Freeman, Douglas Southall, George Washington: A Biography in 7 Volumes
George Washington Volume 1: Young Washington (1948)
George Washington Volume 2: Young Washington (1948)
George Washington Volume 3: Planter and Patriot (1951)
George Washington Volume 4: Leader of the Revolution (1951)
George Washington Volume 5: Victory with the Help of France (1952)
George Washington Volume 6: Patriot and President (1954)
George Washington Volume 7: First in Peace (1957) by John Alexander Carroll and Mary Wells Ashworth, based on Freeman’s original research
Notes Concerning the Author
Douglas Southall Freeman (1886 – 1953) was an American historian, biographer, newspaper editor, and author. He is best known for his multi-volume biographies of Robert E. Lee and George Washington, for each of which he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.
It has been estimated that there have been over 900 books written about George Washington and this is the definitive biography. All seven volumes combined are 4,102 pages (that excludes table of contents, indexes, and maps). It is for the serious reader. If you can average six pages per day it will take you 684 days to read it, a little under two years. If you decide to commit the time to read it, do not pass over the page notes. If you do, you will miss a wealth of information.
The author, Freeman, chose to put the life of Washington in chronological order. I enjoyed reading of the events as they happened and not jumping ahead. Think of this book as reading, rather than watching a TV series about Washington. Freeman meant for volumes one and two to be considered together as one, and likewise for volumes three and four, but that volume five stand alone. It was his intention for volumes six and seven to be considered together, but he died before volume six was finished. Fortunately, two of his associates collaborated on volume seven, which presents the last seven years of Washington’s life.
In volume one you’ll find a section, 120 pages, about Virginia in the youth of Washington. I found it interesting and informative. It was like a book within a book, a bonus.
Many people are familiar with the events of The Battle of the Wilderness on 9 July, 1755, during The French-Indian War. Washington was in that battle and many people, myself included, are in the camp that Divine Intervention saved Washington. There were three other cases in Washington’s life where he escaped death, one being in New York in 1776 when a mortar shell landed six feet in front of him, but did not explode.
George Washington is the personification of the American Revolution. The crossing of the Delaware on Christmas night in 1776 was brilliant and saved the Colonies from losing the war. British General Cornwallis was ready to board a ship back to England thinking the war was over. During the war and during his two terms as president Washington exhibited great organizational skills. Washington kept the army going despite difficulties and intrigue: The Conway Cabal, lack of men to fill the ranks, clothing and equipping the army (at one point in the war many soldiers were literally naked), paying the soldiers, to name just a few. It amazes me that one man had all that on his shoulders and yet saw it through.
Washington’s contribution during the Constitutional Convention was his presence and getting the two sides to agree to a compromise. He was the unanimous choice to be our first (and best) president. Without Washington our government “experiment” may have blown up and ended quickly. As in the war, Washington had a lot on his shoulders during his presidency, especially during his second term. Keeping the United States neutral during the war going on between France and England was not easy. With Washington, it was always about what is best for the country. He did not accept any pay as Commander-In-Chief during the Revolution, nor during his two terms as president.
Even though Washington’s Birthday was not an official holiday until 1879, it was celebrated like a holiday by Americans after the Revolution.
I was also amazed at three other books that have been written about Washington: one dealing with his journey from Mount Vernon to New York for his first inauguration, one dealing with his Southern tour in 1791, and one dealing with the eulogies to Washington after his death. He was special.
What made Washington so special? Washington himself said he was always about doing the right thing. It’s a good way to conduct one’s life. Integrity, virtue and selfless are the three words I would use to describe Washington. He would have preferred to have stayed at Mount Vernon in 1775, but his country called, and needed him, so he became the leader of the army. He had no desire to be president, but put the interest of the country over his preference of staying at Mount Vernon. He planned to only serve one term, and was looking forward to going home to Mount Vernon, but again put the interest of the country over his own.
“How punctuations of sound and of silence had marked George Washington’s life! At 16 he had touched the frontier and had learned by listening as well as by looking, to know the wilderness. Soon he learned . . . the staccato of rain . . . the sentry’s alarm . . . ; the whistle of bullets . . . the beat of the drum . . . the incessant shrieks of savages . . . the clattering of round shot . . . the exultant roar of American mortars . . . Salute and salutation, huzzas and hurrahs, he had heard and acknowledged with complete composure. But none of those in the crowd that followed along a Philadelphia Street in March, 1797, saw that his eyes were wet with tears as he silently bowed to their silent veneration.”
Washington believed in God and understood that God controls things. After the Fourth of July celebration in 1799 we wrote a will even though he was in good health. Why? Because he was 67 and knew that his three score and ten was near (Psalm 90:10).
This book is the most comprehensive study of Washington and the best place to check for specific activities, military movements, and decisions. Freeman’s research was thorough, and the story is told from Washington’s own viewpoint. Freeman wrote, “the great big thing stamped across that man is character.” By character, says David Hackett Fischer, University Professor and Earl Warren Professor of History at Brandeis University, “Freeman meant integrity, self-discipline, courage, absolute honesty, resolve, and decision, but also forbearance, decency, and respect for others.”
Availability of this Book
This book is out of print and finding all seven volumes can prove to be difficult. I recently found two sets on Amazon in very good condition for $125. That averages out to $17.86 per book. If you find such a bargain buy the set while you can.
A second, alternative way to read the book is to go to Archive.org and find a nearby library that has the set. On the web site under Advanced Search enter “Douglas Southall Freeman” in the field Any and “George Washington” in the field Title. I did this and found that Florida College, 1.9 miles from my house, had the entire set.
A third, alternative way to read the book is to go to Worldcat.org/advanced search and read the book online. Enter “Douglas Southall Freeman” in the Author field and “George Washington” in the Title field. I found volumes 1, 2, 3 and 7. If you’d like, you can have the book(s) narrated for you. Perhaps different search criteria will find volumes 4, 5 and 6. If not, I’d suggest Amazon and look for those three volumes sold individually.
Having personally read all seven volume volumes of this book, I would not recommend buying the abridged version by Richard Harwell. That is only 780 pages. I can’t imagine gutting 81% of the book.
JW (Jeff Wolverton)