George Washington

Continental Army Commander-in-Chief


Painting of George WashingtonGeorge Washington was born to the owner of multiple Virginia plantations, living briefly at what became Mount Vernon but growing up at another near Fredericksburg. He inherited that farm at age 11 when his father died, though his mother ran it. George first entered public service at 16 as a surveyor in western Virginia. At 19 he traveled to Barbados with his brother and contracted smallpox, fortunately recovering with immunity that protected him throughout the Revolution. Washington later joined the Virginia militia. As a major at 21, he was sent in 1753 by the royal governor to warn the French from incursions into contested lands along the Ohio River. His account of that journey made him an international celebrity. Washington may have started the global Seven Years’ War the next year, known here as the French & Indian War, with an unprovoked attack on a French unit in modern Southwest Pennsylvania. Soon after, he was forced to surrender to another French force at Fort Necessity nearby. He learned from his mistakes, however, earning praise for his service with the British the rest of the war. After that he returned to farming at Mount Vernon, married Martha Custis in 1759, and was elected to the state House of Burgesses. He was given command of all Continental (Patriot) forces by the Continental Congress in 1775, during the Siege of Boston, and retained it throughout the war. Though his skills as a battlefield commander have been questioned, his ability to hold together the army was critical to American success. Washington chose Maj. Gen. Nathanael Greene to lead the southern army in 1781. But Washington did not visit N.C. until after the war, as the first U.S. president, during a tour of the southern states. He eventually retired to his plantation at Mount Vernon. Despite questioning slavery privately, he did not take a public stand for abolition, and only freed his enslaved people in his will. Washington died peacefully at age 77. Washington, N.C., was the first town named for him, founded in 1776.

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