George Washington

George Washington
Gilbert Stuart Williamstown Portrait of George Washington.jpg
Portrait by Gilbert Stuart, March 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 United States Army
In office
July 13, 1798 – December 14, 1799
Appointed byJohn Adams
Preceded byJames Wilkinson
Succeeded byAlexander Hamilton
In office
June 15, 1775 – December 23, 1783
Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army
Appointed byContinental Congress
Preceded byoffice established
Succeeded byHenry Knox
Delegate to the Continental Congress
from Virginia
In office
May 10, 1775 – June 15, 1775
Preceded byoffice established
Succeeded byThomas Jefferson
ConstituencySecond Continental Congress
In office
September 5, 1774 – October 26, 1774
Preceded byoffice established
Succeeded byoffice abolished
ConstituencyFirst Continental Congress
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
Cause of deathEpiglottitis and hypovolemic shock
Resting placeWashington Family Tomb, Mount Vernon, Virginia, U.S.
Political partyNone
Martha Dandridge (m. 1759)
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/branchKingdom of Great Britain Colonial Militia
 United States 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 one of the Founding Fathers of the United States and served as the nation’s first President (1789–1797). In the American Revolutionary War, General Washington led Patriot forces to victory over the British and their allies. He presided at the Constitutional Convention of 1787 which established the new federal government, and he has been called the "Father of His Country".

Washington was born to a moderately prosperous Virginian family of colonial planters and slaveholders. He had early educational opportunities, learned mathematics, and soon launched a successful career as a surveyor which enabled him to make significant land investments. He then joined the Virginia militia and fought in the French and Indian War. He was appointed commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War, leading an allied campaign to victory at the Siege of Yorktown which ended the war. His devotion to Republicanism and revulsion for tyrannical power impelled him to decline further authority after victory, and he resigned as commander-in-chief in 1783.

As the country’s premier statesman, Washington was unanimously elected President by the Electoral College in the first two national elections. He promoted and oversaw implementation of a strong, well-financed national government, using the economic plans of his Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton, while remaining impartial in the fierce rivalry between Hamilton and Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson. When the French Revolution plunged Europe into war, Washington assumed a policy of neutrality to protect American ships, while the controversial Jay Treaty of 1795 normalized trade relations with Great Britain. He set numerous precedents that have endured, such as the Cabinet advisory system, the inaugural address, and the title "Mr. President". His seminal Farewell Address strongly warned against political partisanship, sectionalism, and involvement in foreign wars.

Washington owned slaves throughout his life from age 11, but he became increasingly troubled by slavery and freed his slaves in his will. He was a member of the Anglican church and the Freemasons, and he urged tolerance for all religions in his roles as general and President. In his retirement hostilities with France escalated, whereupon President John Adams appointed Washington Lieutenant General of a Provisional Army. Upon his death, he was famously eulogized as "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen". Washington has been widely memorialized by monuments, art, places, stamps and currency, and he has been ranked by scholars among the top four American Presidents.

Early years (1732–1752)

George Washington was born February 22, 1732, the first child of Augustine Washington and his wife Mary Ball Washington, at Wakefield on their Popes Creek Estate in the Colony of Virginia. He was a subject of the British Empire at that time, under the reign of George II,[3] descended primarily from the gentry of Sulgrave, England. His great-grandfather John Washington emigrated to Virginia in 1656. He was a tobacco planter who accumulated land and slaves, as did his son Lawrence and his grandson Augustine.[4]

Washington was reared in the rich open farmlands of Virginia's Tidewater region.[5] His father Augustine was a moderately wealthy planter, justice of the peace, and county sheriff who had 10 children, four by his first marriage to Jane Butler and six by his second marriage to Mary.[6] Washington was one of seven surviving children: older half-brothers Lawrence and Augustine, and full siblings Samuel, Elizabeth (Betty), John Augustine, and Charles.[7][d]

At age 3, Washington and his family moved to Epsewasson, a 2,500-acre plantation which his father purchased on the bluffs of the Potomac River, and they moved to Ferry Farm near Fredericksburg when Washington was 6.[9] He spent much of his boyhood there, and it is said to be the location of the Parson Weems cherry tree legend. Washington's father died at age 48 of a sudden illness on April 12, 1743 when George was 11, and he was then kept under the strict care of his mother Mary.[10] His older half-brother Lawrence inherited Epsewasson and changed the name to Mount Vernon in honor of British Vice Admiral Edward Vernon, his commander during the War of Jenkins' Ear, while Washington inherited Ferry Farm and 10 slaves.[11]

Washington's total education spanned over 8 years, and he was initially taught by his father and Lawrence. He did not attend England's Appleby Grammar School because his mother could not afford the cost,[12] so he was tutored by various masters including Mr. Hobby, his father’s former tenant; he also attended the Fredericksburg school of Anglican clergyman James Mayre.[13] He was taught mathematics, trigonometry, and surveying by school master Henry Williams, and he had a natural talent in draftsmanship and map-making.[14] He purchased books on military affairs, agriculture, and history, as well as popular novels.[15] By early adulthood, he was able to write with precision and considerable force.[16]

Washington's mother rejected a plan for him to join the Royal Navy in September 1746 when he was 14.[17] His half-brother Lawrence had married Anne Fairfax, the daughter of powerful Virginia statesman William Fairfax, in 1743, and he became Washington's idolized surrogate father.[18] Washington moved to Mount Vernon with Lawrence and Ann when he was 17.[19] Washington was close friends with William Fairfax's son George,[20] whose wife Sally had been an early romantic interest; she maintained correspondence with Washington when she moved to England with her father.[21]

Washington and George William Fairfax accompanied surveyor James Genn in 1748 when Washington was 16. Genn had been sent out by Lord Fairfax to survey the Shenandoah lands, and Washington gained valuable experience during the month-long trip.[22] He received a commission and surveyor's license from the College of William & Mary in 1749 when he was 17, and he was appointed surveyor of Culpepper, Virginia due to Fairfax's influence.[23] He primarily surveyed for Lord Fairfax in the Blue Ridge Mountains, after a preliminary survey of eastern Culpepper County.[24] He made repeated surveys of the Shenandoah Valley during the spring of 1750, and he became accustomed to the wilderness. He bought almost 1,500 acres in the Shenandoah Valley in October 1750, his first large land investment, and he accumulated 2,315 acres in the Shenandoah Valley by the time he was 18, when he resigned his commission of Culpepper County surveyor.[25]

Washington stopped surveying within a few years but he continued purchasing land. He acquired more than 70,000 acres in seven states and the District of Columbia over the course of his lifetime; it took him 25 years to expand his Mount Vernon estate from 2,000 to 8,000 acres.[26] He bought more parcels of land to spur development around Federal City (Washington, DC). Rather than selling multiple lots to large investors, he sold individual lots to middle income investors, believing that they were more likely to make committed improvements.[27]

In 1751, Washington made his only trip abroad with Lawrence to Barbados in the hope that the climate would be beneficial to his brother's tuberculosis.[28] During the trip, Washington contracted smallpox which immunized him but left his face slightly scarred.[29] Lawrence's health continued to decline and he returned to Mount Vernon, where he died on July 26, 1752.[30] Washington inherited his Mount Vernon estate after the deaths of Lawrence's wife Ann and their daughter.[31]

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