I have just returned from Washington, DC. Along with my grandchildren (and their parents), my wife and I spent one day in the area at Mount Vernon, the plantation home of George Washington. The mansion built by the first president of the United States is situated on the banks of the Potomac River on land that had been in his family since 1674.

When George Washington’s ancestors acquired the estate it was known as Little Hunting Creek Plantation, after the nearby Little Hunting Creek. Washington’s older half-brother, Lawrence Washington inherited the 5,000 acre estate and changed its name to Mount Vernon in honor of Vice Admiral Edward Vernon, famed for the War of Jenkins’ Ear. When George Washington inherited the property he retained the name.

George Washington came into possession of the estate in 1754. The mansion that sits on the property now was built in stages between 1758 and 1778. It occupies the site of an earlier, smaller house built by George Washington’s father Augustine.  Mount Vernon was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960 and is today listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Among the many things I learned during the enjoyable visit was that sometime before the age of 16, George Washington transcribed Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation. The list of 110 principles by which, supposedly, proper decent people must abide, comes from a French etiquette manual written by Jesuits in 1595. As a handwriting exercise Washington copied word-for-word Francis Hawkins’ translation which was published in England about 1640. Some of the principles seem dated but others are very appropriate guidelines for social interaction today. Below are a few that I believe are timeless (original language and spelling is retained):

-Keep your Nails clean and Short, also your Hands and Teeth Clean yet without Shewing any great Concern for them.

-To one that is your equal, or not much inferior you are to give the cheif Place in your Lodging and he to who ’tis offered ought at the first to refuse it but at the Second to accept though not without acknowledging his own unworthiness.

-Strive not with your Superiers in argument, but always Submit your Judgment to others with Modesty.

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

-Wherein you reprove Another be unblameable yourself; for example is more prevalent than Precepts.

-Be not hasty to beleive flying Reports to the Disparagement 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.

-Let your Conversation be without Malice or Envy.

-Be not apt to relate News if you know not the truth thereof.

-Be not Curious to Know the Affairs of Others neither approach those that Speak in Private.

-Undertake not what you cannot perform but be carefull to keep your promise.

-When you Speak of God or his Atributes, let it be Seriously & wt. Reverence.

-Honour & Obey your Natural Parents altho they be Poor.

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

Jamie Jenkins

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