Wise Words from Washington: Words to Live By

Wise Words from Washington: Words to Live By

Nov 26, 2023

It's Sunday morning as I write this and I'll be honest: I was a bit triggered by something someone said on Facebook. And it moved me into action to haul out my list of quotes from President George Washington I've been keeping. I love looking through the gate between now and "then" and seeing the past come to life.

Reading primary-sourced content does that for me. So does listening to it (did you check out my podcast post yet?)

Today, I thought I'd drop some possibly obscure but super-cool quotes that in my opinion, truly reflect the man I'm getting to know as I continue studying our American history while living with Colonial Williamsburg (CW) on my doorstep.


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The Madison carriage being pulled by Colonial Williamsburg horses Brigadier and General

CW carriage on Duke of Gloucester Street

Quote Number 1

George Washington quote from letter to his grandson George Washington Parke Custis about remaining silent

Clearly, this is one many of our parents and grandparents have given us some version of over the years. And there's a reason- right!?

In 1796, Washington wrote these words to his grandson, who had lived with him and Martha, George Washington Parke Custis. In context, the letter seems to be one of grandfatherly advice as his namesake moves into the next chapter of life. It discusses topics from friendship to avoiding bad habits.

To read the letter in full, click here.

Quote Number 2

George Washington quote about the inability to rectify past blunders but to learn from the experience

Truly, holding onto the shame, fear, and hopelessness of regret is not worth it! Not in my opinion. Ever the Stoic and thoughtful leader, Washington wrote these words from Morristown to Fielding Lewis on July 6, 1780.

It's a time when he is ruminating over how the current situation has "come to pass" as well as "Under these circumstances it is no difficult matter to conceive what a time I must have had to keep up appearances & prevent the most disastrous consequences."

He is clearly feeling somber about the state of his soldiers and the conditions surrounding our forces. That said, he continues to be the leader we have learned to respect through not only actions, but words.

Read the letter in full here.

Quote Number 3

George Washington quote that whether an example be good or bad it has a powerful impact

On March 5, 1780, a pivotal time in our American Revolution, General George Washington wrote these simple, yet powerful words. The letter's recipient was Major General Stirling.

This was written not long after Stirling returned to service under Washington (after a prisoner exchange as he'd been taken after the defeat of the Battle of Long Island).

In context, Washington is deeply concerned with lack of discipline and the need for the leaders to be at the forefront of good conduct.

Read the letter in full here.

Listen to words from the past.

It's not a surprise that lessons can be learned from history. Whether in words (letters, diaries, speeches) or actions,

The humans in history were human after all.

Closing it out with another excerpt from Washington's 1796 letter to his grandson and in this portion discussing friendship.

From George Washington to George Washington Parke Custis, 28 November 1796

(read opening and full letter here)


’Tis well to be on good terms with all your fellow students, and I am pleased to hear you are so; but while a courteous behaviour is due to all, select the most deserving only for your friendships, and before this becomes intimate, weigh their dispositions & character⟨s⟩ well. True friendship is a plant of slow growth; to be sincere there must be a congeniality of temper & pursuits. Virtue & vice cannot be allied; nor can industry and idleness; of course, if you resolve to adhere to the two former of these extremes, an intimacy with those who incline to the latter of them, would be extremely embarrassing to you; it would be a stumbling block in your way; and act like a Millstone hung to your neck: 3 for it is the nature of idleness & vice to Obtain as many votaries as they can.

....(the letter continues)

Ron Carnegie of Colonial Williamsburg portraying General George Washington using his words on stage

CW's Ron Carnegie portraying Washington and sharing his words with visitors.

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There is a huge practical disclaimer to the content on this blog, which is my way of sharing my excitement and basically journaling online.

1) I am not a historian nor an expert. I will let you know I’m relaying the information as I understand and interpret it. The employees of Colonial Williamsburg base their presentations, work, and responses on historical documents and mainly primary sources.

2) I will update for accuracy as history is constant learning. If you have a question about accuracy, please ask me! I will get the answer from the best source I can find.

3) Photo credit to me, Daphne Reznik, for all photos in this post, unless otherwise credited! All photos are personal photos taken in public access locations or with specific permission.