This has always been one of my very favorite portraits of George Washington.  It was painted in 1772 by Charles Wilson Peale and features young George in the uniform of the Colonial Virginia Militia and looking mighty pleased with himself.

As well he might.  That little hollow of land in the background is Jumonville Glen, located in southwestern Pennsylvania.  And it was on this day (or night, rayther) in 1754 that then Lt. Col. Washington and a force of about 50 militia and Iroquois bushwhacked a French party of roughly the same size led by Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, thereby kicking off the Seven Years (or, if you prefer, the French and Indian) War.  Getting the drop on the Frenchies, Washington and his men killed about a dozen of them and captured the rest, with a loss of only one man.

Washington wrote to his brother after the battle, “I can with truth assure you, I heard bullets whistle and believe me, there was something charming in the sound.”

Alas for ol’ George, Jumonville Glen was just about the last time he had anything to smile about during the War.  A month later, a large French expedition laid seige to his small band at the hastily built and aptly named Fort Necessity, located nearby, causing him to surrender and withdraw (and sign a confession in French – which he did not understand – that he had assassinated Jumonville and his men).  The next summer, Washington served as aide-de-camp to the disastrous Braddock Expedition and was lucky to get out with his life and his scalp.  Subsequently, he spent some time pulling his own hair out as he attempted to defend the Virginia frontier from maurauding Indians whipped up by the French.

Regular port-swillers will be well aware of ol’ Robbo’s interest in this conflict and of his disgust that it is not more widely studied by our young people (or anyone else, for that matter).  Not only is the battle between the British and French for control of North America fascinating in itself, it was the pressures brought by this conflict on the relationship between Crown and Colonies that led directly to the American Revolution a mere 12 years after its conclusion.  How on earth anyone supposes they can understand the latter conflict (and its shaping of our modern concept of republican government) without also understanding the former is totally beyond me.  But then again, I realize that I am a member of a rapidly shrinking minority who believe that history matters.

Speaking of portraits and historickal myopia, have you seen this book being flogged by Vanity Fair?  Entitled Vanity Fair’s Presidential Profiles: Defining Portraits, Deeds, and Misdeeds of 43 Notable Americans–And What Each One Really Thought About His Predecessor,  I am absolutely convinced – convinced – that it was published for no other reason than to put Washington and Obama side by side on the cover.

Given that our current president is only a little more than a quarter of the way into his term, it seems ridiculously premature to speak of anything “defining” him yet.  The whole concept strikes me as gratuitous to the point of obscenity.

You’d think somebody would be ashamed of him- or herself for this.  But then again, gratuity is Vanity Fair’s entire raison d’etre, innit?