Our program featured Jeff Finnegan who, amongst other things, is a prominent authority on the subject of George Washington. Being a Civil War enthusiast was the beginning of Jeff’s fascination with American history. As his studies deepened, he fell in love with 18th century America. Whilst returning from a trip to Williamsburg, he began to wonder why George Washington did not sign the Declaration of Independence. His brother promised he would provide the answer at their July 4th family get together. The “answer”, Jeff was informed, could be found somewhere in a stack of selected books. From that day on, he devoured everything he could find about George Washington.
He takes particular delight in finding lesser-known facts. He found that, as a young officer travelling in Pennsylvania, Washington was among a group that began what would become the French and Indian War. Washington led an extraordinary life and correspondence from the people who knew him shed light on what his life was like at different points in time. Jeff became interested in Washington’s ownership of slaves. The Marquis de Lafayette wrote Washington to congratulate him on prevailing in the war but advised that Washington would never be known as the father of freedom until he no longer owned slaves.
Washington chose to resolve the issue in his will. The will clearly stated that his slaves (numbering 124) would be the property of his wife, but would be freed upon Martha’s death. The next paragraph had an exception to this rule and stated that the slave who called himself William Lee would receive his freedom immediately upon the death of George. Billy Lee had been with George through everything, and it was this relationship that served as the inspiration for Jeff s first book which tells about the life of Washington as seen through the eyes of the slave Billy Lee.
A second book would be from the viewpoint of Dr. James Craik who was with Washington until the end and was witness to George’s final words which were ‘tis well”. The third installment examines the extraordinary relationship between Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette. Soon to be published will be “My Dear Grandpapa” which tells the story from the point of view of Nellie, Martha’s granddaughter. The first three books are illustrated by local artist Preston Keith Hindmarch.