George Washington


     George Washington is unanimously referred to as the "father of

America". The first president of the United States of America, Washington
set the manner for what was to become the most powerful seat of government in
the country. The purpose of this paper is to provide biographical information on

Washington and to explain why he is known as the "father of America".

Born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on February 22, 1732, George Washington
was the eldest son of Augustine Washington and his second wife, Mary Ball

Washington. His five younger brothers and sisters were Elizabeth, Samuel, John,

Augustine, Charles, and Mildred (who died in infancy). Washington's two half
brothers, Lawrence and Augustine, were fourteen and twelve years older than he,
but the three boys liked and respected one another.1 When Washington was three
the family moved to a larger plantation further up the Potomac River. It was
called Epsewasson, or Little Hunting Creek, from the name of the stream it
faced. Young Washington grew to love the estate with a passion that lasted all
his life. Some years later Augustine bought a farm on the Rappahannock, opposite

Fredericksburg, and moved the family there. The plantation, Ferry Farm, was the
place where Washington chopped the cherry tree down.2 When Washington was
eleven, his father died. The plantation at Epsewasson was granted to Lawrence.

Lawrence added to the estate and renamed it Mount Vernon, in honor of Admiral

Vernon, under whom he had served in the West Indies. George went to live with

Augustine at Wakefield because Henry William's school, one of the best in the
colony, was located nearby.3 Little is know of George Washington's schooling. He
was probably tutored at home for a while, and may have attended school in

Fredericksburg before going to Henry William's school. At fifteen he was ready
to do practical surveying. He was good in mathematics; he was a neat penman and
an accurate mapmaker. In 1748, Washington went to live with his half brother,

Lawrence, at Mount Vernon. Lawrence, who became something of a substitute father
for Washington, had married into the Fairfax family, prominent and powerful

Virginians who helped launch Washington's career. An early ambition to become a
naval officer had been discouraged by Washington's mother; instead he turned to
surveying.4 Lord Fairfax, a cousin of Lawrence's wife and master of more than
five million Virginia acres, was fond of Washington and hired him to help survey
his holdings beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains. The work was difficult, but

Washington did well. In about a year, the surveying was completed, and, partly
through Fairfax's influence, Washington was appointed surveyor of Culpeper

County, his first public office. He took the oath of office on July 20, 1749.5

By 1753, the growing rivalry between the British and the French over the control
of the Ohio Valley, soon to erupt into the French and Indian War, created new
opportunities for Washington. He was a grown man at twenty, who already owned
his first plot of Virginia land, bought with money borrowed from Lawrence. In

1753, Governor Dinwiddie made him a major of militia and sent him, with a
message, to the French commander of Fort Le Boeuf. The note protested the
building of a chain of French forts between Lake Ontario and the Ohio River.

Near Great Meadows, Washington surrounded and attacked a party of thirty-three

Frenchmen. Ten Frenchmen were killed, and twenty-two were captured. This action
has been credited with starting the Seven Year's War. The French sent out nine
hundred men to retaliate this slaughter. Washington, upon hearing of the
arriving French threat, built a crude fort, aptly named Fort Necessity. The

French badly beat Washington and he signed a document that he thought stated he
attacked the party at Great Meadows. However, the document was written in

French, which Washington could neither read nor speak, and the document that

Washington signed stated he assassinated the party. The confession of the attack
set off the world war.6 In 1755, Washington volunteered to join General Braddock
and a large army to attack Fort Duquesne. Despite Washington's warnings,

Braddock's troops marched in typical European fashion-long rows of men, drums
beating and banners flying. For the French and Indians hiding in the woods and
behind rocks, it was little more than target practice. Out of 1,400 officers and
men, three fourths were killed or wounded; even Braddock himself was killed.7

That same year, Governor Dinwiddie made Washington colonel and commander of all

Virginia militia forces. This was a high and well-deserved honor for the

23-year-old officer. The colony expanded its forces to 1,000 men, who were able
to patrol and defend the whole 350-mile frontier. In 1758, Washington and his
men took possession of the ruins of Fort Duquesne, burned to the ground by the

French. Washington's service in the French and Indian War was finally over.

Assured that the Virginia frontier was safe from French attack, Washington left
the army in 1758 and returned to Mount Vernon. In January 1759, he married

Martha Dandridge Custis, a wealthy and attractive young widow with two small
children. It was to be a happy and satisfying marriage. After 1769, Washington
became a leader in Virginia's discord with England's colonial policies. As a
delegate to the First and Second Continental Congress, Washington did not
actively participate in the deliberations, but his presence was undoubtedly a
positive influence. In June 1775, he was Congress's undisputed choice as
commander in chief of the Continental forces.8 In May 1787, Washington headed
the Virginia delegation to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and was
elected presiding officer. His presence added importance to the proceedings, and
although he made few direct contributions, he generally supported the advocates
for a strong central government. After the new Constitution was submitted to the
states for ratification and became legally effective, he was unanimously elected
president in 1789.9 Washington was reelected president in 1792, and might have
been president a third term, but he refused to run again. In March 1797, when

Washington left office, the country's financial system was well established and
the Indian threat east of the Mississippi River had been largely eliminated. His
vice-president, John Adams, succeeded him.10 On December 12, 1799, Washington
rode over his farms for about five hours. It was snowing when he started, and
later changed to hail and rain. Without changing his wet clothes on his return,
he sat down for dinner. The next day he complained of a sore throat. During the
night of the 13th he became seriously ill, but he would not disturb the
household or allow Mrs. Washington to get up for fear she would catch cold. He
grew weaker the next day, and died late that night, on Saturday, December 14,

1799. Washington was America's "father" in many ways. He was commander
in chief of the American forces in the American Revolution, chairman of the
convention that wrote the United States constitution, and the first president.

He led the men who turned America from an English colony into a self-governing
nation. His ideals of liberty and democracy set a standard for future presidents
and for the whole country.