The country’s first president, George Washington, was born on February 22, 1732 at the family plantation on Pope’s Creek in Virginia. At this time, America was still known as the colonies and was under British rule. The Washington family was not rich and at the age of 11, George’s father passed away, leaving little money for education. Having no formal schooling, George Washington taught himself through reading and experimenting.
Washington really wanted to join the British Navy, but his mother would not hear of it. Instead, he explored the wilderness of Virginia as a surveyor with George William Fairfax. At the young age of 17, he was able to land a job as the county surveyor for the newly created frontier county of Culpeper.
At 19 years old, Washington made his one and only trip outside of America, traveling with his older brother, Lawrence, who suffered from tuberculosis. They went to Barbados, hoping the warmer weather there would help with the illness. Washington, however, came down with smallpox that left scars on his face. Lawrence died one year later, and Washington inherited his estate, Mount Vernon, on the Potomac River near Alexandria, Virginia.
George Joins the Military
Without previous military experience, Washington was made a commander of the Virginia militia in 1752 at the age of 20. The British had decided to remove the French from the land and the battles became known as the French and Indian War. Washington saw much action during this time. He was tasked with carrying a message to the French, demanding they leave. On the 900-mile return trip trekking through snowy woods, he fell off a raft and nearly drowned. He and his guide had to spend the night on an island without shelter in freezing temperatures. During one battle, Washington had two horses shot out from beneath him and four bullet holes shot through his coat.
In 1759, Washington resigned and returned to Mount Vernon. He was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses and served there until 1774. In 1759, he married the widow Martha Dandridge Custis and became stepfather to her two children. He worked endlessly expanding Mount Vernon from 2,000 acres to 8,000 acres and grew a variety of crops as well as operating a successful fishery.
The Revolution Begins
In the late 1760s, Washington became concerned about the rising taxes imposed on the colonists by the British. He decided it was time to declare independence from England. He served as a delegate to the First Continental Congress in 1774 in Philadelphia. The next year, the American Revolution began. Washington became the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army.
In 1781, the Continental forces captured British troops under General Charles Cornwallis in Yorktown, Virginia, ending the Revolutionary War and earning Washington recognition as a national hero.
President George Washington
In 1787, Washington attended the Constitutional Convention where he led the committee to draft the new Constitution. Impressed with his knowledge and abilities, he was asked to run for president. Washington did not want to take on the responsibility; he wanted to retire to his plantation and live the rest of his life farming. But public opinion of him was so strong and he had such a love for the country, he gave in.
The first presidential election was held on Jan. 7, 1789. Washington, now 57 years old, beat John Adams and was inaugurated on April 30, 1789 in New York City. At that time, the new nation only had 11 states and around four million people.
After serving two terms as president (and declining a third term), Washington returned to Mount Vernon in 1796. In 1799, he inspected his properties in the rain and caught a cold. The cold turned into a throat infection and Washington died on Dec. 14 at the age of 67. To this day, he is still referred to as the father of our country.