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George Washington  (1732-1799)

By John DeGree, The Classical Historian | classicalhistorian.com

George Washington is called The Father of our Country.  This name is significant. Without a father, there can be no family. Many historians say that without George Washington, there could be no United States of America. George Washington was the most important American during its founding years.

George Washington grew up on his family’s tobacco plantation in Virginia. His family owned slaves and was moderately wealthy. As a little boy, George was known for swimming in the nearby river, playing outside, riding horses, and taking his studies seriously. We think George studied under Reverend James Marye, rector of St. George’s Parish.

 

In the 1700s, death was much more common than it is today due to poorer medical knowledge and practice. George’s father’s first wife died.  His father Augustine remarried to Mary and they had six children. George was Augustine and Mary’s first baby, and he was born on February 22, 1732 in Virginia. Augustine and Mary lost three children, two dying in infancy, and one at the age of 12. When George was 11, his father died. With so much tragedy early on in George Washington’s life, it is amazing how he went on to accomplish so much and serve others.

Washington studied and practiced good manners and correct behavior. As a young man, Washington attended church at St. George’s Parish in Fredericksburg. Along with his religious training, he learned how to behave in society by writing and reflecting on a book entitled “Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation”. The book survives today.

In public, Washington paid close attention to how he interacted with others, trying always to present himself in the best way possible. George took dancing lessons, went to the theater,
and was renowned as a superb horseman.  He was tall, especially for the 1700s, with some reporting that he was 6 feet, 4 inches. Washington is known for having a commanding presence.

 

II. Military Life
In the 1700s, France, Spain, and England wanted to control North America. Washington joined the Virginia militia and rose to the rank of major. In the French and Indian War (1756-1763), the English fought the French and Indians for control of the Ohio Valley. In The Battle of Monongahela, the British General Braddock was killed, and every other officer was shot, except Washington. Washington was forced to take over and skillfully lead the British and Virginian forces in retreat. Riding on his horse, back and forth among his soldiers in plain sight of the enemy, his actions saved perhaps hundreds of soldiers. On that day, the Indians shot and killed two horses while he was riding them, but they couldn’t kill Washington.

After the battle, his coat had bullet holes on both the front and the back. A story it told that as President, an Indian warrior visited him and said these words, “White Father. I was there at the Battle of Monongahela. We were victorious that day and had shot all of the officers off of their horses but you. I told my men to aim at you, but after many efforts to kill you, we realized that The Great Spirit was protecting you, and we stopped firing on you.”

General Washington achieved his greatest military success during the American Revolution (1775-1783). Named Commander of the Continental Army, Washington raised an army from farmers, trained the Americans into a professional fighting force, and defeated the greatest empire in the world. It is difficult to overstate his accomplishments in the American Revolution. In the battles he lost, such as The Battle of Long Island in the summer of 1776, he craftily led his army out of a terrible trap so they could fight another day. In battles he won, such as the Battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton, he gave the American army courage that they could win the war. In the last battle of the war, the Battle of Yorktown, he tricked one of the world’s best generals, General Cornwallis, and captured, killed, or wounded Cornwallis’ entire army.

In the 1700s, France, Spain, and England wanted to control North America. Washington joined the Virginia militia and rose to the rank of major. In the French and Indian War (1756-1763), the English fought the French and Indians for control of the Ohio Valley. In The Battle of Monongahela, the British General Braddock was killed, and every other officer was shot, except Washington. Washington was forced to take over and skillfully lead the British and Virginian forces in retreat. Riding on his horse, back and forth among his soldiers in plain sight of the enemy, his actions saved perhaps hundreds of soldiers. On that day, the Indians shot and killed two horses while he was riding them, but they couldn’t kill Washington.

After the battle, his coat had bullet holes on both the front and the back. A story it told that as President, an Indian warrior visited him and said these words, “White Father. I was there at the Battle of Monongahela. We were victorious that day and had shot all of the officers off of their horses but you. I told my men to aim at you, but after many efforts to kill you, we realized that The Great Spirit was protecting you, and we stopped firing on you.”

General Washington achieved his greatest military success during the American Revolution (1775-1783). Named Commander of the Continental Army, Washington raised an army from farmers, trained the Americans into a professional fighting force, and defeated the greatest empire in the world. It is difficult to overstate his accomplishments in the American Revolution.

In the battles he lost, such as The Battle of Long Island in the summer of 1776, he craftily led his army out of a terrible trap so they could fight another day. In battles he won, such as the Battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton, he gave the American army courage that they could win the war. In the last battle of the war, the Battle of Yorktown, he tricked one of the world’s best generals, General Cornwallis, and captured, killed, or wounded Cornwallis’ entire army.

III. Presidency
Washington served as President from 1789-1797. He strengthened the national government and set a precedent that Presidents would not become kings. During his service, he worked hard to make Americans see themselves as Americans first, and not as citizens of the various states or as people who were French-American or English-American. When citizens in Pennsylvania violently protested a tax on whiskey, Washington ordered 13,000 U.S. soldiers to march and put down the revolt. When Washington was asked to serve a third term, he refused and went back to being a farmer in Virginia. Because of his example of humility, all subsequent presidents for over 130 years only served two terms. Within a few years of retiring from public life, Washington became sick and died at his home, Mount Vernon.

IV. National Holiday
In 1880, an act of Congress declared George Washington’s birthday as a federal holiday. It is the first national holiday honoring an American citizen. Washington’s birthday is celebrated on the third Monday of February.