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George Washington

George Washington (February 22, 1732 December 14, 1799) was the main military and political leader of the new United States of America from 1775 to 1797.

President George Washington  - Portrait


Portrait of George Washington

Leading the American victory over Great Britain as leader of the Continental Army in the American Revolution.

He presided over the writing of the Constitution in 1787, and he was unanimously elected as the first President of the United States from 1789-1797.

As President he created forms of government that have stood the test of time. Two examples are the cabinet system and the inaugural address.

Acclaimed as "Father of his country", Washington with Abraham Lincoln are icons of republican values. These include self sacrifice for the nation, American nationalism and the ideal of civic and military leadership working together.

Washington was born in 1732 in Virginia, Westmoreland County. He became a senior officer of the colonial forces, 175458, at the start of the French-Indian War at very young age.

Washington gained much military experience along with leadership of the Patriot cause in Virginia developing a political base. This enabled him to become the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army to fight the British in the American Revolution in 1775.

In 1776 he forced the British out of Boston but lost New York City being himself nearly captured. Crossing the Delaware River he won two battles against the British regaining New Jersey.

Because of his leadership Revolutionary forces captured British armies at Saratoga in 1777 and Yorktown in 1781. After victory in 1783, Washington resigned and returned to his plantation at Mount Vernon.

In 1787 Washington oversaw the Constitutional Convention that drafted the United States Constitution because of his frustration with the Articles of Confederation that had impeded the war effort.

Washington was elected first President of the United States in 1789. As first President he set the foundations for the way the office is run today. In 1797 after his second term Washington chose not to run again and passed away two years later.

At his death Washington was acclaimed as "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen". Historians invariably rank him as one of the top three greatest presidents.

Early life (17321753)

George Washington, the first child of Augustine Washington (16941743) and his second wife, Mary Ball Washington (17081789), was born on their Pope's Creek Estate near present-day Colonial Beach in Westmoreland County, Virginia.

Washington was born on February 22, 1732. Washington's ancestors were from Sulgrave, England; his great-grandfather, John Washington, immigrated to Virginia in 1657. George's father Augustine was a slave-owner tobacco planter who later tried his hand in iron-mining ventures.

In George's youth, the Washington's were relatively well off members of the middle gentry.

Washington was the eldest from his father's second marriage to Mary Ball Washington.

Six of his siblings survived childhood including two older half-brothers from his father's first marriage to Jane Butler Washington and four full-siblings, Samuel, Elizabeth(Betty), John Augustine and Charles.

George's father died when he was 11 years old, after this George's half-brother Lawrence became his surrogate father and mentor.

William Fairfax, Lawrence's father-in-law and cousin of Virginia's largest landowner, Lord Fairfax, was also a important character.

Washington spent much of his boyhood at Ferry Farm near Fredericksburg in Stafford County. Lawrence Washington inherited another family property from his father, a plantation on the Potomac River which he later called Mount Vernon. George inherited Ferry Farm upon his father's death and eventually gained Mount Vernon after Lawrence's death.

Ferry Farm, Fredericksburg, Virginia. George Washington's childhood home


Ferry Farm near Fredericksburg, Virginia, where Washington spent much of his childhood

Washington was to be educated in England at Appleby school but this did not happen because of his father dying. His older brothers previously had done so. From the age of 15 he went to school in Fredericksburg

There was a suggestion he go into the Royal Navy but his mother was concerned about its harsh regime. Washington would always be embarrassed in later life due to his lack of a college education.

Washington's older brother had connections to the influential Fairfax family and at 17 George was appointed official surveyor for Culpeper County in 1749. This was well paid and Washington was able to buy land in the Shenandoah Valley, the first of his many land purchases in Virginia.

Also thanks to Lawrence, George came to the notice of the new lieutenant governor of Virginia, Robert Dinwiddie.

Washington travelled to Barbados with Lawrence in 1751. Lawrence contracted tuberculosis and hoped the climate would give him some relief from the illness.

Washington developed smallpox during the trip which gave him slight scarring on the the face.

Lawrence's health got worse and after returning to Mount Vernon he died in 1752. Lawrence's position as Adjutant General of Virginia was divided into four offices after he died.

Washington became one of the four district adjutants in 1753 after being appointed by Governor Dinwiddie. He was given rank of major in the Virginia militia. Washington became a member of the Freemasons in Fredericksburg at the same time.

French and Indian War (Seven Years War) (17541758)

The French began enlarging military control over "Ohio Country" in 1753. The British colonies of Virginia and Pennsylvania also contested this area.

This led to a world war 175663 (called the French and Indian War in the colonies, the Seven Years' War in Europe). Washington was at the heart of its happening.

The Ohio Company was an entity that British investors planned to expand into the area with new settlements and trading posts for Indian trade.

Governor Dinwiddie was told by the British to warn the French of British claims. Major Washington was sent in 1753 to deliver a letter telling the French of these claims and asked them to leave.

Washington met with Tanacharison (also called "Half-King") and other Iroquois Indian leaders allied to Virginia to get support in case of hostilities. Washington and Half-King becoming friends and allies. Washington delivered the letter to the local French who politely refused to go.

Governor Dinwiddie sent Washington back to the Ohio Country to protect an Ohio Company group building a fort at present-day Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Before he reached the area, a French force drove out the company's crew and began construction of Fort Duquesne.

With Mingo allies led by Tanacharison, Washington and some of his militia unit surprised a French scouting party of some 30 men, led by Joseph Coulon de Jumonville; Jumonville was killed. The French responded by attacking and capturing Washington at Fort Necessity in July 1754. He was allowed to return with his troops to Virginia. The episode demonstrated Washington's heroism initiative, inexperience and impetuosity.

These events had worldwide outcomes, the French accused Washington of assassinating Jumonville, who they asserted was on a diplomatic mission similar to Washington's 1753 mission. Both France and Britain reacted by sending troops to North America in 1755, although war was not formally claimed until 1756.

Braddock disaster 1755

In 1755, Washington was the senior American aide to British General Edward Braddock on the ill-fated Monongahela expedition in 1755. This was the largest British expedition to the colonies, and was intended to expel the French from Ohio Country.

The French and their Indian allies ambushed Braddock, who was killed at the Battle of the Monongahela. After suffering heavy losses the British retreated in disarray but Washington rallied the remnants of the British and Virginian forces to an organized withdrawal.

Commander of Virginia Regiment

Governor Dinwiddie honoured Washington in 1755 with a commission as "Colonel of the Virginia Regiment and Commander in Chief of all forces now raised in the defense of His Majesty's Colony". Putting him in charge of securing Virginia's borders.

The Virginia Regiment was the first full-time American army unit in the colonies (as opposed to part-time militias and the British regular units). Washington was ordered to "act defensively or offensively". In command of a thousand soldiers, he was strong on discipline and training.

He led his men in harsh campaigns against the Indians in the west; in 10 months, his regiment fought 20 battles, and lost a third of his men. Washington's vigorous efforts meant that Virginia's frontier people suffered less than other colonies; Ellis concludes "it was his only unqualified success" in that war.

Fort Duquesne

Washington took part in the Forbes expedition to capture Fort Duquesne in 1758.

He was embarrassed by a friendly fire incident in which his unit and a British unit thought the other were the French. The death toll was 14 dead and 26 wounded.

In the end there was no proper fighting. The French left the fort, the British gained a major success gaining control of the Ohio Valley. Washington retired from his Virginia Regiment commission in 1758, not returning to military life until the start of the revolution in 1775.

Lessons learned

Although Washington never gained the commission in the British army he desired, in these years the young man gained valuable military, political, and leadership skills. He closely watched British military tactics, gaining a powerful insight into their strengths and weaknesses that proved handy during the Revolution. He displayed his strength and fortitude in the most difficult situations, including misfortunes and retreats. He developed a command bearing his size, strength, stamina, and bravery in combat. He appeared to soldiers to be a natural leader, and they followed him without question.

Washington learned to organize, train, drill, and control his companies and regiments. From his observations, readings and conversations with professional officers, he learned the basics battlefield tactics, with a good understanding of organization and logistics. He gained a knowledge of overall tactics, especially in locating strategic geographical points.

He was frustrated with dealing with government and began to believe in more executive power that could act and get things done.

His belief in the militia also began to wane believing it was unreliable with no proper discipline and that a regular army would have more substance and a better long term future.


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