By: Jack Swift
Johnson County Historian
It was said of George Washington that he was “First in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen.” Those words about him were included in a eulogy by Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee. I suppose President Washington was one of the first of the presidents that folks heard or read about when they began their studies on the office of president. If I remember right, I learned as a child some basic things about President Washington before I found out about President Lincoln and others.
Washington was a man of many accomplishments but through much of his life he had a place in his heart for his farm on the Potomac River called Mount Vernon. Over his life, he was a surveyor, soldier and Planter before ascending to the office of president of the United States. He was born in Westmorland County, Virginia on February 22, 1732. He died December 14, 1799. He had no formal schooling, but his family and perhaps tutors as well taught him what he would need in becoming a young gentleman at that time.
He helped establish the form of government that the U.S. would take and helped the young nation to find itself as it contended against forces that would try to bring down the brave new nation. He led the American Forces during the Revolutionary War that broke the bonds of Britain. He presided at the Constitutional Convention that decided what form of government America would have. At a young age he spent several months in the wilderness as a surveyor for Culpeper County, Virginia.
Washington longed to return to his fields at Mount Vernon but he realized that the government wasn’t functioning, as it should. So he became a prime mover in establishing the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia in 1787. The first ten amendments to the Constitution (the Bill of Rights) were ratified. Also Vermont, Kentucky and Tennessee joined the Union during his presidency.
Of the many instances of bravery and courage, many remember his actions at Valley Forge in which he showed concern for his men and stayed with them during the awful winter of 1777 and 1778. Moreover, he at one time escaped injury when bullets ripped his coat and two horses were shot from under him. He died of a throat infection merely three years after his retirement. He forced the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown, a place I was privileged to visit while I was in the Army at Fort Eustis, Virginia.