George Washington (1732 - 1799)
George Washington led the American army during the War of Independence and was the first
president of the United States. He is one of the most important figures in American history.
George Washington was born on February 22, 1732 in Westmoreland County, Virginia, into a family of prosperous farmers. At 16 he became a surveyor and a year later he was appointed surveyor of Culpeper County, Virginia, his first public office.
In 1752, he joined the colonial militia. During the French and Indian War (known in Europe as the Seven Years War) Washington won a reputation for bravery. He then returned to farming at Mount Vernon, a plantation he had inherited from his half-brother. In 1759, he married Martha Custis, a wealthy widow.
In the same year Washington entered the Virginia House of Burgesses where he consistently opposed what he saw as unfair British taxes.
By 1774, Washington was one of the leading Virginian figures supporting the colonial cause. He was sent by Virginia to both the first and second Continental Congresses in 1774 and 1775.
In June 1775, Washington was appointed commander of all colonial forces. He set about forming the Continental Army and trying to feed, clothe and equip his soldiers. His early military fortunes were mixed but an American victory at Saratoga in October 1777 prompted the French to agree to an alliance with the Americans.
Although Washington's fortunes did not immediately improve, with French military and naval assistance the tide began to turn. On October 19, 1781 the British army surrendered at Yorktown. Peace talks began in Paris and a treaty was signed in 1783.
In 1787, Washington was elected president of the Constitutional Convention and used his immense influence to persuade the states to ratify the resulting constitution. In 1789, he was unanimously elected the first president of the United States.
He faced huge challenges in welding together the individual states to establish a new nation, and creating a government for that nation. Washington was also dismayed at the emergence of political parties, the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans, led by his two closest advisers, Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson respectively.
Washington wanted to retire after his first term, but was re-elected to a second term in 1792. He succeeded in maintaining American neutrality when war broke out between Britain and France in 1793 and in normalising diplomatic elations with Britain.
Washington finally retired from public life in 1797 and died at Mount Vernon on December 14, 1799.