History: George Washington

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Portrait of George Washington by Rembrandt Peale

by Jirrine 

There are many people that consider history to be boring. They say it is outdated, full of unnecessary facts and not interesting. I personally love history. I think our history is fascinating! I love to watch history documentaries, read history books (for fun!) and love history inspired movies, books and television shows. To share my passion for history once in a while I write something short about a particular event or person in history to show that history can be fun too! I might even tell you some things you don’t know! Today I want to start with the first president of the United States: George Washington.

George Washington was the first president of the United States and one of the founding fathers. He was born in either 1731/1732 depending on which calendar you use (yep, dates were confusing back then!). Washington was from mostly English decent, but also had French and Dutch (yes, us Dutchies are everywhere!) ancestry. Most people recognize the portraits of Washington, but he wasn’t hard to miss in his own days too: at six feet (1.82 m) tall he was a lot taller than the average person in the 18th century.

Washington left school when he was just 15 to become a land surveyor, which means that he made maps of particular areas and regions. In total he surveyed 199 landscapes during his life. He fought in the French and Indian War as a Lieutenant Colonel, and although he was never wounded, it was a close call as four bullets ripped through his coat. So before fighting against the British, he was actually fighting for the British. He married widow Martha Dandridge Custis, and became a stepfather to her two children and managed the lands of Mount Vernon, his plantation, until the outbreak of the American Revolution. In May 1775 Washington was made Commander in Chief for the Continental Army, this time to rid the nation of the British.

George Washington was presidents for two terms from 1789 until 1797, receiving 100% of the votes in both elections. He was picked by Congress so never actually ran for president. That is quite a different situation from today’s campaigning! Congress awarded him a salary of $25,000 annually, an enormous sum for that time and equivalent to about $350,000 in today’s money. But from that salary he had to pay for several federal institutions and processes and there was so little left that he even had to pay out of his own pocket to attend his inauguration.

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1853 Lithography of George Washington overseeing his slaves at Mount Vernon Plantation

George Washington was a dog-lover: he bred and kept over 30 dogs, earning him the name of Father of the American Foxhound. Washington was also the proud owner of a whiskey distillery which was installed during his retirement. A polish visitor to the estate said it distilled 12,000 gallons of whiskey a year! Unfortunately, Washington is not completely free from controversy: since the death of his father in 1743 he was a slave owner. Although he personally opposed the institution of slavery for economic and moral reasons he never outright challenged slavery in public in fear of creating tension in the new republic. Despite his objections upon Washington’s death in 1799, 317 slaves lived at Mount Vernon. His will stated that the slaves he was responsible for, a 137 in total, would be freed. The rest of the slaves working on the plantation would become the property of the Washington inheritors. This dark page in the president’s life must certainly not be overlooked.

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Lithograph of Mount Vernon

Washington’s legacy is still clear from the name of the capital but Washington himself never lived there. During his presidency Congress met in both New York and Philadelphia, both can thus be considered as former capitals. His other legacy, a place where he spend great parts of his life and where he is still buried, is Mount Vernon. Unfortunately he only spend three years of his retirement on Mount Vernon, before he died of throat infection in 1799, when he was 67 years old. Washington was so beloved that the country mourned him for weeks, and even in France Napoleon Bonaparte ordered 10 days of national mourning. In 1792 he had already been made honorary citizen of France. In 1976 he was awarded the highest military rank of the U.S. Nobody can ever outrank George Washington.

Even now, centuries after his death Washington is often ranked among the top three presidents of all time. His portrait on the $1 bill, and the quarter, his face sculpted in Mount Rushmore, countless monuments, streets and buildings named after him and his memorial located in Washington D.C., the city bearing his name. George Washington is still prominently part of daily life in the U.S. Hopefully, you now know a little bit more about this iconic man!

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