Rank Insignia Previous Honoree ID Next Honoree ID


   
honoree image
First Name: George

Last Name: Washington

Birthplace:

Gender: Male

Branch: Continental Army (1775 - 1784)







Date of Birth: 22 February 1732

Date of Death: 14 December 1799

Rank: General of the Armies

Years Served: Militia: 1752-1758, Continental Army: 1775-1783
George Washington

   
Engagements:
•  Revolutionary War (1775 - 1783)

Biography:

Biography
of
George Washington
General of the Armies of the United States

The Early Years

George Washington, the first child of Augustine Washington (1694-1743) and his second wife, Mary Ball Washington (1708-1789), was born on their Pope's Creek Estate near present-day Colonial Beach in Westmoreland County, VA. According to the Julian calendar and Annunciation Style of enumerating years (then in use in the British Empire), Washington was born on 11 February 1731; when the Gregorian calendar was implemented in the British Empire in 1752, in accordance with the provisions of the Calendar (New Style) Act 1750, his birth date became 22 February 1732.

Washington's ancestors were from Sulgrave, England; his great-grandfather, John Washington, had immigrated to Virginia in 1657. George's father Augustine was a slave-owning tobacco planter who later tried his hand in iron-mining ventures. In George's youth, the Washingtons were moderately prosperous members of the Virginia gentry, of 'middling rank' rather than one of the leading planter families. At this time, Virginia and other southern colonies had become a slave society, in which slaveholders formed the ruling class and the economy was based on slave labor.

Six of George's siblings reached maturity, including two older half-brothers, Lawrence and Augustine, from his father's first marriage to Jane Butler Washington, and four full siblings, Samuel, Elizabeth (Betty), John Augustine and Charles. Three siblings died before becoming adults: his full sister Mildred died when she was about one, his half-brother Butler died while an infant, and his half-sister Jane died at the age of 12, when George was about 2. George's father died when George was 11 years old, after which George's half-brother Lawrence became a surrogate father and role model. William Fairfax, Lawrence's father-in-law and cousin of Virginia's largest landowner, Thomas, Lord Fairfax, was also a formative influence.

Washington spent much of his boyhood at Ferry Farm in Stafford County near Fredericksburg, VA. Lawrence Washington inherited another family property from his father, a plantation on the Potomac River which he later named Mount Vernon. George inherited Ferry Farm upon his father's death and eventually acquired Mount Vernon after Lawrence's death.

The death of his father prevented Washington from crossing the Atlantic to receive the rest of his education at England's Appleby School, as his older brothers had done. He received the equivalent of an elementary school education from a variety of tutors, and also a school run by an Anglican clergyman in or near Fredericksburg. Talk of securing an appointment in the Royal Navy for him when he was 15 was dropped when his mother learned how hard that would be on him. Thanks to Lawrence's connection to the powerful Fairfax family, at age 17 in 1749, Washington was appointed official surveyor for Culpeper County, a well-paid position which enabled him to purchase land in the Shenandoah Valley, the first of his many land acquisitions in western Virginia. Thanks also to Lawrence's involvement in the Ohio Company, a land investment company funded by Virginia investors, and Lawrence's position as commander of the Virginia militia, Washington came to the notice of the new Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, Robert Dinwiddie. Washington was hard to miss: At exactly six feet, he towered over most of his contemporaries.

In 1751, Washington travelled to Barbados with Lawrence, who was suffering from tuberculosis, with the hope that the climate would be beneficial to Lawrence's health. Washington contracted smallpox during the trip, which left his face slightly scarred, but immunized him against future exposures to the dreaded disease. Lawrence's health did not improve; he returned to Mount Vernon, where he died in 1752. Lawrence's position as Adjutant General (militia leader) of Virginia was divided into four offices after his death. Washington was appointed by Governor Dinwiddie as one of the four district adjutants in February 1753, with the rank of major in the Virginia militia. Washington also joined the Freemasons fraternal association in Fredericksburg at this time.

French and Indian War (Also 'Seven Years War') 1754-1758

In 1753, the French began expanding their military control into the "Ohio Country," a territory also claimed by the British colonies of Virginia and Pennsylvania. These competing claims led to a war in the colonies called the French and Indian War (1754-62), and contributed to the start of the global Seven Years' War (1756-63). Washington was at the center of its beginning. The Ohio Company was one vehicle through which British investors planned to expand into the territory, opening new settlements and building trading posts for the Indian trade.

Governor Dinwiddie received orders from the British government to warn the French of British claims, and sent Major Washington in late 1753 to deliver a letter informing the French of those claims and asking them to leave. Washington also met with Tanacharison (also called "Half-King") and other Iroquois leaders allied to Virginia at Logstown to secure their support in case of conflict with the French; Washington and Tanacharison became friends and allies. Washington delivered the letter to the local French commander, who politely refused to leave.

Governor Dinwiddie sent Washington back to the Ohio Country to protect an Ohio Company group building a fort at present-day Pittsburgh, PA, but before he reached the area, a French force drove out the company's crew and began construction of Fort Duquesne. A small detachment of French troops led by Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, was discovered by Tanacharison and a few warriors east of present-day Uniontown, PA. Along with their Mingo allies, Washington and some of his militia unit then ambushed the French. What exactly happened during and after the battle is a matter of some controversy, but the immediate outcome was that Jumonville was injured in the initial attack and then was killed - whether tomahawked by Tanacharison in cold blood, or somehow shot by another onlooker with a musket as the injured man sat with Washington, is not completely clear.

The French responded by attacking and capturing Washington at Fort Necessity in July 1754. However, he was allowed to return with his troops to Virginia. Historian Joseph Ellis concludes that the episode demonstrated Washington's bravery, initiative, inexperience and impetuosity. These events had international consequences; the French accused Washington of assassinating Jumonville, who they claimed was on a diplomatic mission. Both France and Great Britain were ready to fight for control of the region and both sent troops to North America in 1755; war was formally declared in 1756.

The Braddock Expedition; 1755

In 1755, Washington was the senior American aide to British General Edward Braddock on the ill-fated Braddock expedition. This was the largest British expedition to the colonies, and was intended to expel the French from the Ohio Country. The French and their Indian allies ambushed Braddock, who was mortally wounded in the Battle of the Monongahela. After suffering devastating casualties, the British retreated in disarray; however, Washington rode back and forth across the battlefield, rallying the remnants of the British and Virginian forces to an organized retreat.

Commander of Virginia Regiment

Governor Dinwiddie rewarded Washington in 1755 with a commission as "Colonel of the Virginia Regiment and Commander in Chief of all forces now raised in the defense of His Majesty's Colony" and gave him the task of defending Virginia's frontier. The Virginia Regiment was the first full-time American military unit in the colonies (as opposed to part-time militias and the British regular units). Washington was ordered to "act defensively or offensively" as he thought best.

In command of a thousand soldiers, Washington was a disciplinarian who emphasized training. He led his men in brutal campaigns against the Indians in the west; in 10 months units of his regiment fought 20 battles, and lost a third of its men. Washington's strenuous efforts meant that Virginia's frontier population suffered less than that of other colonies; Ellis concludes "it was his only unqualified success" in the war.

In 1758, Washington participated in the Forbes Expedition to capture Fort Duquesne. He was embarrassed by a friendly fire episode in which his unit and another British unit thought the other was the French enemy and opened fire, with 14 dead and 26 wounded in the mishap. Washington was not involved in any other major fighting on the Expedition, and the British scored a major strategic victory, gaining control of the Ohio Valley, when the French abandoned the Fort. Following the Expedition, Washington retired from his Virginia Regiment commission in December 1758. He did not return to military life until the outbreak of the revolution in 1775.

Lessons Learned

Although Washington never gained the commission in the British army he yearned for, in these years the young man gained valuable military, political, and leadership skills. He closely observed British military tactics, gaining a keen insight into their strengths and weaknesses that proved invaluable during the Revolution. He demonstrated his toughness and courage in the most difficult situations, including disasters and retreats. Given his size, strength, stamina, and bravery in battle, soldiers saw Washington as a natural leader and followed him without question.

Washington learned to organize, train, drill, and discipline his companies and regiments. From his observations, readings, and conversations with professional officers, he learned the basics of battlefield tactics, as well as a good understanding of problems of organization and logistics. He gained an understanding of overall strategy, especially in locating strategic geographical points.

Historian Ron Chernow is of the opinion that Washington's frustrations in dealing with government officials during this conflict led him to advocate the advantages of a strong national government and a vigorous executive agency that could get results. Other historians ascribe Washington's position on government to his later American Revolutionary War service. He developed a very negative idea of the value of militia, who seemed too unreliable, too undisciplined, and too short-term compared to regulars. On the other hand, his experience was limited to command of no more than 1000 men, and fighting battles in remote frontier conditions that were far removed from the urban situations he faced during the Revolution at Boston, New York, Trenton and Philadelphia.

Between the Wars and Living at Mount Vernon (1759-1774)

On 6 January 1759, Washington married the wealthy widow Martha Dandridge Custis, then 28 years old. Surviving letters suggest that he may have been in love at the time with Sally Fairfax, the wife of a friend. Nevertheless, George and Martha made a compatible marriage, because Martha was intelligent, gracious, and experienced in managing a planter's estate.

Together, the two raised her two children from her previous marriage, John Parke Custis and Martha Parke Custis, affectionately called "Jackie" and "Patsy" by the family. Later the Washingtons raised two of Mrs. Washington's grandchildren, Eleanor Parke Custis and George Washington Parke Custis. George and Martha never had any children together - his earlier bout with smallpox in 1751 may have made him sterile. Washington may not have been able to admit to his own sterility while privately he grieved over not having his own children. The newlywed couple moved to Mount Vernon, near Alexandria, where he took up the life of a planter and political figure.

Washington's marriage to Martha greatly increased his property holdings and social standing, and made him one of Virginia's wealthiest men. He acquired one-third of the 18,000-acre Custis Estate upon his marriage, worth approximately $100,000, and managed the remainder on behalf of Martha's children, for whom he sincerely cared.

In 1754, Lieutenant Governor Dinwiddie had promised land bounties to the soldiers and officers who volunteered to serve during the French and Indian War. Governor Norborne Berkeley finally fulfilled Dinwiddie's promise in 1769-1770, with Washington subsequently receiving title to 23,200 acres near where the Kanawha River flows into the Ohio River, in what is now western West Virginia. He also frequently bought additional land in his own name. By 1775, Washington had doubled the size of Mount Vernon to 6,500 acres and had increased its slave population to over 100. As a respected military hero and large landowner, he held local office and was elected to the Virginia provincial legislature, the House of Burgesses, beginning in 1758.

Washington lived an aristocratic lifestyle; fox hunting was a favorite leisure activity. He also enjoyed going to dances and parties, in addition to the theater, races, and cockfights. Washington also was known to play cards, backgammon, and billiards. Like most Virginia planters, he imported luxuries and other goods from England and paid for them by exporting his tobacco crop.

Washington began to pull himself out of debt in the mid-1760s by diversifying his previously tobacco-centric business interests into other ventures and paying more attention to his affairs. In 1766, he started switching Mount Vernon's primary cash crop away from tobacco to wheat, a crop that could be processed and then sold in various forms in the colonies, and further diversified operations to include flour milling, fishing, horse breeding, spinning, weaving and (in the 1790s) whiskey production. Patsy Custis's death in 1773 from epilepsy enabled Washington to pay off his British creditors, since half of her inheritance passed to him.

A successful planter, he was a leader in the social elite in Virginia. From 1768-1775, he invited some 2000 guests to his Mount Vernon estate, mostly those he considered "people of rank." As for people not of high social status, his advice was to "treat them civilly" but "keep them at a proper distance, for they will grow upon familiarity, in proportion as you sink in authority." In 1769, he became more politically active, presenting the Virginia Assembly with legislation to ban the importation of goods from Great Britain.

The American Revolution (1775-1783)

Washington opposed the 1765 Stamp Act, the first direct tax on the colonies, and began taking a leading role in the growing colonial resistance when protests against the Townshend Acts (enacted in 1767) became widespread. In May 1769, Washington introduced a proposal, drafted by his friend George Mason, calling for Virginia to boycott English goods until the Acts were repealed. Parliament repealed the Townshend Acts in 1770. However, Washington regarded the passage of the Intolerable Acts in 1774 as "an Invasion of our Rights and Privileges."

In July 1774, he chaired the meeting at which the "Fairfax Resolves" were adopted, which called for the convening of a Continental Congress, among other things. In August, Washington attended the First Virginia Convention, where he was selected as a delegate to the First Continental Congress.

Commander-in-Chief

After the Battles of Lexington and Concord near Boston in April 1775, the colonies went to war. Washington appeared at the Second Continental Congress in a military uniform, signaling that he was prepared for war. Washington had the prestige, military experience, charisma and military bearing of a military leader and was known as a strong patriot. Virginia, the largest colony, deserved recognition, and New England - where the fighting began - realized it needed Southern support. Washington did not explicitly seek the office of commander and said that he was not equal to it, but there was no serious competition. Congress created the Continental Army on 14 June 1775. Nominated by John Adams of Massachusetts, Washington was then appointed Major General and Commander-in-Chief.

Washington had three roles during the war. In 1775-77, and again in 1781, he led his men against the main British forces. Although he lost many of his battles, he never surrendered his army during the war, and he continued to fight the British relentlessly until the war's end. He plotted the overall strategy of the war, in cooperation with Congress.

Second, he was charged with organizing and training the army. He recruited regulars and assigned Baron and General Friedrich von Steuben, a veteran of the Prussian general staff, to train them. The war effort and getting supplies to the troops were under the purview of Congress, but Washington pressured the Congress to provide the essentials.

In June 1776, Congress' first attempt at running the war effort was established with the committee known as "Board of War and Ordnance," succeeded by the Board of War in July 1777, a committee which eventually included members of the military. The command structure of the armed forces was a hodgepodge of Congressional appointees (and Congress sometimes made those appointments without Washington's input) with state-appointments filling the lower ranks and of all of the militia-officers. The results of his general staff were mixed, as some of his favorites (like John Sullivan) never mastered the art of command.

Eventually, he found capable officers, like General Nathanael Greene and his Chief-of-Staff Alexander Hamilton. The American officers never equaled their opponents in tactics and maneuver, and consequently they lost most of the pitched battles. The great successes, at Boston (1776), Saratoga (1777) and Yorktown (1781), came from trapping the British far from base with much larger numbers of troops.

Third, and most important, Washington was the embodiment of armed resistance to the Crown-the representative man of the Revolution. His enormous stature and political skills kept Congress, the army, the French, the militias, and the states all pointed toward a common goal. By voluntarily stepping down and disbanding his army when the war was won, he permanently established the principle of civilian supremacy in military affairs. And yet his constant reiteration of the point that well-disciplined professional soldiers counted for twice as much as erratic amateurs helped overcome the ideological distrust of a standing army.

Victory at Boston

Washington assumed command of the Continental Army in the field at Cambridge, MA, in July 1775, during the ongoing siege of Boston. Realizing his army's desperate shortage of gunpowder, Washington asked for new sources. American troops raided British arsenals, including some in the Caribbean, and some manufacturing was attempted. They obtained a barely adequate supply (about 2.5 million pounds) by the end of 1776, mostly from France.

Washington reorganized the army during the long standoff, and forced the British to withdraw by putting artillery on Dorchester Heights overlooking the city. The British evacuated Boston in March 1776 and Washington moved his army to New York City.

Although highly disparaging toward most of the Patriots, British newspapers routinely praised Washington's personal character and qualities as a military commander. These articles were bold, as Washington was an enemy general who commanded an army in a cause that many Britons believed would ruin the Empire.

Defeat at New York City and Fabian Tactics

In August 1776, British General William Howe launched a massive naval and land campaign designed to seize New York. The Continental Army under Washington engaged the enemy for the first time as an army of the newly independent United States at the Battle of Long Island, the largest battle of the entire war. The Americans were heavily outnumbered, many men deserted, and Washington was badly beaten. Subsequently, Washington was forced to retreat across the East River at night. He did so without loss of life or materiel.

Washington retreated north from the city to avoid encirclement, enabling Howe to take the offensive and capture Fort Washington on November 16 with high Continental casualties. Washington then retreated across New Jersey; the future of the Continental Army was in doubt due to expiring enlistments and the string of losses. On the night of 25 December 1776, Washington staged a comeback with a surprise attack on a Hessian outpost in western New Jersey. He led his army across the Delaware River to capture nearly 1,000 Hessians in Trenton, NJ. Washington followed up his victory at Trenton with another over British regulars at Princeton in early January. The British retreated back to New York City and its environs, which they held until the peace treaty of 1783. Washington's victories wrecked the British carrot-and-stick strategy of showing overwhelming force then offering generous terms. The Americans would not negotiate for anything short of independence. These victories alone were not enough to ensure ultimate Patriot victory, however, since many soldiers did not reenlist or deserted during the harsh winter. Washington and Congress reorganized the army with increased rewards for staying and punishment for desertion, which raised troop numbers effectively for subsequent battles.

Historians debate whether or not Washington preferred a Fabian strategy. (The Fabian strategy is a military strategy where pitched battles and frontal assaults are avoided in favor of wearing down an opponent through a war of attrition and indirection. While avoiding decisive battles, the side employing this strategy harasses its enemy through skirmishes to cause attrition, disrupt supply and affect morale.) While his southern commander, Greene, in 1780-81 did use Fabian tactics, Washington did so only in fall 1776 to spring 1777, after losing New York City and seeing much of his army melt away. Trenton and Princeton were Fabian examples. By summer 1777, however, Washington had rebuilt his strength and his confidence. He stopped using raids and went for large-scale confrontations, as at Brandywine, Germantown, Monmouth and Yorktown.

1777 Campaigns

In the late summer of 1777, the British under John Burgoyne sent a major invasion army south from Quebec, with the intention of splitting off rebellious New England. General Howe in New York took his army south to Philadelphia, instead of going up the Hudson River to join with Burgoyne near Albany. It was a major strategic mistake for the British, and Washington rushed to Philadelphia to engage Howe, while closely following the action in upstate New York. In pitched battles that were too complex for his relatively inexperienced men, Washington was defeated. At the Battle of Brandywine on 11 September 1777, Howe outmaneuvered Washington, and marched into the American capital at Philadelphia unopposed on 26 September. Washington's army unsuccessfully attacked the British garrison at Germantown in early October. Meanwhile, Burgoyne, out of reach from help from Howe, was trapped and forced to surrender his entire army at Saratoga, NY. It was a major turning point militarily, and diplomatically. France responded to Burgoyne's defeat by entering the war, openly allying with America and turning the Revolutionary War into a major worldwide war. Washington's loss of Philadelphia prompted some members of Congress to discuss removing Washington from command. This attempt failed after Washington's supporters rallied behind him.

Valley Forge

Washington's army of 11,000 went into winter quarters at Valley Forge north of Philadelphia in December 1777. Over the next six months, the deaths in camp numbered in the thousands (the majority being from disease), with historians' death toll estimates ranging from 2,000 to 2,500, to over 3,000 men. The next spring, however, the army emerged from Valley Forge in good order, thanks in part to a full-scale training program supervised by General von Steuben. The British evacuated Philadelphia to New York in 1778, shadowed by Washington. Washington attacked them at Monmouth, fighting to an effective draw in one of the war's largest battles. Afterwards, the British continued to head towards New York, and Washington moved his army outside of New York.

Victory at Yorktown

In the summer of 1779, at Washington's direction, General John Sullivan carried out a scorched earth campaign that destroyed at least 40 Iroquois villages in central and upstate New York; the Indians were British allies who had been raiding American settlements on the frontier. In July 1780, 5,000 veteran French troops led by General Comte Donatien de Rochambeau arrived at Newport, RI, to aid in the war effort. The Continental Army having been funded by $20,000 in French gold, Washington delivered the final blow to the British in 1781, after a French naval victory allowed American and French forces to trap a British army in Virginia. The surrender at Yorktown on 17 October 1781, marked the end of major fighting in continental North America.

Demobilization

Washington could not know that after Yorktown, the British would not reopen hostilities. They still had 26,000 troops occupying New York City, Charleston and Savannah, together with a powerful fleet. The French army and navy departed, so the Americans were on their own in 1782-83. The treasury was empty, and the unpaid soldiers were growing restive, almost to the point of mutiny or possible coup d'état. Washington dispelled unrest among officers by suppressing the Newburgh Conspiracy in March 1783, and Congress came up with the promise of a five-year bonus.

With the initial peace treaty articles ratified in April, a recently formed Congressional committee under Hamilton, was considering needs and plans for a peacetime army. On 2 May 1783, the Commander-in-Chief submitted his Sentiments on a Peace Establishment to the Committee, essentially providing an official Continental Army position. The original proposal was defeated in Congress in two votes (May 1783 and October 1783) with a truncated version also being rejected in April of 1784.

By the Treaty of Paris (signed that September), Great Britain recognized the independence of the United States. Washington disbanded his army and, on 2 November, gave an eloquent farewell address to his soldiers.

On 25 November, the British evacuated New York City, and Washington and the governor took possession. At Fraunces Tavern on 4 December, Washington formally bade his officers farewell and on 23 December 1783, he resigned his commission as Commander-in-Chief. Historian Gordon Wood concludes that the greatest act in his life was his resignation as Commander of the Armies - an act that stunned aristocratic Europe. King George III called Washington "the greatest character of the age" because of this. Washington then retired to Mount Vernon.

[Because the Military Hall of Honors pays tribute to those who served in the U.S. Military, this bio is limited to Washington's military career. It does not include information about George Washington becoming the first President of the United States. To learn more about that part of Washington's life, please visit Wikipedia; which was also a major source of the data in this biography.]

In Retirement (1797-1799)

After retiring from the presidency in March 1797, Washington returned to Mount Vernon with a profound sense of relief. He devoted much time to his plantations and other business interests, including his distillery which produced its first batch of spirits in February 1797. According to the historian, Chernow, Washington's plantation operations were at best, marginally profitable. The lands out west yielded little income because they were under attack by Indians and the squatters living there refused to pay him rent. Most Americans assumed he was rich because of the well-known "glorified façade of wealth and grandeur" at Mount Vernon. Historians estimate his estate was worth about $1 million in 1799 dollars, equivalent to about $18 million in 2009 purchasing power.

By 1798, relations with France had deteriorated to the point that war seemed imminent, and on 4 July 1798, President Adams offered Washington a commission as lieutenant general and Commander-in-Chief of the armies raised, or to be raised, for service in a prospective war. He reluctantly accepted, and served as the senior officer of the United States Army between 13 July 1798, and 14 December 1799. He participated in the planning for a Provisional Army to meet any emergency that might arise, but avoided involvement in details as much as possible; he delegated most of the work, including leadership of the army, to Hamilton.

On Thursday, 12 December 1799, Washington spent several hours inspecting his plantation on horseback, in snow, hail and freezing rain. Later that evening, he ate his supper without changing from his wet clothes. On Friday he awoke with a severe sore throat (either quinsy or acute epiglottitis) and became increasingly hoarse as the day progressed. Sometime around 3 a.m. on Saturday morning, he awoke his wife and said he felt ill. Following common medical practice at the time, he was bled, initially by an employee, and later again by physicians.

"A vein was opened, but no relief afforded. Couriers were dispatched to Dr. Craik, the family, and Drs. Dick and Brown, the consulting physicians, all of whom came with speed. The proper remedies were administered, but without producing their healing effects; while the patient, yielding to the anxious looks of all around him, waived his usual objections to medicines, and took those which were prescribed without hesitation or remark."

Death and Burial

George Washington died at home around 10 p.m. on Saturday, 14 December 1799, at age 67. The last words in his diary were "Tis well."

Throughout the world, men and women were saddened by Washington's death. Napoleon ordered 10 days of mourning throughout France; in the United States, thousands wore mourning clothes for months. To protect their privacy, Martha Washington burned the correspondence between her husband and her following his death. Only a total of five letters between the couple are known to have survived, two letters from Martha to George and three from him to Martha.

On 18 December 1799, a funeral was held at Mount Vernon, where his body was interred. Supported by Martha, Congress passed a joint resolution to construct a marble monument in the United States Capitol for his body. In December 1800, the United States House passed an appropriations bill for $200,000 to build the mausoleum, which was to be a pyramid that had a base 100 feet square. Southern opposition to the plan defeated the measure because they felt it was best to have his body remain at Mount Vernon.

In 1831, for the centennial of his birth, a new tomb was constructed to receive his remains. That year, an unsuccessful attempt was made to steal the body of Washington. Despite this, a joint Congressional committee in early 1832 debated the removal of Washington's body from Mount Vernon to a crypt in the Capitol, built by Charles Bulfinch in the 1820s. Southern opposition was intense, antagonized by an ever-growing rift between North and South. Congressman Wiley Thompson of Georgia expressed the fear of Southerners when he said:

"Remove the remains of our venerated Washington from their association with the remains of his consort and his ancestors, from Mount Vernon and from his native State, and deposit them in this capitol, and then let a severance of the Union occur, and behold the remains of Washington on a shore foreign to his native soil."

His remains were moved on 7 October 1837 to the new tomb constructed at Mount Vernon, presented by John Struthers of Philadelphia. After the ceremony, the inner vault's door was closed and the key was thrown into the Potomac.

Personal Life

Along with Martha's biological family, George Washington had a close relationship with his nephew and heir, Bushrod Washington, son of George's younger brother, John Augustine Washington. After his uncle's death, Bushrod became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. George, however, apparently did not get along well with his mother, Mary Ball Washington (Augustine's second wife), who was a very demanding and difficult person.

As a young man, Washington had red hair. A popular myth is that he wore a wig, as was the fashion among some at the time. However, Washington did not wear a wig; instead, he powdered his hair, as is represented in several portraits, including the well-known, unfinished Gilbert Stuart depiction, The Athenaeum Portrait.

Washington had unusually great physical strength that amazed younger men. Jefferson called Washington "the best horseman of his age," and both American and European observers praised his riding; the horsemanship benefited his hunting, a favorite hobby. Washington was an excellent dancer and frequently attended the theater, often referencing Shakespeare in letters. He drank in moderation and precisely recorded gambling wins and losses, but Washington disliked the excessive drinking, gambling, smoking, and profanity that was common in colonial Virginia. Although he grew tobacco, he eventually stopped smoking, and considered drunkenness a man's worst vice; Washington was glad that post-Revolutionary Virginia society was less likely to "force [guests] to drink and to make it an honor to send them home drunk."

Washington suffered from problems with his teeth throughout his life. He lost his first adult tooth when he was twenty-two and had only one left by the time he became President. John Adams claims he lost them because he used them to crack Brazil nuts but modern historians suggest the mercury oxide, which he was given to treat illnesses such as smallpox and malaria, probably contributed to the loss. He had several sets of false teeth made, four of them by a dentist named John Greenwood. Contrary to popular belief, none of the sets were made from wood. The set made when he became President was carved from hippopotamus and elephant ivory, held together with gold springs. Dental problems left Washington in constant pain, for which he took laudanum. This distress may be apparent in many of the portraits painted while he was still in office, including the one still used on the $1 bill.

Apocryphal Stories About Washington's Childhood

These stories include a claim that he skipped a silver dollar across the Potomac River at Mount Vernon, and that he chopped down his father's cherry tree and admitted the deed when questioned: "I can't tell a lie, Pa." The anecdote was first reported by biographer Parson Weems, who after Washington's death interviewed people who knew him as a child. The Weems version was very widely reprinted throughout the 19th century, for example in McGuffey Readers. Moralistic adults wanted children to learn moral lessons from the past from history, especially as taught by great national heroes like Washington. After 1890 however, historians insisted on scientific research methods to validate every story, and there was no evidence for this anecdote apart from Weems' report. In 1904, Joseph Rodman noted that Weems plagiarized other Washington tales from published fiction set in England. No one has found an alternative source for the cherry tree story, thus Weems' credibility is questioned.

Legacy

As Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, hero of the revolution and the first President of the United States, George Washington's legacy remains among the greatest in American history. Congressman Henry "Light-Horse Harry" Lee, a Revolutionary War comrade, famously eulogized Washington:

"First in war - first in peace - and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in the humble and enduring scenes of private life; pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform, dignified, and commanding, his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting. To his equals he was condescending, to his inferiors kind, and to the dear object of his affections exemplarily tender; correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence, and virtue always felt his fostering hand; the purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues. His last scene comported with the whole tenor of his life - although in extreme pain, not a sigh, not a groan escaped him; and with undisturbed serenity he closed his well-spent life. Such was the man America has lost - such was the man for whom our nation mourns."

Lee's words set the standard by which Washington's overwhelming reputation was impressed upon the American memory. Washington set many precedents for the national government, and the presidency in particular, and was called the "Father of His Country" as early as 1778. Washington's Birthday (celebrated on Presidents' Day), is a federal holiday in the United States.

George Washington's Military Rank

Since his death, George Washington had been listed on the United States Army rolls as a retired Lieutenant General. During the American Revolution, George Washington was not answerable to the Continental Congress (or its President) and actively commanded with complete authority all branches of military forces within the United States. In this respect, he had the same authority as a General of the Armies of the United States, although he never held that exact title in his lifetime.

Washington retired as a Lieutenant General (three stars) and, as a result, was technically outranked by later four and five-star generals and admirals of the Civil War, World War I, and World War II.

In recognition of Washington's permanent place in United States history, on 11 October 1976, he was posthumously promoted to the full grade of General of the Armies of the United States by Executive Order of President Gerald R. Ford. The promotion was authorized by a congressional joint resolution on 19 January 1976, which recommended Washington's promotion and declared that no officer of the United States Army should outrank Lieutenant General George Washington on the Army list. The full text of the legislation was:

94TH UNITED STATES CONGRESS
2ND SESSION

Joint Resolution
to provide for the appointment of George Washington to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States.

Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington of Virginia commanded our armies throughout and to the successful termination of our Revolutionary War;

Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington presided over the convention that formulated our Constitution;

Whereas Lieutenant General George Washington twice served as President of the United States of America; and

Whereas it is considered fitting and proper that no officer of the United States Army should outrank Lieutenant General George Washington on the Army list: Now, therefore, be it

Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That

(a) for purposes of subsection (b) of this section only, the grade of General of the Armies of the United States is established, such grade to have rank and precedence over all other grades of the Army, past or present.

(b) The President is authorized and requested to appoint George Washington posthumously to the grade of General of the Armies of the United States, such appointment to take effect on July 4, 1976.

Approved October 11, 1976.



Honoree ID: 1   Created by: MHOH

Ribbons


Medals


Badges


Honoree Photos

honoree imagehonoree imagehonoree image

honoree imagehonoree image

honoree image

Remembrances


Tributes