George Washington: Father of a Nation
A desolate wind swept over the American encampment at Valley Forge.Freezing temperatures and blinding snow storms accompanied by heartbreaking defeats had taken their toll on these young freedom fighters.The cry for freedom could no longer be heard over hunger pains and the freezing wind.One lone figure could be seen walking through the camp trying to re-ignite that fire in his dwindling troops who were huddled together for warmth.We can only wonder what words of encouragement George Washington told his men to keep their hopes alive that long hard winter of 1778.Whatever they were, they held an army together and inspired a young nation to go on and defeat the greatest power in the world at that time.Is it any wonder why the United States capital, a State, and hundreds of small towns and counties across the country are named in honor of one of the greatest men in our nations history, George Washington.
Born on February 22, 1732 in Westmoreland County, Virginia, George Washington began his life on the family estate along the Potomac River.When George was a young boy he loved going to the home of his half brother Lawrence, a house called Mount Vernon. Lawrence had named the house and its farm, Mount Vernon, after his commanding officer, Admiral Edward Vernon of the British Navy. After the death of his father when he was only 11, Washington moved to Mount Vernon where his brother acted like a second father. George was privileged to grow up in Virginias higher society and was able to attend school unlike many children of that day. His last two years in school were devoted to engineering, geometry, trigonometry, and surveying. At age sixteen, in 1748, he was appointed a public surveyor. According to one authority, he was “engaged to survey these wild territories for a doubloon a day, camping out for months in the forest, in peril from Indians and squatters.” Actually it seems that the backwoodsmen and the Indians all liked him very much. Incidentally, his surveying knowledge came in handy much later when he was President.
When George was nineteen he was made a Major in charge of one of the military districts into which the colony of Virginia was divided from handling attacks on the frontier by French and Indians. This was the real beginning of the seven-year French and Indian War. Two years later he was sent on a mission to the French, to find out just what their intentions were and to warn them off. This meant six hundred miles alone through the wilderness. However, for a young fellow of his build, experience, and aptitudes this was all in the day’s work and probably very enjoyable. In 1754 he commanded a regiment against the French, who had established themselves at Fort Duquesne (now Pittsburgh): but he was driven back by superior forces to Fort Necessity, the American stronghold, which he held as long as humanly possible before surrendering. Washington then accompanied General Braddock and led two regiments of volunteers against Fort Duquesne. In this campaign he received four bullet holes in his coat and had two horses shot under him. Perhaps he was being saved for another time. Even though Braddock was killed, Washington was able to lead the rest of the Virginia troops to defeat the French troops. For doing this, Washington was promoted to coronal and appointed commander and chief of the Virginia militia. Assured that the Virginia frontier was safe from French attack, Washington left the army in 1758 and returned to Mount Vernon to restore his estate which he inherited after his brothers death in 1752.
On January 6, 1759 Washington was married to Martha Dandridge Custis, widow of Daniel Parke Custis.She had two children from the marriage to Parke, John Parke Custis and Martha Parke Custis, both of whom Washington legally adopted in 1761. He settled down with his new family to begin what he though would be a peaceful life of farming. However, this was not to be, because a developing country would have many other plans in store for George Washington. In 1774 Washington was one of the seven delegates selected from Virginia to the First Continental Congress. Washington along with 54 other delegates wrote a Declaration of Rights and Grievances which they sent to King George III of England in hopes to prevent a war. However, when the situation only got worse, a second Continental Congress was called in 1775.In St. Johns Church in Richmond delegates argued for and against the possibility of going to war with England. Washington knew that to gain independence a war would have to be fought. However, he also knew that the British would be a very hard adversary to defeat and therefore was very hesitant to go to war.Patric Henry did not agree as we can remember from his famous speech.I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death! Convincing many delegates soonthe outcome was inevitable.To vote was to go ahead and make plans for war, including the development of a Continental Army. On June 15, Washington was unanimously elected to be Commander and Chief of the colonial forces. Graciously he accepted and at age 43 Washington once again took on the role of service in fighting for a country which hadnt even been developed yet.
The job however wasnt easy.The Continental Army consisted of untrained farmers, had no uniforms, and insufficient weapons.The only thing Washington had on his side was the common dream everyone shared for freedom. Washington took command of the troops and surrounded British-occupied Boston on July 3 retaking the city. The next few months he devoted to training the undisciplined 14,000-man army and trying to secure urgently needed powder and other supplies.Washington then moved his army to New York. Defeated there by the British he retreated to establish a defensive line north of New York City. In November he retreated again crossing the Hudson into New Jersey and then a month later crossed the Delaware to Pennsylvania. Washington was depressed by the Britishs easy victory for the occupancy of New York and northern New Jersey. However he knew he must be strong and move on. Crossing the icy Delaware on the night of Christmas, 1776 he captured Trenton New Jersey in a surprise attack the following morning. Then shortly after the turn of the year, he defeated British troops in a marvelous victory at Princeton.Washington was able to hold off the British and keep up moral over the next year until the French came to Americas aid.With help from French troops, Washington was able to take the offensive and eventually trapped Cornwallis at Yorktown. The British surrendered, and America was truly a free country.
After the war many wanted to make Washington a king. He quickly shot down this idea for he knew that things would remain the same and the war would have been only a waist. Washington returned to Mount Vernon where he once again looked forward to a peaceful life. This, once again was not to be for in May 1787, Washington headed the Virginia delegation to the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia. As the hero of the Revolutionary war he was unanimously elected presiding officer. His presence lent prestige to the proceedings, and although he made few direct contributions, he generally supported the advocates of a strong central government.After the new Constitution was submitted to the states for ratification and became legally operative, he was once again unanimously elected for the first Presidency of the United States in 1789.
Taking office (Apr. 30, 1789) in New York City, Washington acted carefully and
deliberately. Aware of the need to build an executive structure that could accommodate future presidents he set out to do so. With his excellent surveying skills, he himself helped find the perfect place for the nations future capital, which was later ironically named after him, Washington, D.C. Washington was reelected president in 1792.He dwelt with several problems consisting from internal between his cabinet members Jefferson and Hamilton to external dealing with France and the French Revolution.By March 1797, when Washington left office, the country’s financial system was well established, the Indian threat east of the Mississippi had been largely eliminated, and Jay’s Treaty and Pinckney’s Treaty (1795) with Spain had enlarged U.S. territory and removed serious diplomatic difficulties.
Despite of all his success in office Washington was relieved when he was able to go home to his precious Mt. Vernon. Here he spent the rest of his days in the place he loved the most and saw the least. In mid-December, Washington contracted what was probably quinsy or acute laryngitis. He declined rapidly and died at his estate on Dec. 14, 1799 leaving behind only his wife Martha who died a few years later.George Washington contributed so much to our country.Leaving what he loved behind he gave up home and family to serve the country that needed him so much. Ironically although George Washington was the father of our country, he had no children of his own. Some might say he died alone with no one to carry on his family name and legacy.Not likely, because he gave so much, and took so little. Washington will be remembered throughout history as one of the most prominent leaders of our nations history.