National Geographic : 1964 Nov
FIRST PRESIDENT 1789-1797 GEORGE WASHINGTON, as genera tions of school children have been taught, was the Father of his Country, and, in the words of Henry Lee, "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen." Olympian among Presidents, Washington even in his own lifetime was al most obscured as a person by the awe-inspir ing legend enveloping him. But behind the legend stands an impressive human being who, foremost among that gifted coterie of Founding Fathers, wrought a new United States and guided it through its first years. Decades of training prepared Washington for his leadership in the Revolution and the establishment of the new Republic. Born in 1732 into a planter family in Virginia, Wash ington received from his parents and half brothers schooling in the morals, manners, and body of knowledge requisite for an 18th century Virginia gentleman. His birthplace at Wakefield is commemorated with a recon structed brick mansion on the original plan tation site in Westmoreland County. It is now a national monument. In his youth, Washington pursued two 646 ENGRAVINGBY G. R. HALL FROM A PAINTING BY F. O. C. DARLEY, LIBRARY OF CONGRESS© N.G.S. intertwined interests that gave direction to much of his life-military arts and western expansion. War was almost a normal condi tion of affairs in those days, as the rivalry between England and France erupted inter mittently into lengthy conflict. Washington's half brother Lawrence served in an expedi tion against Cartagena in Colombia, one of the possessions of the French ally, Spain, and named his estate on the Potomac in honor of the commander, Adm. Edward Vernon. In time, Washington acquired the property and retained the name, Mount Vernon. At 16 Washington helped survey Shenan doah lands for Thomas, Lord Fairfax. There after he spent much of his life in the saddle, surveying or soldiering in the wilderness. In 1753, when French soldiers trespassed on lands claimed by Virginia in the Ohio country, Governor Robert Dinwiddie sent the 21-year-old Washington to warn them away. The following year, commissioned a lieuten ant colonel, he fought the first skirmishes in what grew into the French and Indian War. The French defeated Washington and his force of about 300 men, and in 1755 surround ed and routed the British regulars under Gen. Edward Braddock. Washington, who served as an aide to Braddock, escaped injury, al though four bullets ripped his coat and two horses were shot from under him. Young Washington holds a surveying instrument while his companion pays out chain to fix distance. At 14 Washington sur veyed his neighbors' fields. At 16 he plotted Lord Fairfax's lands, sleeping under "one thread Bear blanket with double its Weight of Vermin...." His surveyor's office at his father's Ferry Farm estate near Fredericks burg, Virginia, is open to the public. Wake field, the farm on which Washington was born, is now a national monument. Giant of his time, Washington stood six feet two and weighed 200 pounds. Gilbert Stuart's portrait is the only object in the White House that has been there since its occupancy in 1800. Dolley Madison in 1814 delayed her flight from the invading British until she safeguarded the canvas.