Known forever as the founding father of our Country, George Washington was the first President of the United States of America, supreme commander of the Continental Army, President of the Constitutional Convention and a Virginia farmer.
George Washington was born on a humble Virginia plantation, one of several properties owned by George’s father, Augustine. George had two older half-brothers, Augustine and Lawrence, from his father’s first marriage.
At the tender age of 11 George’s father died leaving only a small inheritance to his wife and children. The family could no longer afford to send George to school and his formal education ended at 14.
George inherited 10 slaves from his father’s estate and like land and other property, they could be bought, sold, given away, rented or passed down through inheritance.
George was similar to other Virginia planters in his attitude that slavery was part of his social class. Although George wanted to join the British Navy, his mother refused to let him.
Instead, he joined George William Fairfax as a surveyor to the unexplored Virginia wilderness, a frontier at that time. George taught himself geometry from math books, a skill he needing to survey. Surveying paid well, provided adventure, gave George a chance to claim land for himself and also move up in Virginia society.
At seventeen years old and because of Fairfax’s influence, Washington secured an appointment as a county surveyor for the newly created Culpeper County.
After George’s beloved brother Lawrence died, Washington became the heir of Mount Vernon Estate. Although he would not take full control of the plantation until after his brother’s wife and child died, George began leasing Mount Vernon from Lawrence’s widow.
When Washington volunteered for a dangerous mission into the Ohio River Valley to find out how many French occupied the British-claimed territory, he kept a journal of Indians and other details of the trip. When he returned home, the journal was published and Washington became famous virtually overnight.
In 1755 after resigned his military commission the prior year, Washington rejoined the British army as an unpaid aide of General Edward Braddock. The mission was to reclaim the Ohio Valley, but the campaign ended badly when French and Indian forces killed Braddock and most of his officers.
Braving fire, Washington took charge of the remaining men and rescued the British troop. When word spread of his courage, George was placed in command of all the Virginia forces.
Frustrated that as a colonial officer he was ineligible to receive a British commission, Washington resigned from the army and returned to private life at Mount Vernon.
Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, a pretty and outgoing woman that brought with her enormous wealth as well as two small children, Jack and Patsy to the marriage. It was her second marriage, his first.
When he married Martha, Washington more than doubled the number of slaves under his control through “dower slaves” that she brought to the marriage. In 1759, Washington owned 40 slave at Mt Vernon, but only controlled the dower slaves, which belonged to the estate of Martha’s first husband.
When George Washington fully inherited Mount Vernon, he made a business decision to switch his main cash crop from tobacco to wheat. Washington further diversified his holdings by growing his fisheries in the Potomac River of shad and herring fish that were sold by the hundred thousand.
Over the years, the house size increased by adding a third floor and later a wing to both ends. He built a piazza overlooking the Potomac River and crowned the mansion with a pediment and cupola.
Throughout his life, Washington loved fox hunting with friends and neighbors. His skills as a horseman were legendary.
In Philadelphia, Washington was unanimously elected Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. This time he would fight against the British, not with them.
Washington’s slave Billy Lee, went to war with Washington, staying with him throughout the revolution. Like his owner, Billy Lee had a reputation of courage and was an expert horseman.
After a year of battle losses, including New York, Washington determined bold action was needed or the revolution would be lost. On Christmas night, he led his troops secretly across the Delaware River and attacked a British garrison asleep in Trenton. They surrendered and that turned the war in Washington’s favor.
After winning the war of American independence from Britain, General Washington resigned from the military and later was elected the first President of the United States.
George Washington and his wife Martha Washington lived at Mount Vernon over 40 years. Situated along the Potomac River in Northern Virginia it lies just 16 miles from the nation’s capital Washington, D.C.
After his military campaigns, Washington was chosen to lead the Constitutional Convention, which developed the guidelines for a new form of government — a republic.
After his election as the country’s first president, Washington was careful to curb his powers, knowing he was setting precedent for future leaders. The Bill of Rights became law during his first term, guaranteeing American citizens protection from an over-reaching federal government.
In his second term, Washington personally took to the field to put down the Whiskey Rebellion and show that the federal government had the right to make and collect taxes.
He set the precedent of relinquishing office after two terms, underscoring the fact that the presidency was unlike King’s that ruled in Europe. George worked to make Mount Vernon a model of a new, science-based agriculture system that benefited all farmers.
His experimented with crops, seeds and fertilizer, while continually seeking better innovations.
As an entrepreneur, he ran fisheries, a gristmill and the first whiskey distillery in the country.
Washington began making whiskey on the advice of his farm manager, James Anderson, a trained distiller from Scotland. He soon built one of the largest distilleries in America and at its peak, produced over 11,000 gallons of rye whiskey to become one of his most successful business ventures. It produces whiskey today.
Shortly after taking up wheat as his main cash crop, Washington built a large gristmill outfitted with two pairs of millstones.
One pair of stones ground corn into meal for use at Mount Vernon and the other ground wheat into superfine flour for export to foreign ports.
Washington placed the dove-of-peace weathervane atop the cupola of his Mansion, to symbolize domestic peace for the new nation. Washington designed the vane’s dove-of-peace design, instructing his nephew George Augustine Washington to paint the bill of the bird black and the Olive branch in its mouth green.
Two of Martha Washington’s grandchildren, Eleanor and George Washington Parke Custis came to live with them at Mt Vernon after their father died at the battle of Yorktown. Washington loved his step-grandchildren as his very own.
The King of Spain gave Washington a mule, which Washington named “Royal Gift.” Convinced that mules were stronger draft animals than horses or donkeys, he began a breeding program of mules and introduced the breed to American farmers.
An early proponent of fertilizer, Washington built a “repository for dung,” whereby manure and other organic matter were composted to enrich the soil of his gardens and fields.
While serving as President, Washington’s thoughts often turned to Mount Vernon, designing a 16-sided barn to thresh wheat in a more efficient way.
Horses trod the wheat spread on the second floor of the barn, breaking the grain from the chaff and the wheat falling through the wood floor gaps to the first floor, where it was then taken to the gristmill and ground into flour.
On December 14, George Washington, then 67 years old, died at home of a severe throat infection. Four days later, his body was placed in the family vault at Mount Vernon. His death stunned the nation and for many months mourned the loss of its greatest leader, but his legacy would endure in the hearts of his countrymen.
Washington’s last act was to free his slaves, but not those of Martha. Her grandchildren would inherit her dower slaves. Washington was the only slaveholder among the founding fathers to free his slaves.
Ann Pamela Cunningham established the nation’s first historic preservation society in 1853 to save Mt Vernon for future generations. Made up of only women, they raised the $200,000 needed to purchase the house and 200 acres of the original plantation.
Today Mount Vernon is still managed by a board of women, one each from 30 states. The mansion and grounds have been preserved to look as they did in 1799, the year that George Washington died.