George Washington


Born February 22, 1732, in Westmoreland County, he was the first son of
his father Augustine's second marriage; his mother was the former Mary Ball of

Epping Forest. When George was about three, his family moved to Little Hunting

Creek on the Potomac, then to Ferry Farm opposite Fredericksburg on the

Rappahannock in King George County. In the interim, the powerful Fairfax family
of neighboring Belvoir introduced him to the accomplishments and appropriateness
of mannered wealth and, in 1748, provided him his first adventure. That year

Lord Fairfax dispatched him with a party that spent a month surveying Fairfax
lands in the still-wild Shenandoah. In the expedition, he began to appreciate
the uses and value of land, an appreciation that grew the following year with
his appointment as Culpeper County surveyor, certified by the College of William
and Mary. Washington also succeeded to Lawrence's militia office. Governor

Robert Dinwiddie first appointed him adjutant for the southern district of the
colony's militia, but soon conferred on him Lawrence's aide for the Northern

Neck and Eastern Shore. So it happened that in 1753 the governor sent

21-year-old Washington to warn French troops at Fort Duquesne at the forks of
the Ohio (modern Pittsburgh) that they were infiltrating in territory claimed by

Virginia. The French ignored the warning and the mission failed, but when

Washington returned Dinwiddie had Williamsburg printer William Hunter publish
his official report as The Journal of Major George Washington. It made the young
officer well-known at home and abroad. Returning to the Ohio in April with 150
men to remove the intruders, Washington got his first taste of war in a fight
with a French scouting party. He wrote to his brother Jack, "I heard the
bullets whistle, and, believe me, there is something charming in the
sound." A second engagement quickly followed and Washington, retreating to

Fort Necessity, was beaten by a more numerous French force. He surrendered and,
in his ignorance of French, signed an embarrassing surrender agreement. But he
had opportunities to correct his defeat. The whistling bullets declared the
start of the Seven Years' War, as it was called in Europe. In America it was
called the French and Indian War or, sometimes, Virginia's War. Horace Walpole
wrote, "The volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of America
set the world on fire." Washington returned to the field as an aide to

General Braddock in 1755 and performed with honor, despite crippling illness, in
the disastrous campaign against Fort Duquesne. Later that year Dinwiddie gave
him command of all Virginia forces and promoted him to colonel. In these years

Washington had two disputes with English officers who viewed their regular-army
commissions as superior to that of the Virginia militia commander. These
disputes may mark the beginning of Washington's resentment of British attitudes
toward the colonies. Operating from a fort at Winchester, Washington protected
the Virginia frontier until 1758 when he was made a militia brigadier and helped
to chase the French from Fort Duquesne for good. Washington resigned at war's
end and retired to Mount Vernon. He was defeated in elections for the House of

Burgesses in 1755 and 1757, but won in 1758 and was seated the following year
from Frederick County. For 15 years he devoted himself to his legislative work
and his farm. During this period, he also became a family man, marrying the
widow Martha Dandridge Custis, the mother of two children, on January 6, 1759,
in New Kent County. In 1760, Washington took on the additional duties of a

Fairfax County justice of the peace. He also found time for the amusements of a

Virginia gentleman--fox hunting, snuff taking, plays, billiards, cards, dancing,
and fishing. He delighted in bottles of Madeira, plates of watermelon, and
dishes of oysters. In these years his anger of the inferiority of American
interests to those of England grew. When Parliament attempted to impose the

Stamp Act in 1769, Washington told an friend that Parliament "hath no more
right to put their hands into my pocket, without my consent, than I have to put
my hands into yours for money." By 1774 he was in the lead of the defense
of Virginia liberties and was among the rebellious burgesses who gathered at the

Raleigh Tavern on May 27 after Governor Dunmore dissolved the house. Washington
signed the resolves proposing a Continental congress and nonimportation of

British goods. On July 18, he chaired the Alexandria meeting that adopted George

Mason's "Fairfax Resolutions." Sent to the First Continental Congress,

Washington returned home afterward to organize independent militia companies in

Northern Virginia and to win election to the Second Continental Congress. In

Philadelphia on June 15, 1775, he was offered command of America's forces,
accepted, vowed to accept no pay, and left to take over the army at Boston.

Nevertheless, the weakness of the government created by the Articles of

Confederation concerned Washington and, in 1786, Shays's Rebellion alarmed him.

He readily accepted a seat in the federal convention and election to its
presidency. His agreed election as the first president of the United States was
certain before the Constitution was even adopted and, again, he accepted with
caution. "My movements to the chair of government will be accompanied by
feeling not unlike those of a culprit, who is going to the place of his
execution," he wrote after the ballot. On April 30, 1789, he took the oath
of office in New York at age 57. Washington not only had to organize a
government but also to create a role for the highest officer of the new nation.

Both tasks earned him enemies. Always opposed to factions, his two
administrations nevertheless assist the bitter competition of the Federalist and

Antifederalist parties. Washington issued his farewell address on September 7,

1796, and was replaced by John Adams the following March 4. His last official
act was to Forgive the members in the Whiskey Rebellion. When relations with

France soured in 1798, his Country once more turned to Washington for his
service. Adams appointed him lieutenant general of a provisional army. The
danger deteriorated before the troops built. In December 1799, after a day spent
riding on his farms in foul weather, Washington's throat became inflamed. At 2
a.m. on December14, he awakened his wife to say that he was having trouble
breathing. At sunrise she sent for Dr. James Craig, who arrived at 9 a.m. and
diagnosed the illness as "inflammatory quinsy." During the morning

Washington was bled three times and two more doctors, Elisha Dick of Alexandria
and Gustavus Brown, were summoned. One counseled against bleeding, but more
blood was taken and purges administered.