He had held the rank of Colonel but chose to take up arms against the country of his birth and that that he had sworn allegiance to defend. As war clouds loomed, he left his family estate on the banks of the Potomac River in Virginia and was soon the commanding general of an army of rebels. He would gain fame for repeated victories against superior forces. These accolades would only intensify after a crushing defeat in the hills of Pennsylvania when he steadfastly held his army together during months of retreat, hunger, hardship, and desertions.
That was all long ago. Over the years, Virginia and various other States in our Union have memorialized this man with statues and by naming streets, schools, and even cities and counties after him. All of this mind set and the actions taken would be understandable if it weren’t for one overriding and highly disturbing fact … this general was both a traitor to his country and a slave holder. He only chose to take up his sword against the government when the longstanding institution of slavery was threatened by official decree and Virginia made its decision to proclaim its departure.
Yes, after all of this, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m joining with all of my politically progressive friends to demand that all of the statues come down immediately. I’ve also decided that all of the cities and streets should be renamed and, most important of all, the schools and institutions of higher learning that bear this offending surname should, collectively, be shamed into submission. How can the citizens of Lexington, VA or the cadets at VMI bear to wake up every morning knowing they share their neighborhood with a campus designated as Washington and Lee University? We need to heed the lessons of history and embrace another, more deserving, societal hero.
Why not Crispus Attucks, whom many historians credit as the first man to die for freedom in the American Revolution. He has become a symbol of Black American patriotism and sacrifice. In 1770, as tension mounted between British and colonial sailors in Massachusetts ports, distrust and competition among them grew. These pressures came to a head on March 5th, when an angry confrontation turned into a slaughter known as the Boston Massacre.
Witnesses say that Attucks, a middle-aged runaway enslaved man of African and native American descent, who worked as a sailor and a rope maker, played an active role in the initial scuffle. Of the five colonists killed, he was said to be the first to fall—making him the first martyr to the American cause. He was taken down by two musket balls to the chest.
Yes, it has a very nice ring … let’s mandate that this venerable institution in the Old Dominion be renamed “Attucks and Lee University”.
Not what you were expecting? Maybe you weren’t aware of George Washington’s notorious and treasonous history or the fact that the American Revolution was fought to its successful conclusion primarily to preserve and perpetuate an institution of human bondage.
To this end—a little historical background is in order: Both George Washington and Robert E. Lee only attained the rank of Colonel before terminating their respective allegiances. Washington as Colonel of the Virginia Regiment and Commander in Chief of all forces raised in the defense of His Majesty’s Colony of Virginia in the French and Indian War and Lee when he resigned from the Union Army to, eventually, command the Army of Northern Virginia.
It was George Washington leaving his estate and tobacco and cotton plantation at Mount Vernon on the banks of the Patomac, not Lee’s departure from his home across the river from the District of Columbia at Arlington. (also on the Patomac and destined to become a National Cemetery).
No it wasn’t Lee’s defeat, and the turning point of the Civil War, at Gettysburg. It was Washington’s debacle at Brandywine, his abandonment of Philadelphia, and the terrible winter encampment at Valley Forge.
Now to the issue of slavery motivation—realize that the American Revolution began as a localized uprising by a small group of Boston ruffians. Virginia at that time was the largest and wealthiest colony and, for the most part, its citizens had no desire to leave the embrace of the Crown of England. That was until the rebellion began in New England and, sensing its spread south, the colonial Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunsmore, issued his fateful edict:
As I have ever entertained hopes that an accommodation might have taken place between Great-Britain and this colony, without being compelled, by my duty, to this most disagreeable, but now absolutely necessary step, rendered so by a body of armed men, unlawfully assembled, firing on his Majesty’s tenders, and the formation of an army, and that army now on their march to attack his Majesty’s troops, and destroy the well disposed subjects of this colony: To defeat such treasonable purposes, and that all such traitors, and their abetters, may be brought to justice, and that the peace and good order of this colony may be again restored, which the ordinary course of the civil law is unable to effect, I have thought fit to issue this my proclamation, hereby declaring, that until the aforesaid good purposes can be obtained, I do, in virtue of the power and authority to me given, by his Majesty, determine to execute martial law, and cause the same to be executed throughout this colony; and to the end that peace and good order may the sooner be restored, I do require every person capable of bearing arms to resort to his Majesty’s STANDARD, or be looked upon as traitors to his Majesty’s crown and government, and thereby become liable to the penalty the law inflicts upon such offences, such as forfeiture of life, confiscation of lands, &c. &c. And I do hereby farther declare all indented servants, Negroes, or others (appertaining to rebels) free, that are able and willing to bear arms, they joining his Majesty’s troops, as soon as may be, for the more speedily reducing this Colony to a proper sense of their duty, to his Majesty’s crown and dignity. I do father order, and require all his Majesty’s liege subjects to retain their quitrents, or any other taxes due, or that may become due, in their own custody, till such time as peace may be again restored to this at present most unhappy country, or demanded of them for their former salutary purposes, by officers properly authorized to receive the same. Given on board the ship William, off Norfolk, the 7th of Nov, 1775.
By this time fugitive slaves were routinely being freed in England with the judgment that slavery could not exist under English common law and recent events at sea, off the coast of Africa, had helped launch the movement to abolish slavery throughout the Empire. Lord Dunsmore had only chosen to speed up the process by freeing the slaves in Virginia if they would join in the fight to put down the rebellion. George Washington was among the colony’s largest slave holders.
In 1781, the British Army under Lord Cornwallis was defeated at Yorktown in Virginia and two years later the last English soldier sailed home from New York. Slavery was soon to be eliminated in England but George Washington returned to his gentlemanly pursuits as a Southern Planter on the banks of the Patomac. As you know, he went on to become the first President of the United States and lived until 1799, but sixty-six more years were to pass before anyone was actually paid to pick cotton in the fields of Mount Vernon.
Today, elementary school children in Canada aren’t subjected to lectures on Critical Race Theory but they are taught that the primary motivation for the rebellion in our thirteen original colonies was not a tax on tea or a march on Lexington and Concord, but the perpetuation of slavery. Hmmm–could there be something to that idea?
In the meantime, don’t go overboard with political dogma or opinions, either on the Right or Left. Instead, let’s make a toast to the Class of 2022 at Attucks and Lee University and keep compassion in our hearts for the poor souls in the City of Seattle as they deal with having to change the name of their State to Grant or Sherman.