George Washington

George Washington
Gilbert Stuart Williamstown Portrait of George Washington.jpg
George Washington by Gilbert Stuart, 1797
1st President of the United States
In office
April 30, 1789[a] – March 4, 1797
Vice PresidentJohn Adams
Preceded byoffice established
Succeeded byJohn Adams
Senior Officer of the U.S. Army
In office
July 13, 1798 – December 14, 1799
Appointed byJohn Adams
Preceded byJames Wilkinson
Succeeded byAlexander Hamilton
Commander-in-Chief of the
Continental Army
In office
June 15, 1775 – December 23, 1783
Appointed byContinental Congress
Preceded byoffice established
Succeeded byHenry Knox (as Senior Officer of the Army)
Delegate to the Second Continental Congress from Virginia
In office
May 10, 1775 – June 15, 1775
Preceded byoffice established
Succeeded byThomas Jefferson
Delegate to the First Continental Congress
from Virginia
In office
September 5, 1774 – October 26, 1774
Preceded byoffice established
Succeeded byoffice abolished
Personal details
Born(1732-02-22)February 22, 1732
Popes Creek, Colony of Virginia, British America
DiedDecember 14, 1799(1799-12-14) (aged 67)
Mount Vernon, Virginia, U.S.
Cause of deathEpiglottitis and hypovolemic shock
Resting placeWashington Family Tomb, Mount Vernon, Virginia, U.S.
Political partyNone
Spouse(s)Martha Dandridge (m. 1759)[1]
ParentsAugustine Washington
Mary Ball Washington
AwardsCongressional Gold Medal
Thanks of Congress
SignatureCursive signature in ink
Military service
Allegiance Kingdom of Great Britain
 United States
Service/branchColonial Militia
Continental Army
 United States Army
Years of service1752–58 (British Militia)
1775–83 (Continental Army)
1798–99 (U.S. Army)
RankColonel (British Army)
General and Commander-in-Chief (Continental Army)
Lieutenant General (United States Army)
General of the Armies (promoted posthumously: 1976, by an Act of Congress)
CommandsVirginia Colony's regiment
Continental Army
United States Army

George Washington (February 22, 1732[b][c] – December 14, 1799) was an American statesman and soldier who served as the first President of the United States from 1789 to 1797. As one of the leading Patriots, he was among the new nation's Founding Fathers and served as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. He presided over the 1787 Constitutional Convention. He also came to be known as the "Father of His Country."

Washington was born into Colonial Virginia gentry to a family of wealthy planters, vested with tobacco plantations and slaves which he later inherited. His early education was simple, which included mathematics and surveying, which he soon put into practice. He joined the colonial militia at the start of the French and Indian War and became a senior Virginia officer. He grew in his opposition to Britain’s rule by its Parliament, which allowed no representation from the American colonies yet began to levy direct taxes on them. The Second Continental Congress made him commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in 1775, and he drove the British out of Boston in 1776; he was subsequently defeated, however, and lost New York City. He crossed the Delaware River in mid-winter and defeated the British in two battles, retook New Jersey, and restored momentum to the Patriot cause. Washington's strategy, field command, development of the army, and alliance with the French all combined to defeat British forces in every theater, climaxing with the allied victory at the Siege of Yorktown. Historians attribute his success to his mastery of military command on the job, and his respect for civilian control of the military through coordination with congressional and state officials.

Once victory was in hand in 1783, Washington resisted further power and resigned as commander-in-chief, affirming his devotion to American Republicanism. He was unanimously chosen to lead the Constitutional Convention in 1787 which devised the new Federal government. He was also admired for his strong nationalist leadership qualities and was unanimously elected as President by the Electoral College in the first two national elections, in which he worked to unify rival factions in the fledgling nation. But by 1794, Congress was divided between rival parties founded by two of his cabinet secretaries: Thomas Jefferson’s Democratic-Republican Party and Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist Party. Washington remained non-partisan and never joined the Federalists—though he largely supported their policies. He adopted Hamilton's programs to satisfy federal and state debts, to establish a permanent seat of government, to implement an effective tax system, and to create a national bank.

Washington avoided another war with Great Britain by securing the Jay Treaty of 1795, guaranteeing a decade of peace and profitable trade despite intense opposition from the Democratic-Republicans. He oversaw the creation of a strong, well-financed national government that maintained neutrality during the French Revolution, suppressed the Whiskey Rebellion, and won wide acceptance of the new Federal government among Americans. His incumbency established many precedents still in use today, such as the Cabinet system, the inaugural address, and the title "Mr. President". His retirement from office in 1797 after two terms established a traditional two-term limit to the presidency which was eventually made formal policy. Washington's Farewell Address was an influential primer on civic virtue, warning against partisanship, sectionalism, and involvement in foreign wars. Upon his death, he was famously eulogized as "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen". Scholarly and public polling consistently rank him among the top three presidents in American history, and he has been depicted and honored in numerous monuments, public works, currency, and other dedications to the present day.

Early years (1732–1752)

George Washington was the first child of Augustine Washington and his second wife Mary Ball Washington, born at Wakefield on their Popes Creek Estate in Westmoreland County, Virginia.[3] He was born on February 11, 1731, according to the Julian calendar and Annunciation Style of enumerating years then in use in the British Empire. The Gregorian calendar was adopted within the British Empire in 1752, and it renders a birth date of February 22, 1732.[4][c]

Wakefield, Popes Creek Estate, Washington's birthplace

Washington was descended primarily from English gentry of Sulgrave, England. His great-grandfather John Washington immigrated to Virginia in 1656 and began accumulating land and slaves, as did his son Lawrence and his grandson Augustine, George's father. Augustine was a tobacco planter who also tried his hand at iron manufacturing,[5] and later was the Justice of the Westmoreland County Court.[6][d] In Washington's youth, his moderately prosperous family was among the members of Virginia's "country level gentry" of "middling rank," rather than one of the wealthy elite planter families.[8] When Washington was 3, the family left Popes Creek (the home was destroyed by fire in 1779) and moved to Epsewasson, a more prosperous plantation which his father purchased on the bluffs of the Potomac River.[9]

Washington was one of seven surviving children of Augustine's two marriages, including older half-brothers Lawrence and Augustine from his father's first marriage to Jane Butler Washington, and full siblings Samuel, Elizabeth (Betty), John Augustine, and Charles.[3] Three siblings died before adulthood; his sister Mildred died when she was about one, his half-brother Butler died in infancy, and his half-sister Jane died at age 12 when George was about 2.[10]

When Washington was 6, his family moved to a home on Ferry Farm in Stafford County, Virginia near Fredericksburg. The family kept 10 slaves in the main farmhouse and outbuildings, and another 20 near the farm. He spent much of his boyhood here, and he is said to have damaged his father's cherry tree on Ferry Farm, according to American folk legend.[11] Washington's father died of a sudden illness in April 1743 when George was 11, and his half-brother Lawrence became his surrogate father and role model.

Washington grew up under the patronage of the powerful Fairfax family.[12] Lawrence had married Ann Fairfax, daughter of William Fairfax, a wealthy Virginia plantation owner.[13] William Fairfax's son George was a close friend and associate of Washington.[14] His wife Sally was also a friend of Washington, as well as an early romantic interest, and they maintained correspondence when she moved to England with her father.[15]

Lawrence Washington inherited Epsewasson from their father, and he changed the name to Mount Vernon in honor of his commanding officer Vice Admiral Edward Vernon. Washington inherited Ferry Farm upon his father's death and eventually acquired Mount Vernon after Lawrence's death on July 26, 1752.[16]

The death of his father prevented Washington from a formal education at England's Appleby Grammar School such as his older brothers had received.[18] He had two or three years of education from a variety of tutors, and also attended a school run by an Anglican clergyman in Fredericksburg.[19] His education totaled seven or eight years, while he lived with various relatives in and around Mount Vernon in Virginia. He was trained in mathematics, trigonometry, and surveying and had a natural talent in draftsmanship and map making. He was an avid reader and purchased books on military affairs, agriculture, and history, as well as the popular novels of his time.[20] There was talk of securing an appointment for him in the Royal Navy when he was 15, but the idea was abandoned at the objection of his widowed mother.[21]

In 1751, Washington traveled with Lawrence to Barbados (his only trip abroad) in the hope that the climate would be beneficial to Lawrence's declining health, as he was suffering from tuberculosis.[22] Washington contracted smallpox during the trip, which left his face slightly scarred but immunized him against future exposures to the disease.[23] Lawrence's health failed to improve, and he returned to Mount Vernon where he died in the summer of 1752.[24] That year, Washington became a member of the Freemasons while in Fredericksburg, though his involvement was minimal.[25]

Colonial surveyor

Washington was introduced to surveying through school exercises followed by practical experience in the field. His initial surveying occurred in the territory surrounding Mount Vernon; in 1748, he joined a survey party organized by his neighbor George William Fairfax to lay out large tracts of land along the border of western Virginia, where he gained valuable experience.[26] He began his professional career in 1749 at age 17 when he received a commission and surveyor's license from the College of William & Mary and was appointed Surveyor of Culpeper County, Virginia.[20][e] He completed his first survey in less than two days, plotting a 400-acre parcel of land. He was consequently able to purchase land in the Shenandoah Valley, the first of his many land acquisitions in western Virginia. On March 23, he recorded his first encounter with Indians when his surveying crew met a war party of 13 returning from a battle; Washington noted that the men in the crew were "agreeably surprised".[28]

Washington also surveyed land in Western Virginia for the Ohio Company, a land investment firm funded by Virginia investors. The new Lieutenant governor Robert Dinwiddie took notice of him thanks to brother Lawrence's position as commander of the Virginia militia. In October 1750, Washington resigned his position as an official surveyor, though he continued to survey professionally for two more years. By 1752, he had completed close to 200 surveys on numerous properties totaling more than 60,000 acres, and he continued to survey at different times throughout his life.[29]

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