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CONTINENTAL YANKEE DOODLE.
Mount Vernon in '98—Miss Nelly Custis- Venerable Africans
Plantation Melody-Father Jack, the Old Fisherman—Billy Lee-Kosciuszko's Lamentation, Old Tige, the Watch Hound“Stealin' Cherries, is ye?”—“Hawk Kotch at Chicken"- Mose the Cow-boy-Aunt Dolly-Old Vulcun, the Historic Hound“The Old Black Fox”-Scomberry, the Philosopher of Dogue Run, Washington at Home
Indian Prophecy-Lady Washington at Home.
Mount Vernon, in the last few years of Washington's life was of greater interest to the United States of America than the well cultivated farm of the great Cincinnatus was to the ancient empire of Rome.
Whatever of good government, pure patriotism, polished literature, music, or innocent enjoyment, was known on this continent, or in the world, was soon known and put in practice at the home of the great chief.
The year of '98, opening upon Washington, who was then as ripe in honors as in years, may be regarded as the “Augustan age
of English literature” in America ; or, as the Augustan age was to Rome, the time of Addison, Steele, Swift and Defoe to England, and the latter years of the reign of Louis XIV to France, so were the latter years of Washington's life to America.
The mysterious powers of sound, the voice of melody and the inspiring anthem from the choir, that have ever poured their holy refrain along the banqueting places of earth, had the ear and admiration of the thousand souls, that harmoniously moved along on the historic grounds of Mount Vernon, where the soul of the pilgrim ever drank in the most glorious prophecies in melody.
But apart from the accomplishments of government, literature and music, so characteristic of the age, we pause to record the notice of a joyous centre of attraction in the person of one of the most beautiful and brilliant young ladies of her day, reflecting wit, and mind and beauty on every surrounding object.
All who knew Miss Nelly Custis, the accomplished granddaughter of Lady Washington, could recall the pleasure they derived from her extenslve information, brilliant wit and boundless generosity. Born on the 21st March, '79, she was therefore, in '98, nineteen years of age, and the lively centre of attraction to all who knew her, both at home and abroad. She was a great favorite with the General, whom she delighted with her gay whims and sprightly sallius ; often overcoming his habitual gravity, and surprising him into a hearty laugh. “These were among the poetic days of Mount Vernon, when its halls echoed to the tread of lovers. They were halcyon days with Miss Nelly, who was then young and romantic, andfondof wandering by moonlight in the woods of Mount Vernon.”
In the Spring, the home of Washington appeared not only a beautiful habitation for man, but as a place which angels might delight to visit on embassies of love. Touching the lyre, we might very truthfully sing of it,
“There was gladness in the sky,
There was verdure all around,
Looked on rich historic ground."
At Mount Vernon, in the olden time, there dwelt with the great American chief many a venerable African, whose long life formed a connecting link between the then present and the great eventful past. Encountering but little of the corroding anxiety incident to the life of the white man, he lived to a great age, with the use of his faculties, and his memory remained active to a remarkable degree. His memory was the only journal in which he recorded the history of a century, and the volume from which alone he could read up the great past. Unused to writing, his memory was his entire dependence, and a constant exercise of that power strengthened it to a degree not often fathomed by the pale-faced European. His family being provided for by his illustrious master, he had no anxious care about the future. With every day's departing sun his cares also departed, and his nightly repose was sweet and refreshing, even with the earth for his bed and a stone for his pillow. The rising sun found him full of life, and ready for his labor. He went singing to his task; despair found no lodgment in his heart; and mel poly never marked him for his own. He was a warrior, philosopher, politician, historian and poet, in his simple way, and mirth, and song, and smiles sweetened his life.
Among these was “John Tasker," commonly called “Father Jack," the fisherman-in-chief of Mount Vernon, from whose lips flowed lessons of history, experience and truth, as he sat in his cabin at night, or in his frail canoe to capture the finny tribe of the Potomac. “Father Jack was an African negro, an hundred years of age, and although greatly enfeebled in body by such a vast weight of
years, his mind possessed uncommon vigor. He would tell of days long pist, of Afric's clime, and of Afric's wars, in which he (of course the son of a king) was made captive, and of the terrible battle in which his royal sire was slain, the village consigned to the flames, and he to the slave-ship.”
The stars by which the fishermen of the Hebrides were wont to steer their little barks in the days of Iona s prosperity, and which were the horoscope of Father Jack's night watch on the Potomac, now appeared to grow dim as his frail nature began to sink in years ; for the time was not distant when he would moor his wave-tossed canoe of mortality in the harbor of heavenly delight.
Billy, the favorite body-servant of the commander-in-chief, who had served in camp during the Revolutionary war, still lived in '98, the "spoiled child of fortune.” At the battle of Monmouth, on the 28th June, '78, this same Billy, "a
muscular figure, and capital horseman, paraded a corps of valets, and riding pompously at their head, proceeded to an eminence crowned by a large sycamore tree, from whence could be seen an extensive portion of the field of battle. Here Billy halted, and having unslung the large telescope that he always carried in a leathern case, with a martial air, applied it to his eye, and reconnoitered the enemy. Washington, having observed these maneuvres of the corps of valets, pointed them out to his officers, observing, ‘See those fellows collecting on yonder height, the enemy will fire on them to a certainty.' Meanwhile, the British were not unmindful of the assemblage on the heights, and perceiving a burly figure, well mounted, and with a telescope in hand, they determined to pay their respects to the group. A shot from a sixpounder passed through the tree, cutting away the limbs, and producing a scampering among the corps of valets, that caused even the grave countenance of Washington to relax into a smile."
Then, here were the basket, broom, and splint-bottom chairmakers, busy till a late hour at night, in preparation of their merchandise for the market at Alexandria ; and the comic serenaders that would “pat juba,” sing and dance, to the great annoyance of these rigid old mechanics and sages, who, in order to "hab a little peace,” would 'casionally enforce their respective doctrines on both the mental and corporeal understandings of their noisy antagonists.
Reverting to a scene at Mount Vernon in '97, as illustrative of character there, Kosciuszko, the brave Pole, and the friend of Washington, suffering incarceration in a European dungeon, we hear his “lamentation" in broken utterance, as it rises on the breezes of the Potomac.
"O'erwhelmed with a flood of despair,
It was 'on a beautiful evening in the summer of '97, the sable choirs of Mount Vernon being in harmonious but solemn session, that “Tom Grundy," the venerable post-man of the Chief, that "light-hearted old wretch," that “whistled as he went,” though ometimes the "cold and yet cheerful messenger of grief,” rode up