If you’re looking to brush up on your US history, the life story of the man often called the Father of America is as good a place to start as any. Unsurprisingly, George Washington, the very first President of the US, led an eventful life. His legacy runs through every level of US culture – from the banknotes to the very name of the capital city.
You’ll uncover plenty of Washington stories as you explore Washington DC, the city that shares his name. We recommend one of our DC monuments and memorials tours to really get to grips with his part in the creation of the US as we know it today, and how his influence lives on. But if you’re starting from scratch and are looking for a quick overview, read on.
George Washington’s Youth
Washington was born into a relatively affluent farming family in Moreland, West Virginia, on February 22, 1732 – although today his birthday is celebrated on Presidents’ Day, which falls on the third Monday of February each year. As a teenager and a young man, Washington held a position as a land surveyor – an appropriate position for someone with deep ties to the land.
After his father Augustine Washington’s death in 1743, Washington was left Ferry Farm, near Fredericksburg – as well as the slaves who worked it. The Mount Vernon estate – now one of the most iconic houses in the country – was initially left to his half-brother, Lawrence Washington, but he soon became ill and passed away. The estate passed first to his wife, then, after her death in 1954, it ended up in Washington’s hands. Mount Vernon would become one of the greatest constants in Washington’s life.
George Washington’s Military and Political Life
Washington’s connection to the military began in 1752, when he joined Virginia’s militia. He fought on the side of the British in the French and Indian War, defending their colonies against the French. After the war, he settled as a farmer at Mount Vernon for a time, and married Martha Custis in 1759.
Also in 1759 came his first foray into politics, as he entered the Virginia House of Burgesses, the state’s arm of colonial government. After serving as a state representative at the first two Continental Congresses, he was well and truly established as a key figure in US politics.
On April 19, 1775, the Revolutionary War began and Washington was soon made commander of the Continental Army, which resisted British rule. The turning point in the war came in 1781, when the Siege of Yorktown ended with the surrender of the British. Washington held a central role in the peace talks that followed, and in the ratifying of the Treaty of Paris in 1783.
George Washington’s Presidency
Despite intending to retire, it wasn’t long before Washington returned to the political limelight. He was elected President of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, and lobbied for the ratification of the United States Constitution. In 1788, the Constitution was at last ratified, and in 1789 Washington was inaugurated as the nation’s very first President. His great challenge was to promote unity between the states that made up the country and to adapt the creation of two political parties, the Federalists (led by Alexander Hamilton) and the Democratic-Republicans (led by Thomas Jefferson).
After his second term in office was complete, Washington was at last able to retire to Mount Vernon in 1797 – as he had originally planned to do over a decade before. He moved to Mount Vernon in 1797 and lived out his last months there, finally passing away on December 14, 1799 at the age of 67.
On the Trail of George Washington Today
One of the most immersive ways to find out about George Washington is to pay a visit to Mount Vernon, where he is buried. Inside the beautiful 18th-century mansion you’ll feel like you’ve stepped back in time as you wander through interiors carefully restored to the appearance they would have had when Washington himself lived here.
A tour that takes in the estate alongside other Washington DC highlights is perfect for packing multiple fascinating sights into a short trip. Try our Mount Vernon and Arlington Cemetery Tour. Or if you have more time, our Two-Day Washington DC Grand Tour will not only bring you to Mount Vernon and Arlington Cemetery but to other must-sees, including the White House and more.