Who Was George Washington?

By Staff WriterLast Updated Mar 28, 2020 6:03:20 PM ET

George Washington was a farmer, surveyor and soldier who, as commander in chief of the Continental Army, defeated the British in the Revolutionary War and, as a private citizen, became the first president of the United States. Washington set a number of precedents for American leadership, including the concept of a two-term limit for presidents.

Washington was born to a respectable middle-class family on Feb. 22, 1732, in Virginia. He received both a classical education at home and a practical education among the planters and backwoodsman he associated with. From these men he learned farming and surveying. When he was 17, he became the official surveyor of Culpeper County. He was a natural leader and was appointed a major in the colonial militia by the time he was 21, taking part in the first battle of the French and Indian War. During this conflict, he distinguished himself, developing into the obvious choice for commander in chief when the Revolutionary War began later. He distinguished himself during the war, his clever and insightful leadership bringing about the ultimate defeat of the British.

Washington never sought out leadership, though he was always prepared for it. He announced his availability for military leadership by showing up in uniform at the Second Continental Congress and later accepted the role of president of the 1786 Constitutional Convention. His hopes to simply retire to his plantation were dashed when no other man could be found to bring the new nation together, and he became the first American president in 1789 by unanimous approval of the Electoral College. He died Dec. 14, 1799, at his Mount Vernon plantation.