I love history, so it should be no surprise I am fascinated with the people and the stories that shaped our great nation. George Washington was sworn in as the first U.S. President in the spring of 1789, to say things have changed would be a massive understatement! This story may be a bit long for some, but I believe it’s important to know and understand our heritage. To provide a little historical background on George Washington, I’ve provided below a chronological and quick overview of his life. It’s amazing when comparing it to our lives of today. Please feel free to pass along and share with the younger ones, perhaps it will offer some inspiration. And remember, Washington was a farmer! (Source: Bio; Wiki)
Born February 22, 1732, in Westmoreland County, Virginia
11 years old – Father dies and he became the ward of his half-brother, Lawrence, who gave him a fairly good upbringing.
20 years old – Lawrence dies of tuberculosis making George the heir apparent of the Washington lands and vast tobacco farms; Throughout his life, he would hold farming as one of the most honorable professions and he was most proud of Mount Vernon. He would gradually increase his landholdings there to about 8,000 acres.
21 years old – Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, Robert Dinwiddie, appointed Washington with a rank of major in the Virginia militia. Shortly thereafter he sent Washington to Fort LeBoeuf, at what is now Waterford, Pennsylvania, to warn the French to remove themselves from land claimed by Britain. The French politely refused and Washington made a hasty ride back to Williamsburg, Virginia’s colonial capital. Dinwiddie sent Washington back with troops and they set up a post at Great Meadows. Washington’s small force attacked a French post at Fort Duquesne killing the commander, Coulon de Jumonville, and nine others and taking the rest prisoners. Essentially, a young Washington lead his small group of men and sparked the beginning of “The French and Indian War”.
23 years old – Washington was made commander of all Virginia troops
26 – 35 years old – He retires from his Virginia regiment and returned home to Mt. Vernon to once again farm; A month after leaving the army, Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, a widow, who was only a few months older than he. Martha brought to the marriage a massive 18,000-acre farm, and George had personally been granted another 6,000 acres for his military service. As you can see, by his late-20s Washington had quickly become one of the most wealthy landowners in Virginia; Between his retirement from the Virginia militia until the start of the Revolution, George Washington devoted himself to the care and development of his land holdings, attending the rotation of crops, managing livestock and keeping up with the latest scientific advances. He worked six days a week, often taking off his coat and performing manual labor with his workers. He was an innovative and responsible landowner, breeding cattle and horses and tending to his fruit orchards. While he kept over 100 slaves, he was said to dislike the institution but accepted the fact that slavery was the law. He also entered politics and was elected to Virginia’s House of Burgesses in 1758. It has been written many times that Washington did not take a leading role in the growing colonial resistance against the British until the widespread protest of the Townshend Acts in 1767. In fact, his letters of this period indicate he was totally opposed to the colonies declaring independence. However, by 1767, he started singing a much different tune.
43 years old – The battles of Lexington and Concord erupted in April 1775, as the political dispute between Great Britain and her North American colonies escalated into an armed conflict. In May of 1775, Washington traveled to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia dressed in a military uniform, indicating that he was prepared for war. On June 15, he was appointed Major General and Commander-in-Chief of the colonial forces against Great Britain. As was his custom, he did not seek out the office of commander, but was eager to serve and happy to help his country! Historians say Washington was the best choice for a number of reasons: he had the prestige, military experience, and charisma for the job and he had been advising Congress for months. Another factor was political. The Revolution had started in New England and at the time, they were the only colonies that had directly felt the blunt of British tyranny. Virginia was the largest British colony and deserved recognition and New England needed Southern support. Washington and his small army received a taste of victory early in March 1776 by placing artillery above Boston, on Dorchester Heights, forcing the British to withdraw. Washington then moved his troops into New York City. But in June, a new British commander, Sir William Howe, arrived in the Colonies with the largest expeditionary force Britain had ever deployed to date.
44 to 51 years old – Serves as Commander-in-Chief of the colonial forces. It was in August of 1776, the British army launched an attack and quickly took New York City in the largest battle of the war. Washington’s army was routed and suffered the surrender of 2,800 men. He ordered the remains of his army to retreat across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania. Confident the war would be over in a few months, General Howe wintered his troops at Trenton and Princeton, leaving Washington free to attack at the time and place of his choosing. On Christmas night, 1776, Washington and his men crossed the Delaware River and attacked unsuspecting Hessian mercenaries at Trenton, forcing their surrender. A few days later, evading a force that had been sent to destroy his army, Washington attacked the British again, this time at Princeton, dealing them a humiliating loss. In the late summer of 1777, the British army sent a major force, under the command of John Burgoyne, south from Quebec to Saratoga, New York, to split off the rebellion in New England. But the strategy backfired, as Burgoyne became trapped by the American armies led by Horatio Gates and Benedict Arnold, at the Battle of Saratoga. Without support from Howe, who couldn’t reach him in time, he was forced to surrender his entire 6,200 man army. The victory was a major turning point in the war as it encouraged France to openly ally itself with the American cause for independence. Through all of this, Washington discovered an important lesson: The political nature of war was just as important as the military one. Washington began to understand that military victories were not as important as keeping the resistance alive. Americans began to believe that they could meet their objective of independence without defeating the British army. On the other hand, British General Howe clung to the strategy of capturing colonial cities in hopes of smothering the rebellion. He didn’t realize that capturing cities like Philadelphia and New York would not unseat colonial power. Congress would just pack up and meet elsewhere. The darkest time for Washington and the Continental Army was during the winter of 1777 at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The 11,000-man force went into winter quarters and over the next six months suffered thousands of deaths, mostly from disease. But the army emerged from the winter still intact and in relatively good order. Realizing their strategy of capturing Colonial cities had failed, the British command replaced General Howe with Sir Henry Clinton. The British army evacuated Philadelphia to return to New York City. Washington and his men delivered several quick blows to the moving army, attacking the British flank near Monmouth Courthouse. Though a tactical standoff, the encounter proved Washington’s army capable of open field battle. The alliance with France had brought a large French army and a navy fleet. Washington and his French counterparts decided to attack British General Charles Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. Facing the combined French and Colonial armies and the French fleet of 29 warships at his back, Cornwallis held out as long as he could, but on October 19, 1781, he surrendered his forces. Washington formally bade his troops farewell and on December 23, 1783, he resigned his commission as commander-in-chief of the army and returned to Mount Vernon.
52 to 56 years old – Washington attempted to fulfill his dream of resuming life on the farm and to give his much-neglected plantation the care and attention it deserved. The war had been costly to the Washington family with lands neglected, no exports of goods, and the depreciation of paper money. But Washington was able to repair his fortunes with a generous land grant from Congress for his military services.
57 years old – Since independence, the young republic of the U.S. had been struggling under the Articles of Confederation, a structure of government that centered power with the states. But the states were not unified. They fought among themselves over boundaries and navigation rights and refused to contribute to paying off the nation’s war debt. Political leaders of the states knew something had to be done to unify their efforts so again the called on George Washington. The Constitution of the United States was ratified by the states in June 1788. In February of the following year, the new nation’s Electoral College selected George Washington unanimously with 69 electoral votes to be its first U.S. president. On April 16, 1789, Washington began a seven-day journey from his home at Mount Vernon to New York City, then the nation’s capital, where he would be inaugurated. Washington was reluctant to leave the serenity of his home and uncertain about his new position. His journal entry for that day noted: “About 10 o’clock I bade adieu to Mount Vernon, to private life, and to domestic felicity, and with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express, set out for New York in company with Mr. Thompson, and Colonel Humphries, with the best dispositions to render service to my country in obedience to its call, but with less hope of answering its expectations.” His journey to New York City was transformed into a triumphal procession by the crowds and local officials who greeted the new president along the way. Celebrations erupted at numerous towns along his route including Alexandria, Baltimore, Wilmington, Philadelphia, and Trenton. Washington arrived at Elizabeth Town, NJ. It was on April 23 he took a small barge with 13 pilots through the Kill Van Kull tidal strait into the Upper New York Bay and from there the city. A variety of boats surrounded him during the voyage, and Washington’s approach was greeted by a series of cannon fire, first a thirteen gun salute by the Spanish warship Galveston, then by the North Carolina, and finally by other artillery. Thousands had gathered on the waterfront to see him arrive. Washington landed at Murray’s Wharf (at the foot of Wall Street), where he was greeted by New York Governor George Clinton as well as other congressmen and citizens. A plaque now marks the landing site. They proceeded through the streets to what would be Washington’s new official residence, 3 Cherry Street. On April 30, 1789, George Washington took the oath as the first president of the United States. The oath was administered by Robert R. Livingston, the Chancellor of New York, on a second-floor balcony of Federal Hall, above a crowd assembled in the streets to witness this historic event. Three days before George Washington took the oath of office as the first president of the United States, Congress passed the following resolution: Resolved, That after the oath shall have been administered to the President, he, attended by the Vice President and members of the Senate and House of Representatives, shall proceed to St. Paul’s Chapel, to hear divine service. Accordingly, the Right Rev. Samuel Provoost (1742–1815), newly appointed chaplain of the United States Senate and first Episcopal bishop of New York, performed “divine service” at St. Paul’s Chapel on April 30, 1789, immediately following Washington’s inauguration.