George Washington: “Father of Our Country”
George Washington was born on February 22, 1732 to a wealthy family that owned a tobacco plantation in Virginia. The Washington family motto was: “By their deeds so shall ye know them.” Two of the first things that George learned were fishing and horseback riding. He also liked playing soldiers as well as exploring the fields and woods around the farm.
Georege’s father died when he was eleven years old, and Lawrence, his older half brother, became like a second father to him. Lawrence had his own plantation named Mount Vernon, and George frequently visited there. George did not go to school in England as his older brothers did, but from Lawrence he learned the morals, manners, and body of knowledge requisite for an 18th century Virginia gentleman.
At home, George may have received tutoring in basic subjects such as reading and writing, although his spelling was only passable and his education seemed to proceed in fits and starts. George practiced handwriting with a quill by copying down 110 sayings from a book entitled “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.” (See also: Rules of Civility.) George studied geography, history, read some classics, kept journals and wrote in notebooks.
George’s favorite subject was arithmetic, and despite having no formal education he was a real math whiz – even in algebra and trigonometry. His skill with mathematics led to his interest in surveying, and at age 14 he practiced measuring the fields around Mount Vernon. George drew such accurate maps that he was asked to join a surveying team when he was only 16 years old.
When George was 21, France threatened to take over some western territory that England claimed. The French refusal to leave the land claimed by the British was a contributing factor in causing the French and Indian War that lasted from 1754-1763. In that conflict, Washington served as lieutenant colonel and then as a colonel in command of troops from Virginia. He earned the reputation of being very brave.
In the meantime, Lawrence died and Washington became the master of Mount Vernon. When the war with the French was over, Washington married a wealthy widow, Martha Custis, who had two children, Jacky and Patsy. They all went to Mount Vernon to live, and Washington became a successful farmer. Soon he was elected to help govern Virginia, and before long he was taking part in debates about whether the colonies should stand up for their rights against England.
When the American Revolution broke out in 1775, Washington was asked by the Continental Congress to command the colonial army. Few generals ever faced greater difficulties. Washington served without pay, it was often hard to get food for his troops, there was little money to buy the arms that they needed, and the soldiers were without adequate clothing. At Valley Forge, Washington's army spent a terrible winter suffering from hunger and freezing cold. But General Washington managed to keep his army together until the colonies won their freedom.
In 1787, Washington helped draft the Constitution of the United States as chairman of the Constitutional Convention that met in Philadelphia. Washington was the only man everyone trusted to become leader of the new government, and he was the only U.S. President to be elected unanimously. On the first Election Day in 1789, the Electoral College cast every vote for General Washington. President Washington helped to plan the new capital city, which would later be named Washington in his honor. Washington himself laid the cornerstone for the present Capitol building.
After serving as President for a term of four years, he was elected to a second term. Most citizens were hoping that Washington would run for a third term, yet he refused. He was so popular that he might easily have made himself king or dictator. But he had been serving his country for 45 years, and was anxious to retire to Mount Vernon. He had inherited this plantation and all of its slaves, but he freed them all in his will.
Two years after retirement, George Washington died at age 67 from complications of a bad winter cold. At the funeral, General Henry Lee (father of Robert E. Lee) said: "He was first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."
Don’t Know Much About...George Washington, by Kenneth C. Davis.
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