Glasses Worn By George Washington In 1783 Saved America?
The information concerning the incident I am writing about came from two main sources.
1 “The Revolution” a 2006 12 part documentary on the History Channel
2 From the website www.historyplace.com/speeches/washington.htm
It really is amazing in just a relatively few years how much history our country has made. Much of it we learn about, with some of it is romanticized or turned into legends. Some of it people may argue needs a bit of editing to make sure the story may be told fully. Some of it as children, we learn about, and in the great style of Homer, learn to memory and repeat to others as we grow and mature. For the existence of this country so few in years, we also have stories that for whatever reason seem not to be told as much. These stories for whatever reason deemed not as important, are put on the back shelf of our minds. One of these facts of history that seemed to have been forgotten, deals with a pair of glasses owned by non-other than George Washington. The story is how his glasses may have saved this country.
This is not the stuff of folk lore, but rather simple fact. I am drawn to this story, because of the undercurrent of how small things, not planned on, seem to many times be the driving force in our lives. How the little things tend to slay mighty problems. David’s sling shot at the Giant, if you would allow me the metaphor. The year was 1783 and as Winter started its exit to allow Spring its 4 month or so dominion, and George Washington and his continental army were spending the winter up in Newburgh, New York. Many of us in school, or in books, learned that the Battle of Yorktown which took place from Sept. 28 – October 19th 1781 which forced the surrender of General Cornwallis and his army of about 6,000 ended the war. References to this battle can be found at www.britishbattles.com. However, it did not, yes most of the major battles were now over, and the British Government was looking for a way to end the war, but the war itself did not end. Fighting in the south led by American General Nathaniel Greene (yes, my favorite number 2 General for those of you keeping score) continued. During the time after the Yorktown, Washington, kept his army close to New York City, to monitor the activities of the British as they negotiated with France and America in France a formal end to the war.
During this time, after Yorktown, Washington was faced with many of the same problems he had to battle during the war itself. Specifically, lack of food, basic supplies, and yes, even pay for his men. At that time, payment made to the solders was chaotic, at best. No real currency of value, married up with specific promises of a officers pension to his generals that has yet to be granted, led to a growing distrust and anger from Washington’s men, in this case some of his trusted generals, toward Congress. On March 10th a letter was circulated among some of Washington’s generals that a meeting would take place to discuss the situation, and rumors were flying around camp that even a vote to have the army march on Congress itself would be on the table, to demand payment, or even more. This, of course in the infancy of America, could lead to civil war and the apprehension of a standing army by many in America seemed to now have merit. Peace terms were not yet finalized with Britain, and NYC was still filled with British Soldiers, so the status of the country itself was indeed in potential peril. When Washington learned of this meeting, he asked for it to be delayed. It was not. What could Washington do? You have heard many times that the power of the pen, is mightier than the sword, in this case that would be true. But only because of a pair of glasses. You see, George Washington, showed up unexpectedly to this meeting of his Generals that took place in a church on March 15, 1783. While not welcomed by all in the meeting, all his Generals showed him great respect and of course allowed him to speak at the meeting.
It was at this time, that George Washington, gave a speech to his men. The speech itself can be found by clicking on the above web link. In the speech, Washington talks about how at this grave hour, it is not the time to give back all that was earned and that the fight was not over. When finished, the speech itself, the one that George himself prepared went over with a loud THUD. It did not have the reaction George hoped and planned for. The speech he worked on to help quell the anger in his men, went for naught. George then, like hopefully most of us when planning for any situation, had a plan B. He was going to read a short note from a Congressperson back in the Continental Congress about the difficulties they were having in raising enough money to pay the troops. What Washington did next, was unexpected and not planned. He looked at the note and saw that he could not read its print. He was seen by the men moving the letter from the Congress person farther and farther away so he could see it better. This vulnerability of his person, was never really seen by his men. They knew General Washington as the man who led the charge into battle and faced death in the face many times. They now have seen a man who had trouble being able to see. George Washington, then did something he never did before that we know of, he reached in to his pocket and put on a pair of glasses. The crowd of Generals murmured and then were silent when they heard the general say as he put on his glasses, “Gentlemen you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown grey but almost blind in the service of my country.” This unplanned moment of frailty in front of his men, it is recorded led many of these Generals to cry openly. For the man that has been their rock for all these years. Been shot at, chased, and kept their spirits up, had in many ways grown older and more weary. The Generals were not going to turn their backs on Washington, now. George Washington, armed only with his words and a pair of glasses, turned the tide of anger that day. The Generals voted to stay the course and not march on Congress. It is important to note, that once the peace treaty was signed, General Washington did another simply amazing thing. He went home, he literally quit, and become George, husband of Martha. You ever wonder how much he was paid for his service to his country for all the years he led our troops? Actually, it was nothing. Washington handed to Congress receipts for money he paid out of his own pocket for supplies during the war, then declined any payment for his services. George Washington simply refused to be paid, while of course expecting and demanding all his generals be paid. Commander in Chief George Washington, did not now expect to be made, king or ruler, he thanked congress for allowing him to serve and he went home. I am confident he brought his pair of glasses with him. For the next chapter of his service to our country was to arise a few years later…
Darren Redmond has a Master’s Degree in Education and for over 22 years has worked directly in the field of Marketing , Advertising and internet products. Daren Redmond has also coached on the Collegiate level Division One and Division Three Athletes. The author is also a contributing writer to the Online Magazine, Universal Digest.