Jeff Finegan and I share a family name and a love of history but we are not related. He does, however, have a longstanding literary relationship with George Washington. He’s the author of the “I Knew George Washington Series,” three books soon to be joined by a fourth.
Jeff, who lives in an 18th-century house in historic Finesville, N.J., across the Delaware from Riegelsvlle, shared some interesting and intimate stories about Washington at a presentation sponsored by the Durham Historical Society on May 22.
The author told those attending, “I wanted to show Washington through the eyes of those who knew him best.”
In his books he brings to life a flesh-and blood portrait of a multi-dimensional person, a man who moves from surveyor to battlefield officer to president, a man who owns slaves but wrestles with “the moral issue of slavery.”
The books, intended for young adult readers, feature separate narrators. Each offers different, but loving and respectful, observations--first, his enslaved valet, then his long-time doctor who attended him at his death, and his ardent admirer, the young Marquis de Lafayette. In Jeff’s first book, “Colonel Washington and Me,” the slave who served the future president from childhood to his death, talks about his master. In the second book, “Tis Well…,” the narrator is the battlefield surgeon who became Washington’s closest friend and sat with him as he spoke his final words.
The third book, “My Dear General,” is the Marquis de Lafayette’s tale of his father/son relationship with Washington, a man he crossed the ocean to serve when he was only a teenager.
An intensive researcher, Jeff has spent years studying Washington’s diaries and manuscripts, some of which he owns and shares in the books. He also said he had invaluable help from Mary V. Thompson, a research historian at Mount Vernon. His books are on sale there as well as a number of historic sites and amazon.com
Disappointed by factual restrictions imposed by a publisher, he decided to form his owm publishing company. Siegle Books, All of the books are illustrated by Preston Keith Hindmarch, an artist known for his historical work.
Jeff told the audience that William Lee, Washington’s enslaved valet and constant companion through war and peace, was given to him when Washington was only 11 years old. He traveled with his master throughout his surveying days, his part in the French and Indian War, crossing the Delaware during the Revolutionary War, going on to the White House and back to Mount Vernon. Jeff said Washington left instructions that his slaves be freed after his wife died. Lee, though, was the only slave freed at Washington’s death. He lived on at Mount Vernon as a free man.
The second book, “Tis Well…,” is written as a letter to a friend by Dr. James Craik, Washington’s lifelong friend and personal physician, who was with him at his death. In the letter, Craik tells his friend about the general’s passing and takes “a deep look” into Washington’s family history as well as his final two days in December 1799.
Talking about his third book, “My Dear General,” Jeff painted a fascinating picture of the bond forged between the quiet, reserved Washington and the exuberant young Lafayette, who he said “had more money than God.” When Lafayette went to France’s King Louis XVI, for permission to go to the aid of America, the king refused. Nevertheless, Lafayette bought his own ship for the voyage and fought beside Washington as a field commander. Jeff said the childless Washington referred to Lafayette as his “adoptive son.”
Jeff said the fourth book of the series will be narrated by Tobias Lear, personal secretary to Washington, giving yet another perspective on the first president’s life.