Who Was George Washington?

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In one of the most famous addresses in American history, Washington declines to seek a third term as President, and he thanks the American people for entrusting him with the position. Grant Rutherford B.

Hayes James A. Garfield Chester A. Roosevelt Harry S. Truman Dwight D. Eisenhower John F. Kennedy Lyndon B. Bush Bill Clinton George W. Bush Barack Obama Donald Trump. Help inform the discussion Support the Miller Center. In the same year, Washington entered the Virginia House of Burgesses where he consistently opposed what he saw as unfair British taxes. By , Washington was one of the leading Virginian figures supporting the colonial cause. He was sent by Virginia to both the first and second Continental Congresses in and In June , Washington was appointed commander of all colonial forces.

He set about forming the Continental Army and trying to feed, clothe and equip his soldiers.

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His early military fortunes were mixed, but an American victory at Saratoga in October prompted the French to agree to an alliance with the Americans. Although Washington's fortunes did not immediately improve, with French military and naval assistance the tide began to turn. On 19 October , the British army surrendered at Yorktown. Peace talks began in Paris and a treaty was signed in In , Washington was elected president of the Constitutional Convention and used his immense influence to persuade the states to ratify the resulting constitution.

In , he was unanimously elected the first president of the United States. Parents Augustine and Mary Ball Washington George's father, Augustine Washington, was a leading planter in the area and also served as a justice of the county court. In , they moved again to Ferry Farm , a plantation on the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg, Virginia, where George spent much of his youth. Popular fables illustrating young George Washington's youthful honesty , piety, and physical strength have long taken the place of documented fact.

Some of these fables are more plausible than others. The story that Washington threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River -- an impossible feat -- had its origins in the recollections of a cousin that George could throw a stone across the much narrower Rappahannock River. But others, including the familiar story of Washington and the cherry tree, seem to have been invented by one of Washington's first biographers, Mason Locke Weems. Growing up, George Washington's family owned a lot of property, but they were still not considered "rich" in 18th-century society.

When George Washington was eleven years old, his father Augustine died, leaving most of his property to George's older half brothers. The income from what remained was just sufficient to maintain Mary Washington and her children. As the oldest child remaining at home, George undoubtedly helped his mother manage the Rappahannock River plantation where they lived.

There he learned the importance of hard work and efficiency.


Unlike many of his contemporaries, Washington never attended college or received a formal education. His two older brothers, Lawrence and Augustine Washington, Jr. However, when Washington was just 11 years old, his father, Augustine Washington, passed away, leaving the family limited funds for education. Private tutors and possibly a local school in Fredericksburg provided the young man with the only formal instruction he would receive.

To augment his studies, George Washington, begin to teach himself through reading and experimentation. In his early life, three major influences drove Washington's path of self-betterment. This exercise, now regarded as a formative influence in the development of his character, included guidelines for behavior and general courtesies.

Eager for adventure, George wanted to join the British Navy, but his mother refused to let him. George read mathematical texts to learn the geometric principles necessary for surveying. One of the most important tools of the trade was a surveyor's compass. Washington was well on his way to a successful and profitable career. In an effort to establish himself as a member of the gentry class, he worked hard, saved his money, and bought unclaimed land.

George Washington was only 21 years old when he made a perilous journey across the Allegheny Mountains to command the French to withdraw from the Ohio region claimed by King George II.

Battle of Britain

In the Governor of Virginia, Robert Dinwiddie, learned that French troops had moved south from Canada and were constructing forts in the region south of Lake Erie, an area claimed by Virginia but now in Western Pennsylvania. Both France and England recognized the commercial potential of the region. French trappers had been working in the area for some time, and Dinwiddie was concerned that the French troops would also fortify the forks of the Ohio -- the strategic point where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers join to form the Ohio River.

This point, now Pittsburgh, was the eastern gateway to the Ohio Valley. In the fall of Dinwiddie sent year-old Major Washington to deliver a message to the French, demanding they leave the area. With the help of a frontier guide and local Indians, Washington reached the French fort, Le Boeuf, with Dinwiddie's message. The return trip tested Washington's endurance. He hiked for days through snowy woods, fell off a raft into the ice-choked Allegheny River, nearly drowned, and was forced to spend a freezing night on an island without shelter. His guide, an experienced backwoodsman, suffered frostbite; but Washington suffered no ill effects.

Washington's account of the arduous mile journey was published by Governor Dinwiddie in both Williamsburg and London, establishing an international reputation for George Washington by the time he was A few months later Dinwiddie dispatched Washington, now a lieutenant colonel, and some men to assert Virginia's claims.

As they advanced, Washington's men skirmished with French soldiers, killing 10 men, including the French commander.

Washington then retreated to an ill-placed and makeshift palisade he called Fort Necessity. He was forced to surrender when the French surrounded the fort. The campaign ended in humiliation for Washington and ignited the French and Indian War. Although he resigned his commission after the surrender, Washington returned to the frontier in as a volunteer aide to General Edward Braddock. During the battle, while attempting to rally the British soldiers, Washington had two horses shot out from under him and four bullet holes shot through his coat.

Although he behaved with conspicuous bravery, Washington could do little except lead the broken survivors to safety. In recognition of his conduct, Washington was given command of Virginia's entire military force. With a few hundred men he was ordered to protect a frontier some miles long.

George Washington's Birthday | National Archives

Although this was a frustrating assignment, it provided him with experience in commanding troops through an arduous campaign. In the British finally took the forks of the Ohio. Peace returned to Virginia, and Washington resigned his commission to return to Mount Vernon, his duty faithfully performed. On January 6th, , Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, a charming and vivacious young woman from the Tidewater area of Virginia.

It was her second marriage, his first.

George Washington

Ironically, the spoiled and indolent young man had not fought in the war but had, at its end, traveled to Yorktown to serve as a civilian aide to his stepfather. Martha Washington joined her husband in his winter quarters every year of the war. Together they entertained his officers and guests. A patriot in her own right, Mrs. Washington made it her war too, nursing sick and wounded soldiers and raising money for the troops.

Needlework helped her to pass the time through the long, cold winters. In all, she would spend about half the war in camp. Washington loved his step-grandchildren as his very own. The first time George Washington ran for public office, he lost. However, he won his second race and served in the Virginia House of Burgesses from until He worked constantly to improve and expand the mansion house and its surrounding plantation.

He established himself as an innovative farmer, who switched from tobacco to wheat as his main cash crop in the 's.