Washington, George (1732-99), commander in chief of the Continental army during the American Revolution, and later the first president of the United States. He symbolized qualities of discipline, aristocratic duty, military orthodoxy, and persistence in adversity that his contemporaries particularly valued as marks of mature political leadership.
Washington was born on February 22, 1732, in Westmoreland County, Virginia, the eldest son of Augustine Washington, a Virginia planter, and Mary Ball Washington. Although Washington had little or no formal schooling, his early notebooks indicate that he read in geography, military history, agriculture, deportment, and composition and that he showed some aptitude in surveying and simple mathematics. In later life he developed a style of speech and writing that, although not always polished, was marked by clarity and force. Tall, strong, and fond of action, he was a superb horseman and enjoyed the robust sports and social occasions of the Virginia planter society. At the age of 16 he was invited to join a party to survey lands owned by the Fairfax family (to which he was related by marriage) west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. His journey led him to take a lifelong interest in the development of western lands. In the summer of 1749 he was appointed official surveyor for Culpeper County, and during the next two years he made many surveys for landowners on the Virginia frontier. In 1753 he was appointed adjutant of one of the districts into which Virginia was divided, with the rank of major.
Early Military Experience
Washington played an important role in the struggles preceding the outbreak of the French and Indian War. He was chosen by Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie of Virginia to deliver an ultimatum calling on French forces to cease their encroachment in the Ohio River valley. The young messenger was also instructed to observe the strength of French forces, the location of their forts, and the routes by which they might be reinforced from Canada. After successfully completing this mission, Washington, then a lieutenant colonel, was ordered to lead a militia force for the protection of workers who were building a fort at the Forks of the Ohio River. Having learned that the French had ousted the work party and renamed the site Fort Duquesne, he entrenched his forces at a camp named Fort Necessity and awaited reinforcements. A successful French assault obliged him to accept articles of surrender, and he departed with the remnants of his company.
Washington resigned his commission in 1754, but in May 1755 he began service as a volunteer aide-de-camp to the British general Edward Braddock, who had been sent to Virginia with a force of British regulars. A few kilometers from Fort Duquesne, Braddock's men were ambushed by a band of French soldiers and Native Americans. Braddock was mortally wounded, and Washington, who behaved gallantly during the conflict, narrowly escaped death. In August 1755 he was...