Portrait of George Washington

George Washington commanded the Colonial Army during the Revolutionary War and served as the first President of the United States.

George Washington

February 22, 1732–December 14, 1799

George Washington led the Continental Army to victory over the British in the Revolutionary War. He then served two terms as the first President of the United States under the Constitution.

George Washington was unanimously elected as the first President of the United States in 1789 and 1792. He is the only person to receive 100% of the electoral votes in any election. Fellow Founding Father John Adams served as his Vice President during both terms.

Washington was born on February 22, 1732, in Westmoreland County, Virginia. He was the first child of Augustine and Mary Washington, who would have five more children. At the time George was born, they lived in Pope’s Creek.

In 1735, the family moved to Little Hunting Creek Plantation, on the Potomac River. The Plantation would eventually be renamed Mount Vernon. They lived there for a short time, and moved to Ferry Farm on the Rappahannock River, across from Fredericksburg, Virginia, in 1738. Washington spent most of his youth at Ferry Farm, although very little is known about his childhood.

His father died when he was 11, and he became the ward of Lawrence Washington, his half-brother. Augustine had three children with his first wife, Jane, who died in 1729. Lawrence inherited Little Hunting Creek Plantation. Lawrence was married to Anne Fairfax, the daughter of Colonel William Fairfax. Fairfax had political connections, and had been an appointee of the British Crown in the Bahamas and the Colonies.

At the at of 16, in 1748, Washington helped survey Virginia’s western frontier. He spent the next few years surveying land and received an appointment as the official surveyor of Culpepper County, Virginia.

He inherited Mount Vernon in 1752. Lawrence died in July from tuberculosis. Soon after, his only heir, his daughter Sarah, also died. This left the estate to Washington. He was 20 years old at the time. Adding to his responsibilities, Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, Robert Dinwiddie, appointed him as major in the Virginia militia.

In late October 1753, Dinwiddie sent Washington, along with escorts, to a French fort — Fort Le Boeuf — in northern Pennsylvania. Washington’s mission was to deliver a warning to the French and tell them to leave British territory. Although the French refused to leave, the graciously hosted Washington and his party for three days. During the time, Washington took detailed notes about the fort. When Washington left, he took with him a letter from the commander of the fort, Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre. The letter was to be delivered to Dinwiddie, and the message was for Dinwiddie to deliver his demand to the Major General of New France, which was in the capital, Quebec City.

After Washington returned to Virginia, Dinwiddie sent another group of Virginians to the Forks of the Ohio. They were instructed to build Fort Prince George at that place. On April 2, Washington was part of a regiment under the command of Colonel Joshua Fry that was sent to Fort Prince George. Their orders were to build a road to the fort and help defend it. On April 18, while Fry’s regiment was en route, a French force of 500 troops arrived at the Forks of the Ohio. They forced the Virginians to surrender, knocked down what had been built, and eventually built Fort Duquesne.

Washington assumed command of the expedition on May 25, when Fry died from injuries sustained after falling from his horse. On May 27, at Jumonville Glen, the expedition was made aware of a Canadian scouting party in the area near them. Washington, along with a group of Mingo warriors, attacked the camp early on the morning of May 28. Washington’s forces were victorious at the Battle of Jumonville Glen.

Washington and his troops returned to Great Meadows, where they built Fort Necessity. On July 3, 1754, Fort Necessity was overwhelmed by French forces. Some consider this to be the actual start of the French and Indian War, although Britain did not formally declare war until 1756.

In 1755, Washington served under British General Edward Braddock on a failed mission to retake the Ohio Country from the French. Despite the defeat, he was promoted to Colonel and named Commander of all military forces in Virginia.

In 1758, Washington participated in the Forbes Expedition, which retook Fort Duquesne, paving the way for the settlement of Pittsburgh.

Following the French and Indian War, Washington returned to Virginia where he married Martha Dandridge Custis on January 6, 1759. She was a wealthy widow and immediately increased his property holdings and social standing. The two of them never had any children together, but they did raise her two children, John Parke Custis, and Martha Parke Custis. Later, they would raise two of Martha’s grandchildren, Eleanor Parke Custis and George Washington Parke Custis.

When the Second Continental Congress convened in 1775, Washington attended dressed in military uniform. On June 14, 1775 the Congress created the Continental Army. On the following day, John Adams nominated Washington to lead the Army. He was then appointed Major General and elected by Congress to be Commander-in-Chief. After successfully leading the new nation to victory in 1783, Washington retired to his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia.

The retirement was short-lived, as he was asked to attend the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in the summer of  1787. The convention led to the ratification of the new Constitution by all 13 states.

Upon completing his second term as President, Washington again retired to Mount Vernon. Again, his retirement was interrupted when President John Adams asked him to serve as Lieutenant General and Commander-in-Chief of the armies, which were being raised due to the threat of war with France. From 1788 to 1799, he served as the Senior Officer of the United States Army and participated in the planning of a standing army.

After riding in the rain while inspecting his farm on December 12, 1799, Washington fell ill. He died two days later, on December 14 at his home. His personal secretary, Tobias Lear V, recorded his last words as, “‘Tis well.”

Washington’s funeral was held on December 18, 1799, at Mount Vernon. He was eulogized by Congressman Henry Lee, “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in humble and enduring scenes of private life. Pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform, dignified, and commanding; his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting…Correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence and virtue always felt his fostering hand. The purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues…Such was the man for whom our nation mourns.”

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title George Washington
  • Coverage February 22, 1732–December 14, 1799
  • Author
  • Keywords Entry on George Washington, a Founder and first President of the United States.
  • Website Name American History Central
  • URL
  • Access Date June 3, 2020
  • Publisher R.Squared Communications, LLC
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update January 30, 2020

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