George Washington

George Washington
Gilbert Stuart Williamstown Portrait of George Washington.jpg
George Washington painting 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, U.S.
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 the first President of the United States, a soldier, farmer, land investor, and statesman. Since the late 1780s, Washington has been known as the "Father of His Country" by compatriots. He was commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War and presided over the 1787 Constitutional Convention. As a leading Patriot, Washington was among the nation's Founding Fathers.

Washington was born to a moderately prosperous family of planters, who owned slaves in colonial Virginia. He had early opportunities in education, learned mathematics and quickly launched a successful career as a surveyor. He joined the Virginia militia and fought in the French and Indian War. The Second Continental Congress made him commander-in-chief of the Continental Army in 1775. Washington's strategy and command of the army combined with a French alliance led to the surrender of the British during the Siege of Yorktown. He also fought against the Iroquois nation, a British ally. His devotion to American Republicanism impelled him to decline further power after victory, and he resigned as commander-in-chief in 1783. He was unanimously chosen to lead the Constitutional Convention in 1787 which devised the new Federal government.

Washington was unanimously elected as President by the Electoral College in the first two national elections. He promoted and oversaw the implementation of a strong, well-financed national government. He remained impartial in the fierce rivalry between two cabinet secretaries, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, though he adopted Hamilton's economic plans. His position on slavery was generally pro-Southern. When the French Revolution plunged Europe into war, Washington assumed a policy of neutrality to protect American ships—although the controversial Jay Treaty of 1795 created an alliance with Great Britain. He set precedents still in use today, such as the Cabinet advisory system, the inaugural address, the title "Mr. President", and a two-term limit. In his Farewell Address he gave a primer on civic virtue, warning of partisanship, sectionalism, and involvement in foreign wars.

After inheriting slaves at age eleven, Washington prospered through slavery most of his life but eventually became troubled with its practice; in his 1799 will he freed all his slaves. Washington is renowned for his religious toleration; his personal religion and devotion to Freemasonry have been debated. 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 ranks him among the top three Presidents in history, and he is honored by countless monuments, public works, place names, stamps, and currency.

Early colonial years (1732–1752)

George Washington was born February 22, 1732, the first child of Augustine Washington and his second wife Mary Ball Washington, at Wakefield on their Popes Creek Estate in the Colony of Virginia. He was a common subject of the British Empire at that time, under the reign of George II.[3]

Washington was descended primarily from English gentry of Sulgrave, England through his great-grandfather John Washington who immigrated to Virginia in 1656 and began accumulating land and slaves, as did his son Lawrence and his grandson Augustine. George's father was a planter[4] and the Justice of the Westmoreland County Court.[5] In Washington's youth, his moderately prosperous family was among the members of Virginia's "country level gentry" of "middling rank".[6]

Raised in the rich open farmlands of Virginia's Tidewater region, Washington's childhood was described as "roving and unsettled".[7] He 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.[8] Three siblings died before adulthood: sister Mildred at age one, half-brother Butler in infancy, and half-sister Jane at age 12.[9]

When Washington was 3, the family left Popes Creek and moved to Epsewasson, a 2,500-acre plantation that his father purchased on the bluffs of the Potomac River. When he was six, his family then moved to Ferry Farm in Stafford County, Virginia near Fredericksburg.[10] He spent much of his boyhood at Ferry Farm, which was the alleged location of the Parson Weems cherry tree fable. His father died of a sudden illness in April 1743 when George was 11, and he was kept under the care of his 35-year-old mother Mary.[11] His half-brother Lawrence inherited the Epsewasson plantation from their father and changed the name to Mount Vernon in honor of his commanding officer Vice Admiral Edward Vernon. George inherited Ferry Farm and 10 slaves, although his mother controlled the farm until well after George attained adulthood.[12]

Without his father, Washington relied on other men for guidance, including Lawrence.[12] He also grew up under the wing of the powerful Fairfax family,[13] as Lawrence had married Ann Fairfax, daughter of William Fairfax, a wealthy Virginia plantation owner.[14] William Fairfax's son George was a close friend and associate of Washington.[15] 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.[16]

The death of his father deprived Washington of the formal type of education his older brothers received at England's Appleby Grammar School.[17] His primary education lasted seven to eight years, with his father and half-brother Lawrence as early instructors.[18] He was tutored for two or three years by various masters, including Mr. Hobby, his father’s former tenant; he also attended the Fredericksburg school of Anglican clergyman James Mayre.[19] By early adulthood he was able to write with precision and considerable force.[20] He was taught mathematics, trigonometry and surveying by school master Henry Williams, and had a natural talent in draftsmanship and map making.[21] He purchased books on military affairs, agriculture, history, and popular novels.[18] An appointment for him in the Royal Navy was rumored when he was 15, but his mother rejected the idea.[22]

In 1751, Washington made his only trip abroad when he traveled with Lawrence, to Barbados, in the hope that the climate would be beneficial to Lawrence's tuberculosis.[23] During the trip, Washington contracted smallpox which immunized him but left his face slightly scarred.[24] Lawrence's health continued to decline and he returned to Mount Vernon, where he died on July 26, 1752, and George suffered the loss of this surrogate father.[25] Washington eventually inherited Lawrence's Mount Vernon estate after the deaths of Lawrence's wife Ann and their daughter.[26]

Surveyor and land investor

In 1748, at the age of 16, Washington and George William Fairfax, accompanied surveyor James Genn, sent out by Lord Fairfax, to survey for a month, the Shenandoah lands, where he worked hard and gained valued experience.[27] In 1749, at age 17, Washington received a commission and surveyor's license from the College of William & Mary, and was appointed surveyor of Culpepper, due to Fairfax's influence.[28] After a preliminary survey of eastern Culpepper County, Washingtion primarily surveyed for Lord Fairfax, in the Blue Ridge Mountains.[29] In the Spring of 1750 Washington packed his surveying equipment and made repeated surveys of the Shenandoah Valley, where he became accustomed to the wilderness. In October, Washington bought almost fifteen hundred acres of valuable land in the Shenandoah Valley, his first large investment. Having made enough money with his surveying business he resigned his commission of Culpepper County surveyor. By the age of 18 Washington had accumulated a vast wealth of land, 2,315 acres, in the Shenandoah Valley. [30]

Although Washington stopped surveying within a few years, he would continue to purchase lands. During his lifetime he acquired over 70,000 acres of land, in what would later be seven different states plus the District of Columbia. It took Washington 25 years to expand his Mount Vernon estate from 2,000 acres to 8,000 acres.[31] While the Federal City that would bear his name was being built, Washington bought more parcels of land to spur development. Rather than sell multiple lots to large investors, Washington sold individual lots to middle income investors, believing they were more likely to make committed improvements.[32]

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