On his father's property on Pope's Creek in Westmoreland county, Virginia, George Washington, the most famous person in American history, was born on February 22, 1732. Augustine, his father, was thrice married and was a third-generation English colonist who was well-established in the middle classes of the gentry of Virginia. Before his first wife, Jane Butler Washington, passed away in 1728, he had two sons, Lawrence and Augustine Jr, in the years 1718 and 1720. George was born the following year after Augustine married Mary Ball (1709-1789) in 1731. After Samuel, Charles, John Augustine, and Mildred, there were five more kids. In the early 1730s, the Washington family moved from Westmoreland County to Augustine, Sr. Plantation, located on Little Hunting Creek. They continued to reside there until they relocated to a property on the Rappahannock River across from Fredericksburg.
An Early Career for a Young Washington: Surveying the Land
Even though he lost his father as a young child, George Washington became known as the "Father of his country." When Augustine Washington passed away in 1743, when George was eleven, his half-brothers received most of his wealth. Augustine, Jr. inherited the Westmoreland County estate where George was born. At the same time, Lawrence obtained the Little Hunting Creek farm, which he eventually called Mount Vernon after Admiral Edward Vernon, a general with whom he had served in the War of Jenkins' Ear. Even though George had inherited the relatively modest Rappahannock River estate where he had lived with his mother and brothers, this was not enough to keep him in the Virginia gentry's middle class. George's mother rejected the suggestion from his half-brother Lawrence that he pursue a career in the British navy. Instead, he received training to become a land surveyor, a career of great significance in Virginia, as a colonial settlement quickly encroached on the Shenandoah Valley and other regions of western Virginia.
Lawrence's patronage, more specifically that of the affluent Fairfax family of Belvoir, who was Lawrence's neighbors and in-laws, benefited Washington's career as a surveyor. Washington was appointed surveyor of Culpeper County in 1748 under the auspices of Lord Fairfax after becoming a surveyor of the vast Northern Neck property. Thanks to his lucrative work as a surveyor, Washington had all the resources necessary for an aspirational white Virginian to succeed in the eighteenth century. He learned about the colony's backcountry and the meticulous habits of thought and outdoor survival. He won the respect of the regional elite while developing a reputation for fairness, honesty, and dependability. Washington acquired self-reliance as well as the benefits of having his aspirations realized. In addition to earning significant fees for surveying, he learned first-hand how to engage in profitable land speculation-a crucial skill in colonial America, where land was equated with power.
The younger Washington had amassed nearly as many acres of productive land in the Shenandoah as his half-brother had at Mount Vernon when he traveled to Barbados with Lawrence in 1751.
Making a Name for Oneself in the Military
Lawrence had an inherited estate and strong marriage ties at the time, two of the major conditions for rising Virginia gentlemen, but in the long run, George benefited from something more significant: an impressive physique and the blessing of good health. Lawrence had intended to leave Mount Vernon to his newborn daughter, but she passed away before turning 18, and in 1754, Washington leased the estate from Lawrence's wife, Ann Fairfax Washington, who had a life title to it. Washington acquired immunity to the disease that killed many colonial Americans when he overcame a case of smallpox. At the same time, in the West Indies, his brother died in 1752 after returning from the Caribbean, most likely from tuberculosis.
Washington was driven to seek out honor on the battlefield by his fierce desire for personal distinction, which did not allow him to be content as a tobacco planter for very long. In 1752, he convinced the governor of Virginia to appoint him to the adjutancy of his deceased brother, which came with a commission as a major and an annual income of 100 pounds. Later, he was given the duty of educating the militiamen of the Northern District while serving as the adjutant of Virginia's Northern Neck and Eastern Shore.
The French and Indian War-the colonial theatre of the Great War for the Empire began, as a result, involving the colonists and supporters of the French in Canada and the British along the Atlantic coast. Washington offered his services in October 1753 to look into rumors of French incursions into Virginia's western frontier, which threatened the interests of the colony's wealthy land speculators. By publishing his thorough account of the arduous four-month voyage, Washington gained widespread fame after his small party arrived back in Williamsburg in January 1754 from the shores of Lake Erie. In May, the twenty-one-year-old was appointed commander of the Virginia Regiment, which had been formed to fight the French in the Ohio Valley.
In July 1754, the French surrendered the hastily built Fort Necessity due to the French response to an attack on a small party across the Alleghenies. Washington benefited greatly from the professionalism of British generals Edward Braddock and John Forbes, under whom he served, and gained a reputation in the military for not just his calm under pressure and bravery in battle but also his skill as a just and capable commander of soldiers. Additionally, he grew bitter at the British officials. They had rejected his application for a regular army rank and showed proper regard for the services made by provincial soldiers in general and his Virginia Regiment in particular.
Love & Marriage
The Virginia Regiment's officers and soldiers were given bounties, which greatly increased the potential of Washington's land holdings (he owned 45,000 acres west of the mountains at the time of his death). As a result, Washington's reputation as a military veteran was enhanced. He also returned to private life as a very eligible bachelor. The 26-year-old married Martha Dandridge Custis (1731-1802) on January 6, 1759. Daniel Parke Custis had left her and their two children, John Parke and Martha Parke Custis, one of the most valuable estates in Virginia. Washington spent the following two years overseeing the Custis estate after being appointed their legal guardian. As Lawrence's widow passed away in 1761, he also became the sole proprietor of Mount Vernon, which he later enlarged to around 7,300 acres by 1799. As a result, the owner of Mount Vernon rose to prominence as one of Virginia's wealthiest plantation owners. Washington's next 15 years were likely his happiest ones. They reared Martha's children and later two of her grandchildren, Eleanor and George Washington Parke Custis, even though he and Martha were childless.
Washington led a busy domestic life. In addition to overseeing agricultural operations and marketing a staple (Washington started switching the Mount Vernon farms from the traditional tobacco crop to wheat for which he built his gristmill), Virginia plantation lords also controlled an enslaved labor force and provided leadership, sustenance, and medical care for the entire plantation community. Gentlemen like George Washington had to maintain a sumptuous lifestyle after that of the British landed gentry and aristocracy to demonstrate their social rank and uphold the reverence that held Virginia society together.
Washington particularly delighted in the displays that this entailed, such as remodeling his mansion most fashionably and furnishing it with the finest items, stocking his cellars with vintage Madeira, acquiring the best-blooded horses for his stables, maintaining a deer park, and riding to the hounds, conducting agricultural experiments, extending lavish hospitality to neighbors and strangers, and forgoing some of his free time to serve in public office.
Wars and Politics
Washington served in the colonial Assembly for sixteen years, beginning in 1758 when he was elected as a representative of Frederick County to the Virginia House of Burgesses. Later, Fairfax County landowners elected him. He served as a justice of the Alexandria-based Fairfax County court from 1760 to 1774.
Washington gathered with other irate Burgesses in Williamsburg's Raleigh Tavern after Governor Dunmore dismissed the Assembly in 1774 and decided to create a nonimportation pact. In the same year, he was chosen by the First Virginia Convention to serve as a delegate to the First Continental Congress, which approved Virginia's plan for economic retaliation against the home nation.
Washington returned to Philadelphia in May 1775, a month after a shooting war broke out at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts, to assume his seat in the Second Continental Congress. When accepting the New England militia army besieging the British Army in Boston in June 1775, Congress unanimously chose Washington as its commander-in-chief in appreciation of his military brilliance and political trustworthiness. Although Martha came to Cambridge in December and shared in her husband's struggles for a large part of the war, Washington did not return to Mount Vernon for almost six years after arriving at the Cambridge headquarters on July 2, 1775.
The Final Section
In 1798, President Adams named George Washington the head of a new army as a potential conflict with France loomed, but the crisis passed before it could be raised and organized. The General was again summoned from his beloved property to defend the nation. Washington passed away in the eighteenth century, having just a brief time left to enjoy life at Mount Vernon. He passed away unexpectedly on December 14, 1799, and a vast and honest outpouring of mourning followed. The master of Mount Vernon contributed one last private comment to his lengthy and significant public career by leaving instructions in his will for the release of his slaves upon Martha's passing. Without his leadership, the country would have to struggle to overcome the problem of slavery and all of its other major issues in the new century.
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