Early life (1732–1752)
The Washington family was a wealthy Virginia planter family that had made its fortune through land speculation and the cultivation of tobacco. Washington's great-grandfather John Washington emigrated in 1656 from Sulgrave, Northamptonshire, England, to the English colony of Virginia where he accumulated 5,000 acres (2,000 ha) of land, including Little Hunting Creek on the Potomac River. George Washington was born on February 22, 1732,[b] at Popes Creek in Westmoreland County, in the British colony of Virginia, and was the first of six children of Augustine and Mary Ball Washington. His father was a justice of the peace and a prominent public figure who had four additional children from his first marriage to Jane Butler. The family moved to Little Hunting Creek in 1735. In 1738, they moved to Ferry Farm near Fredericksburg, Virginia on the Rappahannock River. When Augustine died in 1743, Washington inherited Ferry Farm and ten slaves; his older half-brother Lawrence inherited Little Hunting Creek and renamed it Mount Vernon.
Washington did not have the formal education his elder brothers received at Appleby Grammar School in England, but did attend the Lower Church School in Hartfield. He learned mathematics, trigonometry, and land surveying and became a talented draftsman and map-maker. By early adulthood, he was writing with "considerable force" and "precision"; however, his writing displayed little wit or humor. In pursuit of admiration, status, and power, he tended to attribute his shortcomings and failures to someone else's ineffectuality.
Washington often visited Mount Vernon and Belvoir, the plantation that belonged to Lawrence's father-in-law William Fairfax. Fairfax became Washington's patron and surrogate father, and Washington spent a month in 1748 with a team surveying Fairfax's Shenandoah Valley property. The following year he received a surveyor's license from the College of William & Mary when he was 17 years old.[c] Even though Washington had not served the customary apprenticeship, Fairfax appointed him surveyor of Culpeper County, Virginia, and he appeared in Culpeper County to take his oath of office July 20, 1749. He subsequently familiarized himself with the frontier region, and though he resigned from the job in 1750, he continued to do surveys west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. By 1752 he had bought almost 1,500 acres (600 ha) in the Valley and owned 2,315 acres (937 ha).
In 1751, Washington made his only trip abroad when he accompanied Lawrence to Barbados, hoping the climate would cure his brother's tuberculosis. Washington contracted smallpox during that trip, which immunized him and left his face slightly scarred. Lawrence died in 1752, and Washington leased Mount Vernon from his widow Anne; he inherited it outright after her death in 1761.
Colonial military career (1752–1758)
Lawrence Washington's service as adjutant general of the Virginia militia inspired his half-brother George to seek a commission. Virginia's lieutenant governor, Robert Dinwiddie, appointed George Washington as a major and commander of one of the four militia districts. The British and French were competing for control of the Ohio Valley. While the British were constructing forts along the Ohio River, the French were doing the same—constructing forts between the Ohio River and Lake Erie.
In October 1753, Dinwiddie appointed Washington as a special envoy. He had sent George to demand French forces to vacate land that was being claimed by the British.[d] Washington was also appointed to make peace with the Iroquois Confederacy, and to gather further intelligence about the French forces. Washington met with Half-King Tanacharison, and other Iroquois chiefs, at Logstown, and gathered information about the numbers and locations of the French forts, as well as intelligence concerning individuals taken prisoner by the French. Washington was given the nickname Conotocaurius (town destroyer or devourer of villages) by Tanacharison. The nickname had previously been given to his great-grandfather John Washington in the late seventeenth century by the Susquehannock.
Washington's party reached the Ohio River in November 1753, and were intercepted by a French patrol. The party was escorted to Fort Le Boeuf, where Washington was received in a friendly manner. He delivered the British demand to vacate to the French commander Saint-Pierre, but the French refused to leave. Saint-Pierre gave Washington his official answer in a sealed envelope after a few days' delay, as well as food and extra winter clothing for his party's journey back to Virginia. Washington completed the precarious mission in 77 days, in difficult winter conditions, achieving a measure of distinction when his report was published in Virginia and in London.
French and Indian War
In February 1754, Dinwiddie promoted Washington to lieutenant colonel and second-in-command of the 300-strong Virginia Regiment, with orders to confront French forces at the Forks of the Ohio. Washington set out for the Forks with half the regiment in April and soon learned a French force of 1,000 had begun construction of Fort Duquesne there. In May, having set up a defensive position at Great Meadows, he learned that the French had made camp seven miles (11 km) away; he decided to take the offensive.
The French detachment proved to be only about fifty men, so Washington advanced on May 28 with a small force of Virginians and Indian allies to ambush them.[e] What took place, known as the Battle of Jumonville Glen or the "Jumonville affair", was disputed, and French forces were killed outright with muskets and hatchets. French commander Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, who carried a diplomatic message for the British to evacuate, was killed. French forces found Jumonville and some of his men dead and scalped and assumed Washington was responsible. Washington blamed his translator for not communicating the French intentions. Dinwiddie congratulated Washington for his victory over the French. This incident ignited the French and Indian War, which later became part of the larger Seven Years' War.
The full Virginia Regiment joined Washington at Fort Necessity the following month with news that he had been promoted to command of the regiment and colonel upon the regimental commander's death. The regiment was reinforced by an independent company of a hundred South Carolinians led by Captain James Mackay, whose royal commission outranked that of Washington, and a conflict of command ensued. On July 3, a French force attacked with 900 men, and the ensuing battle ended in Washington's surrender. In the aftermath, Colonel James Innes took command of intercolonial forces, the Virginia Regiment was divided, and Washington was offered a captaincy which he refused, with the resignation of his commission.
In 1755, Washington served voluntarily as an aide to General Edward Braddock, who led a British expedition to expel the French from Fort Duquesne and the Ohio Country. On Washington's recommendation, Braddock split the army into one main column and a lightly equipped "flying column". Suffering from a severe case of dysentery, Washington was left behind, and when he rejoined Braddock at Monongahela the French and their Indian allies ambushed the divided army. Two-thirds of the British force became casualties, including the mortally wounded Braddock. Under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gage, Washington, still very ill, rallied the survivors and formed a rear guard, allowing the remnants of the force to disengage and retreat. During the engagement, he had two horses shot from under him, and his hat and coat were bullet-pierced. His conduct under fire redeemed his reputation among critics of his command in the Battle of Fort Necessity, but he was not included by the succeeding commander (Colonel Thomas Dunbar) in planning subsequent operations.
The Virginia Regiment was reconstituted in August 1755, and Dinwiddie appointed Washington its commander, again with the rank of colonel. Washington clashed over seniority almost immediately, this time with John Dagworthy, another captain of superior royal rank, who commanded a detachment of Marylanders at the regiment's headquarters in Fort Cumberland. Washington, impatient for an offensive against Fort Duquesne, was convinced Braddock would have granted him a royal commission and pressed his case in February 1756 with Braddock's successor, William Shirley, and again in January 1757 with Shirley's successor, Lord Loudoun. Shirley ruled in Washington's favor only in the matter of Dagworthy; Loudoun humiliated Washington, refused him a royal commission and agreed only to relieve him of the responsibility of manning Fort Cumberland.
In 1758, the Virginia Regiment was assigned to the British Forbes Expedition to capture Fort Duquesne.[f] Washington disagreed with General John Forbes' tactics and chosen route. Forbes nevertheless made Washington a brevet brigadier general and gave him command of one of the three brigades that would assault the fort. The French abandoned the fort and the valley before the assault was launched; Washington saw only a friendly fire incident which left 14 dead and 26 injured. The war lasted another four years, and Washington resigned his commission and returned to Mount Vernon.
Under Washington, the Virginia Regiment had defended 300 miles (480 km) of frontier against twenty Indian attacks in ten months. He increased the professionalism of the regiment as it increased from 300 to 1,000 men, and Virginia's frontier population suffered less than other colonies. Some historians have said this was Washington's "only unqualified success" during the war. Though he failed to realize a royal commission, he did gain self-confidence, leadership skills, and invaluable knowledge of British military tactics. The destructive competition Washington witnessed among colonial politicians fostered his later support of a strong central government.
Marriage, civilian, and political life (1755–1775)
On January 6, 1759, Washington, at age 26, married Martha Dandridge Custis, the 27-year-old widow of wealthy plantation owner Daniel Parke Custis. The marriage took place at Martha's estate; she was intelligent, gracious, and experienced in managing a planter's estate, and the couple created a happy marriage. They raised John Parke Custis (Jacky) and Martha "Patsy" Parke Custis, children from her previous marriage, and later Jacky's children Eleanor Parke Custis (Nelly) and George Washington Parke Custis (Washy). Washington's 1751 bout with smallpox is thought to have rendered him sterile, though it is equally likely that "Martha may have sustained injury during the birth of Patsy, her final child, making additional births impossible." The couple lamented not having any children together.[g] They moved to Mount Vernon, near Alexandria, where he took up life as a planter of tobacco and wheat and emerged as a political figure.
The marriage gave Washington control over Martha's one-third dower interest in the 18,000-acre (7,300 ha) Custis estate, and he managed the remaining two-thirds for Martha's children; the estate also included 84 slaves. He became one of Virginia's wealthiest men, which increased his social standing.
At Washington's urging, Governor Lord Botetourt fulfilled Dinwiddie's 1754 promise of land bounties to all-volunteer militia during the French and Indian War. In late 1770, Washington inspected the lands in the Ohio and Great Kanawha regions, and he engaged surveyor William Crawford to subdivide it. Crawford allotted 23,200 acres (9,400 ha) to Washington; Washington told the veterans that their land was hilly and unsuitable for farming, and he agreed to purchase 20,147 acres (8,153 ha), leaving some feeling they had been duped. He also doubled the size of Mount Vernon to 6,500 acres (2,600 ha) and increased its slave population to more than a hundred by 1775.
Washington's political activities included supporting the candidacy of his friend George William Fairfax in his 1755 bid to represent the region in the Virginia House of Burgesses. This support led to a dispute which resulted in a physical altercation between Washington and another Virginia planter, William Payne. Washington defused the situation, including ordering officers from the Virginia Regiment to stand down. Washington apologized to Payne the following day at a tavern. Payne had been expecting to be challenged to a duel.
As a respected military hero and large landowner, Washington held local offices and was elected to the Virginia provincial legislature, representing Frederick County in the House of Burgesses for seven years beginning in 1758. He plied the voters with beer, brandy, and other beverages, although he was absent while serving on the Forbes Expedition. He won the election with roughly 40 percent of the vote, defeating three other candidates with the help of several local supporters. He rarely spoke in his early legislative career, but he became a prominent critic of Britain's taxation policy and mercantilist policies towards the American colonies starting in the 1760s.
By occupation, Washington was a planter, and he imported luxuries and other goods from England, paying for them by exporting tobacco. His profligate spending combined with low tobacco prices left him £1,800 in debt by 1764, prompting him to diversify his holdings. In 1765, because of erosion and other soil problems, he changed Mount Vernon's primary cash crop from tobacco to wheat and expanded operations to include corn flour milling and fishing. Washington also took time for leisure with fox hunting, fishing, dances, theater, cards, backgammon, and billiards.
Washington soon was counted among the political and social elite in Virginia. From 1768 to 1775, he invited some 2,000 guests to his Mount Vernon estate, mostly those whom he considered people of rank, and was known to be exceptionally cordial toward his guests. He became more politically active in 1769, presenting legislation in the Virginia Assembly to establish an embargo on goods from Great Britain.
Washington's step-daughter Patsy Custis suffered from epileptic attacks from age 12, and she died in his arms in 1773. The following day, he wrote to Burwell Bassett: "It is easier to conceive, than to describe, the distress of this Family". He canceled all business activity and remained with Martha every night for three months.
Opposition to British Parliament and Crown
Washington played a central role before and during the American Revolution. His disdain for the British military had begun when he was passed over for promotion into the Regular Army. Opposed to taxes imposed by the British Parliament on the Colonies without proper representation, he and other colonists were also angered by the Royal Proclamation of 1763 which banned American settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains and protected the British fur trade.
Washington believed the Stamp Act of 1765 was an "Act of Oppression", and he celebrated its repeal the following year.[h] In March 1766, Parliament passed the Declaratory Act asserting that Parliamentary law superseded colonial law. In the late 1760s, the interference of the British Crown in American lucrative western land speculation spurred on the American Revolution. Washington himself was a prosperous land speculator, and in 1767, he encouraged "adventures" to acquire backcountry western lands. Washington helped lead widespread protests against the Townshend Acts passed by Parliament in 1767, and he introduced a proposal in May 1769 drafted by George Mason which called Virginians to boycott British goods; the Acts were mostly repealed in 1770.
Parliament sought to punish Massachusetts colonists for their role in the Boston Tea Party in 1774 by passing the Coercive Acts, which Washington referred to as "an invasion of our rights and privileges". He said Americans must not submit to acts of tyranny since "custom and use shall make us as tame and abject slaves, as the blacks we rule over with such arbitrary sway". That July, he and George Mason drafted a list of resolutions for the Fairfax County committee which Washington chaired, and the committee adopted the Fairfax Resolves calling for a Continental Congress, and an end to the slave trade. On August 1, Washington attended the First Virginia Convention, where he was selected as a delegate to the First Continental Congress, September 5 to October 26, 1774, which he also attended. As tensions rose in 1774, he helped train county militias in Virginia and organized enforcement of the Continental Association boycott of British goods instituted by the Congress.
The American Revolutionary War began on April 19, 1775, with the Battles of Lexington and Concord and the Siege of Boston. The colonists were divided over breaking away from British rule and split into two factions: Patriots who rejected British rule, and Loyalists who desired to remain subject to the King. General Thomas Gage was commander of British forces in America at the beginning of the war. Upon hearing the shocking news of the onset of war, Washington was "sobered and dismayed", and he hastily departed Mount Vernon on May 4, 1775, to join the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia.
Commander in chief (1775–1783)
Congress created the Continental Army on June 14, 1775, and Samuel and John Adams nominated Washington to become its commander-in-chief. Washington was chosen over John Hancock because of his military experience and the belief that a Virginian would better unite the colonies. He was considered an incisive leader who kept his "ambition in check". He was unanimously elected commander in chief by Congress the next day.
Washington appeared before Congress in uniform and gave an acceptance speech on June 16, declining a salary—though he was later reimbursed expenses. He was commissioned on June 19 and was roundly praised by Congressional delegates, including John Adams, who proclaimed that he was the man best suited to lead and unite the colonies. Congress appointed Washington "General & Commander in chief of the army of the United Colonies and of all the forces raised or to be raised by them", and instructed him to take charge of the siege of Boston on June 22, 1775.
Congress chose his primary staff officers, including Major General Artemas Ward, Adjutant General Horatio Gates, Major General Charles Lee, Major General Philip Schuyler, Major General Nathanael Greene, Colonel Henry Knox, and Colonel Alexander Hamilton. Washington was impressed by Colonel Benedict Arnold and gave him responsibility for launching an invasion of Canada. He also engaged French and Indian War compatriot Brigadier General Daniel Morgan. Henry Knox impressed Adams with ordnance knowledge, and Washington promoted him to colonel and chief of artillery.
At the start of the war, Washington opposed the recruiting of blacks, both free and enslaved, into the Continental Army. After his appointment, Washington banned their enlistment. The British saw an opportunity to divide the colonies, and the colonial governor of Virginia issued a proclamation, which promised freedom to slaves if they joined the British. Desperate for manpower by late 1777, Washington relented and overturned his ban. By the end of the war, around one-tenth of Washington's army were blacks. Following the British surrender, Washington sought to enforce terms of the preliminary Treaty of Paris (1783) by reclaiming slaves freed by the British and returning them to servitude. He arranged to make this request to Sir Guy Carleton on May 6, 1783. Instead, Carleton issued 3,000 freedom certificates and all former slaves in New York City were able to leave before the city was evacuated by the British in late November 1783.
After the war Washington became the target of accusations made by General Lee involving his alleged questionable conduct as Commander in Chief during the war that were published by patriot-printer William Goddard. Goddard in a letter of May 30, 1785, had informed Washington of Lee's request to publish his account and assured him that he "...took the liberty to suppress such expressions as appeared to be the ebullitions of a disappointed & irritated mind ...". Washington replied, telling Goddard to print what he saw fit, and to let "... the impartial & dispassionate world," draw their own conclusions.
Siege of Boston
Early in 1775, in response to the growing rebellious movement, London sent British troops, commanded by General Thomas Gage, to occupy Boston. They set up fortifications about the city, making it impervious to attack. Various local militias surrounded the city and effectively trapped the British, resulting in a standoff.
As Washington headed for Boston, word of his march preceded him, and he was greeted everywhere; gradually, he became a symbol of the Patriot cause.[i] Upon arrival on July 2, 1775, two weeks after the Patriot defeat at nearby Bunker Hill, he set up his Cambridge, Massachusetts headquarters and inspected the new army there, only to find an undisciplined and badly outfitted militia. After consultation, he initiated Benjamin Franklin's suggested reforms—drilling the soldiers and imposing strict discipline, floggings, and incarceration. Washington ordered his officers to identify the skills of recruits to ensure military effectiveness, while removing incompetent officers. He petitioned Gage, his former superior, to release captured Patriot officers from prison and treat them humanely. In October 1775, King George III declared that the colonies were in open rebellion and relieved General Gage of command for incompetence, replacing him with General William Howe.
The Continental Army, further diminished by expiring short-term enlistments, and by January 1776 reduced by half to 9,600 men, had to be supplemented with the militia, and was joined by Knox with heavy artillery captured from Fort Ticonderoga. When the Charles River froze over, Washington was eager to cross and storm Boston, but General Gates and others were opposed to untrained militia striking well-garrisoned fortifications. Washington reluctantly agreed to secure the Dorchester Heights, 100 feet above Boston, in an attempt to force the British out of the city. On March 9, under cover of darkness, Washington's troops brought up Knox's big guns and bombarded British ships in Boston harbor. On March 17, 9,000 British troops and Loyalists began a chaotic ten-day evacuation of Boston aboard 120 ships. Soon after, Washington entered the city with 500 men, with explicit orders not to plunder the city. He ordered variolation against smallpox to great effect, as he did later in Morristown, New Jersey. He refrained from exerting military authority in Boston, leaving civilian matters in the hands of local authorities.[j]
Invasion of Quebec (1775)
The Invasion of Quebec (June 1775 – October 1776, French: Invasion du Québec) was the first major military initiative by the newly formed Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. On June 27, 1775, Congress authorized General Philip Schuyler to investigate, and, if it seemed appropriate, begin an invasion. Benedict Arnold, passed over for its command, went to Boston and convinced General George Washington to send a supporting force to Quebec City under his command. The objective of the campaign was to seize the Province of Quebec (part of modern-day Canada) from Great Britain, and persuade French-speaking Canadiens to join the revolution on the side of the Thirteen Colonies. One expedition left Fort Ticonderoga under Richard Montgomery, besieged and captured Fort St. Johns, and very nearly captured British General Guy Carleton when taking Montreal. The other expedition, under Benedict Arnold, left Cambridge, Massachusetts and traveled with great difficulty through the wilderness of Maine to Quebec City. The two forces joined there, but they were defeated at the Battle of Quebec in December 1775.
Battle of Long Island
Washington then proceeded to New York City, arriving on April 13, 1776, and began constructing fortifications to thwart the expected British attack. He ordered his occupying forces to treat civilians and their property with respect, to avoid the abuses which Bostonian citizens suffered at the hands of British troops during their occupation. A plot to assassinate or capture him was discovered and thwarted, resulting in the arrest of 98 people involved or complicit (56 of which were from Long Island (Kings (Brooklyn) and Queens counties), including the Loyalist Mayor of New York David Mathews. Washington's bodyguard, Thomas Hickey, was hanged for mutiny and sedition. General Howe transported his resupplied army, with the British fleet, from Halifax to New York, knowing the city was key to securing the continent. George Germain, who ran the British war effort in England, believed it could be won with one "decisive blow". The British forces, including more than a hundred ships and thousands of troops, began arriving on Staten Island on July 2 to lay siege to the city. After the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, Washington informed his troops in his general orders of July 9 that Congress had declared the united colonies to be "free and independent states".
Howe's troop strength totaled 32,000 regulars and Hessians auxiliaries, and Washington's consisted of 23,000, mostly raw recruits and militia. In August, Howe landed 20,000 troops at Gravesend, Brooklyn, and approached Washington's fortifications, as George III proclaimed the rebellious American colonists to be traitors. Washington, opposing his generals, chose to fight, based upon inaccurate information that Howe's army had only 8,000-plus troops. In the Battle of Long Island, Howe assaulted Washington's flank and inflicted 1,500 Patriot casualties, the British suffering 400. Washington retreated, instructing General William Heath to acquisition river craft in the area. On August 30, General William Alexander held off the British and gave cover while the army crossed the East River under darkness to Manhattan Island without loss of life or materiel, although Alexander was captured.
Howe, emboldened by his Long Island victory, dispatched Washington as "George Washington, Esq." in futility to negotiate peace. Washington declined, demanding to be addressed with diplomatic protocol, as general and fellow belligerent, not as a "rebel", lest his men are hanged as such if captured. The Royal Navy bombarded the unstable earthworks on lower Manhattan Island. Washington, with misgivings, heeded the advice of Generals Greene and Putnam to defend Fort Washington. They were unable to hold it, and Washington abandoned it despite General Lee's objections, as his army retired north to the White Plains. Howe's pursuit forced Washington to retreat across the Hudson River to Fort Lee to avoid encirclement. Howe landed his troops on Manhattan in November and captured Fort Washington, inflicting high casualties on the Americans. Washington was responsible for delaying the retreat, though he blamed Congress and General Greene. Loyalists in New York considered Howe a liberator and spread a rumor that Washington had set fire to the city. Patriot morale reached its lowest when Lee was captured. Now reduced to 5,400 troops, Washington's army retreated through New Jersey, and Howe broke off pursuit, delaying his advance on Philadelphia, and set up winter quarters in New York.
Crossing the Delaware, Trenton, and Princeton
Washington crossed the Delaware River into Pennsylvania, where Lee's replacement John Sullivan joined him with 2,000 more troops. The future of the Continental Army was in doubt for lack of supplies, a harsh winter, expiring enlistments, and desertions. Washington was disappointed that many New Jersey residents were Loyalists or skeptical about the prospect of independence.
Howe split up his British Army and posted a Hessian garrison at Trenton to hold western New Jersey and the east shore of the Delaware, but the army appeared complacent, and Washington and his generals devised a surprise attack on the Hessians at Trenton, which he codenamed "Victory or Death". The army was to cross the Delaware River to Trenton in three divisions: one led by Washington (2,400 troops), another by General James Ewing (700), and the third by Colonel John Cadwalader (1,500). The force was to then split, with Washington taking the Pennington Road and General Sullivan traveling south on the river's edge.
Washington first ordered a 60-mile search for Durham boats to transport his army, and he ordered the destruction of vessels that could be used by the British. Washington crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night, December 25, 1776, while he personally risked capture staking out the Jersey shoreline. His men followed across the ice-obstructed river in sleet and snow from McConkey's Ferry, with 40 men per vessel. The wind churned up the waters, and they were pelted with hail, but by 3:00 a.m. on December 26, they made it across with no losses. Henry Knox was delayed, managing frightened horses and about 18 field guns on flat-bottomed ferries. Cadwalader and Ewing failed to cross due to the ice and heavy currents, and awaiting Washington doubted his planned attack on Trenton. Once Knox arrived, Washington proceeded to Trenton to take only his troops against the Hessians, rather than risk being spotted returning his army to Pennsylvania.
The troops spotted Hessian positions a mile from Trenton, so Washington split his force into two columns, rallying his men: "Soldiers keep by your officers. For God's sake, keep by your officers." The two columns were separated at the Birmingham crossroads. General Nathanael Greene's column took the upper Ferry Road, led by Washington, and General John Sullivan's column advanced on River Road. (See map.) The Americans marched in sleet and snowfall. Many were shoeless with bloodied feet, and two died of exposure. Meanwhile, Hessian Commander Johann Rall was held up at the home of Abraham Hunt, of Trenton, who had placated Rall and some of his officers with plenty of food and drink into the late hours of the evening and morning. At sunrise, Washington, aided by Major General Knox and artillery, led his men in a surprise attack on an unsuspecting Rall. The Hessians had 22 killed, including Colonel Rall, 83 wounded, and 850 captured with supplies.
Washington retreated across the Delaware River to Pennsylvania and returned to New Jersey on January 3, 1777, launching an attack on British regulars at Princeton, with 40 Americans killed or wounded and 273 British killed or captured. American Generals Hugh Mercer and John Cadwalader were being driven back by the British when Mercer was mortally wounded, then Washington arrived and led the men in a counterattack which advanced to within 30 yards (27 m) of the British line.
Some British troops retreated after a brief stand, while others took refuge in Nassau Hall, which became the target of Colonel Alexander Hamilton's cannons. Washington's troops charged, the British surrendered in less than an hour, and 194 soldiers laid down their arms. Howe retreated to New York City where his army remained inactive until early the next year. Washington's depleted Continental Army took up winter headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey while disrupting British supply lines and expelling them from parts of New Jersey. Washington later said the British could have successfully counterattacked his encampment before his troops were dug in. The victories at Trenton and Princeton by Washington revived Patriot morale and changed the course of the war. 
The British still controlled New York, and many Patriot soldiers did not re-enlist or deserted after the harsh winter campaign. Congress instituted greater rewards for re-enlisting and punishments for desertion to effect greater troop numbers. Strategically, Washington's victories were pivotal for the Revolution and quashed the British strategy of showing overwhelming force followed by offering generous terms. In February 1777, word reached London of the American victories at Trenton and Princeton, and the British realized the Patriots were in a position to demand unconditional independence.
Brandywine, Germantown, and Saratoga
In July 1777, British General John Burgoyne led the Saratoga campaign south from Quebec through Lake Champlain and recaptured Fort Ticonderoga intending to divide New England, including control of the Hudson River. However, General Howe in British-occupied New York blundered, taking his army south to Philadelphia rather than up the Hudson River to join Burgoyne near Albany. Meanwhile, Washington and Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de Lafayette rushed to Philadelphia to engage Howe and were shocked to learn of Burgoyne's progress in upstate New York, where the Patriots were led by General Philip Schuyler and successor Horatio Gates. Washington's army of less experienced men were defeated in the pitched battles at Philadelphia.
Howe outmaneuvered Washington at the Battle of Brandywine on September 11, 1777, and marched unopposed into the nation's capital at Philadelphia. A Patriot attack failed against the British at Germantown in October. Major General Thomas Conway prompted some members of Congress (referred to as the Conway Cabal) to consider removing Washington from command because of the losses incurred at Philadelphia. Washington's supporters resisted, and the matter was finally dropped after much deliberation. Once the plot was exposed, Conway wrote an apology to Washington, resigned, and returned to France.
Washington was concerned with Howe's movements during the Saratoga campaign to the north, and he was also aware that Burgoyne was moving south toward Saratoga from Quebec. Washington took some risks to support Gates' army, sending reinforcements north with Generals Benedict Arnold, his most aggressive field commander, and Benjamin Lincoln. On October 7, 1777, Burgoyne tried to take Bemis Heights but was isolated from support by Howe. He was forced to retreat to Saratoga and ultimately surrendered after the Battles of Saratoga. As Washington suspected, Gates' victory emboldened his critics. Biographer John Alden maintains, "It was inevitable that the defeats of Washington's forces and the concurrent victory of the forces in upper New York should be compared." The admiration for Washington was waning, including little credit from John Adams. British commander Howe resigned in May 1778, left America forever, and was replaced by Sir Henry Clinton.
Valley Forge and Monmouth
Washington's army of 11,000 went into winter quarters at Valley Forge north of Philadelphia in December 1777. They suffered between 2,000 and 3,000 deaths in the extreme cold over six months, mostly from disease and lack of food, clothing, and shelter. Meanwhile, the British were comfortably quartered in Philadelphia, paying for supplies in pounds sterling, while Washington struggled with a devalued American paper currency. The woodlands were soon exhausted of game, and by February, lowered morale and increased desertions ensued.
Washington made repeated petitions to the Continental Congress for provisions. He received a congressional delegation to check the Army's conditions and expressed the urgency of the situation, proclaiming: "Something must be done. Important alterations must be made." He recommended that Congress expedite supplies, and Congress agreed to strengthen and fund the army's supply lines by reorganizing the commissary department. By late February, supplies began arriving.
Baron Friedrich Wilhelm von Steuben's incessant drilling soon transformed Washington's recruits into a disciplined fighting force, and the revitalized army emerged from Valley Forge early the following year. Washington promoted Von Steuben to Major General and made him chief of staff.
In early 1778, the French responded to Burgoyne's defeat and entered into a Treaty of Alliance with the Americans. The Continental Congress ratified the treaty in May, which amounted to a French declaration of war against Britain.
The British evacuated Philadelphia for New York that June and Washington summoned a war council of American and French Generals. He chose a partial attack on the retreating British at the Battle of Monmouth; the British were commanded by Howe's successor General Henry Clinton. Generals Charles Lee and Lafayette moved with 4,000 men, without Washington's knowledge, and bungled their first attack on June 28. Washington relieved Lee and achieved a draw after an expansive battle. At nightfall, the British continued their retreat to New York, and Washington moved his army outside the city. Monmouth was Washington's last battle in the North; he valued the safety of his army more than towns with little value to the British.
West Point espionage
Washington became "America's first spymaster" by designing an espionage system against the British. In 1778, Major Benjamin Tallmadge formed the Culper Ring at Washington's direction to covertly collect information about the British in New York. Washington had disregarded incidents of disloyalty by Benedict Arnold, who had distinguished himself in many battles.
During mid-1780, Arnold began supplying British spymaster John André with sensitive information intended to compromise Washington and capture West Point, a key American defensive position on the Hudson River. Historians[who?] have noted as possible reasons for Arnold's defection to be his anger at losing promotions to junior officers, or repeated slights[clarification needed] from Congress. He was also deeply in debt, profiteering from the war, and disappointed by Washington's lack of support during his eventual court-martial.
Arnold repeatedly asked for command of West Point, and Washington finally agreed in August. Arnold met André on September 21, giving him plans to take over the garrison. Militia forces captured André and discovered the plans, but Arnold escaped to New York. Washington recalled the commanders positioned under Arnold at key points around the fort to prevent any complicity, but he did not suspect Arnold's wife Peggy. Washington assumed personal command at West Point and reorganized its defenses. André's trial for espionage ended in a death sentence, and Washington offered to return him to the British in exchange for Arnold, but Clinton refused. André was hanged on October 2, 1780, despite his last request being to face a firing squad, to deter other spies.
Southern theater and Yorktown
In late 1778, General Clinton shipped 3,000 troops from New York to Georgia and launched a Southern invasion against Savannah, reinforced by 2,000 British and Loyalist troops. They repelled an attack by Patriots and French naval forces, which bolstered the British war effort.
In June 1778, Iroquois warriors joined with Loyalist rangers led by Walter Butler and killed more than 200 frontiersmen in June, laying waste to the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania. In mid-1779, in response to this and other attacks on New England towns, Washington ordered General John Sullivan to lead an expedition to force the Iroquois out of New York by effecting "the total destruction and devastation" of their villages and by taking their women and children hostage. The expedition systematically destroyed Iroquois villages and food stocks, and forced at least 5,036 Iroquois to flee to British Canada. The campaign directly killed a few hundred Iroquois, but according to anthropologist Anthony F. C. Wallace, the net effect of the campaign was to reduce the Iroquois by half, who became unable to support themselves or survive the harsh winter of 1779–1780. Rhiannon Koehler estimates that as many as 5,500 Iroquois, around 55.5% of the population, may have perished as a result of the campaign, which some historians have described as genocidal.
Washington's troops went into quarters at Morristown, New Jersey during the winter of 1779–1780 and suffered their worst winter of the war, with temperatures well below freezing. New York Harbor was frozen over, snow and ice covered the ground for weeks, and the troops again lacked provisions.
Clinton assembled 12,500 troops and attacked Charlestown, South Carolina in January 1780, defeating General Benjamin Lincoln who had only 5,100 Continental troops. The British went on to occupy the South Carolina Piedmont in June, with no Patriot resistance. Clinton returned to New York and left 8,000 troops commanded by General Charles Cornwallis. Congress replaced Lincoln with Horatio Gates; he failed in South Carolina and was replaced by Washington's choice of Nathaniel Greene, but the British already had the South in their grasp. Washington was reinvigorated, however, when Lafayette returned from France with more ships, men, and supplies, and 5,000 veteran French troops led by Marshal Rochambeau arrived at Newport, Rhode Island in July 1780. French naval forces then landed, led by Admiral Grasse, and Washington encouraged Rochambeau to move his fleet south to launch a joint land and naval attack on Arnold's troops.
Washington's army went into winter quarters at New Windsor, New York in December 1780, and Washington urged Congress and state officials to expedite provisions in hopes that the army would not "continue to struggle under the same difficulties they have hitherto endured". On March 1, 1781, Congress ratified the Articles of Confederation, but the government that took effect on March 2 did not have the power to levy taxes, and it loosely held the states together.
General Clinton sent Benedict Arnold, now a British Brigadier General with 1,700 troops, to Virginia to capture Portsmouth and conduct raids on Patriot forces from there; Washington responded by sending Lafayette south to counter Arnold's efforts. Washington initially hoped to bring the fight to New York, drawing off British forces from Virginia and ending the war there, but Rochambeau advised Grasse that Cornwallis in Virginia was the better target. Grasse's fleet arrived off the Virginia coast, and Washington saw the advantage. He made a feint towards Clinton in New York, then headed south to Virginia.
The Siege of Yorktown was a decisive Allied victory by the combined forces of the Continental Army commanded by General Washington, the French Army commanded by the General Comte de Rochambeau, and the French Navy commanded by Admiral de Grasse, in the defeat of Cornwallis' British forces. On August 19, the march to Yorktown led by Washington and Rochambeau began, which is known now as the "celebrated march". Washington was in command of an army of 7,800 Frenchmen, 3,100 militia, and 8,000 Continentals. Not well experienced in siege warfare, Washington often referred to the judgment of General Rochambeau and used his advice about how to proceed; however, Rochambeau never challenged Washington's authority as the battle's commanding officer.
By late September, Patriot-French forces surrounded Yorktown, trapped the British army, and prevented British reinforcements from Clinton in the North, while the French navy emerged victorious at the Battle of the Chesapeake. The final American offensive was begun with a shot fired by Washington. The siege ended with a British surrender on October 19, 1781; over 7,000 British soldiers were made prisoners of war, in the last major land battle of the American Revolutionary War. Washington negotiated the terms of surrender for two days, and the official signing ceremony took place on October 19; Cornwallis claimed illness and was absent, sending General Charles O'Hara as his proxy. As a gesture of goodwill, Washington held a dinner for the American, French, and British generals, all of whom fraternized on friendly terms and identified with one another as members of the same professional military caste.
After the surrender at Yorktown, a situation developed that threatened relations between the newly independent America and Britain. Following a series of retributive executions between Patriots and Loyalists, Washington, on May 18, 1782, wrote in a letter to General Moses Hazen that a British captain would be executed in retaliation for the execution of Joshua Huddy, a popular Patriot leader, who was hanged at the direction of the Loyalist Richard Lippincott. Washington wanted Lippincott himself to be executed but was rebuffed. Subsequently, Charles Asgill was chosen instead, by a drawing of lots from a hat. This was a violation of the 14th article of the Yorktown Articles of Capitulation, which protected prisoners of war from acts of retaliation. Later, Washington's feelings on matters changed and in a letter of November 13, 1782, to Asgill, he acknowledged Asgill's letter and situation, expressing his desire not to see any harm come to him. After much consideration between the Continental Congress, Alexander Hamilton, Washington, and appeals from the French Crown, Asgill was finally released, where Washington issued Asgill a pass that allowed his passage to New York.
Demobilization and resignation
When peace negotiations began in April 1782, both the British and French began gradually evacuating their forces. The American treasury was empty, unpaid, and mutinous soldiers forced the adjournment of Congress, and Washington dispelled unrest by suppressing the Newburgh Conspiracy in March 1783; Congress promised officers a five-year bonus. Washington submitted an account of $450,000 in expenses which he had advanced to the army. The account was settled, though it was allegedly vague about large sums and included expenses his wife had incurred through visits to his headquarters.
The following month, a Congressional committee led by Alexander Hamilton began adapting the army for peacetime. In August 1783, Washington gave the Army's perspective to the committee in his Sentiments on a Peace Establishment. He advised Congress to keep a standing army, create a "national militia" of separate state units, and establish a navy and a national military academy.
The Treaty of Paris was signed on September 3, 1783, and Great Britain officially recognized the independence of the United States. Washington then disbanded his army, giving a farewell address to his soldiers on November 2. During this time, Washington oversaw the evacuation of British forces in New York and was greeted by parades and celebrations. There he announced that Colonel Henry Knox had been promoted commander-in-chief. Washington and Governor George Clinton took formal possession of the city on November 25.
In early December 1783, Washington bade farewell to his officers at Fraunces Tavern and resigned as commander-in-chief soon thereafter, refuting Loyalist predictions that he would not relinquish his military command. In a final appearance in uniform, he gave a statement to the Congress: "I consider it an indispensable duty to close this last solemn act of my official life, by commending the interests of our dearest country to the protection of Almighty God, and those who have the superintendence of them, to his holy keeping." Washington's resignation was acclaimed at home and abroad and showed a skeptical world that the new republic would not degenerate into chaos.[l]
The same month, Washington was appointed president-general of the Society of the Cincinnati, a newly established hereditary fraternity of Revolutionary War officers. He served in this capacity for the remainder of his life.[m]
Early republic (1783–1789)
Return to Mount Vernon
Washington was longing to return home after spending just ten days at Mount Vernon out of 81⁄2 years of war. He arrived on Christmas Eve, delighted to be "free of the bustle of a camp and the busy scenes of public life". He was a celebrity and was fêted during a visit to his mother at Fredericksburg in February 1784, and he received a constant stream of visitors wishing to pay their respects to him at Mount Vernon.
Washington reactivated his interests in the Great Dismal Swamp and Potomac canal projects begun before the war, though neither paid him any dividends, and he undertook a 34-day, 680-mile (1090 km) trip to check on his land holdings in the Ohio Country. He oversaw the completion of the remodeling work at Mount Vernon, which transformed his residence into the mansion that survives to this day—although his financial situation was not strong. Creditors paid him in depreciated wartime currency, and he owed significant amounts in taxes and wages. Mount Vernon had made no profit during his absence, and he saw persistently poor crop yields due to pestilence and poor weather. His estate recorded its eleventh year running at a deficit in 1787, and there was little prospect of improvement. Washington undertook a new landscaping plan and succeeded in cultivating a range of fast-growing trees and shrubs that were native to North America. He also began breeding mules after having been gifted a Spanish jack by King Charles III of Spain in 1784. There were few mules in the United States at that time, and he believed that properly bred mules would revolutionize agriculture and transportation.
Constitutional Convention of 1787
Before returning to private life in June 1783, Washington called for a strong union. Though he was concerned that he might be criticized for meddling in civil matters, he sent a circular letter to all the states, maintaining that the Articles of Confederation was no more than "a rope of sand" linking the states. He believed the nation was on the verge of "anarchy and confusion", was vulnerable to foreign intervention, and that a national constitution would unify the states under a strong central government. When Shays' Rebellion erupted in Massachusetts on August 29, 1786, over taxation, Washington was further convinced that a national constitution was needed. Some nationalists feared that the new republic had descended into lawlessness, and they met together on September 11, 1786, at Annapolis to ask Congress to revise the Articles of Confederation. One of their biggest efforts, however, was getting Washington to attend. Congress agreed to a Constitutional Convention to be held in Philadelphia in Spring 1787, and each state was to send delegates.
On December 4, 1786, Washington was chosen to lead the Virginia delegation, but he declined on December 21. He had concerns about the legality of the convention and consulted James Madison, Henry Knox, and others. They persuaded him to attend it, however, as his presence might induce reluctant states to send delegates and smooth the way for the ratification process. On March 28, Washington told Governor Edmund Randolph that he would attend the convention but made it clear that he was urged to attend.
Washington arrived in Philadelphia on May 9, 1787, though a quorum was not attained until Friday, May 25. Benjamin Franklin nominated Washington to preside over the convention, and he was unanimously elected to serve as president general. The convention's state-mandated purpose was to revise the Articles of Confederation with "all such alterations and further provisions" required to improve them, and the new government would be established when the resulting document was "duly confirmed by the several states". Governor Edmund Randolph of Virginia introduced Madison's Virginia Plan on May 27, the third day of the convention. It called for an entirely new constitution and a sovereign national government, which Washington highly recommended.
Washington wrote Alexander Hamilton on July 10: "I almost despair of seeing a favorable issue to the proceedings of our convention and do therefore repent having had any agency in the business." Nevertheless, he lent his prestige to the goodwill and work of the other delegates. He unsuccessfully lobbied many to support ratification of the Constitution, such as anti-federalist Patrick Henry; Washington told him "the adoption of it under the present circumstances of the Union is in my opinion desirable" and declared the alternative would be anarchy. Washington and Madison then spent four days at Mount Vernon evaluating the new government's transition.
Chancellor of William & Mary
In 1788, the Board of Visitors of the College of William & Mary decided to re-establish the position of Chancellor, and elected Washington to the office on January 18. The College Rector Samuel Griffin wrote to Washington inviting him to the post, and in a letter dated April 30, 1788, Washington accepted the position of the 14th Chancellor of the College of William & Mary. He continued to serve in the post through his presidency until his death on December 14, 1799.
First presidential election
The delegates to the Convention anticipated a Washington presidency and left it to him to define the office once elected.[n] The state electors under the Constitution voted for the president on February 4, 1789, and Washington suspected that most republicans had not voted for him. The mandated March 4 date passed without a Congressional quorum to count the votes, but a quorum was reached on April 5. The votes were tallied the next day, and Congressional Secretary Charles Thomson was sent to Mount Vernon to tell Washington he had been elected president. Washington won the majority of every state's electoral votes; John Adams received the next highest number of votes and therefore became vice president. Washington had "anxious and painful sensations" about leaving the "domestic felicity" of Mount Vernon, but departed for New York City on April 16 to be inaugurated.
- Assets linking to this character: Mount Vernon