726

George Washington's Rules of Good Behavior

Passage To America, 1750

Captured by Indians, 1758

Courtship in New England, 1760

Daniel Boone Opens Up the West, 1769-71

The Boston Massacre 1770

The Boston Tea Party 1773

Getting Sick, 1774

Battle at Lexington, 1775

Battle at Lexington, 1775: The British Perspective

Ethan Allen Captures Fort Ticonderoga, 1775

The Execution of Nathan Hale,

Writing the Declaration of Independence, 1776

Washington Crosses the Delaware, 1776

The Continental Army at Valley Forge, 1777

"I Have Not Yet Begun to Fight!", 1779

The British Surrender at Yorktown, 1781

Thomas Jefferson's Advice to his Daughter, 1783

Slave Trade: the African Connection, 1788

The Inauguration of George Washington, 1789

Building America, 1789

The Beginning of the French Revolution, 1789

The Execution of Louis XVI, 1793

Joining the British Navy, 1793

Yellow Fever Attacks Philadelphia, 1793

The Death of George Washington

George Washington's Rules of

Good Behavior, ca. 1746

The qualities that would make George Washington a respected leader and a genuine hero of American history were evident at a young age. General Edward Braddock, Washington’s commander during the French and Indian War, wrote the following appraisal to a friend in 1755:

"Is Mr. Washington among your acquaintances? If not, I recommend you to embrace the first opportunity to form his friendship. He is about twenty-three years of age; with a countenance both mild and pleasant, promising of both wit and judgment. He is of comely and dignified demeanor, at the same time displays much self-reliance and decision. He strikes me as being a young man of extraordinary and exalted character, and is destined to make no inconsiderable figure in our country."

(Kinnaird, George Washington, the pictoral biography)

As a youth, Washington led a troubled life. His father died when he was eleven. As a result, George spent much of his formative years living with his older step-brothers, Austin and Lawrence.  He received some formal education between the years of six and fourteen, but the majority of what he learned was home-spun.

One staple of his self-learning was a book entitled The Young Man’s Companion published in London in 1664. The book’s title page proclaimed that it was written "in a plain and easy style so that a young man may attain the same, without a tutor."  Included in the book was a list of rules for proper social behavior that had been developed by French Jesuits almost a century earlier. The thirteen or fourteen-year-old George Washington would spend hours filling the pages of his notebook with copies of these rules, many of which he modified to better fit his own view of proper behavior. The boy entitled his writings as the Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior In Company and Conversation.

The result of young George's effort was two-fold. First, he was able to perfect his penmanship – handwriting so immaculate that it was commented upon throughout the rest of his life. Secondly, and more importantly, he developed a set of rules that both reflected and molded his sense of character and good behavior for the rest of his life. These Rules of Civility were instrumental in the transformation of the young boy who filled his notebook with them to the adult who would become the “Father of His Country.”

Words to Live By

Washington's Rules of Civility contained 110 maxims. Here is a sampling:

Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.

In the Presence of Others Sing not to yourself with a humming Noise, nor Drum with your Fingers or Feet.

Sleep not when others Speak, Sit not when others stand, Speak not when you Should hold your Peace, walk not on when others Stop.

When you see a Crime punished, you may be inwardly Pleased, but always shew Pity to the Suffering Offender.

When a man does all he can, though it succeeds not well, blame him not that he did it.

Being to advise or reprehend any one, consider whether it ought to be in publick or in Private; presently, or at Some other time, in what terms to do it & in reproving, Shew no sign of Cholar but do it with all Sweetness and Mildness.

Take all Admonitions thankfully in what Time or Place Soever given, but afterwards not being culpable, take a Time & Place convenient to Let him know it that gave them.

Mock not nor Jest at any thing of importance, break no Jest that are Sharp Bitting and if you Deliver any thing witty and Pleasant, abstain from Laughing thereat yourself.

Wherein you reprove Another, be unblameable yourself; for example is more prevelant than Precepts.

Use no Reproachful Language against any one, neither Curse nor Revile.

Be not hasty to believe flying Reports to the Disparagment of any.

Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation for 'tis better to be alone than in bad Company.

Gaze not on the marks or blemishes of Others and ask not how they came. What you may Speak in Secret to your Friend deliver not to others.

Speak not Evil of the absent for it is unjust.

Put not your meat to your Mouth with your Knife in your hand neither Spit forth the Stones of any fruit Pye upon a Dish nor Cast anything under the table.

Let your Recreations be Manful not Sinful.

Labour to keep alive in your Breast that little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience.

   Murray, John Allen, George Washington's Rules of Civility (1942); Kincaid, Clark, George Washington, the pictorial biography (1967); Sparks, Jared, The Writings of George Washington, vol. 1 (1839).

How To Cite This Article:
"George Washington's Rules of Good Behavior, ca. 1746" EyeWitness to History, (2007).

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