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 George Washington excelled in and tremendous legacy that he left for America and the World.

Birth and Early Life

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

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

Jane Washington (1722-1734)
Formal Education

George Washington did not have a middle name.

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.

Washington's Actual Birthday?

George Washington was born on February 22, 1732... or was it February 11, 1731?


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

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

May 28, 1754
February 10, 1763
Great Britain
France and Spain

Washington surrendered to the French at Fort Necessity.

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.

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Washington's New Family

January 6, 1759
Martha Washington (1731-1802)
Years Married
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)

House of Burgesses

The first time George Washington ran for public office, he lost. However, he won his second race and served in the Virginia House of Burgesses from 1758 until 1776. 

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Mount Vernon

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

The Revolutionary War

April 19, 1775
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)
8 years
The United States, France, and Spain
Great Britain

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

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

May 14, 1787
September 17, 1787
To replace the Articles of Confederation (1777)
Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
States Represented
Delegates Attended
Constitution Ratified
June 21, 1788

The First President

April 30, 1789
March 4, 1797
Vice President
John Adams
Political Affiliation
Years Served
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.

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.

Washington and Religious Freedom

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

Death of George Washington

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

Congress wanted Washington to be buried beneath the U.S. Capitol, but he lays in rest at Mount Vernon.

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.

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. This was a common practice in the 18th century. 

A Love Letter from the General

Only three letters between George and Martha Washington have been discovered. 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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