The descendent of English colonists who migrated to Virginia in 1657, George Washington was born into a family of wealth and privilege- or rather, as much wealth and privilege as could be found in the Colonies in the early eighteenth century. As a young man, Washington studied mathematics, writing, geography and probably Latin, but he never attended college. Instead, he concentrated upon learning how to raise stock, farm and manage his family's growing estates. Washington was also trained as a surveyor and spent several years scouting and mapping the lands in and around the colony of Virginia.
French and Indian WarEdit
In 1754 war broke out between England (and her colonies) and the French and their allies the Indians. Washington fought in several engagements during this war, showing a great deal of courage and coolness under fire, but of no especial strategic or tactical brilliance. Eventually the war ended with the English victorious, and Washington resigned from the Colonial forces with the honorary rank of Brigadier General.
After the war Washington married and devoted himself to his growing estates. He apparently greatly enjoyed managing his farms and plantations and was not above shedding his coat and helping with manual labor. He also sat in the House of Burgesses in Williamsburg, the mostly-impotent local governing body of Virginia (real power definitely resided with the Royal Governor of the colony and with King and Parliament back in England).
Although a loyalist, Washington too chafed under the growing burden of taxation placed on the Colonies by Parliament (largely imposed to help pay off debts from the recent French and Indian War). As tensions grew and England ratcheted up the pressure on the Colonies, Washington's position grew more radical, and by 1768 he declared himself ready to take up arms against England whenever his country called him. By 1774 Washington was a member of the Continental Congress, the first truly national organization of the nascent country. When actual fighting broke out in and around Boston in 1775, Washington was named as commander of the military forces of all of the Colonies, a post he maintained once actual independence was declared in 1776.
Commander of the Continental ArmyEdit
As military commander of the Revolutionary forces, Washington displayed the same strengths and weaknesses he had years before when fighting for England against France. He was personally courageous, almost to the point of foolhardiness. Early in the war he tended to favor overly-complex military actions beyond the capabilities of his volunteer soldiers, resulting in a series of near-catastrophic defeats at the hands of the professional British forces. But almost by force of will alone - through long, discouraging years of privation and defeat - he kept his army alive and in the field, and by so doing kept the revolution alive in the Colonies. Eventually, the sheer tenacity and growing skill of the Colonial Army and its general would win it the grudging admiration of even its fiercest enemies.
The entrance of France into the war on the side of the Colonies and increasing Colonial power and success on the battlefield led to growing anti-war sentiment of the British people. In 1781 Washington led his troops on a daring forced march into Virginia, where he (with the aid of a large contingent of French soldiers) besieged an entire British army on the peninsula of Yorktown. The French naval maneuvers having given them temporary command of the sea, the British general was unable to escape his predicament and surrendered his command. Although sporadic fighting continued for some months, the war was essentially over: America had won her independence.
President of the United StatesEdit
After the war, Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention, which determined the form of the new nation's government, and later served as its first President. As President, Washington sought to keep the country free from foreign entanglements, resisting close alliances or wars with any. He attempted (with little success) to keep the country free from political party rivalry and strife. Washington served two four-year terms as President, and then retired back to his home in Mount Vernon, Virginia, where he died two years later in 1797.
Washington's Place in HistoryEdit
George Washington is known for good reason as the "Father of the United States of America." While not the greatest general in world history, nor the greatest statesman, Washington had a great steadiness and courage in the face of adversity, and he was able to get men to willingly die for him. Without Washington, it's unlikely that the United States would have been born.