Wednesday, February 13, 2013

History Lesson: George Washington

It has been a very long time since I shared a history lesson, despite my best intentions of doing so.  With Presidents Day coming up on our calendar, I thought a review of our lesson about George Washington might be in order.  Never mind that we did this lesson way back in October or November or something like that... 

George Washington grew up near Fredericksburg, Virginia.  His father died when he was eleven years old, and an older half-brother, Lawrence, became his father-figure.  Lawrence lived in a small house on a plantation beside the Potomac River that he named Mount Vernon. One of Lawrence's friends, George William Fairfax, allowed 16-year-old George Washington to accompany him on a surveying trip to the frontier.

George was twenty years old when Lawrence died, and the widow allowed George to lease Mount Vernon. When she died, he inherited Mount Vernon. He began to improve and enlarge the plantation, and turned the four-room house into a mansion.  He made the home look like stone by covering the siding with pine blocks coated with sand and paint.  He added a cupola on the roof, and after the Revolution, added a dove of peace weathervane to its top.  He enjoyed life as a gentleman farmer, overseeing the farm operations and landscaping, and hosting friends and relatives at fox hunts and parties.

Mount Vernon residence.  Note the cupola and weathervane.
Restored greenhouse at Mount Vernon
Part of the farm at Mount Vernon
Washington fought on the side of British and colonists in the French and Indian War.  In one battle in 1754, four bullets went through his coat and two horses were shot out from under him! He continued to serve as a soldier, rising to the rank of colonel.  Washington was elected to Virginia's House of Burgesses in 1765 and later joined the protests of the colonists against high taxes and abuses of power  by the British government.  He served in the First and Second Continental Congresses.

When Washington was 43, he was named commander of the Continental Army.  He demanded hard work and discipline from his soldiers, and was a respected leader and organizer.  At the beginning of the Revolutionary War, the Continental Army couldn't match the British forces, so Washington chose battles carefully, refusing to be drawn into battles that he didn't believe they should fight.  He stayed with his men throughout the war, with only ten days back at Mount Vernon.  His wife Martha often traveled to be with him, even during the difficult winter at Valley Forge.

When the Revolutionary War ended, Washington resigned from the Army.  His hope was to retire to Mount Vernon as a farmer and citizen.  He gave his resignation to the Continental Congress on December 23, 1783, in what is now the Old Senate Chamber of the Maryland State House in Annapolis.

In May of 1787, delegates met in Philadelphia to write a new constitution for the United States, and Washington agreed to serve as the President of the Constitutional Convention.  When it came time for the electoral college to cast votes for the nation's first president, each of the electors cast one vote for George Washington.  John Adams received the second highest number of votes and became Vice President.
Independence Hall in Philadelphia
Washington took his oath of office in New York City, which was the first capitol of the new United States.  He added the words, "so help me God" at the end of the oath, and every president since then has done the same.  Washington insisted that he not be given a fancy title that would sound like royalty or nobility, but simply "Mr President".  Washington knew that as the first President, he would be setting the precedents for all who would succeed him in the office.  Washington wanted to go home to Mount Vernon after he completed his first term of office, but was unanimously re-elected for a second term and agreed to serve another four years.  At the end of his second term, which ended in 1797, he decided not to serve any longer.  Back home at Mount Vernon, George and Martha Washington enjoyed a quiet life with their family, but still entertained thousands of visitors each year.  

In December of 1799, Washington got a sore throat after riding horseback in a storm.  His illness worsened, and he died at home less than three years after leaving the presidency.  About 340 people lived at Mount Vernon at the time of his death, including his granddaughter and her family; and slaves, employees, managers and tradesmen of the farm.  In his will, Washington freed his slaves.  General Henry Lee delivered a eulogy to the United States Congress in which he said that Washington was "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen."

I'm not sure that President Washington would have been pleased with this statue we saw at the Smithsonian's Museum of American History.  He is depicted in a typically Roman Empire pose, and with a bare chest! 

Some of the above photos come from my related posts:

This post is linked to the Presidents Day Resources round-up (January 28, 2015) at the Schoolhouse Crew blog.
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Mary said...

Love this! We went to Mt. Vernon this summer as one of the stops on our road trip. Saw Independence Hall too - it is wonderful to see history up close!

kewkew said...

I can swear one of our family trips was to Mt. Vernon when I was younger, but now I can't really remember. Definitely sounds like somewhere we need to take the children one of these days. I have pinned your post to my American History resources board. We are starting Adventures with My Father's World this fall and it will be cool to share this info with the children as we start learning about some American History.
Thanks for stopping by and sharing with Throwback Thursday Blog-Style. I am so thankful for your continued participation. I really do enjoy seeing everyone's older posts.
Can't wait to see what you share this week.

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