George Washington and the French and Indian War

George Washington was an American political leader, military general, and Founding Father who also served as the first president of the United States from 1789 to 1797. He led Patriot forces to victory in the Revolutionary War, and he presided at the Constitutional Convention of 1787, which established the new federal government. He has been called the “”Father of His Country”” for his manifold leadership in the formative days of the new nation. (Biography)

George Washington was born February 22, 1732 in Popes Creek, Virginia. Washington is the son of Augustine and Mary Ball Washington. He had five siblings, three brothers and two sisters. His brothers were Samuel, John Augustine, and Charles Washington. His sisters were Betty and Mildred Washington. (Biography)

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George Washington’s North American roots can be traced back to his great-grandfather, John Washington. The family was granted land by King Henry VIII since they held some distinction in England. In 1657, George’s grandfather, Lawrence Washington, migrated to Virginia after almost all of the family’s wealth was lost during the Puritan Revolution. George’s father, Augustine, was an ambitious man who grew tobacco, built mills, and owned land and slaves. Augustine moved the family upwards of the Potomac River to another home owned by the Washington family. The name of the home was Little Hunting Creek Plantation, but was later named the prominent Mount Vernon. George spent much of his youth on Ferry Farm, where the family once more moved to in 1738. The “cherry tree” myth of George Washington supposedly occurred on Ferry Farm. The myth was that George received an axe as a gift and cut down his father’s cherry tree. When his father discovered the tree, he became angry and confronted George. That is when young George said some of the most famous words of any historical figure, “I cannot tell a lie?I did cut down the cherry tree.” (Editors)

From the ages of seven to fifteen, George was homeschooled but most of his knowledge in life came through his acquaintance with backwoodsman and plantation foreman. He had mastered crop growing, surveying, and stock raising by his early teens. Washington’s father died when he was 11 and he became the co-owner of the family estate, with his half-brother Lawrence. When he was 20, Lawrence died, making him the owner of all the Washingtons’ land and homes. Throughout his life, George viewed farming as one of the most honorable professions. During his life, he expanded Mount Vernon to around 8,000 acres. France and Britain were at peace in the early 1750s; however, the French military had begun occupying most of the Ohio Valley, protecting French settlers and also the King’s land interests and fur trappers. The borders of the Ohio Valley were unclear and dispute was a recurring thing between the two countries.

Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor, Robert Dinwiddie, appointed George with a rank of major in Virginia. On October 31, 1753, Dinwiddie sent Washington to Fort LeBoeuf to warn the French to get out of British-owned territory. The French refused so George rode back to Williamsburg. Dinwiddie once again sent Washington to deal with the French, this time with troops. Washington’s small militia attacked the French at Fort Duquesne. During the scuffle, Washington’s militia killed ten Frenchmen, including the commander, and took the rest as prisoners. This prompted the start of the French and Indian War. Washington served as colonel in the British Army until 1755, when he was promoted to commander of all Virginia troops at the mere age of 23. (Nevins)

His health weakened near the end of 1757 and he was sent home with dysentery. He returned in 1758 with a familiar objective to capture Fort Duquesne. During the expedition, a friendly fire accident occurred. 14 of George’s men were killed and another 26 were wounded. However, the British managed to capture Fort Duquesne and gained control over the Ohio Valley. In December 1758, Washington resigned from the British army and returned to his home at Mount Vernon. (Archer)

During his time away from the military, Washington married Martha Custis. Martha owned an enormous 18,000-acre estate. With Martha’s property, and the land that George gained for his efforts during the war, he quickly became one of Virginia’s wealthiest landowners. Washington once again entered politics and was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1758. (Archer)

The British Proclamation Act of 1763 annoyed Washington and he opposed the Stamp Act of 1765. Though he was outspoken in his views of British Acts, he didn’t take a leading role in the growing colonial resistance until the Townshend Acts of 1767. Researchers found letters that Washington had written during this period, showing he was totally against the colonies trying to declare independence, but he did agree with protesting against what he believed were fundamental violations. In 1769, George presented a resolution to the House calling for a boycott of British goods until the Acts were repealed. After the Intolerable Acts of 1774, Washington called a meeting in front of the Continental Congress vocating the use of armed force as a last resort. In 1775, he was selected as a delegate to the First Continental Congress. (Dickson)

After the battles of Lexington and Concord in April 1775, the dispute between Britain and America escalated into an armed conflict. Washington traveled to the Second Continental Congress in May decked out in full military uniform, indicating that he was ready for war. On June 15, Washington was appointed Commander-in-Chief of the colonial army in the fight for independence. He was quite qualified to wage war on the world’s most powerful nation since his experience was mostly comprised of frontier warfare involving small numbers of soldiers. He had no knowledge of the open-field style of battle used by the British, how to properly arrange troops for advancement and retreat, or how to maintain supplies to be able to have many soldiers in the field. However, he was courageous, determined, and clever. The first taste of victory for Washington and his men came in March 1776. (Editors)

In August 1776, the British army launched an attack and took New York City in the largest battle of the Revolutionary War. Washington’s army suffered greatly and were forced to surrender around 2,800 men. He ordered the rest of his men to retreat across the Delaware River. British General William Howe, confident the war would soon be over, wintered his troops in Trenton and Princeton. This gave Washington the opportunity to attack at any time or place of his choosing.(Dickson)

On December 24, 1776, Washington and his men crossed the Delaware River and attacked the unsuspecting British at Trenton, forcing them to surrender. A few days later, he and his troops escaped an counter attack and instead attacked British troops at Princeton, handing them a humiliating loss. (Dickson)

In the summer of 1777, General Howe mounted an attack on Philadelphia, thinking he could stop the revolution by taking key economic cities. Washington moved his army into the city to defend it but was defeated. Philadelphia then fell into the hands of Great Britain. Later in the summer, British forces were sent to Saratoga, New York in an effort to cut off the rebellion in New England. However, American forces, led by Benedict Arnold, trapped the “red coats” and gained the surrender of 6,200 men in the Battle of Saratoga. The victory was a major turning point in the war, leading France to aid American forces in the fight for independence. (Dickson)

The darkest time for Washington and the army was during the winter of 1777 at Valley Forge. Thousands of men died in the 11,000-man force. The men died mostly from disease and starvation, some even resorting to cannibalism. But the army emerged through the harsh winter somewhat still intact. (Archer)

For the remainder of the war, Washington was content on keeping British forces contained in New York. The French sent a massive army of men and a vast naval fleet. Washington, along with his fellow Frenchmen, decided to attack General Cornwallis at Yorktown, Virginia. Cornwallis held out as long as he could, but with the gigantic army of French and American men, along with the 29 French warships, Cornwallis was eventually forced to surrender on October 19, 1781. Washington had no way of knowing that the Battle of Yorktown would bring the war to a close. The British still had 26,000 troops scattered around New York City, Savannah, and Charleston, along with large fleet of warships along the coastline. A near revolt was avoided when George convinced Congress to a five-year bonus for soldiers in March 1783, ensuring pay for soldiers that hadn’t been paid in months. By November 1783, the British had evacuated most of the cities and the war was essentially over. America had won its independence. Washington formally bade his troops farewell on December 23, 1783, he resigned his employment as commander-in-chief and returned to Mount Vernon. (Nevins)

Though he had hoped to retire to Mount Vernon, Washington was once again called upon to serve his country. He received a vote from every elector in the Electoral College during the presidential election of 1789. He is the only president in American history to be elected unanimously. As the first president, he was acutely aware that his presidency would set a precedent for all that would follow. He preferred the title “Mr. President,” rather than other titles suggested such as “King.” (Biography)

Washington proved to be a brilliant administrator. He surrounded himself with some of the most capable people in the country such as Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson. During his first term, he adopted a series of measures proposed by Hamilton to help reduce the nation’s debt and set its finances on the right track. His administration also made efforts to ease tensions with the Native Americans. (Archer)

Washington longed to return to Mount Vernon to continue farming. He also felt the decline of his health and refused to serve a third term as president, even though he wouldn’t have had any competition. By doing so, he also made it known that he did not want to be a king, seeing since America had just broken from Great Britain, which had a King. (Editors)

In the last months of his presidency, Washington felt lead to give the American people one last expedient of himself. With the help of Hamilton and Jefferson, he composed his Farewell Address. In the address, he urged people to cherish the Union and avoid permanent alliances with foreign countries. In March 1797, he turned over the government to John Adams and returned to his home at Mount Vernon. Washington’s last official act came when he pardoned the people who took part in the Whiskey Rebellion. (Dickson)

December 12, 1799 was a cold and bitter day. George spent most of his day roaming around the farm on horseback while a snowstorm blanketed everything. When he returned home, his clothes were soaking wet but he briskly ate supper and went to bed. The next morning, he woke up with a severe sore throat. He went to bed early that night but woke up around 3 a.m. and told Martha he felt terrible. He progressively got worse throughout the day until he died on the evening of March 14, 1799. News of his death spread all over the country and people grieved his death for weeks. Napoleon ordered ten days of mourning in honor of his friend Washington. George could have been a king. Instead, he chose to be a citizen. He crystallized the power of the presidency as a part of the government’s three branches, able to exercise authority when necessary, but also accept the balance of power inherent in the system. (Biography)

George Washington was not only considered a military and revolutionary hero, but also a man of great integrity, with a deep sense of honor, duty, and patriotism. For over 200 years, he has been praised as crucial to the success of the gaining of independence and the birth of a nation. (Biography)

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