M, b. 22 February 1730/31, d. 14 December 1799
- 5th great-granduncle of John Kennedy BROWN Jr.
George WASHINGTON, son of Augustine WASHINGTON and Mary BALL, was born on 22 February 1730/31 at Pope's Creek Plantation in Westmoreland County, Virginia.1
The earliest known portrait of Washington, painted in 1772 by Charles Willson Peale, showing Washington in uniform as colonel of the Virginia Regiment.
Washington, the first-born child from his father's second marriage, had two older siblings and five younger siblings. George's father died when George was eleven years old, after which George's half-brother, Lawrence Washington, became a surrogate father and role model. William Fairfax, Lawrence's father-in-law and cousin of Virginia's largest landowner, Thomas, Lord Fairfax, was also a formative influence. Washington spent much of his boyhood at Ferry Farm in Stafford County near Fredericksburg. Lawrence Washington inherited another family property from his father, which he later named Mount Vernon. George inherited Ferry Farm upon his father's death, and eventually acquired Mount Vernon after Lawrence's death.
The death of his father prevented Washington from receiving an education in England as his older brothers had done. His education comprised seven or eight years, mostly in the form of tutoring by his father and Lawrence, and training in surveying. Late in life, Washington was somewhat self-conscious that he was less learned than some of his contemporaries. Thanks to his Fairfax connections, at seventeen he was appointed official surveyor for Culpeper County in 1749, a well-paid position which allowed him to purchase land in the Shenandoah Valley, the first of his many land acquisitions in western Virginia. Thanks to Lawrence's involvement in the Ohio Company, Washington came to the notice of the lieutenant governor of Virginia, Robert Dinwiddie. Washington was hard to miss: at about six feet two inches (estimates of his height have varied), he towered over most of his contemporaries.2
The estate, originally called Little Hunting Creek Plantation, consisted of about 5,000 acres (2,000 hectares). It descended by inheritance from John Washington, the first of the family in America, to his son Lawrence, who in turn devised it to his daughter Mildred. From Mildred it was purchased in 1726 by her brother Augustine, George Washington’s father; and in 1743, when George was eleven his father, Augustine, died; George Washington then lived with his mother, Mary, at Ferry Farm in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and visited his half-brother, Lawrence, at Mount Vernon. George inherited Mount Vernon upon Lawrence's death in 1752. Washington successfully ran and built up his Mount Vernon plantation into a large business. He divided the plantation into five farms, each of which had a separate overseer who was responsible for that farm, and also managed an active fishery where fish were caught, salted and shipped throughout the colonies and overseas. His farm shops, blacksmith and flour milling in particular, provided services to farmers in the locale. An extended community of slaves and servants that numbered about 315 people at its peak, lived and worked on Mount Vernon plantation. He increased the acreage from 2,100 to 8,000, rebuilt the simple farmhouse he inherited into a 2-1/2 story, 20-room Mansion, and designed and built all 12 outbuildings.
In 1754, at the start of the French and Indian Wars, Virginia's Gov. Dinwiddie commissioned Washington a Lieutenant Colonel and ordered him to lead an expedition to Fort Duquesne to drive out the French Canadians. With his American Indian allies led by Tanacharison, Washington and his troops ambushed a French Canadian scouting party of some 30 men, led by Joseph Coulon de Jumonville. This action is regarded as the first hostility leading to the global Seven Years' War, as the French responded by attacking Fort Necessity which Washington had erected, and the British would later send two regiments to engage with the French. Washington surrendered to the French Canadians and was released on parole, returning with his troops to Virginia, where he was cleared of blame for the defeat, but resigned because he did not like the new arrangement of the Virginia Militia.
In 1755, Washington was an aide to British General Edward Braddock on the ill-fated Monongahela expedition.] This was a major effort to retake the Ohio Country. While Braddock was killed and the expedition ended in disaster, Washington distinguished himself as the Hero of the Monongahela.] While Washington's role during the battle has been debated, biographer Joseph Ellis asserts that Washington rode back and forth across the battlefield, rallying the remnant of the British and Virginian forces to a retreat.] Subsequent to this action, Washington was given a difficult frontier command in the Virginia mountains, and was rewarded by being promoted to colonel and named commander of all Virginia forces.
In 1758, Washington participated as a Brigadier General in the Forbes expedition that prompted French evacuation of Fort Duquesne, and British establishment of Pittsburgh. Later that year, Washington resigned from active military service and spent the next sixteen years as a Virginia planter and politician.2
George married Martha DANDRIDGE, daughter of Col. John DANDRIDGE and Frances JONES, on 6 January 1759 in New Kent County, Virginia. She was the widow of Daniel Parke Custis, who she married at age 18. He was a rich planter two decades her senior. George and Martha's wedding was a grand affair. The groom appeared in a suit of blue and silver with red trimming and gold knee buckles; the bride wore purple silk shoes with spangled buckles. After the Reverend Peter Mossum pronounced them man and wife, the couple honeymooned at her home, White House Plantation on the south shore of the Pamunkey River, for several weeks before setting up housekeeping at Washington's Mount Vernon. Their marriage appears to have been a solid one, untroubled by infidelity or clash of temperament.3
Washington's marriage to Martha, a wealthy widow, greatly increased his property holdings and social standing. He acquired one-third of the 18,000 acre Custis estate upon his marriage, and managed the remainder on behalf of Martha's children. He frequently bought additional land in his own name. In addition, he was granted land in what is now West Virginia as a bounty for his service in the French and Indian War. By 1775, Washington had doubled the size of Mount Vernon to 6,500 acres, and had increased the slave population there to more than 100 persons. As a respected military hero and large landowner, he held local office and was elected to the Virginia provincial legislature, the House of Burgesses, beginning in 1758.
Washington lived an aristocratic lifestyle—fox hunting was a favorite leisure activity. Like most Virginia planters, he imported luxuries and other goods from England and paid for them by exporting his tobacco crop. Extravagant spending and the unpredictability of the tobacco market meant that many Virginia planters of Washington's day were losing money. (Thomas Jefferson, for example, would die deeply in debt.)2
George concentrated on his business activities and remained somewhat aloof from politics. Although he expressed opposition to the 1765 Stamp Act, the first direct tax on the colonies, he did not take a leading role in the growing colonial resistance until after protests of the Townshend Acts (enacted in 1767) had become widespread. In May 1769, Washington introduced a proposal drafted by his friend George Mason, which called for Virginia to boycott English goods until the Acts were repealed. Parliament repealed the Townshend Acts in 1770, and, for Washington at least, the crisis had passed. However, Washington regarded the passage of the Intolerable Acts in 1774 as "an Invasion of our Rights and Privileges". In July 1774, he chaired the meeting at which the "Fairfax Resolves" were adopted, which called for, among other things, the convening of a Continental Congress. In August, Washington attended the First Virginia Convention, where he was selected as a delegate to the First Continental Congress.
After fighting broke out in April 1775, Washington appeared at the Second Continental Congress in military uniform, signaling that he was prepared for war. Washington had the prestige, military experience, charisma and military bearing of any good military leader and was known for his reputation as a strong patriot, and the Southern States, especially Virginia, supported him. Although he did not explicitly seek the office of commander and even claimed that he was not equal to it, there was no serious competition. Congress created the Continental Army on June 14, 1775. Nominated by John Adams of Massachusetts, Washington was then appointed Major General and elected by Congress to be Commander-in-chief.
Washington assumed command of the Continental Army in the field at Cambridge, Massachusetts in July 1775, during the ongoing siege of Boston. Realizing his army's desperate shortage of gunpowder, Washington asked for new sources. American troops raided British arsenals, including some in the Caribbean, and some manufacturing was attempted. They obtained a barely adequate supply (about 2.5 million pounds) by the end of 1776, mostly from France. Washington reorganized the army during the long standoff, and forced the British to withdraw by putting artillery on Dorchester Heights overlooking the city. The British evacuated Boston and Washington moved his army to New York City.
Although negative toward the patriots in the Continental Congress, British newspapers routinely praised Washington's personal character and qualities as a military commander. These articles were bold, as Washington was enemy general who commanded an army in a cause that many Britons believed would ruin the empire. Washington's refusal to become involved in politics buttressed his reputation as a man fully committed to the military mission at hand and above the factional fray.
In August 1776, British General William Howe launched a massive naval and land campaign designed to seize New York and offer a negotiated settlement. The Continental Army under Washington engaged the enemy for the first time as an army of the newly declared independent United States at the Battle of Long Island, the largest battle of the entire war. Some historians see his army's subsequent nighttime retreat across the East River, without the loss of a single life or materiel, as one of Washington's greatest military feats. This and several other British victories sent Washington scrambling out of New York and across New Jersey, which left the future of the Continental Army in doubt. On the night of December 25, 1776, Washington staged a counterattack, leading the American forces across the Delaware River to capture nearly 1,000 Hessians in Trenton, New Jersey. Washington followed up his victory at Trenton with another at Princeton in early January. These victories alone were not enough to ensure ultimate victory, however, as many soldiers did not reenlist or deserted during the harsh winter. Washington reorganized the army with increased rewards for staying and punishment for desertion, which raised troop numbers effectively for subsequent battles.
British forces defeated Washington's troops in the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777. Howe outmaneuvered Washington and marched into Philadelphia unopposed on September 26. Washington's army unsuccessfully attacked the British garrison at Germantown in early October. Meanwhile, General John Burgoyne, out of reach from help from Howe, was trapped and forced to surrender his entire army at Saratoga, New York. France responded to Burgoyne's defeat by entering the war, openly allying with America and turning the Revolutionary War into a major worldwide war. Washington's loss of Philadelphia prompted some members of Congress to discuss removing Washington from command. This attempt failed after Washington's supporters rallied behind him.
Washington's army camped at Valley Forge in December 1777, staying there for the next six months. Over the winter, 2,500 men of the 10,000-strong force died from disease and exposure. The next spring, however, the army emerged from Valley Forge in good order, thanks in part to a full-scale training program supervised by Baron von Steuben, a veteran of the Prussian general staff. The British evacuated Philadelphia to New York in 1778 but Washington attacked them at Monmouth and drove them from the battlefield. Afterwards, the British continued to head towards New York. Washington moved his army outside of New York.
In the summer of 1779 at Washington's direction, General John Sullivan carried out a decisive scorched earth campaign that destroyed at least forty Iroquois villages throughout present-day central and upstate New York in retaliation for Iroquois and Tory attacks against American settlements earlier in the war. Washington, himself, had commercial interests in Ohio; his family had an investment in the Ohio Company, which was granted 500,000 acres of land in Ohio by King George III in 1747. Washington delivered the final blow to the British in 1781, after a French naval victory allowed American and French forces to trap a British army in Virginia. The surrender at Yorktown on October 17, 1781, marked the end of most fighting.
In March 1783, Washington used his influence to disperse a group of Army officers who had threatened to confront Congress regarding their back pay. By the Treaty of Paris (signed that September), Great Britain recognized the independence of the United States. Washington disbanded his army and, on November 2, gave an eloquent farewell address to his soldiers.
On November 25, the British evacuated New York City, and Washington and the governor took possession. At Fraunces Tavern on December 4, Washington formally bade his officers farewell and on December 23, 1783, he resigned his commission as commander-in-chief, emulating the Roman general Cincinnatus. He was an exemplar of the republican ideal of citizen leadership who rejected power. During this period, there was no position of President of the United States under the Articles of Confederation, the forerunner to the Constitution.
Washington's retirement to Mount Vernon was short-lived. He made an exploratory trip to the western frontier in 1784, was persuaded to attend the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in the summer of 1787, and was unanimously elected president of the Convention. He participated little in the debates (though he did vote for or against the various articles), but his high prestige maintained collegiality and kept the delegates at their labors. The delegates designed the presidency with Washington in mind, and allowed him to define the office once elected. After the Convention, his support convinced many, including the Virginia legislature, to vote for ratification; the new Constitution was ratified by all 13 states.
The Electoral College elected Washington unanimously in 1789, and again in the 1792 election; he remains the only president to have received 100 percent of the electoral votes. At his inauguration, he John Adams was elected vice president. Washington took the oath of office as the first President under the Constitution for the United States of America on April 30, 1789, at Federal Hall in New York City although, at first, he had not wanted the position.
The 1st United States Congress voted to pay Washington a salary of $25,000 a year—a large sum in 1789. Washington, already wealthy, declined the salary, since he valued his image as a selfless public servant. At the urging of Congress, however, he ultimately accepted the payment, to avoid setting a precedent whereby the presidency would be perceived as limited only to independently wealthy individuals who could serve without any salary. Washington attended carefully to the pomp and ceremony of office, making sure that the titles and trappings were suitably republican and never emulated European royal courts. To that end, he preferred the title "Mr. President" to the more majestic names suggested.
Washington proved an able administrator. An excellent delegator and judge of talent and character, he held regular cabinet meetings to debate issues before making a final decision. In handling routine tasks, he was "systematic, orderly, energetic, solicitous of the opinion of others but decisive, intent upon general goals and the consistency of particular actions with them."
Washington reluctantly served a second term as president. He refused to run for a third, establishing the customary policy of a maximum of two terms for a president, which later became law by the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution.2
George WASHINGTON died on 14 December 1799 at Mount Vernon in Fairfax County, Virginia, at age 68. On December 12, 1799, Washington had spent several hours inspecting his farms on horseback, in snow and later hail and freezing rain. He sat down to dine that evening without changing his wet clothes. The next morning, he awoke with a bad cold, fever, and a throat infection called quinsy that turned into acute laryngitis and pneumonia. Washington died on the evening of December 14, 1799, at his home aged 67, while attended by Dr. James Craik, one of his closest friends, Dr. Gustavus Richard Brown, Dr. Elisha C. Dick, and Tobias Lear V, Washington's personal secretary. Lear later recorded an account in his journal, writing that Washington's last words were "'Tis well." Modern doctors believe that Washington died largely because of his treatment, which included calomel and bloodletting, resulting in a combination of shock from the loss of five pints of blood, as well as asphyxia and dehydration.2 He was buried in the Washington Family Cemetery at Mt. Vernon, Virginia.
Last Edited=29 Sep 2019
Information on this site has been gathered over many years from many sources. Although great care has been taken, inaccuracies may exist.