George Washington – first American president, commander of the Continental Army, president of the Constitutional Convention, and gentleman planter. Learn more about the many varied roles that Washington excelled in and tremendous legacy that he left for America and the World.

Lived 67 Years

First President of the United States

April 30, 1789 - March 4, 1797

Birth and Early Life

Birth Date
February 22, 1732
Birth Place
Pope's Creek, Virginia
Father
Augustine Washington (1694-1743)
Mother
Mary Ball Washington (1708-1789)
Brothers
Samuel Washington (1734-1781)
John Augustine Washington (1736-1787)
Charles Washington (1738-1799)


Half-Brothers
Butler Washington (1716-1716)
Lawrence Washington (1718-1752)
Augustine Washington Jr. (1720-1762)
Sisters
Betty Washington Lewis (1733 - 1797)
Mildred Washington (1737-1740)


Half-Sisters
Jane Washington (1722-1734)
Formal Education
None
Religion
Anglican/Episcopalian

George Washington did not have a middle name.

The use of middle names was not a common practice in Europe or its colonies until the early 19th century. Of the first 20 United States presidents, only 5 had middle names.

George Washington did not throw a silver dollar across the Potomac.

This myth is frequently told to demonstrate Washington’s considerable physical strength.

The Potomac River is over a mile wide at Mount Vernon and even George Washington did not have the arm to fling a silver dollar that far. Moreover, there were no silver dollars when Washington was a young man. His step-grandson reported that Washington once threw a piece of slate across the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg, which is much narrower, and that may be the origin of this story.

Top 10 Misconceptions about Washington

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George Washington wanted to join the Royal Navy, but his mother would not let him.

In September 1746, George’s half-brother Lawrence and his friend and mentor Colonel William Fairfax, hatched a plan for the 14 year old that would have him joining a Royal Navy frigate anchored along the Virginia shore as a midshipmen.

His mother was convinced that this was not a prudent career move and forbid it. Whether this decision came from reasoned analysis or a desire to retain her eldest son on the Fredericksburg farm, Mary Washington did the American cause a great service in withholding her approval.

Washington contracted smallpox while visiting Barbados, his only trip outside the country.

In 1751, George Washington accompanied his older half-brother Lawrence to the island of Barbados – the only foreign country that Washington would visit during his lifetime. It was hoped that the tropical climate of this British island would help cure Lawrence of his tuberculosis. The stay in Barbados proved to be a challenging one for both of the Washingtons. Lawrence found the oppressive heat miserable to bear and the climate did not improve his condition. And Washington on November 17, 1751 contracted smallpox on the island. Fortunately for young George Washington, not only was he able to recover from the affliction, but he also inherited, as a result, a life-long immunity to this dreaded killer for the rest of his life. This would become crucial in the American Revolution, when the country was threatened by a smallpox epidemic.

Learn more about Washington's trip to Barbados

The French & Indian War

Started
May 28, 1754
Ended
February 10, 1763
Victor
Great Britain
Defeated
France and Spain

Washington surrendered to the French at Fort Necessity.

On July 1, 1754, a large force of combined French and native troops forced Washington and his Virginia militia to retreat into Fort Necessity. Sensing the hopelessness of his situation, Washington agreed to surrender. The surrender terms, written in French, and poorly translated, allowed Washington and his troops to return to Virginia in peace.

The Battle of Great Meadows proved to be the only time that Washington surrendered to an enemy in battle.

Ten Facts About George Washington and the French & Indian War

George Washington was a raw and ambitious 21-year old when he was first sent to the Ohio Valley to confront the growing French presence in the region. His actions sparked the French & Indian War.

10 facts

Washington's New Family

Marriage
January 6, 1759
Wife
Martha Washington (1731-1802)
Years Married
40
Children
None
Step Children
Daniel Custis (1751–1754)
Frances Custis (1753–1757)
John "Jacky" Parke Custis (1754–1781)
Martha "Patsy" Parke Custis (1756–1773)
Step Grandchildren
Elizabeth "Eliza" Parke Custis Law (1776–1831)
Martha Parke Custis Peter (1777–1854)
Eleanor "Nelly" Parke Custis Lewis (1779–1852)
George Washington "Washy" Parke Custis (1781–1857)

Washington was first elected to public office in 1758 in the Virginia House of Burgesses.

George Washington served in the Virginia House of Burgesses for 15 years. After a failed bid for a seat in December 1755, he won election in 1758 and represented Frederick County until 1761. That year he ran in Fairfax County, winning a seat which he would retain until 1775. During his tenure, Washington was not an outspoken burgess, nor did he introduce expansive or innovative legislation. Meeting in Williamsburg with elder statesmen such as John Robinson, Peyton Randolph, and George Wythe, as well as newer burgesses such as George Mason, Patrick Henry, and Thomas Jefferson, Washington learned to navigate political spheres and began his lessons in statecraft.

Washington in the House of Burgesses

Mount Vernon

Granted to the Washington Family
1674
Inherited by George Washington
1761
Previously Known As
Little Hunting Creek plantation
Named After
British Navy Admiral Edward Vernon
Mansion Constructed
1735
Major Expansions
1758, 1774, 1776
Mansion Square Footage
11,028
Rooms
21
Last Private Owner
John Augustine Washington III
Purchased by the MVLA
1858

The Revolutionary War

Started
April 19, 1775
Ended
September 3, 1783
Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army
General George Washington (Appointed in 1775)
Commander-in-Chief of the British Army
Major General William Howe (Appointed in 1776)
General Sir Henry Clinton (Appointed in 1778)
First Major Battle
Battles of Lexington and Concord (1775)
Last Major Battle
Siege of Yorktown (1781)
Duration
8 years
Combatants
The United States, France, and Spain
vs.
Great Britain

Washington had many close calls, but was never seriously wounded in battle.

George Washington exhibited great steadiness and courage in battle and was frequently near the front lines during his many battles. At the Battle of Monongahela in 1755, Washington had two horses shot out from underneath him and his coat was pierced by four musket balls. At Kip’s Bay and the Battle of Princeton (map), Washington risked his own life when rushing to the front lines to rally his flagging troops.

Washington lost more battles than he won, but his leadership helped secure American independence.

Given Washington’s ultimate success during the Revolution, it’s important to consider that he lost more battles than he won throughout his military career. The Battles of Fort Necessity, Monongahela, Long Island, White Plains, Fort Washington, Brandywine, and Germantown were all battles that Washington either directly led or played an important role in… and in each of these battles Washington’s forces were defeated.

Despite this roster of tactical defeats, Washington brought many important characteristics to his military command. His ability to rally men under fire, his ability to sustain the Continental Army’s morale, his administrative talents, and his grasp of the larger strategic imperatives all made Washington the great general that history remembers and celebrates.

The Yorktown Campaign of 1781

Presiding Over the Constitutional Convention

Started
May 14, 1787
Ended
September 17, 1787
Purpose
To replace the Articles of Confederation (1777)
Location
Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
States Represented
12
Delegates Attended
55
Signatories
39/55
Constitution Ratified
June 21, 1788

The First President

Inauguration
April 30, 1789
Resignation
March 4, 1797
Vice President
John Adams
Political Affiliation
None
Years Served
8
Terms
2
Salary
$25,000
Presidential Residence
New York City, New York (April 1789 – August 1790)
Phildelphia, Pennsylvania (November 1790 - March 1797

First Term (1789-1792)

George Washington was inaugurated as the first United States president on April 30, 1789. He would spend most of his first term defining the role of the executive branch and literally setting up the government.

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Second Term (1793-1797)

George Washington was unanimously elected, again, on February 13, 1793. He would spend a difficult second term desperately preserving the new nation in the face of rebellion and foreign wars.

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Washington promoted the right of all Americans to follow their conscience in matters of faith.

Jack Boucher, "Touro Synagogue, Newport, Rhode Island," 1971. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. Call Number HABS RI,3-NEWP,29-.

George Washington firmly believed in the concept of religious liberty or freedom of conscience. During his lifetime, he attended services of multiple Christian denominations. As President, Washington wrote a letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, standing in favor of religious freedom, explaining:

It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens…May the children of the stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the goodwill of the other inhabitants.

President Washington at Touro Synagogue

Washington did not wear a wig.

Even though wigs were fashionable, George Washington kept his own hair, which he wore long and tied back in a queue, or ponytail. Washington did, however, powder his hair which was the custom of the time.

10 Misconceptions About Washington

Washington was instrumental in popularizing the mule in the United States.

George Washington's study of agriculture convinced him that mules (the offspring of a male donkey and a female horse) were better suited to farm work because they were stronger and had more endurance than a horse.

When he began breeding mules at Mount Vernon in the 1780s, Washington used imported donkeys from Spain, Malta, and South America. The animals were expensive and it was illegal to export them from Spain without permission from the Spanish king.

In 1784, William Carmichael—the U.S. chargé d' affaires at the Spanish court—made Washington's desires known to the Spanish king, who was happy to oblige. Royal Gift, as the jack was later named, arrived at Mount Vernon on the night of December 5, 1785.

Royal Gift, the spanish donkey

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Death of George Washington

Date
December 14, 1799
Time
Approximately 10PM
Cause
Acute bacterial epiglottitis
Attending Physician
Dr. James Craik
Age
67
Resting Place
The Washington Family Tomb at Mount Vernon, Virginia

Washington was supposed to be buried beneath the U.S. Capitol, but lays in rest at Mount Vernon instead.

In the design of the U.S. Capitol building in Washington DC, the central vault was built as the final resting place of George Washington. In his will, Washington specified that he wished to be buried in the family vault at Mount Vernon and that a new tomb should be constructed on his land. His heirs finally honored his wish, moving the bodies of over 20 members of the family, including George and Martha Washington, to the New Tomb in 1831. The vault at the U.S. Capitol remains empty to this day.

The Tombs at Mount Vernon

Martha Washington chose to burn all the letters that she received from her husband.

George Washington was quite thorough and meticulous in the preservation and organization of his official letters and papers. Unfortunately for historians, Martha Washington chose to protect the privacy of her relationship to George Washington by destroying the many letters that they wrote each other over 40 years of marriage.

A Love Letter from the General

Martha Washington destroyed all of her correspondence with George Washington when he died in 1799. Only three letters escaped the mass eradication, two of which were found beneath a desk drawer after her death. One of these surviving letters is a brief but achingly beautiful missive penned by her beloved husband during the Revolutionary War:

I retain an unalterable affection for you, which neither time nor distance can change.

Read Washington's Love Letter
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