Life Of George Washington Essay, Research Paper
Life of George WashingtonDuring the last 300 years that people have been living in America, the United States has had many great leaders and George Washington is the greatest of all. While Abraham Lincoln may be remembered as the greatest president, and Robert E. Lee or Ulysses S. Grant as the greatest general, George Washington was the most important figure the country has ever known. Washington not only led the colonials that won the war of independence, but he also adjourned the committee that wrote the constitution and later became the first president and forefather of the country. The Washington family was first represented in the new world by John Washington George s great grandfather. John Washington an Englishman came from a middle to upper class family that obtained a grant of 150 acres in Westmoreland County Virginia 1657.–1 The prime land was located right along the Potomac river and when John Washington first saw this land he saw the potential for resource and with a partner obtained a second grant of 5,000 acres 18 miles south of what we now know as Washington, D.C.1 The newly acquired land was the site of the now famous Washington home of Mt. Vernon. John Washington was well known as a planter, businessman, and military leader. The Indians called him Conotocarius “destroyer of villages.”4 Little is known of John’s son Lawrence, but his grandson Augustine left a clear record. He had many holdings farms, businesses, mines, and land. He added to the Westmoreland plantation until it included the whole peninsula between Popes Creek and Bridges Creek, small streams emptying into the Potomac. Augustine Washington had four children by his first wife. His second wife was Mary Ball Washington. Her family had been settled in Virginia in about 1650 by her grandfather, Col. William Ball. She was born in 1708 and was orphaned at 13 when she inherited 400 acres of Virginia land, some slaves, riding horses, jewelry, and household equipment.6 George was the eldest child of Augustine and Mary Ball Washington. He was born on Feb. 22 (Feb. 11 on the calendar used then), 1732, at the Bridges Creek plantation, later called Wakefield. His five younger brothers and sisters were Elizabeth, Samuel, John Augustine, Charles, and Mildred (who died while a child).3 George’s two half brothers, Lawrence and Augustine, were 14 and 12 years older than himself, but the three boys were very close to one another. The whole family was very energetic and very involved in the community in Virginia which would help George down the road. When George reached the age of 3 the family moved up river to a lager plantation up the Potomac named Epsewasson, or Little Hunting Creek after the stream it faced. George lived enjoyably here for several years until his father Augustine moved yet again to Ferry or River Farm. It was here where George lived a normal childhood in which he was tutored at home. In his spare time he would play cowboys and Indians and ride horses in the fields around the ranch. When George was 11, his father died. Ferry Farm was left to Mary Washington, to be given to George when she died. Epsewasson went to his half brother Lawrence; Wakefield, where George was born, was left to his other half brother, Augustine. Lawrence had married a neighbor, rich and charming Anne Fairfax. He added to the house at Epsewasson and renamed the estate Mount Vernon (which is now a National Monument), in honor of Admiral Vernon, under whom he had served in the West Indies conflict with France.7 Augustine, a prosperous planter, had also married. George went to live with Augustine at Wakefield because Henry William’s school, one of the best in the colony was nearby (where he now attended). At 15 he was ready to do practical surveying. George was good in math; he was a neat penman; and he made accurate maps.9 For a time his mother thought of sending him to sea to become a naval or merchant marine officer. However, she finally thought better of it and refused to let him go. At school he fell in love with a young lady known only as the “lowland beauty.” To her he wrote sad, pompous poetry and grieved about his lost love. In 1748 George went to live with his half brother Lawrence at Mount Vernon.1 There he found an interesting circle of friends and neighbors. One was Lord Fairfax, a cousin of Lawrence’s wife and master of more than 5 million Virginia acres.1 Lord Fairfax liked George and hired him to help survey his holdings beyond the Blue Ridge Mountains.1 The work was hard and dangerous, but George did it very well and enjoyed it. The surveys took more than a year. Then, partly through Fairfax’s influence, Washington was appointed surveyor of Culpeper County, his first position in public office.1 His first job started on July 20, 1749. Washington considered his pay as a surveyor very important. To a friend he wrote, “A doubloon is my constant gain every day that will permit my going out, and sometimes six pistoles.”6 A doubloon was worth about $15, and six pistoles made a doubloon and a half very good pay for a youth of 17.6 Between surveying trips the now 6 feet tall, broad bodied Washington lived as a young country gentleman. He took an active role in society but still enjoyed the outdoors. He also loved good clothes, and he was constantly writing his London agents about his dress, his tableware, and ornaments for his drawing room.9 In a world at peace he might have continued to work hard and play hard with little thought of public service. However, at the age of 20 Washington was assigned the most important position of his life so far. In 1753 Virginia Governor Dinwiddie made him a major in the militia and sent him across the Appalachian mountains with a message to the French commander of Fort Le Boeuf.7 The note protested the building of a chain of French forts between Lake Ontario and the Ohio River. Major Washington delivered the message and brought back a full report on French activities. The dangerous journey took ten weeks and twice he nearly lost his life. Once an Indian shot at him from close range, but missed.7 A few days later he was thrown from a raft into an ice-filled stream. For this effort and other acts of bravery Washington was made lieutenant colonel of the Virginia militia. He was ordered to march with about 200 men to the colonial fort being built where the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers meet.11 Before Washington’s small force could reach the fort, the French took it and renamed it Fort Duquesne. Washington drew closer to the fort and on May 28, 1754, his men killed or captured all but one of a French scouting party.11 (This action opened the French and Indian War) When Washington reached the fort he realized that his militia was outnumbered by a much larger French force, Washington and his men started to retreat, but the Virginians were soon surrounded.11 After a sharp fight they had to surrender and were allowed to go on only after they had given up the French scouting party prisoners caught earlier.11 Washington had done everything possible with the small group under his command. For this he was formally thanked by the Virginia House of Burgesses. The next year Washington was sent on another expedition. This time he was aide to British Major General Edward Braddock, but Braddock s ignorance of Indian fighting led to a brutal butchery of his army by the French and Indians.12 Even Braddock himself was killed; Washington came away unharmed with valuable experience. Out of 1,400 officers and enlisties, three fourths were killed or wounded.11 In 1755 Governor Dinwiddie made Washington colonel and commander of all Virginia militia forces. This was a high and well-deserved honor for the 23-year-old officer. The colony expanded its forces to 1,000 men, who were to patrol and defend the whole 350-mile frontier.10 The task was very hard. Washington used his small militia skillfully and held down border clashes. In 1758 he and his men took possession of the ruins of Fort Duquesne, burned to the ground by the retreating French. Washington’s service in the French and Indian War was finally over.In the spring of 1758 Washington met a young widow, Martha Dandridge Custis. On Jan. 6, 1759, they were married in grand style.8 Martha Washington brought her two small children Patty (or Patsy) and Jack into the family from a previous marriage.8 She also brought 15,000 acres of farm and timber country, much of it valuable land near Williamsburg.8 At this time Washington was living at Mount Vernon, although he did not become its legal owner until the death of Lawrence Washington’s widow some years later.8 In the years after his marriage Washington became one of the wealthiest and wisest men in Virginia. He studied scientific farming and rode out daily to his farms to manage every detail. He was a vestryman in church and a member of the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg.1 During its sessions Virginia society gathered for festive times, and the Washington s took a leading part. At the same time Washington knew the problems of small farmers as well as the colonial soldiers. He was admired for his kindliness, charm, and dignity by high society and by the common people.During this time around 1760 colonial leaders who were beginning to talk of resistance to British rule. The Proclamation of 1763, The Sugar, Stamp, Townshend, Tea Quartering, Intolerable and Quebec Acts all led to protests and demonstrations. Finally in April of 1769 Washington presented a plan to the House of Burgesses for boycotting British-made goods. Washington’s personal life continued to be active and varied. His farms grew wheat and corn, his mills ground grain into flour, and his boats caught fish for export shipment. Patty, his stepdaughter, died in 1773 of epilepsy. Her brother Jack was married early the next year to Nellie Calvert.1 Meantime the need for action drew closer. Washington drilled his Virginia volunteers. In 1774 he rode with the Virginia delegation to attend the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia. The next spring he attended the Second Continental Congress. He wore the uniform of a Virginia militia officer given to him by the British. He was not yet in favor of separation from England. He lagged behind the New England extremists who demanded independence at once. However, he believed that the rights of Americans had been attacked and he was ready to fight. The Congress was considering the news of Concord and Lexington and of Gage’s British troops hemmed in at Boston by the New England farmer militia. It soon became clear that there must be armed resistance throughout the colonies. Recognizing Washington’s military experience and leadership, the Continental Congress gave him command of the new army. He asked no pay beyond his actual expenses, saying that “as no pecuniary consideration could have tempted me to accept this arduous employment at the expense of my domestic ease and happiness, I do not wish to make any profit from it.”1 He rode away at once to Cambridge, Mass., and in July 1775 took command of the Continental Army.
Washington and the colonial militia s first major battle was at the Dorchester and Charleston Peninsula s near Boston. The colonial force had already held its ground in earlier battles at Lexington, Concord, and Bunker Hill. Benedict Arnold and Henry Knox had came back from the battle of Quebec unsuccessful but with weapons taken at Fort Tyconderoga, New York. After the battles around Boston both sides new that it would be a long war. As time passed the British decided to attack New York City to gain control of the Hudson River, it is here that Washington showed his greatness. While on their way to Trenton many privates and insisted men were low on moral and at the end of there service periods. However, Washington managed to rally his troops to cross an ice cold river, and with the aid of a spy he managed to defeat the Haitians and the British on Christmas Day. Later on their way to Princeton the Colonials were again thought to be trapped but they set fires at night and escaped while the British believed they were still at camp. At the battle of Monmouth Washington again took control of his retreating troops and forced them to hold their lines until they died or ran out of powder. After Yorktown, and the victory of the war to the Americans Washington again managed to hold his troops ready for two years until news came from London that the British had formally surrendered in 1783. As Washington returned from war he learned that tragedy struck. Jack Custis, his stepson, had died of camp fever in 1781.10 Jack’s two small children, George Washington Parke Custis and Eleanor Parke Custis, were taken in by the Washington s and treated as their own. Washington’s public life seemed to be over, and he settled down to his affairs as a private citizen. His ability as a farmer, trader, and land investor showed itself again. Throughout the war he had required written reports from his estate managers, he replied with detailed instructions on what should be done. Now he was back to give orders and make plans. Washington had inherited a love for the land from his English ancestors, and ownership of land meant security and well-being to him. Washington was one of the first American scientific farmers. He exchanged letters with agricultural experimenters at home and in England.1 He imported plants, shrubs, and trees from many parts of the world and as early as 1760 he experimented with alfalfa. With Thomas Jefferson he was one of the first to set out pecan trees, he planted clover, rye, and timothy to enrich the soil. He tried crop rotation at a time when plenty of new land awaited men whose old lands were worn out. George Washington is also thought to have been the first in America to try raising mules. He improved his breed of sheep and obtained more than double the average yield of wool. Steadily adding to Mount Vernon, he increased its holdings to 8,000 acres, divided into five farms.1 He complained of heavy losses in bad years, but in good years his profits were high.Washington could not forget the Ohio country where he first won fame as a young officer. He visited it once more and foresaw that great armies of settlers would soon bring Kentucky, Tennessee, and Ohio into the Union as states. He himself acquired more than 50,000 additional acres, scattered over several territories.4 The Potomac appeared to be the great water highway of the future, and Washington took active part in a company to develop the river as a thoroughfare for settlers and trade goods. Washington was a leader in the movement that led to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. At first this meeting considered only changing the Articles of Confederation. When it became clear that the old Articles could not be successfully revised, he gave full support to building the new Constitution. Presiding over the long secret meetings, he spoke little but his presence was very important. The new Constitution was finally offered to the states for acceptance. After the Constitution was adopted Washington was the obvious man for the presidency. The electoral votes were cast in January and February 1789, and on April 6 the results were announced. Washington was unanimously chosen president. He received 69 electoral votes, the total number cast.5 John Adams was elected vice-president. Washington had already shown himself to be a great general and a great citizen. He was now to prove that he could be a great president.There had never before been a government like the one Washington was called upon to organize in 1789. The states had once been property of England, and they wanted no more of it. No one knew how the new Constitution would work or how it would limit the freedom of the states. Washington was determined to build a real federal government for the United States. The new government was launched April 30, 1789, when Washington took his oath as president in New York City, the first national capital.5 In 1792 the nation reelected him to a second term. In appointing men to office Washington acted fairly and without favoritism. Washington organized his Cabinet into an executive council, in much the same form as it is today. With the Cabinet and with Congress he moved slowly at first, feeling his way. Relationships were new and not especially happy. Each group, executive or legislative, was testing its own power. One of the first problems he took up was national defense. “To be prepared for war is one of the most effective means of preserving peace,”1 he said. Another problem was national finance. The government under the Articles of Confederation was unable to govern largely because it lacked the power to tax. The Constitution gave this power to Congress. A customs duty, or tariff, was laid upon imports and a direct tax was put on certain kinds of property. Money was soon paid into the treasury, and bills were settled. Congress even agreed to assume debts incurred by the individual states during the Revolution. On tour Washington saw the results of careless farming and recommended a board “for the study and promotion of agriculture.”1 In 1790 the site of the future federal capital, later to be named Washington, D.C., was fixed at the falls of the Potomac. Philadelphia was to be the temporary capital until 1800.5 While Washington was president he had many issues which needed to be dealt with. One of them was settling boundary disputes, Washington s government avoided war with both Canada in the north and Spain in the south by sending advisors such as John Jay to Europe. The second affair that needed to be handled was peace with the Indians. As settlers moved west so did American forces securing areas from hostile Indians. The admission of Kentucky in 1792 and Tennessee in 1796 helped open more forts. The Whiskey Rebellion of Pennsylvania was one of the first tests of Washington s military know how. Local farmers were mad at a new tax on whiskey and protested. In 1794, as the Whiskey Rebellion grew, Washington called out 15,000 members of nearby state militias. He marched them to Bedford, and over the mountains the rebels saw the militia and promptly gave up. The final issue which broke out during Washington s term in office was in 1793 when a general European war broke out against France. America played it smart and stayed neutral which avoided another war and more expenses. Washington held on in office for two terms (8 years) until March 4, 1797 when he refused a third term and handed over the presidency to John Adams.1The last years at Mount Vernon were busy and happy ones. The management of his farms and estates took a great deal of Washington’s time and energy. He had other responsibilities as director of the bank at Alexandria, Va., and as officer or director of various land companies. In 1798 President John Adams appointed Washington lieutenant general in command of a United States army that was to be raised in a time of war with France.5 However, the fear of war faded and Washington never took command. On Dec. 12, 1799, Washington rode over his farms for about five hours. It was snowing when he started out, later it changed to hail and cold rain. Without changing his wet clothes on his return, he sat down to dinner. The next day he complained of a sore throat and during the night of the 13th he became seriously ill, but he would not disturb the household or allow Mrs. Washington to get up for fear she should catch cold. The next day his strength was sapped by frequent blood-lettings, and he grew steadily weaker. He died late that night, on Saturday, Dec. 14, 1799.2 Washington was buried in the family vault on Mount Vernon. John Marshall summed up the national. He quoted the well-remembered words of Henry Lee that truly describe Washington’s place in American history: “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”1For how he won the War of Independence, help write the constitution, and convene as president. George Washington will always be remembered as on of the greatest figures in American History. Footnotes1. Alden, J.R. George Washington: A Biography (Dell, 1987). 2. Cunliffe, Marcus. George Washington: Man & Monument (New American Library, 1984). 3. D’Aulaire, I.M. and D’Aulaire, E.P. George Washington (Doubleday, 1936). 4. Eaton, Jeanette. Leader by Destiny: George Washington, Man & Patriot (Norwood, 1984). 5. Falkof, Lucille. George Washington: 1st President of the United States (Garrett, 1989). 6. Ferling, J.E. The First of Men: A Life of George Washington (Univ. of Tennessee Press, 1988). 7. Freeman, D.S. George Washington: A Biography, 7 vols. (Kelley, 1981). 8. Kane, J.N. Facts About the Presidents: A Compilation of Biographical and Historical Information, 5th ed. (Wilson, 1990). 9. McGowen, Tom. George Washington (Watts, 1986). 10. Meltzer, Milton. George Washington and the Birth of Our Nation (Watts, 1986). 11. Stevenson, Augusta. George Washington: Young Leader (Aladdin, 1986).