Birthday: February 22, 1732
Died At Age: 67
Sun Sign: Pisces
Born Country: United States
Born in: Westmoreland County, Virginia, United States
Famous as: First U.S. President
Quotes By George Washington
political ideology: Independent
Spouse/Ex-: Martha Dandridge Custis
father: Augustine Washington
mother: Mary Ball Washington
siblings: Augustine, Charles, Elizabeth (Betty), John Augustine, Lawrence, Samuel
children: John Parke Custis, Martha Parke Custis
Died on: December 14, 1799
place of death: George Washington's Mount Vernon, Mount Vernon, Virginia, United States
U.S. State: Virginia
Founder/Co-Founder: Fathers of the United States
awards: Congressional Gold Medal
Thanks of Congress
Who was George Washington?
George Washington was the first president and one of the ‘Founding Fathers of the United States.’ He led the ‘Continental Army’ to victory against the Kingdom of Great Britain in the ‘American Revolutionary War’ and saved the nation from an impending collapse during its most crucial time. Having lost his father at the age of 11, George Washington was raised under the guardianship of his elder half-brother. At 15, he started his career as a successful surveyor, a job that made him tough, both physically and mentally, enabling him to eventually lead a grueling march to Ohio County to combat the expanding French troop. Later, as the ‘American Revolution’ began, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the ill-trained and ill-equipped ‘Continental Army.’ Leading his troops from the front, he won the war when his forces captured the British troops in Yorktown. Thereafter, he decided to return home to lead the life of a farmer but was persuaded to become the first president of the United States. For eight years, he governed the newly emerging country with firmness and prudence, helping to bring in stability and setting precedence. His presidency lay down the foundation of the world’s major power, making him one of the greatest presidents in American history.
Childhood & Early Years
George Washington was born on February 22, 1732, in his parents’ ‘Popes Creek Estate’ near present-day Colonial Beach in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Primarily of English descent, they belonged to the moderately prosperous middle-class landed gentry.
His father, Augustine Washington, was a tobacco planter with a number of properties at different places. At one point, he also tried his hand at iron manufacturing. George’s mother, Mary Ball Washington, was his second wife.
George was the eldest of his parents’ six children. While one of his siblings died in infancy, he had four surviving siblings, namely Betty Washington Lewis, Samuel Washington, John Augustine Washington, and Charles Washington. In addition, he had two surviving half-brothers, Lawrence Washington and Augustine Washington Jr., from his father’s first marriage to Jane Butler.
George Washington spent most of his childhood in ‘Ferry Farm,’ located along the northern bank of the Rappahannock River, opposite Fredericksburg, Virginia.
He began his education at home under a number of tutors, later attending school irregularly from the age of seven to fifteen. Had his father lived beyond the age of 48, he, like his half-brothers, might have gone to England for schooling. But his father died in 1743, which deprived him of overseas education.
After his father’s death, his half-brother, Lawrence Washington, a man of character and knowledge, became his guardian. Lawrence’s wife was also famed for her charm, grace, and culture. Mostly living in their home in Mount Vernon, George imbibed a lot, not only from them but also from his surroundings.
By the age of 15, George Washington had completed his formal schooling. Thereafter, Lawrence, who had earlier served in the ‘Royal Navy,’ thought of securing a post for George in the same warfare force. But the proposal was dropped when his mother objected. Instead, he began his career as a surveyor.
In 1751, Washington made his only trip abroad when he accompanied Lawrence to Barbados, hoping that the climate would cure his half- brother's tuberculosis.
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In 1748, at the age of 16, George Washington joined a professional survey team, organized by George Fairfax, a friend and neighbor. With them, he moved about plotting a large tract of land along the western border of Virginia, imbibing valuable experiences.
By 1749, he obtained a surveyor's license from the ‘College of William & Mary,’ subsequently receiving an official appointment as a surveyor in Culpeper County. His first assignment was to plot a 400-acre parcel of land, which he completed within two days.
For the next two years, he continued working as a surveyor in the Culpeper, Frederick, and Augusta Counties. By 1752, he had completed around 200 surveys, covering over 60,000 acres of land and making enough money to buy a piece of land.
Inheriting Mount Vernon & Military Service
Lawrence died in July 1752 from tuberculosis, leaving his daughter Sarah to inherit Mount Vernon. But when she died within two months, a 20-year-old Washington became its owner. In December, he received an appointment as an adjutant with the rank of major in the Virginia militia.
By the beginning of the 1750s, the French had started expanding their territory in areas now known as Pennsylvania. On October 31, 1753, Virginia's Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie sent Washington to ‘Fort Le Boeuf’ (now in Waterford, Pennsylvania), where he delivered the British demand, asking the French to leave since the area belonged to the British.
When the French refused to leave, Washington returned to Williamsburg, the then capital of Virginia. On hearing the news, Dinwiddie sent him back with troops, instructing him to set up a post at Great Meadows in the present-day Fayette County, Pennsylvania.
Once Washington reached his destination, he found that the French had driven away the colonial traders and were constructing a fort. His troops attacked a French post at ‘Fort Duquesne’ on May 28, 1754, killing 10 French soldiers, including Commander Coulon de Jumonville. The rest were taken as prisoners.
In 1755, in spite of conceding defeat at ‘Fort Necessity,’ Washington was made a “Colonel of the Virginia Regiment and Commander in Chief of all forces now raised in the defense of His Majesty's Colony.” Under him, the regiment fought many battles, gaining kudos for him.
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Planter & Politician
In 1758, George Washington resigned from his commission and returned to Mount Vernon to become a planter and a politician. Over the years, he increased his landholding from 2000 acres to 8000 acres with five farms. His marriage to Martha Dandridge Custis, in 1759, also helped him in increasing his landholding.
Initially, he grew only tobacco. However, from 1766, he began growing wheat and started processing his products before he sold them to other parts of the colony. By and by, he also started fishing, horse breeding, hog production, spinning, and weaving. Much later in 1790, he established a distillery.
Meanwhile in 1758, he entered the provincial legislature of Virginia, representing Frederick County in the ‘House of Burgesses,’ serving there till 1774. From the 1760s, he became a vocal critic of mercantile policies of Great Britain and the heavy taxes imposed on the Americans.
In 1767, as ‘Townshend Act’ was passed in the British parliament, Washington started playing a major role in the colonial resistance. In May 1769, he introduced a proposal to boycott English goods until such Acts were repealed.
In 1774, George Washington joined the ‘First Continental Congress,’ held at Philadelphia, as a delegate from Virginia. In 1775, he was appointed a military advisor for New York. In the ‘Second Continental Congress,’ which was held a few months later, he was made the Commander-in-Chief of the entire military.
George Washington assumed command of the ‘Continental Army’ in July 1775 during the ongoing siege of Boston. Over the course of the grueling war that lasted for eight long years, he proved to be an excellent general, keeping his ill-trained, ill-equipped troops together, leading from the front, and constantly motivating them.
Initially, he lost more battles than he won. However, he continued to fight without giving up his position. His main strategy at this point was to harass British troops continuously, avoiding big action. Later as he organized his army, making provision for training and supplies, the situation began to improve.
The war came to an end on October 1781 when the Continental forces captured the British troops stationed in Yorktown. The surrender, which took place on October 19, 1781, made Washington a national hero.
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Washington continued to act as the Commander-in-Chief until the ‘Treaty of Paris’ was signed on September 3, 1783. Thereafter, he resigned his commission and returned to Mount Vernon.
President of the USA
After the war, George Washington hoped to resume the life of a planter, trying to repair the damages caused by his long absence. However, he kept an eye on the national politics and in 1785 hosted the ‘Mount Vernon Conference’ at his estate.
In 1786, he skipped the ‘Annapolis Convention,’ but when the ‘Constitutional Convention’ was held in 1787 in Philadelphia, he agreed to preside over it. His impressive leadership at the Convention convinced the delegates that he was by far the most suitable person to become the first president of the country.
In the first presidential election, which was held on January 7, 1789, Washington received every vote. He took the oath of office on April 30, 1789, on the balcony of the ‘Federal Hall’ in New York City.
During those difficult days, he proved to be an able and far-sighted administrator, setting up many precedents. Initially reluctant to take the yearly salary of $25,000, he later conceded as his refusal might have set a wrong precedent.
Translating the new constitution into a workable instrument, concurrently setting up an example of integrity and prudence, he made sure the titles and ceremonies of the president’s office reflect the aspiration of a republic nation. While the Senate proposed more majestic titles, he preferred to be called ‘Mr. President.’
In 1792, at the end of the first term, Washington was unanimously re-elected for a second term. But when it ended in 1796, he returned to Mount Vernon, steadfastly refusing another term. It set up another precedent, whereby to this day, presidents of the United States serve only two terms.
As the first president of an emerging nation, George Washington provided the much-needed stability, dealing deftly with competing factions led by the likes of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. To aid in his administrative duty, he set up a presidential cabinet and consulted them before taking any decision. To demonstrate the federal authority, he sternly quelled the ‘Whiskey Rebellion.’
He respected the prerogatives of the Congress, never infringing upon their rights. Through the ‘Judiciary Act’ of 1789, he established the Supreme Court, nominating John Jay as the first Chief Justice. He also established the first national bank and was instrumental in incorporating the Bill of Rights in the constitution.
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In foreign policy matters, he preferred to have cordial relation with other nations and maintained neutrality in case of conflict. To enhance the interest of the USA, he signed treaties with Britain and Spain, but when war broke out between Britain and France, he remained neutral.
Personal Life & Legacy
On January 6, 1759, George Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, a 28-year-old wealthy widow with two children. She was gracious, intelligent, and experienced in managing estates. Although the union did not produce any offspring, the couple enjoyed a very compatible relationship.
Washington loved Martha’s children, John Parke Custis and Martha Parke (Patsy) Custis, as his own. When Patsy died in 1773, a distressed Washington canceled all his business engagements and remained with Martha for three months. Later, when John died in 1781, they raised their grandchildren, Eleanor Parke Custis and George Washington Parke Custis.
On his return to Mount Vernon in March 1797, Washington continued to work in his estate, trying to undo the damages done during his long absence. On December 12, 1799, he went riding around his estate, overseeing the work and getting wet from snow in the process.
On the morning of December 13, 1799, he woke up with a severe sore throat. However, he went riding around the farm, marking trees he wanted to be cut. That night he retired early, only to wake up at 3 a.m., feeling breathless.
He then ordered bloodletting, but it did not help. Eventually, he died at around 10 pm on December 14, 1799, in his home at Mount Vernon. His last words were "'Tis well." His body was interred at Mount Vernon.
Although there were talks of removing Washington’s remains from the capital, it remains at its original site to this day. But to protect it from vandalism, the remains were placed within a marble sarcophagus on October 7, 1837, and sealed.
Known as the ‘Father of the Country,’ he left an enduring legacy. It is not only the national capital, which has been named after him, but hundreds of U.S. towns and schools also bear his name. His face appears on the U.S. dollar bill and his statues adorn many parks across the country.
He was the only president that wasn't from a political party. In fact, he hated the idea of political parties, so much so that in his Farewell Address, he warned Americans against the dangers that political parties could cause.