George Washington (February 22, 1732–December 14, 1799) was
the successful Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in the
American Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1783, and later became the
first President of the United States, an office to which he was
twice elected unanimously (unanimous among the Electoral College),
and held from 1789 to 1797.
first served as an officer during the French and Indian War and
as a leader of colonial militia supporting the British Empire.
After leading the American victory in the Revolutionary War, he
refused to lead a military regime, though encouraged by some of
his peers to do so. He returned to civilian life at Mount Vernon.
1787 he presided over the Constitutional Convention that drafted
the current United States Constitution and, in 1789, was the unanimous
choice to become the first president of the United States. His
two-term administration set many policies and traditions that
survive today. After his second term expired, Washington again
voluntarily relinquished power, thereby establishing an important
precedent that was to serve as an example for the United States
and also for other future republics.
of his central role in the founding of the United States, Washington
is often called the "Father of his Country". Scholars
rank him with Abraham Lincoln among the greatest of United States
According to the Julian calendar, Washington was born on February
11, 1731; according to the Gregorian calendar, which was adopted
during Washington's lifetime and is used today, he was born on
February 22, 1732 (Washington's Birthday is celebrated on the
Gregorian date). At the time of his birth, the English year began
March 25 (Annunciation Day, or Lady Day), and hence the difference
in his birth year. His birthplace was Popes Creek Plantation,
on the Potomac River southeast of modern-day Colonial Beach in
Westmoreland County, Virginia.
Washington was the oldest child from his father's second marriage.
Washington had two older half-brothers: Lawrence and Augustine,
Jr. "Austin" and four younger siblings: Betty, Samuel,
John Augustine "Jack", and Charles. Washington's parents
Augustine Washington "Gus" (1693–April 12, 1743)
and Mary Ball Washington (1708–August 25, 1789) were of
British descent. Gus Washington was a slave-owning planter in
Virginia who later tried his hand in iron-mining ventures. Considered
members of the gentlemen class, they were not nearly as wealthy
as the neighboring Carters and Lees.
spent much of his boyhood at Ferry Farm in Stafford County near
Fredericksburg and visited his Washington cousins at Chotank in
King George County. One of Gus Washington's properties where the
family resided from about 1735 to 1737 was Little Hunting Creek
Farm. This property was later taken over by Gus's oldest son,
Lawrence, and renamed Mount Vernon. The death of Gus Washington
left the family in difficult circumstances and prevented young
George from receiving an education in England as his older brothers
Lawrence and Austin had. George Washington would never travel
became a volunteer firefighter in Alexandria, Virginia. In 1774,
as a member of the Friendship Veterans Fire Engine Company, he
bought the very first fire engine and gave it to the town. The
engine could be seen today at the Friendship Veterans Fire Engine
Company Museum in Alexandria.
In 1774 Washington was chosen as a delegate from Virginia to the
First Continental Congress, convened in the wake of the Boston
Tea Party, the British government's punitive closure of Boston
Harbor, and the annulment of legislative and judicial rights in
Massachusetts. After fighting broke out at Lexington and Concord
in April 1775, Washington appeared at the Second Continental Congress
in military uniform—the only delegate to do so, signaling
his interest in becoming commander of the colonial forces. Washington
was the unanimous selection, on June 15, 1775. The Massachusetts
delegate John Adams suggested his appointment, citing his "skill
as an officer ... great talents and universal character."
He assumed command of the American forces at Cambridge, Massachusetts,
on July 3.
drove the British forces out of Boston on March 17, 1776, by stationing
artillery captured at Ticonderoga on Dorchester Heights, overlooking
Boston and its harbor. The British army, led by General William
Howe, retreated to Halifax, Canada. Washington moved his army
to New York City in anticipation of a British offensive there.
In August the British invaded in overwhelming numbers, and Washington
led a clumsy retreat that almost failed. He lost the Battle of
Long Island on August 22 but managed to move most of his forces
to the mainland. However, several other defeats sent Washington
scrambling across New Jersey, leaving the future of the Revolution
the night of December 25, 1776, Washington staged a brilliant
comeback, the Battle of Trenton. He led the American forces across
the Delaware River to smash the Hessian forces in Trenton, New
Jersey. Washington followed up the assault with a surprise attack
on General Charles Cornwallis's forces at Princeton on the eve
of January 2, 1777. The successful attacks built morale among
the pro-independence colonists.
summer 1777 the British launched a three-pronged attack, with
Burgoyne marching south from Canada while Howe attacked the national
capital of Philadelphia. Washington moved south, but was badly
defeated at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11. An attempt
to dislodge the British, the Battle of Germantown, failed as a
result of fog and confusion, and Washington was forced to retire
to winter quarters at the miserably inadequate Valley Forge.
winter of 1777–1778 was seen as the low point for the Continental
Army (and as a result, for the Revolution as a whole), due to
their string of crushing losses and their wretched living conditions.
Washington, however, stood steadfast, demanding more supplies
from Congress. His men recovered their morale despite the harsh
winter conditions. A new system of drill and training was established
by Baron Friedrich von Steuben, who had served on the Prussian
general staff. Von Steuben's task was to improve the army’s
fighting capabilities so that it could match the British in the
field. As a result, Valley Forge proved to be a watershed for
the fledgling Continental Army, which emerged more battle ready
than when they first encamped.
attacked the British army moving from Philadelphia to New York
at the Battle of Monmouth on June 28, 1778, a drawn contest, but
the British effort to disrupt the national government had failed.
Burgoyne's invading army, meanwhile, was captured at Saratoga
in October, giving the British a crushing defeat. It now seemed
likely that the British would never reconquer the new nation,
and France signed a formal alliance with the U.S.
1778 the British made one last effort to split apart the new nation,
this time focused on the southern states. Rather than attack them
there, Washington's forces moved to West Point in New York. In
1779 Washington ordered a fifth of the army to carry out the Sullivan
Expedition, an offensive against four of the six nations of the
Iroquois Confederacy that had allied with the British and attacked
American settlements along the frontier. There were no battles,
but at least forty Iroquois villages were destroyed and the Indians
moved permanently to Canada.
1781 American and French forces and a French fleet trapped General
Cornwallis at Yorktown in Virginia. Washington had quick marched
south, taking command of the American and French forces on September
14, and pressed the siege until Cornwallis surrendered on October
17. It was the end of significant fighting, though British forces
remained in New York City and a few other places until the final
peace was ratified in 1783.
March 1783 Washington learned about a conspiracy planned by some
of his officers who were upset about back pay in the Continental
Army's winter camp at Newburgh, New York. They were plotting a
coup against the Continental Congress. He was able to convince
them (through use of theatrics) that he had suffered equally or
more than they. He was thus able to instill loyalty, and thus
end the plot.
in 1783, by means of the Treaty of Paris, the British recognized
American independence. Washington disbanded his army and, on November
2 at Rockingham House in Rocky Hill, New Jersey, gave an eloquent
farewell address to his soldiers. A few days later, the British
evacuated New York City, and Washington and the governor took
possession of the city; at Fraunces Tavern in the city on December
4, he formally bade his officers farewell.
must be noted that while Washington's battle tactics were hardly
unique, groundbreaking, or influential, and he often made military
blunders unbefitting such a lionized war hero, he is often credited
as a great military leader because he grasped one major concept
of the Revolution: so long as the American Army survived and existed,
the United States would remain in existence. Washington avoided
major conflicts with the British in order to prevent any decisive
losses or surrenders. He profoundly understood the weaknesses
of his troops and limited them, and used his personality to embolden
them during the long, painful war.
correctly viewed, similar to the view of the ancient Roman General
Fabius Maximus, aka The Delayer, that the art of deliberate delay
would keep this modern-day Hanibal "at the gates", but
not allow it "in the city." Sooner or later, the British
would realize the futility of wasting resources in pursuit of
an enemy that dogged them but never met them completely on the
field; Washington realized that this war would be won by diplomats,
in Virginia 1783–1787
On December 23, 1783, General Washington resigned his commission
as Commander in Chief of the Army to the Congress of the Confederation,
which was then meeting at the Maryland State House in Annapolis.
This action was of great significance for the young nation, establishing
the precedent that civilian elected officials, rather than military
officers, possessed ultimate authority over the military. Washington
firmly believed that the people are sovereign and that no one
should ever come to power in America because of military force,
or because of birth in a noble family.
George Washington returned home to Mount Vernon, arriving at the
gates of his estate around candlelight on Christmas Eve 1783.
He had been absent from his beloved home in service to his country
since he assumed command of the Army in 1775. Waiting to greet
him was the wife he made the promise to eight years prior to be
home by Christmas and four step-grandchildren all born during
his absence. The end of the war also took with it George Washington's
stepson, Jacky Custis. The boy he raised died of camp fever in
1781 at Yorktown.
the time of Washington's departure from military service, he was
listed on the rolls of the Continental Army as "General and
Commander in Chief". (See Retirement, death, and honors section
below for more on this topic.)
the nation was at peace in the late 1780s, Washington worried
that his slaves were going to be set free. He therefore endorsed
plans to create a new constitution to allow slavery in all of
the states. His support guaranteed it would happen, and he presided
over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. For
the most part, he did not participate in the debates involved,
but his prestige was great enough to maintain collegiality and
to keep the delegates at their labors. He adamantly enforced the
secrecy adopted by the Convention during the summer. Many believe
that the Framers created the presidency with Washington in mind.
After the Convention his support convinced many, including the
Virginia legislature, to support the Constitution.
farmed roughly 8,000 acres (32 km²). Like many Virginia planters
at the time, he had little cash on hand and was frequently in
debt, even though he owned much land. He eventually had to borrow
$600 to relocate to New York, then the center of the American
government, to take office as president.
George Washington was elected unanimously by the Electoral College
in 1789, and remains the only person ever to be elected president
unanimously (a feat which he duplicated in 1792). As runner-up
with 34 votes, John Adams became vice president-elect. The First
U.S. Congress voted to pay Washington a salary of $25,000 a year—a
significant sum in 1789. Washington was perhaps the wealthiest
American at the time; his western lands were potentially valuable—but
no one lived on them as yet. He declined his salary. It was part
of his self-structured image as Cincinnatus, the citizen who takes
on the burdens of office as a civil duty. Washington attended
carefully to the pomp and ceremony of office, making sure that
the titles and trappings were suitably republican and never emulated
European royal courts.
election was a disappointment to Martha Washington, the First
Lady, who wanted to continue living in quiet retirement at Mount
Vernon after the war. Nevertheless, she quickly assumed the role
of hostess, opening her parlor and organizing weekly dinner parties
for as many dignitaries as could fit around the presidential table.
In the beginning of his term, he met individually with his advisors
but, by 1791, held regular cabinet meetings. Washington had to
referee between the Treasury's Alexander Hamilton, who had bold
plans to establish the national credit and build a financially
powerful nation, and Thomas
Jefferson and James Madison, who usually
opposed him. Hamilton won most of these battles, and after Washington
denounced the Democratic-Republican societies as dangerous, he
was hailed as the leading figure in the new Federalist Party.
Jefferson did win the location of the new national capital, which
would be located in the South, in what was soon named "Washington,
District of Columbia".
1791 Congress imposed an excise tax on distilled spirits, leading
to protests. By 1794, after Washington ordered the protesters
to appear in U.S. district court, the protests turned into full-scale
riots and outright rebellion. On August 7 Washington invoked the
Militia Law of 1792 to summon the militias of Pennsylvania, Virginia
and several states. He raised an army of militiamen, and marched
at its head into the rebellious districts, making him the only
sitting U.S. president to march at the head of a column of troops.
was no fighting, but Washington's forceful action proved the new
government could protect itself. In leading the military force
against the rebels, Washington became the only president to personally
lead troops in battle while commander in chief. It also marked
the first time under the new constitution that the federal government
had used strong military force to exert authority over the states
United States had acquired title to the Northwest Territory from
Great Britain in the Revolutionary War, but the American Indians
who lived there were not consulted. Violence often resulted, the
largest conflict being the Northwest Indian War, in which the
Indians won victories until being defeated at the Battle of Fallen
Timbers in 1794.
1793 the revolutionary government of France sent diplomat Edmond-Charles
Genêt, who attempted to turn popular sentiment towards American
involvement in the war against Great Britain. Genêt was
authorized to issue letters of marque and reprisal to American
ships and gave authority to any French consul to serve as a prize
court. Genêt's activities forced Washington to ask the French
government for his recall.
Jay Treaty, named after Chief Justice of the United States John
Jay who Washington sent to London to negotiate an agreement, was
a treaty between the United States and Great Britain signed on
November 19, 1794. The treaty attempted to clear up some of the
lingering problems of American separation from Great Britain following
the American Revolutionary War. Those who supported France strongly
attacked the Treaty, led by the Jeffersonians, but Washington,
supported by Alexander Hamilton, obtained its ratification by
Congress. The British had to clear out of their forts around the
Great Lakes. It remained in effect until the War of 1812.
Hamilton used Federal patronage to set up a national network of
friends of the Administration. This developed into a full-fledged
party, with Hamilton the key leader. The Federalist party elected
John Adams president in 1796. Washington himself spoke often against
the ills of political parties, and thus never declared his support
one way or another. He did, however, support Hamiltonian politics
over Jeffersonian, but never made a statement to that effect.
Washington was more or less not a member of any party in existence
at that time.
had to be talked into a second term of office as President, and
very reluctantly agreed to it. However, after two terms Washington
refused to run for a third. By refusing a third term, Washington
established a firm but unwritten precedent of a maximum of two
terms for a U.S. president. It was broken by Franklin Delano Roosevelt
in 1940, but after his death was formally integrated into the
Federal Constitution by the 22nd Amendement.
Farewell Address (issued as a public letter) was the defining
statement of Federalist party principles and one of the most influential
statements of American political values. Most of the Address dealt
with the dangers of bitter partisanship in domestic politics.
He called for men to put aside party and unite for the common
good. He called for an America wholly free of foreign attachments,
as the United States must concentrate only on American interests.
counseled friendship and commerce with all nations, and warned
sternly against involvement in European wars. Long-term alliances
should be avoided, but he said the 1778 alliance with France had
to be observed. The Address quickly entered the realm of "received
wisdom". Many Americans, especially in subsequent generations,
accepted Washington's advice as gospel and, in any debate between
neutrality and involvement in foreign issues, would invoke the
message as dispositive of all questions. Not until 1949 would
the United States again sign a treaty of alliance with a foreign
John Adams' inauguration, Washington is said to have approached
Adams afterwards and stated, "Well, I am fairly out and you
are fairly in. Now we shall see who enjoys it the most!"
Washington also declined to leave the room before Adams and the
new Vice President of the United States, Thomas
the principle that even a former president is, after all, only
a private citizen.
retiring from the presidency in March 1797, Washington returned
to Mount Vernon with a profound sense of relief. He established
a distillery there and became probably the largest distiller of
whiskey in the nation at the time, producing 11,000 gallons of
whiskey and a profit of $7,500 in 1798.
that year Washington was appointed Lieutenant General in the United
States Army (then the highest possible rank) by President John
Adams. Washington's appointment was to serve as a warning to France,
with which war seemed imminent. While Washington never saw active
service, upon his death one year later, the U.S. Army rolls listed
him as a retired Lieutenant General, which was then considered
the equivalent to his rank as General and Commander in Chief during
the Revolutionary War.
a year of this 1798 appointment, Washington fell ill from a bad
cold with a fever and a sore throat that turned into acute laryngitis
and pneumonia and died on December 14, 1799, at his home. Modern
doctors believe that Washington died from either a streptococcal
infection of the throat or, since he was bled as part of the treatment,
a combination of shock from the loss of blood, asphyxia, and dehydration.
One of the physicians who administered bloodletting to him was
Dr. James Craik, one of Washington's closest friends, who had
been with Washington at Fort Necessity, the Braddock expedition,
and throughout the Revolutionary War. Washington's remains were
buried at Mount Vernon.
Congressman Henry Light Horse Harry Lee, a Revolutionary War comrade,
famously eulogized Washington as "a citizen, first in war,
first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."
set many precedents that established tranquility in the presidential
office in the years to come. His choice to peacefully relinquish
the presidency to John Adams, after serving two terms in office,
is seen as one of Washington's most important legacies.
was also lauded posthumously as the "Father of His Country"
and is often considered to be the most important of Founding Fathers
of the United States. He has gained fame around the world as a
quintessential example of a benevolent national founder. Americans
often refer to men in other nations considered the Father of their
Country as "the George Washington of his nation" (for
example, Mahatma Gandhi's role in India).
was ranked number twenty-six in Michael H. Hart's list of the
most influential figures in history. Historians generally regarded
him as one of the greatest presidents.
though he had been the highest-ranking officer of the Revolutionary
War, having in 1798 been appointed a Lieutenant General (now three
stars), it seemed, somewhat incongruously, that all later full
(that is, four star) generals in U.S. history (starting with General
S. Grant), and also all five-star generals of the Army,
were considered to outrank Washington.
John J. Pershing had attained an even higher rank of six-star
general, General of the Armies (above five star—though the
most stars Pershing actually ever wore were four). This issue
was resolved in 1976 when Washington was, by act of Congress,
posthumously promoted to the rank of General of the Armies, outranking
any past, present, and future general, and declared to permanently
be the top-ranked military officer of the United States.
Today, Washington's face and image are often used as national
symbols of the United States, along with the icons such as the
flag and great seal. Perhaps the most pervasive commemoration
of his legacy is the use of his image on the one-dollar bill and
the quarter-dollar coin. The image used on the dollar bill is
derived from a famous portrait of him painted by Gilbert Stuart,
itself one of the most notable works of early American art.
together with Theodore Roosevelt, Thomas
Jefferson and Abraham
Lincoln, were chosen by President Calvin Coolidge to be depicted
in stone at the Mount Rushmore Memorial.
of Washington's involvement in Freemasonry, some Masonic lodges
maintain publicly visible collections of Washington memorabilia,
most notably, the George Washington Masonic Memorial in Alexandria,
Virginia. The museum at Fraunces Tavern Museum in New York City
includes specimens of Washington's false teeth (contrary to the
widespread myth, they were not wooden; see the trivia section
capital city of the United States, Washington, D.C., is named
for him. The District of Columbia was created by an Act of Congress
in 1790, and Washington was deeply involved in its creation, including
choosing the site for the White House. The Washington Monument,
one of the most well-known landmarks in the city, was built in
his honor. The George Washington University, also in D.C., was
named after him, and it was founded in part with shares Washington
bequeathed to an endowment to create a national university in
only state named for a president is the state of Washington in
the U.S. Pacific Northwest.
selected West Point, New York, as the site for the United States
Military Academy. The United States Navy has named three ships
after Washington; the one currently serving is a Nimitz Class
nuclear powered aircraft carrier, commissioned on July 4, 1992.
examples include the George Washington Bridge, which extends between
New York City and New Jersey, and the palm tree genus Washingtonia
is also named after him.
of military career
1753: Commissioned a Major in the Virginia Militia
1754: Promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in the Virginia Militia
1754: Led abortive expedition to Fort Duquesne, later served as
aide to General Edward Braddock
1755: Promoted to Colonel and named Commander of all Virginia
Forces. Commissioned a Brigadier General later that year
1759–1775: Resigned from active military service
June 1775: Commissioned General and Commander in Chief of the
1775–1781: Commands the Continental Army in over seven major
battles with the British
19 January 1976: Approved by the United States Congress for promotion
to General of the Armies
11 October 1976: Declared the senior most U.S. military officer
for all time by Presidential Order of Gerald Ford
13 March 1978: Promoted by Army Order 31–3 to General of
the Armies with effective date of rank July 4, 1776.
December 1783: Resigns commission as Commander in Chief of the
July 1798: Appointed Lieutenant General and Commander of the Provisional
Army to be raised in the event of a war with France
14 December 1799: Dies and is listed as a Lieutenant General (r)
on the U.S. Army rolls
Washington was long considered not just a military and revolutionary
hero, but a man of great personal integrity, with a deeply held
sense of duty, honor and patriotism. He was upheld as a shining
example in schoolbooks and lessons: as courageous and farsighted,
holding the Continental Army together through eight hard years
of war and numerous privations, sometimes by sheer force of will;
and as restrained: at War's end taking affront at the notion he
should be King; and after two terms as President, stepping aside.
years have seen schools and authors focus more on his weaknesses:
his ownership of the family plantation and its slaves, and his
role in the French and Indian War. Traditionally, students have
been taught to look to Washington as a character model more even
than war hero or founding father. To them, Washington was notable
for his modesty and carefully controlled ambition. It is true
Washington never accepted pay during his military service with
the Continental Army, and was genuinely reluctant to assume any
of the offices thrust upon him. When John Adams recommended him
to the Continental Congress for the position of general and commander
in chief of the Continental Army, Washington left the room to
allow any dissenters to freely voice their objections. In later
accepting the post, Washington told the Congress that he was unworthy
of the honor.
it should be remembered that Washington was human, and an ambitious
one at that. He ensured that during the Continental Congress he
arrived and was always present wearing his old colonial uniform
so as to make it clear to all that he was deeply interested in
commanding the continental troops. Congress actually made him
the commander of the continental army before they authorized an
army for him to command. In reality, no one else could have ensured
that the southern colonies would assist the northern ones unless
Washington was part of the equation; aside from a few other less
endearing leaders, Washington was likely, overall, the only choice
that would achieve this.
is often said that one of Washington's greatest achievements was
refraining from taking more power than was due. He was conscientious
of maintaining a good reputation by avoiding political intrigue.
He had no interest in nepotism or cronyism, rejecting, for example,
a military promotion during the war for his deserving cousin William
Washington lest it be regarded as favoritism. Thomas Jefferson
wrote, "The moderation and virtue of a single character probably
prevented this Revolution from being closed, as most others have
been, by a subversion of that liberty it was intended to establish."
Historians' perceptions of Washington's stand on slavery tend
to be mixed. He publicly advocated much milder punishments and
lighter workloads for slaves than some of his slaveholding contemporaries,
but his slaves (at one time) lived in "miserable" huts,
according to one eyewitness, and were often poorly clothed, according
to plantation records. As he progressed in life, he became increasingly
uneasy with the "peculiar institution", and historian
Roger Bruns wrote: "As he grew older, he became increasingly
aware that it was immoral and unjust."
to historians such as Clayborne Carson and Gary Nash, Washington's
professed hatred of slavery was offset by his denial of freedom
to even those slaves, like William Lee aka "Billy Lee",
who fought with Washington for eight years. Lee lived at Mount
Vernon as a slave, although his wife was a free woman from Philadelphia,
named Margaret Thomas. Although some historians claim that it
is not known whether she lived with him on the plantation, most
sources indicate that she did not.
Lee was the only slave freed outright in Washington's will. According
to one of his most notable biographers, Joseph Ellis, Washington
possessed no moral anxiety over owning slaves. According to Ellis,
Washington talked and thought about his slaves as "a Species
of Property", very much as he described his dogs and horses.
The view by this historian might suggest that Washington's professed
love of liberty would not extend out to those who worked on his
the Revolution, Washington told an English visitor, "I clearly
foresee that nothing but the rooting out of slavery can perpetuate
the existence of our [Federal] union by consolidating it on a
common bond of principle." The buying and selling of slaves,
as if they were "cattle in the market", especially outraged
him. He wrote to his friend John Francis Mercer in 1786, "I
never mean ... to possess another slave by purchase; it being
among my first wishes to see some plan adopted, by which slavery
in this country may be abolished by slow, sure, and imperceptible
degrees." Ten years later he wrote to Robert Morris: "There
is not a man living who wishes more sincerely than I do to see
some plan adopted for the gradual abolition [of slavery]."
President, Washington was mindful of the risk of splitting apart
the young republic over the question of slavery. He did not advocate
the abolition of slavery while in office, but did sign legislation
enforcing the prohibition of slavery in the Northwest Territory,
writing to his good friend the Marquis de la Fayette that he considered
it a wise measure. Lafayette urged him to free his slaves as an
example to others—Washington was held in such high regard
after the revolution that there was reason to hope that if he
freed his slaves, others would follow his example.
purchased an estate in French Guiana and settled his own slaves
there, and he offered a place for Washington's slaves, writing,
"I would never have drawn my sword in the cause of America
if I could have conceived thereby that I was founding a land of
slavery." Washington did not free his slaves in his lifetime,
but included a provision in his will to free the slaves upon the
death of his wife. Mrs. Washington did not wait on this and instead
freed the Washington slaves on January 1, 1801. Billy Lee was
the only slave freed outright upon George Washington's death.
of Washington's slaves, Oney Judge Staines, escaped the Executive
Mansion in Philadelphia in 1796 and lived the rest of her life
free in New Hampshire.
Washington's religious views are a matter of some controversy.
There is considerable evidence that indicates he, like numerous
other men of his time, was a Deist—believing in God but
not believing in revelation or miracles. As a young man before
the Revolution, when the Church of England was still the state
religion in Virginia, he served as a vestryman (lay officer) for
his local church. He spoke often of the value of prayer, righteousness,
and seeking and offering thanks for the "blessings of Heaven".
sometimes accompanied his wife to Christian church services; however,
there is no record of his ever becoming a communicant in any Christian
church, and he would regularly leave services before communion—with
the other non-communicants. When Rev. Dr. James Abercrombie, rector
of St. Peter's Episcopal Church in Philadelphia, mentioned in
a weekly sermon that those in elevated stations set an unhappy
example by leaving at communion, Washington ceased attending at
all on communion Sundays.
after Washington died, asked about Washington's beliefs, Abercrombie
replied: "Sir, Washington was a Deist!" His step-granddaughter,
Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis, and several others have said, however,
that he was, indeed, a Christian. Various prayers said to have
been composed by him in his later life are highly edited. He did
not ask for any clergy on his deathbed, though one was available.
His funeral services were those of the Freemasons at the request
of his wife, Martha.
was an early supporter of religious pluralism. In 1775 he ordered
that his troops should not burn the pope in effigy on Guy Fawkes
Night. In 1790 he wrote to Jewish leaders that he envisioned a
country "which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution
no assistance . . . May the Children of the Stock of Abraham,
who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will
of the other Inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his
own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid."
1. Surveyor for Culpeper County, Virginia
2. Distinguished himself as General Braddock's aide-de-camp in
the French and Indian War, 1755
3. Named commander in chief of the Virginia militia, 1755
4. Elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, 1759
5. Unanimously chosen commander in chief of the Continental Army,
6. Masterminded the American victory at Yorktown, October 1781
7. Unanimously elected President of the Constitutional Convention
8. Unanimously elected President of the United States twice, 1789
George Washington stood almost six feet three and had red hair.
A popular belief is that Washington wore a wig, as was the fashion
among some at the time. He did not. He did, however, powder his
hair, as represented in several portraits, including the well-known
unfinished Gilbert Stuart depiction.
has been suggested in the journal "Fertility and Sterility"
that Washington had no children because he was sterile, most probably
resulting from a case of tuberculosis; he seemingly contracted
it from his brother who later died from tuberculosis when he went
to Barbados at age 19. His wife Martha had four children from
a previous marriage (two died before they were four, the others
died at age 16 and 28, respectively. Due to Mrs. Washington having
four children of her own, it is generally assumed that she was
capable of having more children. However, childbirth was extremely
difficult in Washington's day and any labor could cause irrevocable
damage to a mother's ability to have more offspring. Mrs. Washington
also suffered a case of the German measles shortly after her marriage
to George Washington. Either the difficult birth of her last child,
Patsy, and or the German measles could have comprised Mrs. Washington's
fertility. The Washingtons, however, were surrounded by children.
In addition to Mrs. Washington's son and daughter, two of her
four grandchildren where raised by George and Martha Washington
and many nieces, nephews, and custodial wards came under the care
of the Washington couple. The children of Mount Vernon include:
John Parke Custis (son), Martha Parke Custis (daughter), Amelia
Posey (ward), Frances Bassett (niece), George Augustine Washington
(nephew), Harriot Washington (niece), Eleanor Parke Custis, (granddaughter),
George Washington Parke Custis (grandson), and George Washington
Lafayette (ward/son of the Marquis who lived with the Washington's
during the French Reign of Terror).
A number of younger men were essentially surrogate sons to the
childless Washington, including Alexander Hamilton, Lafayette,
Nathanael Greene, and George W. P. Custis, Washington's step-grandson.
George Washington Parke Custis' daughter Mary would eventually
become the wife of General Robert E. Lee.
was a cricket enthusiast and was known to have played the sport,
which was popular at that time in the British colonies.
story about Washington has him throwing a silver dollar across
the Potomac River. He may have thrown an object across the Rappahannock
River, the river on which his childhood home, Ferry Farm, stood.
However, the Potomac is over a mile wide at Mount Vernon. Also
silver dollars did not exist then.
hemp, a common crop at the time used for fiber production, specifically
to make rope.
Washington's teeth were not made out of wood, as usually said.
They were made out of teeth from different kinds of animals, specifically
elk, hippopotamus, and human. One set of false teeth that he had
weighed almost three pounds and were made out of lead.
the first Presidential inauguration, Washington took the oath
as prescribed by the Constitution but added several religious
components to that official ceremony. Before taking his oath of
office, a local Masonic Bible was hurriedly borrowed on which
to take the oath; Washington added the words “So help me
God!” to the end of the oath, and then leaned over and kissed
Washington did not accept pay while the Commander of the Continental
Army, he did claim expenses. He provided Congress with a complete
expense account which, after some grumbling, Congress paid in
attempt was made to kidnap George Washington while he was commander-in-chief
of the army during the American Revolution. The governor of New
York, William Tryon, and the mayor of New York City, David Matthews,
both Tories, were involved in the plot, as was one of Washington's
bodyguards, Thomas Hickey, Hickey was court-martialed and hanged
for mutiny, sedition, and treachery, on June 28, 1776.
was a Freemason. He participated in the laying of the cornerstone
of the Capitol Building as a Mason, was Master of Alexandria Masonic
Lodge and was buried with Masonic honors. He was even suggested
for the position of General Grand Master of Masons in America
(which he did not pursue). It is generally accepted that if he
would have taken the position that the individual state grand
lodges would have united into one Grand Lodge of the United States.
Washington was considered to be the finest horseman of his day.
His favorite horse was named Nelson.
Washington loved ice cream, and reportedly spent approximately
$200 on it during the summer of 1790. He reportedly owned the
first ice cream freezer in the colonies.
The most famous man of his day, George Washington received hundreds
of guests to his home every year. In 1798, 677 visitors passed
through Mount Vernon. Washington commented that his home had become
a "well-resorted tavern".
Washington was referred to as General Washington and not President
Washington once he retired from the executive office. General
was the title he preferred and protocol dictates that there is
only one President. All former Presidents return to their previous
highest ranking title.
Washington burned the correspondence between her husband and herself
following his death. Only two letters survived.