It's not your father's Father of His Country at the forefront of Peter Stark's Young Washington. Think more along the lines of a rash nephew. That's because in his pre-Revolutionary War days, George Washington was anything but the placid aristocrat gazing forth from the dollar bill. He was, as Stark puts it, “a very different Washington from the one we know and hold sacred.” Young Washington is Stark's explanation of how the gap was bridged.
Stark, a historian and adventure writer, gives us plenty of both as he starts with a vivid depiction of Washington deep in the Ohio Valley wilderness, carrying a message from Virginia's colonial administrator to a French military officer. (Stark skips over Washington's boyhood, so no cherry tree is harmed in the production of this book.) It's 1753, and the British and French are jostling for supremacy in the region. Later, Washington's surprise attack on a French reconnaissance party becomes the opening salvo in the French and Indian War. He serves alongside the British, fighting rough terrain, reluctant colonial soldiers and the occasional bout of “bloody flux” (dysentery) as well as the French and their tribal allies.
Stark, at one point using 11 uncomplimentary adjectives in one sentence, doesn't sugar-coat his subject. The young colonel is vain and frequently threatens to resign his commission, and he isn't above bending the facts in letters to authorities. He also unapologetically hangs two deserters “for example's sake,” in his words. Along the way, he finds time to court wealthy widow Martha Custis while professing love for the unattainable wife of a friend. But that's just a sidelight in Young Washington. In the crucible of war, he learned to control his passion in more ways than one.