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A self-taught leader

July 13, 2000

A self-taught leader



By RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photo: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

Jerry HolsworthGREENCASTLE, Pa. - Jerry Holsworth, a self-taught George Washington scholar, Thursday night lectured on his hero as a surveyor, militia officer and young entrepreneur on the American frontier to about 25 members and guests of the Allison-Antrim Museum.

Holsworth, 49, manages the George Washington Office Museum in Winchester, Va., where the nation's first president spent many of his younger years. Holsworth's remarks focused on Washington's early career on the Virginia and Pennsylvania frontier and his service during the French and Indian War. Holsworth credits Washington with starting the war when he ambushed a squad of French soldiers in Jumonville Glen, Pa.

"He was young, 21. He was daring, bold and brave, and became well-known before the French and Indian War was over," Holsworth said.

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Washington grew up near Fredericksburg, Va. in a middle-class family. His father died when he was 11 leaving him to fend pretty much for himself, Holsworth said.

"He grew up in the school of hard knocks," Holsworth said. "I believe he did, but I can find no evidence that Washington ever stepped foot in a school. He was tutored by his older brother, Lawrence. He was a serious young man, good in math and he taught himself how to be a surveyor," Holsworth said..

Armed with his new skills Washington headed west to the frontier to survey the land owned by Thomas Lord Fairfax. Fairfax was selling off some of his 5.2 million acres and he needed it surveyed. Washington set aside some of the best land for himself and paid for it with his salary, Holsworth said.

He calls Washington America's greatest hero. He refused to sign a negotiated peace with England during the Revolution, resigned his commission as head of a powerful militia, and ended up presiding over the Constitutional Convention "which gave the world the most important set of laws since the Ten Commandments," Holsworth said.

Holsworth, until about three years ago, was enmeshed in Civil War history. He studied it, spoke on and wrote about it. He turned his attention to Washington after becoming manager of the George Washington Museum - a part-time position.

"I was developing myself as a Civil War writer, but I dropped it all and started studying George Washington. I fell in love with the subject," he said.

Holsworth has written several magazine articles on the Civil War and Washington and has a book coming out on the first president this fall.

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