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George Washington In An Hour

George Washington has become so familiar to us, at least in the United States, that we have lost sight of his greatness. Cities, streets, bridges, schools, parks, and a state have been named in his honor. His image is on the currency, coins and postage stamps. Manufacturers have deemed his reputation of virtue, strength and honestly as fair game by putting his image on their products to boost sales. As recent as 2010, Washington was shown leading a charge in a Dodge Challenger TV commercial. However, in turning him into a symbol, we’ve lost him as a man. Washington, born into a middle class family, became one of the richest men in the colonies. By the age of twenty-two, his name was well-known on both sides of the Atlantic. He was unanimously elected as commander -in-chief of an army that would go on to win independence. He, behind the scenes, orchestrated a coup d'état which resulted in writing and adopting of the constitution still used today in the United States. Then he went on to be unanimously elected, twice, as its first president. And if those achievements were not enough, Washington single handedly redefined the idea of greatness itself. Prior to Washington, to be great was to be triumphant by conquering an enemy and subduing his people. And during the Age of Divine Right, greatness was a reflection of the ruler’s ability to put down threats to the throne. Then along came Washington who walked away from power twice—at the end of the Revolution and after the presidency in which he could have easily held for life. Surprisingly, when compared with fellow American leaders, Washington was not an original thinker, but towered above all those around him in egoless leadership. This biography, in an hour, will examine the man George Washington and reveal why he is still considered one of the most influential persons in history.


Washington as surveyor

Early Years George Washington was born on 22 February 1732 in Westmoreland County, Virginia, where his father, Augustine, was a leading planter in the area. Augustine’s first wife died in 1729, leaving him two sons, Lawrence and Augustine, Jr., and a daughter, Jane. Augustine, Sr. soon married Mary Ball and had six children, George


being the eldest. Washington’s mother was wealthy in her own right, and by all accounts, a demanding, self-centered and formidable woman. In addition to inheriting her strong health and disposition to endure great hardships, George most likely inherited her temper, which he struggled his whole life to control.

By 1738, the family had moved to a plantation near Fredericksburg, Virginia where George spent much of his youth. However, this period remains the least documented and understood part of his life. Many of the widely accepted fables of George’s youthful physical strength, honesty, and piety stem from Washington’s first biographer, “Parson” Weems.

The education of a son of a wealthy planter normally included (as it did his older halfbrothers) English grammar and arithmetic. Adolescent years would have included instruction in geometry, geography, booking keeping and surveying, culminating in a year or two studying abroad in England. Unfortunately, when George reached the age of eleven, his father died, and George’s formal education ended. From what little we do know of his education, Washington excelled in mathematics and surveying. As George grew into his teens, he found it increasingly difficult to tolerate his domineering mother, so he spent most of his time away from home by actively pursuing the study of surveying or spending a large part of his time with his stepbrothers, especially Lawrence.

Becoming the ward of his eldest half-brother, George relished spending time at Lawrence’s Mount Vernon estate. Lawrence eagerly assumed the role of mentor, encouraging George’s studies. More importantly, Lawrence introduced his young


charge to the dazzling, refined and sophisticated world of the Virginia gentry. It was also during the time that George would capture the interest and support of the powerful Fairfax family into which Lawrence had married.

With most of his late father’s estate being inherited by his older half-brother, Washington decided to pursue surveying as his profession. This was an occupation acceptable for someone of his social rank, and held at the time, the same status as a doctor or lawyer.

In 1748, George joined a surveying expedition into western Virginia (and present West Virginia) at the invitation of Lord Fairfax, a land baron and his brother’s fatherin-law. Impressed with Washington’s skills and work ethic, the Fairfax family secured Washington an appointment as a county surveyor. By the age of seventeen, Washington was operating his own surveying business. In the following years, he crossed and recrossed the Appalachian Mountains mapping the far reaches of the American wilderness for weeks at a time. He also began buying up favorable lands and thus taking his first steps toward becoming one of Virginia's wealthiest men.

The years 1752-1753 marked a turning point in Washington’s life. Lawrence contracted an aggressive strain of tuberculosis. Hoping that the tropical climate would help his condition, he went to Barbados, taking George along. While there, George contracted a case of smallpox, which may have left him sterile. When Lawrence’s health did not improve, Lawrence returned to Mount Vernon and died in 1752. George was made executor and residuary heir of the estate, and at the age of twenty,


George became owner of one of the best estates in Virginia. With this turn of fate, he no longer needed a profession like surveying, so he turned to running his various farms and carrying out his duties as an adjutant general in the Virginia Militia.

Prior to entering the military, his brother, Lawrence, held Virginia’s single position of adjutant. After Lawrence’s death, four military districts were created, each needing an adjutant that would be responsible for recruiting and training troops. Seeing a chance to enhance his status in the colony, in 1753 Washington rode to Williamsburg, Virginia’s capital, and petitioned Governor Dinwiddie for an appointment (in-part because he was his brother’s brother). George had no military training, except for reading two books on the art of warfare, but stood nearly six feet three inches tall— enormous by eighteenth-century averages, and weighed about 220 pounds. Impressed with Washington’s presence and spunk, Dinwiddie appointed him adjutant to one of the four military districts.

Washington as the Virginia Colonel

French and Indian War


For years, French trappers had worked the area west of Appalachian Mountains, but in 1753, Governor Dinwiddie learned that French troops were moving south from Canada and constructing forts in the area south of Lake Erie. By this time, English settlers were beginning to push across the mountains, and Dinwiddie knew that if the French built forts throughout the Ohio Valley, it would block British expansion. His biggest concern, however, was that the French would take control of the Ohio River— the main shipping route to the Mississippi and ultimately the world.

Upon orders from King George II, Dinwiddie was directed to send a military envoy to inform the French they were trespassing on British soil and to return to Canada. The envoy he selected was twenty-one year old George Washington. Leaving in November 1753, Washington and his small party faced a brutal winter, hundreds of miles of roadless forests, and hostile Indians. Despite these insurmountable odds, they reached Ft. LeBoeuf (Waterford, PA) on 11 December.

There Washington was warmly greeted by the French commander, Legardeur de Saint Pierre, and delivered the letter. As expected, the reply was, “I do not think myself obliged to obey it.”

Upon his return to Williamsburg in January 1754, Dinwiddie had Washington write up a full report. This was then presented to the House of Burgesses, printed, and sent to London, thereby establishing Washington’s international reputation.

In March 1754, Washington was sent back to the Ohio Valley to build a fort at the forks of the Ohio River. While carrying out this mission, he ambushed a French


scouting party. One of the individuals killed was Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villiers de Jumonville, who was on the same type of diplomatic assignment Washington had been on earlier.

Convinced a larger French force would descend upon them, Washington ordered the construction of a makeshift stockade, Fort Necessity. When over nine hundred French and Indians attacked, Washington was outnumbered and agreed to surrender the fort and troops on the condition that he and his men retire with the honors of war. What Washington did not realize, because he could not read French, was that the surrender document stated that he, personally, had assassinated de Jumonville.

Regardless of the fact that the French and British were on a collision course in the Ohio Valley, Washington was blamed for starting the French and Indian War. When news of Washington’s actions reached London, the politician and writer, Horace Walpole wrote, “The volley fired by a young Virginian in the backwoods of American set the world on fire.�

Upon his return to Virginia, Washington learned that his regiment was to be disbanded and replaced with independent companies commanded by captains. Accepting command of one of these companies would mean losing his colonel rank. Refusing such a demotion and humiliation, George resigned and returned to Mount Vernon. However, being a soldier remained foremost in George's heart. He yearned for a royal commission from London, but now that seemed out of reach. But luck was on Washington's side. In 1755, Major General Edward Braddock arrived with two regiments of British regulars. Braddock was ordered to settle the French and Indian


issue by marching west, and with overwhelming numbers, expel the French from the Ohio County. As soon as George learned of this, he wrote Braddock and offered to volunteer as an aide.

Despite his best efforts to convince Braddock that the “Canadian� French and Indians would not fight according to conventional European tactics, Braddock rejected Washington's advice and marched right into a devastating pour of musket fire that lead to chaos and a large loss of life. When Braddock was fatally wounded, Washington took control by riding back and forth across the battlefield, rallying troops, and bringing a sense of order to the melee. Impervious to having two horses shot from under him, and four bullets shot through his coat, George gallantly led the demoralized survivors to safety.

So impressed with how Washington salvaged Braddock's disastrous campaign, Governor Dinwiddie gave him command of all Virginia forces in 1758. For three years, Washington successfully defended Virginia against French and Indian attacks but found the task maddening. The Virginian legislature underfunded his efforts; recruits were of little or no quality; and despite how many times he petitioned London for a commission in the British Royal army, it was never to be. (George had a hard time grasping that commissions in the British army had little to do with merit. And in time, the Crown would come to regret this failure to promote him.)

Although only twenty-six years old, Washington was the most experienced colonial military officer in all the Americas. He had learned to organize, train, drill and discipline men. He learned British, French, and Indian battle tactics, and that in war,


being able to hold an army together was perhaps more important than winning battles.

Read more George Washington: History In An Hour published by Harper Press History In An Hour


George Washington: History In An Hour