George Washington’s Wakefield Plantation, Popes Creek, Westmoreland County, Virginia Birthplace

•March 14, 2010 • Leave a Comment

George Washington was born on February 22, 1732 at his family’s Wakefield Plantation home where Pope’s Creek joins the Potomac River in Westmoreland County, Virginia.  Here, he and his family lived until he was three years old.  George Washington’s great-grandfather John Washington had originally settled on the land at the Bridge’s Creek location in 1657.  Later, the site would also be the home of his grandfather Lawrence Washington and of his father Augustine Washington both with his first wife and then subsequently after her death with his second wife, Mary Ball, who was the mother of George Washington.  The family cemetery plot on Bridge’s Creek contains the graves of George Washingtons’ great-grandfather John Washington, his great-grandfather Lawrence Washington, his father Augustine Washington, his half-brother Lawrence Washington, and some 28 other Washington relatives.  While being politically connected, Washington’s family was of moderate wealth compared to some of the other much more wealthy Virginia families such as the Randolphs, Carters, and Lees.

George Washington as a Young Boy

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While a young boy, Washington and his family moved from their Wakefield home to Ferry Farm across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Washington’s father moved his family there in order to be closer to the iron furnance that he owned and operated, with Augustine Washington being one of the first Americans to operate an iron furnance and thus embrace the industrial revolution.  Augustine Washington was prosperous enough to send his sons from his first wife to England to attend school.  Unfortunately, Washington’s father died while George Washington was still young and Washington’s mother did not have the funds to attend school in England.  Instead, Washington was educated by tutors and attending a small local school.  One thing that Washington inherited from his mother, however, was his love and knowledge of horses, with his mother Mary Ball Washington herself being known as a great horse-woman.

After the Death of His Father, George Washington Is Mentored by His Older Half-Brother Lawrence Washington

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George Washington Becomes a Surveyor

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Since Washington had inherited very little from his father, as Washington grew into young adulthood he considered ways that he could develop a career.  Originally, he considered joining the British navy, but his mother would not approve.  Consequently, Washington dug his father’s surveying tools out of his father’s chest and taught himself surveying.  One his very first surveying trip, Washington recorded meeting an Indian war party and witnessing an Indian war dance.  With the help of the Fairfax family, Washington then became a successful surveyor,  being examined in 1749 at the age of 17 at the College of William and Mary and consequently appointed the official surveyor of Culpeper County.  The monies that Washington earned as a surveyor made him moderately wealthy and allowed him to buy his first land – his Bullskin plantation near present-day Charles Town, West Virginia.  Doing surveying work for Lord Fairfax also gave Washington an intimate knowledge of the Virginia frontier.  Finally, while other founding fathers such as John Adams and Thomas Jefferson attended college and learned Latin and Greek, Washington’s work as a surveyor taught Washington how to handle himself in the company of men older than himself, including Lord Fairfax, where Washington was given a hands-on education in business and politics.

George Washington Is Appointed a Major of Virginia Regiment

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Upon the death of his brother Lawrence, who had been commander of all the Virginia militia, George Washington was appointed a Major of the Virginia Militia.  This was typical of the time where public officers were often passed down from father to son, and since Lawrence was significantly older and almost a father to Washington, it was assumed that Washington was entitled to succeed to the public position previously held by his brother.  Because of Washington’s youth and lack of experience, however, Virginia’s Governor Dinwiddie decided to divide Virginia into three militiary districts, with Washington appointed as the Major of only one of these districts.  Initially, Washington was appointed in charge of the southern Shenandoah Valley.  With the help of his friend Lord Fairfax who lived in the northern Shenandoah Valley, however, Washington was able to soon get his appointment transferred to the northern Shenandoah Valley.  In his position as Major of the militia, it was Washington’s responsibility to build forts and train militia to defend the western frontier of Virginia from Indian attacks.  To do so, Washington made his headquarters in Winchester, Virginia where he supervised the largest of Virginia’s frontier forts named Fort Loudoun.  Here, George Washington also ran for the House of Burgesses for the first time, but was defeated.  Eventually running a second time, Washington was elected to his first public office as a delegate to the House of Burgesses representing Frederick County, Virginia.

George Washington Is Sent Accompanied by Christopher Gist to the Ohio Country As An Emissary to Meet With the French

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George Washington and Christopher Gist Inspecting Ohio country

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George Washington Meeting With French at Fort LeBoeuf

George Washington and Christopher Gist Attempting to Cross the Allegheny River on a Raft In the Midst of Winter

George Washington and Christopher Gist On Their Way to the Ohio Country

Hearing of French plans to establish a series of forts in the Ohio country, Virginia’s Governor Dinwiddie decided to send an emissary to meet with the French commander at Fort LeBoeuf near Lake Erie to demand that they vacate the Ohio country – since it was claimed by Virginia and the British.  Even though he had no experience, George Washington volunteered to be such an emissary and undertake such an expedition.  Meeting up with the Ohio Company’s representative Christopher Gist near Will’s Creek (now Cumberland, Maryland), Washington traveled on horseback, foot and canoe across the Appalachian Mountains all the way to the Ohio River and then up almost to the shores of Lake Erie to the French Fort LeBoeuf.  Along the way, Washington had various meetings with the Indian Chiefs of the area.  In particular, Washington enlisted the support of Half-King, who was to be the key Indian chief supporting the British-Americans in the subsequent French and Indian War.  After delivering his message to the French, Washington and Gist’s Indian guide turned on them and attempted to murder them.  Overcoming the Indian guide, Washington decided to let him go – but then proceeded as quickly as possible in case the guide returned with additional hostile Indians.  Eventually, Washington and Gist had to abandon their horse and walk as the snow was so deep.  Reaching the Allegheny River, they built a raft to attempt to cross it.  While doing so, however, Washington was knocked overboard by the ice-strewn river.  To dry out, Washington and Gist sought refuse on an island in the middle of the river where they spent the night in wet clothes without being able to make a fire.  Luckily, in the morning they awoke to discover that the river was totally frozen over with ice, allowing Washington and Gist to walk to the shore.  Afterwards, Washington proceeded as quickly as possible all the way back to Williamsburg to report the French response to Virginia Governor Dinwiddie.

George Washington’s Journal of His Trip to Ohio is Published in Virginia and London and Read by King George II of England, Making George Washington America’s First Frontier Hero

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After his trip to Ohio, Virginia’s Governor Dinwiddie had Washington’s Journal published both in Williamsburg, Virginia and in London. Thus Washington became America’s first frontier hero, some 20 years before Daniel Boone became famous for finding the Cumberland Gap as a route to Kentucky.  One of the individuals who read and commented on Washington’s Journal was Britain’s King George II – the father of the future King George III who would rule Great Britain during the American Revolution.

George Washington at Battle of Fort Necessity, Triggering Start of French and Indian War

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Uniforms Worn by the French Soldiers During the French and Indian War

Uniforms Worn by George Washington’s Virginia Regiment (i.e. the Virginia Blues) During the French and Indian War

Clothes Worn by British Soldiers During the French and Indian War

Clothes Worn By a Typical Colonial Militiaman

Illustration of Washington With American Colonial Mlitia at Fort Necessity

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Photograph of Reconstructed Fort Necessity at Fort Necessity National Battlefield

George Washington at Fort Necessity

After his trip to the Ohio country as an emissary to meet with the French, Major George Washington was again sent to the Ohio country to try to establish a British-American fort at the Forks of the Ohio before the French could do so.  Initially, George Washington was to be second-in-command, but Colonel Frye who was to be the commander was killed on the way, leaving Washington in command.  As Washington and his small force neared the Forks of the Ohio, he received word of a French military party and decided to mont a surprise attack before his own force could be attacked.  This led to what has since been called the Jumonville incident as a result of the French commander de Jumonville being scalped by Washington’s Native Indian ally Half-King and his warriors after de Jumonville had surrendered.  Receiving word of an even larger French party approaching, Washington decided to mount a defense at a temporary stockade built in a clearing called Fort Necessity.  It was Washington’s plan to position his soldiers in a trench outside the fort to induce the French and Indian forces to attack, after which Washington planned to use the swivel guns/cannons that he had in the fort to overcome the attacking French and Indians.  Unfortunately, Washington’s plans were upset by the fact that a heavy rain fell, turning the clearing into a muddy marsh, with the result that the French and Indians decided to remain in the surrounding wooded hillsides to fire down upon the Americans.  What made the American situation worst was the fact that their powder became wet from being exposed to the rain.  Eventually, the situation became so desperate that when the French offered to allow the Americans surrender and return back to Virginia, George Washington accepted such an opportunity to surrender.  Unfortunately, unknown to him, the surrender document, which was written in French, including a statement or admission that Washington had been responsible for the assassination of the French officer de Jumonville.  For this reason, Washington was severely criticized in France, but was nevertheless hailed as a hero in Virginia.  More importantly, the Battle of Fort Necessity was the trigger that set off the subsequent French and Indian War (or Seven Years War as it was known in Europe).

George Washington’s Signature On Surrender Document at Fort Necessity

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Surrender Document Signed by George Washington

George Washington Negotiating Fort Necessity Surrender Document With French

Washington Is Hailed As a Hero in Rallying the British Forces After Braddock’s Defeat at the Battle of the Monongahela

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After the Battle of Fort Necessity, even though George Washington was hailed as a hero, the colonial governors decided to have the colonial governor of Maryland lead an expedition against the French at Fort Duquesne, even though he had no military experience.  Also, it was decided to divide the Virginia forces into three units to be headed by Captains, thus effectively demoting George Washington.  As a consequence, Washington decided to resign his commission and return home to Mount Vernon.  Washington changed his mind, however, and volunteered his services as a volunteer aide-de-camp to British Major General Edward Braddock when he was sent with two regiments of British regular troops to lead the expedition against the French Fort Duquesne.  Landing in Alexandria, Virginia on February 20, 1755, Braddock took several months to make preparations.  By June, however, Braddock’s expedition set out, with Washington joining the expedition in Cumberland, Maryland.  By July 9, 1755, Braddock’s forces had finally reached the banks of the Monongahela not far from it joined with the Allegheny River to form the Ohio River (i.e. the Forks of the Ohio) where Fort Duquesne was located.  Shortly afterwards, the lead column of Braddock’s army led by General Braddock and accompanied by George Washington was ambushed by French and Indian forces with all of the British officers, including General Braddock, killed.  What saved Braddock’s army was George Washington who rallied the forces and led them in retreat.  Washington then rode through the entire night to bring reinforcements from Braddock’s forces that were in the rear.   As a consequence, George Washington was hailed as the hero of the Battle of the Monongahela.