Washington at prayer
Today marks the 279th Birthday of George Washington, the first American President. George led the Continental Army to victory over British forces winning the Revolutionary War and he also presided over the writing of our Constitution.
Although he was a slave owner, having inherited his first 10 slaves from his father, Augustine, he later grew to oppose slavery. He did not free his slaves in his lifetime and at times shuttled them back and forth from Philadelphia to Virginia. This was to ensure that they would remain in slavery because at that time, in the 1700's, Pennsylvania had a law that any slave was to be set free after six months.
Washington did leave instructions that after his wife Martha died, all his slaves were to be set free. And in time all 124 slaves were freed. Washington is the only President to have done this. The other 7 Presidents that owned slaves in their time did not do so. Apparently the only exception to Washington's slaves is that he set at least one of them free immediately after the Revolutionary War as reward for serving by his side during the conflict.
We've always admired George Washington and the more you learn about him the more interesting it gets. In his youth he did not cut down a cherry tree, that is all myth. He traveled with his older brother Lawrence to Barbados to try and cure Lawrence's tuberculosis, but instead contracted smallpox which left him sterile and unable to have children of his own.
He married Martha Custis on January 6, 1759 at the White House plantation and he raised Martha's two children and eventually her grandchildren. She was a wealthy widow at the time of their marriage. Martha was a Custis by her first marriage and her great-grandaughter, Mary Anna Randolph Custis, married General Robert E. Lee in 1831.
Martha and George Washington held great parties at their Mount Vernon estate, which George inherited when his brother Lawrence passed away. He liked to dance and was considered very good. Washington also was known to play cards, backgammon, and billiards, as well.
It was heavy British taxation that led him to oppose British occupation and led to him convene the Continental Congress. Washington had wealth, power, friends and status which made him an easy candidate to lead at this time. He was nominated to lead the Continental Army by John Adams. His Chief-of-Staff was Alexander Hamilton. A young 19-year old French nobleman sought him out as a father figure and fought hard to be included in the American Revolution. This young fellow wrote numerous letters home to the King of France urging France to help the Americans out. His name was The Marquis de Lafayette and you can visit his headquarters in Valley Forge National Park. The Marquis named his first born son George Washington Lafayette. And when he was buried in France upon his death, there was American soil laid over his grave.
For a while, the Continental Army suffered huge losses. At the battle of Brandywine, on today's Route 202 in PA, for example, the loss was so great, that it left the City of Philadelphia undefended allowing the British Army to move right in where it occupied Philadelphia until June of 1778.
One of Washington's greatest victories (and there were as many victories as losses), was the surprise Christmas Day attack of the Hessian* forces at Trenton, New Jersey in 1776. The Hessians were German mercenary soldiers hired by the British to fight the Continental Army and instill fear and dread into them. Washington took his men in to the frigid dark of night, crossed The Delaware River, the largest river East of the Mississippi, and practically destroyed the Hessians in the midnight attack. Even hired mercenaries never expected a dead-of-night Christmas confrontation.
Washington actually crossed THREE times. The third time he took his men and defeated a brigade of British soldiers under Lord Cornwallis's command at Princeton, New Jersey, known today as the Battle of Princeton on January 2, 1777.
A stained glass window at Washington Memorial Chapel
in Valley Forge, PA, depicting Washington at prayer there
in Valley Forge, PA, depicting Washington at prayer there
The winter encampment at Valley Forge during the winter of 1777 was critical for George and the army. Washington enlisted a German Baron named Von Steuben to come to the encampment and teach the fledgling army of farmers to fight like soldiers. The Baron Von Steuben conducted daily drills with the men teaching them many maneuvers. At this time, Washington gave The Marquis de Lafayette a field promotion and command of his own division. Note: The Marquis was a gifted military commander, even at such a young age, and his "guerrilla" tactics against the British are astounding.
Read more about the historical victory of American over Britain:
After the war, Washington received 100% of the Electoral vote to become President. He won 100% the second time as well, and remains to this day the only person ever nominated to receive all 100% of the votes.
What makes Washington great, is that the country asked him to become a KING. He declined and in doing so set a great precedent of democracy for America. How many people would turn down absolute power? Not in this day and age and not back then either. He was a most remarkable and admirable man.
George Washington died following a short illness on December 14, 1799. He had been inspecting his farms on December 12th in inclement weather and having not changed out of his wet clothes became very sick. Upon his death, Martha burned all of their correspondence to keep them private. Only three letters between the couple remain to this day.
Napoleon declared ten days of mourning for the country of France. Americans were heartbroken and mourned for months.
A funeral was held at Mount Vernon On December 18, 1799, where his body was interred.
UPDATE: It's been "discovered" that George Washington was worth $525 Million dollars in today's figures. He owned 5 productive wheat and tobacco farms and over 8,000 acres in land, plus he made more money than the average President - in 1789, his annual salary was worth two per cent of the entire U.S. budget. The second Pres to come close to that was Thomas Jefferson at just over $200 million (in today's figures).
Visit Valley Forge
*The General Wayne Inn is haunted to this day by Hessian soldiers.