George Washington (United States, February 22, 1732 – December 14, 1799). He was a wealthy landowner, Colonel of the British Army in North America, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army of the Revolutionary forces in the American War of Independence (1775-1783), and first President of the United States of America (1789 – 1797, two terms).
Washington’s life is reflected in the phrase “first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen”.
In 1793 he founded the new federal capital, named Washington in his honor, although the presidential residence would not be moved there until the time of his successor in office, John Adams.
Washington’s ancestors came from a distinguished English family from Northamptonshire, England.
His grandfather, John Washington, arrived as an immigrant to Virginia in 1657 and had amassed a considerable fortune and his family was considered a moderately prosperous member of Virginia’s “middle-ranking” aristocracy.
George’s father, Augustine “Gus” Washington (1693-1743), had studied in England and owned immense estates, whether slave plantations or iron mining businesses; When he was widowed by his first wife, Jane Butler, who had given him four children, he remarried Mary Ball (1708-1789), from a respectable Virginia family, who bore him six other children, among them George, who was born on February 22, 1732 on the banks of the Potomac River, on the Bridge’s Creek estate, in the old county of Westmoreland, in the current state of Virginia.
Washington had little formal education, his parents destined him to be a surveyor and so he studied only in the rural schools of the time: between the ages of seven and fifteen he studied irregularly, first with the sexton of the local church and then with a teacher named Williams.
Far from any literary or philosophical preoccupation, the boy received a rudimentary education in the bookish, but solid in the practical order, to which his active temperament inclined him.
There is a famous myth about his youth: He once cut down his father’s cherry tree. When his father asked him who had done it, Washington gave him his famous answer:
“I can’t tell a lie; it was me, Dad”.
According to some accounts, his father did not punish him because of his honesty; according to others, his father admired his honesty, but punished him anyway. In either case he is probably a myth, but he is still important in American culture, and the phrase “I cannot tell a lie” is now a cliché.
Even in his early teens he was familiar enough with settler chores to grow tobacco and store grapes. At that time, when he was eleven, his father died and he passed into the guardianship of his older half-brother, Lawrence, a man of good character who, in a sense, was his tutor.
At home, George knew a wider and more refined world, for Lawrence was married to Anne Fairfax, one of the great heiresses of the region and used to hobnob with the high society of Virginia.
Listening to the stories of his stepbrother, an early military vocation was awakened in him and at the age of fourteen he wanted to become a soldier, although he had to discard the idea due to the fierce opposition of his mother, who refused to allow him to follow a career in arms.
Two years later he began working as a surveyor, as assistant to an expedition to survey Lord Fairfax’s lands in the Shenandoah Valley.
Thanks to his connections with the Fairfax family, the seventeen-year-old Washington was appointed as the official surveyor of Culpeper County in 1749, a well-paying job that enabled him to purchase land in the Shenandoah Valley, the first of his many acquisitions in western Virginia.
From there, grueling days in the open country, with no comforts and exposed to the dangers of the wilderness, taught him not only to learn the ways of the Indians and the possibilities of settling the West, but to master his body and mind, tempering him for the task that the future held in store for him.
But for the time being, although political concerns did not disturb him (young Washington was a loyal subject of the English crown), he was annoyed by the limitations imposed by the metropolis on colonization, since with his half-brother they planned to take their business to the lands of the West.
Head of Household
At the age of twenty, a decisive change occurred in his life, making him the head of a family. Tuberculosis took Lawrence’s life in 1752 and George inherited the Mount Vernon plantation, a huge estate with 8,000 acres and 18 slaves.
He thus became one of the wealthiest men in Virginia, and acted as such: he soon distinguished himself in community affairs, was an active member of the Episcopal Church, and ran as a candidate, in 1755, for the district’s House of Burgesses.
He also excelled in amusements; he was a magnificent horseman, tall and blue-eyed, a great hunter and a better fisherman; he loved dancing, billiards and cards and attended horse races (he had his own stables) and whatever theatrical performances were given in the region.
But his vocation as a soldier had not died, and among his plans was also to become a brilliant military man.
At that time, the English and French were disputing the dominion of North America, and the controversy over the routes to the headwaters of the Ohio had led to extreme tension among the colonists.
Washington enlisted in the army, and soon after the death of his half-brother was appointed by Governor Robert Dinwiddie commander of the district (1753), with a salary of $100 per year. Faced with French encroachments along the frontier, in 1753 the governor charged him with the mission of practicing reconnaissance in the border area.
In mid-November, Washington set out at the head of six men through the Ohio Valley, an inhospitable country, populated by savage tribes and multiple dangers.
Despite the cold and snow, he was able to make the arduous journey to Fort-Le Boeuf in Pennsylvania, a feat that began to cement his fame.
Son of Augustine Washington, justice of the peace, and his second wife Mary Ball. His father owned a plantation, Ferry Farm, worked by slaves, which upon his death George inherited.
His older half-brother Lawrence inherited Little Hunting Creek and renamed it Mount Vernon.
Orphaned at a young age, he was fostered by Lawrence and received an elementary education.
From the age of fourteen George Washington revealed an interest in a career in arms. He attended rural schools. As a child he also stood out for his great love of sports. Serious, introverted and methodical, he stood out for his determined spirit.
He was the official inspector of Culpeper County from 1749. During 1753 he was deputy of the southern district of Virginia.
French and Indian War
Commissioned by the lieutenant governor of Virginia to convey the ultimatum to the French troops to cease their incursions into the Ohio River Valley. Subsequently commanded the protection of laborers erecting a fort on the forks of the Ohio River.
When the French expelled the laborers and renamed the site Fort Duquesne, George Washington entrenched himself and his men at Fort Necessity. A French assault forced him to accept surrender terms and he had to leave with what was left of his company.
In May 1755 he enlisted to serve as aide-de-camp to British General Edward Braddock. Washington was elected in August 1755 to command the Virginia regiment.
He was elected to the Virginia lower house in 1758, where he served for seventeen years, also serving as justice of the peace for Fairfax County.
In July 1774 he presided over a meeting in Alexandria that adopted the ‘Fairfax Resolutions’, establishing a blockade on British imports.
During 1775, Congress appointed him commander-in-chief of the newly created Continental Army, hoping thereby to draw Virginia into the struggle initiated by New England against Great Britain.
After driving the British out of Boston, he advanced to New York, where he was defeated in August 1776 by General William Howe.
Washington crossed the Delaware River on the night of December 25, 1776, and took Trenton. On January 3, 1777 he defeated the British troops at the Battle of Princeton.
He tried unsuccessfully to block Howe’s advance into Philadelphia at the Battle of Brandywine Creek.
When the city was occupied by the British, he fought a battle at Germantown, but the superiority of the enemy forced him to retreat. With his men he spent the following winter at Valley Forge.
He spent two years with his army encamped around New York. In 1780 French troops arrived under the command of Count de Rochambeau and together they moved 7,000 men from New York State to Virginia in less than five weeks.
The joint Franco-American army joined La Fayette, and 36 French ships were deployed off the coast to prevent Yorktown from receiving aid by sea. Washington forced Cornwallis to surrender in October after a brief siege.
President of the United States
He returned to Mount Vernon in 1783 to devote himself to his plantation. Along with other Virginia nationalists, he organized the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and was named its president.
He was a decisive piece in the independence of the country, under his mandate, the United States formed a political-economic entity with broad prospects and thanks to his gifts as an organizer and his neutrality the young American nation consolidated the foundations that would allow it to rise to the level of great power.
His attendance at the Constitutional Convention and his support for the ratification of the Constitution were of great importance for the state conventions of 1787 and 1788 and made Washington the leading candidate for the presidency of the United States.
He was elected president in 1788 and again in 1792, presided over the formation and initial operations of the new government.
As the first president of the United States, George Washington governed in a Federalist style. When Pennsylvania farmers refused to pay a federal tax on liquor, Washington mobilized an army of 15,000 men to put down the Whiskey Rebellion.
With the appointment of Alexander Hamilton as Secretary of the Treasury and Thomas Jefferson as Secretary of State, he placed the two most capable and relevant figures of the revolutionary generation in the positions of greatest responsibility.
The deterioration of relations with France (1793) marked the starting point of his political decline.
He was unable to prevent the United States from also experiencing a crisis with England, a country that, conditioned by the struggle in Europe, began the confiscation of ships to the detriment of American commerce.
Firm to neutralism, he tried to solve the crisis through diplomacy and sent John Jay to London, who signed with the former metropolis the treaty that bears his name (1794).
Jay did not defend with energy the American interests and granted wide concessions to England; hence this agreement was the determining argument that accentuated the internal opposition against him and that induced him not to present his candidacy in the presidential elections of 1795.
Diminished in his political prestige, once his farewell message was read (September 1796), he withdrew from public life.
He returned to active military service, already an old man, when, on the occasion of the undeclared state of war with the France of the Directory, he was again named commander in chief of the Army (1798).
After the death of his older half-brother Lawrence, he inherited the family plantation at Mount Vernon.
It seems that his great love was Sally Cary, an idealistic woman, permanently at his side in the cause for Independence. He could not love her publicly because she was married to his friend George Fairax.
He married in 1759 a widowed owner of a large estate named Martha Custis. After the marriage he became one of the wealthiest men in Virginia.
On November 4, 1752, George Washington was initiated into Freemasonry at Fredericksburg Lodge. On April 29, 1788, he was made Worshipful Master of Alexandria Lodge, a position he held when he was elected President of the United States.
On September 18, 1793, he laid the cornerstone of the U.S. Capitol wearing the Masonic regalia of Grand Master.
He owned African slaves throughout his life. He inherited ten from his father, gained control of eighty-four on his marriage to Martha, and purchased at least seventy-one slaves between 1752 and 1773.
He became the only prominent slaveholding Founding Father to emancipate his slaves. However, he did not free them during his lifetime, but included a provision with his willingness to free his slaves upon the death of his wife.
At the time of her death, there were 317 slaves at Mount Vernon. On January 1, 1801, one year after George Washington’s death, Martha Washington signed an order to free his slaves.
Considered a national hero, the great forger of independence and statehood, retired from 1797 to Mount Vernon, died on December 14, 1799.
George Washington himself, on one occasion, interpreted the meaning of the flag in these terms: “We take the stars from the sky, the red of our mother country, separating it with white stripes to indicate that we have separated from her, and the white stripes will pass to posterity as a symbol of freedom.”
The new ensign was first hoisted at Fort Stanwix, site of present-day Rome, New York State, on August 3, 1777. Three days later, it had its baptism of fire at the Battle of Oriskany, New York, where the colonialists forced the British to retreat.