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Action Hero Poster

May 2008

    It was a 900-mile journey at a time when most people would never stray more than 50 miles from their home in their lifetime. A journey of freezing temperatures, treacherous river crossings, Indian attacks and unknown wilderness, all undertaken to deliver a message that would change the world. The courier sent on this vital mission was only 21 years old, but experienced on the frontier. He had explored and surveyed in the Ohio area with Native American guides, and was known as one of the best horsemen anyone had ever seen. A giant with large hands, a muscular frame and piercing blue eyes, his name was George Washington. Shortly after this 78-day adventure was over, the Governor of Virginia, Robert Dinwiddie, saw to it that Washington’s journal was published in both America and London.  Suddenly, George Washington was an intercontinental hero, and at age 22 was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in the Virginia Militia. The message he had delivered to Fort Dusquesne claimed that territory for England and demanded that the French forces leave the area.

     Washington at 20

    We live in an age that can hardly fathom the young, energetic, physically powerful George Washington. In his own lifetime he would become a mythic figure, but not for being a marble statue or a silent still portrait.  He was, for all intents and purposes, an 18th century action hero. In our modern eyes you would need to combine Shaquille O’Neil’s physical presence with Bruce Willis and a bit of Mel Gibson’s William Wallace to even come close.  We only see the icon today, the unsmiling, white haired man who we are told in school fathered our country.  This stagnant image steals from us the flesh and blood man. A man who loved sport and rode his horse as if it were an extension of his person, who was so fond of dancing that at one party he danced for four hours straight.  A man who rode in between lines of gunfire to rally his troops to victory.

   Only months after Washington made the journey to Fort Dusquesne with Governor Dinwiddie’s message, Washington was sent back with 150 men to assert Virginia’s claim in the Ohio Valley. When he came across a group of French and Indian diplomats he believed were planning an attack the rash young Lt. Colonel ordered his own attack. Ten men were killed including a French diplomat and Washington was surrounded. The campaign ended in defeat and had started the French and Indian War in America. A humiliated Washington returned to Virginia, his military career appeared to be finished. Washington resigned his commission.





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 Like all great action stories his hour of darkness proved a turning point for Washington. This is the moment in the hero myth where the wound that seems like it should be fatal brings the hero down and he must make the choice to rise up again. Two years pass before Washington returns to the frontier as volunteer aide to General Edward Braddock. Braddock was an inept commander but his greatest flaw was that he would not listen to any junior officers even in their areas of experience and expertise. This flaw would end up costing the lives of  almost 1000 of Braddock’s troops and the life of the man himself. Every other officer serving alongside Washington was killed or wounded at the battle near the Monongahela river, targeted by the Indian warriors. In the midst of this terrible slaughter Washington kept his head and tried to rally the Virginia troops.

washington rallies

Two horses were shot out from under him but he managed to organize a retreat and get the survivors to safety. When the battle was over Washington found four bullet holes in his uniform. Stories still exist that  the Indians believed  the tall officer was protected by a higher power since none of their bullets would bring him down. In recognition of his conduct in battle Washington was given command of Virginia’s entire military force on the frontier. Stories about him again filled the newspapers.

     Washington would later enter politics and eventually his election to the 2nd Continental Congress at  the age of 43 would turn the famous Colonel Washington of Virginia into General Washington, Commander of the Revolutionary Army.  His exploits would continue to gain in stature through eight years of war. The crossing of the Delaware and surprise attack on Trenton. Washington’s leading the charge into enemy guns at  Princeton. Even when his own troops began to fight each other he was reported to have jumped in between them and physically pulled apart the brawlers, tossing them aside. As a leader he was known for always hearing the opinions of his Junior Officers and believed that if he let people continue to talk, eventually he would know as much as they did. When the war finally ended he was the most powerful man in America, revered by his countrymen and commander of a victorious army. That’s when he did what all good action heroes do, he rode off into the sunset. The world stood by in awe as Washington casually set aside the power he had held almost absolutely. They all said he could have been a king but like the Roman hero Cincinnatus he retuned to his farm after saving his world.

   It would only be 4 years before his countrymen would beg Washington to return to service.  Elected unanimously twice to serve as president, he weathered the storms of politics for eight years before he again resigned to private life. Those are the years of Washington the executive, Washington the builder, Washington the keystone supporting the weight of the new Republic. History would call on Washington the Action hero one last time. In 1798 when it looked like War with France was inevitable and fear had swept over the country there could be only one person the people knew could protect them. Washington was 67 years old in an age when 67 was considered an old man but in June of 1799 he was appointed Commander of the new army.  He had none of his original teeth left, his red/brown hair was long since grey and now snowy white but he was still the hero of the people. France negotiated for peace and by December Washington was dead. America’s first action hero was gone.




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