Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Learn Our History Today: February 22. George Washington's Birthday

Learn Our History Today:  On this day in 1732, George Washingon was born in Virginia. and was the second son from the second marriage of a colonial plantation owner.
Although initially loyal to the British, serving as a lieutenant in the French and Indian War, Washington led the Continental Army as a general during the American Revolution.

In 1759, Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, a wealthy widow who had two children from her previous marriage (Washington and Martha never had children of their own, and Washington went on to adopt Martha’s son and daughter).

In 1775, Washington took charge of the Continental Army after being unanimously chosen to do so by Congress.  A rare ‘born leader’, Washington is remembered for his calm demeanor and even temper in stressful situations.  In fact, during his service to the British in the French and Indian War, he faced a variety of stressful situations including being shot at, having his horse shot from beneath him and even being taken prisoner by the French!

Much of his success during the Revolutionary War is attributed to his tactics of guerrilla warfare in which he employed stealth ‘hit and run’ attacks on the British.  And although he suffered about as many losing battles as he won during the War, his leadership was recognized as top-notch by the Continental Congress, which elected Washington as the first American president.  As president, he set dozens of unwritten rules of conduct for future presidents and he was often at odds with his advisors over the image that a president should project.  He served two terms, resigning after being disillusioned with vicious partisan politics.

After his presidency, Washington embraced the rural life by returning to his home in Mount Vernon and starting a successful whiskey distillery.  During that time, he grew very uncomfortable with the idea of owning slaves and he publicly promoted a gradual abolition of slavery.  In fact, in his will, he requested that all his slaves be freed upon Martha’s death.  Speaking of his will, he simply and humbly identified himself in the document as “George Washington, a citizen of the United States.”

There are many funny and popular rumors about Washington.  Of course, there’s the famous chopping down of the cherry tree, which is just a myth.  Then, there’s the tale about Washington having wooden teeth, which is also bogus.  However, by the time he became president, he did only have one real tooth remaining, and he wore various dentures constructed of metal and cow or hippopotamus bone.  Interestingly, he lost several teeth by cracking the shells of Brazil nuts-one of his favorite foods-in his mouth.

While an extraordinary leader, Washington was also a very regular guy.  He liked the sports cricket and fox hunting, and strove to resist the vanities of public life. But he was also vindictive; when Thomas Jefferson admitted slandering Washington in an anonymously published newspaper article, Washington cut Jefferson out of his life.

You may recall from a previous post that George Washington died on December 14, 1799 of a severe respiratory ailment.

You can learn more about Washington and his contributions to the American Revolution in Learn Our History’s DVD, “Winning Our Future,” available at

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