Presidents of the United States


George Washington

From: Portrait and Biographical record of Rockland and Orange Counties, New York
By: Chapman Publishing Company
Published: 1895

THE Father of our Country was born in Westmoreland County, Va., February 22, 1732. His parents were Augustine and Mary (Ball) Washington. The family to which he belonged has not been satisfactorily traced in England. His great-grandfather, John Washington, emigrated to Virginia about 1657, and became a prosperous planter. He had two sons, Lawrence and John. The former married Mildred Warner, and had three children, John, Augustine and Mildred. Augustine, the father of George, first married Jane Butler, who bore him four children, two of whom, Lawrence and Augustine, reached maturity. Of six children by his second marriage, George was the eldest, the others being Betty, Samuel, John Augustine, Charles and Mildred.

Augustine Washington, the father of George, died in 1743, leaving a large landed property. To his eldest son, Lawrence, he bequeathed an estate on the Potomac, afterwards known as Mt. Vernon, and to George he left the parental residence. George received only such education as the neighborhood schools afforded, save for a short time after he left school, when he received private instruction in mathematics. His spelling was rather defective. Remarkable stories are told of his great physical strength and development at an early age. He was an acknowledged leader among his companions, and was early noted for that nobleness of character, fairness and veracity which characterized his whole life.

When George was fourteen years old he had a desire to go to sea, and a midshipman's warrant was secured for him, but through the opposition of his mother the idea was abandoned. Two years later he was appointed surveyor to the immense estate of Lord Fairfax. In this business he spent three years in a rough frontier life, gaining experience which afterwards proved very essential to him. In 1751, though only nineteen years of age, he was appointed Adjutant, with the rank of Major, in the Virginia militia, then being trained for active service against the French and Indians. Soon after this he sailed to the West Indies with his brother Lawrence, who went there to restore his health. They soon returned, and in the summer of 1752 Lawrence died, leaving a large fortune to an infant daughter, who did not long survive him. On her demise the estate of Mt. Vernon was given to George.

Upon the arrival of Robert Dinwiddie as Lieutenant-Governor of Virginia, in 1752, the militia was reorganized, and the province divided into four military districts, of which the northern was assigiied to Washington as Adjutant-General. Shortly after this a very perilous mission, which others had refused, was assigned him and accepted. This was to proceed to the French post near Lake Erie, in northwestern Pennsylvania. The distance to be traversed was about six hundred miles. Winter was at hand, and the journey was to be made without military escort, through a territory occupied by Indians. The trip was a perilous one, and several times he nearly lost his life, but he returned in safety and furnished a full and useful report of his expedition. A regiment of three hundred men was raised in Virginia and put in command of Col. Joshua Fry, and Maj. Washington was commissioned Lieutenant- Colonel. Active war was then begun against the French and Indians, in which Washington took a most important part. In the memorable event of July 9, 1755, known as "Braddock's defeat," Washington was almost the only officer of distinction who escaped from the calamities of the day with life and honor.

Having been for five years in the military service, and having vainly sought promotion in the royal army, he took advantage of the fall of Ft. Duquesne and the expulsion of the French from the valley of the Ohio to resign his commission. Soon after he entered the Legislature, where, although not a leader, he took an active and important part. January 17, 1759, he married Mrs. Martha (Dandridge) Custis, the wealthy widow of John Parke Custis.

When the British Parliament had closed the port of Boston, the cry went up throughout the provinces, "The cause ot Boston is the cause of us all!" It was then, at the suggestion of Virginia, that a congress of all the colonies was called to meet at Philadelphia September 5, 1774, to secure their common liberties, peaceably if possible. To this congress Col. Washington was sent as a delegate. On May 10, 1775, the congress re-assembled, when the hostile intentions of England were plainly apparent. The battles of Concord and Lexington had been fought, and among the first acts of this congress was the election of a commander-in-chief of the Colonial forces. This high and responsible office was conferred upon Washington, who was still a member of the congress. He accepted it on June 19, but upon the express condition that he receive no salary. He would keep an exact account of expenses, and expect congress to pay them and nothing more. It is not the object of this sketch to trace the military acts of Washington, to whom the fortunes and liberties of the people of this country were so long confided. The war was conducted by him under every possible disadvantage; and while his forces often met with reverses, yet he overcame every obstacle, and after seven years of heroic devotion and matchless skill he gained liberty for the greatest nation of earth. On December 23, 1783, Washington, in a parting address of surpassing beauty, resigned his commission as Commander-in-Chief of the army to the Continental Congress sitting at Annapolis. He retired immediately to Mt. Vernon and resumed his occupation as a farmer and planter, shunning all connection with public life.

In February, 1789, Washington was unanimously elected President, and at the expiration of his first term he was unanimously re-elected. At the end of this term many were anxious that he be re-elected, but he absolutely refused a third nomination. On March 4, 1797, at the expiration of his second term as President, he returned to his home, hoping to pass there his few remaining years free from the annoyances of public life. Later in the year, however, his repose seemed. likely to be interrupted by war with France. At the prospect of such a war he was again urged to take command of the army, but he chose his subordinate officers and left them the charge of matters in the field, which he superintended from his home. In accepting the command, he made the reservation that he was not to be in the field until it was necessary. In the midst of these preparations his life was suddenly cut off. December 12 he took a severe cold from a ride in the rain, which, settling in his throat, produced inflammation, and terminated fatally on the night of the 14th. On the 18th his body was borne with military honors to its final resting-place, and interred in the family vault at Mt. Vernon.

Of the character of Washington it is impossible to speak but in terms of the highest respect and admiration. The more we see of the operations of our government, and the more deeply we feel the difficulty of uniting all opinions in a common nterest, the more highly we must estimate the force of his talent and character, which have been able tu challenge the reverence of all parties, and principles and nations, and to win a fame as extended as the limits of the globe, and which we cannot but believe will be as lasting as the existence of man.

In person, Washington was unusually tall, erect and well proportioned, and his nuscular strength was great. His features were of a beausiful symmetry. He commanded respect without any appearance of haughtiness, and was ever serious without being dull.

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