George Washington: Farmer, Soldier, and First President of the United States of America. Students can learn all about him on the Internet -- by George! Included: Activities to use across the grades!
George Washington's birthday, February 22, was celebrated -- really celebrated! -- by Americans in the past. Balls, teas, and fireworks marked the day our nation's first president was born. In Massachusetts, Old Sturbridge Village, a re-creation of a Massachusetts village of the 1830s, still celebrates George Washington's birthday as it was celebrated years ago.
"During the 1800s, one of the biggest official winter celebrations, by George!, was the annual observance of George Washington's birthday," Village officials report. "Even before his death in 1799, the Washington's Birthday bash -- and its accompanying Birthnight Ball -- were firmly established in New England and elsewhere in the young republic as high cause for revelry, often at the local tavern or the home of a prominent citizen."
But, in 1971, President Nixon proclaimed a single federal public holiday -- Presidents Day -- to be observed on the third Monday of February. That day would honor all past presidents of the United States of America. The holiday has been adopted my many individual states in the decades since then. (Federal public holidays are days the federal government is closed. Other holidays are proclaimed by individual states.)
What has been lost with the "inauguration" of Presidents Day, however, is the individuality of the man, George Washington -- soldier, statesman, and farmer. But many teachers still give special treatment to George Washington. That's why, this week, Education World devotes an entire story to exploring his life and times. What follows are some facts about the man -- and some myths exposed. In addition, we explore many George Washington-related Internet sites and offer a range of cross-curriculum activities for you to use with students of all ages. (Click here to skip directly to the activities section.)
1732. George Washington was born February 22 in the British colony of Virginia. He was the son of Augustine Washington and Mary Ball Washington. (In 1732, all of the American colonies belonged to Great Britain. There was no United States!)
1730s. George grew up at his family's home (the George Washington Birthplace) on Pope's Creek along the Potomac River. Washington's father was a planter who grew tobacco.
1743. George Washington's father died when George was 11 years old. After his father's death, George spent much timeith Lawrence Washington, his older half-brother. Lawrence lived at his tobacco farm, called Mount Vernon, on the Potomac River.
1748. George Washington became a surveyor when he was 16 years old. He was hired by his brother's friend to help survey (set boundaries) land on the Virginia frontier. Soon George started his own surveying business. Washington bought land with the money he earned. The Journals of George Washington describe part of the surveying trip:
"...I not being so good a Woodsman as the rest of my Company went in to the Bed as they call'd it when to my Surprize I found it to be nothing but a Little Straw-Matted together without Sheets or anything else but only one Thread Bear Blanket with double its Weight of Vermin such as Lice Fleas & c. Had we not have been so very tired, I am sure we should not have slep'd much that night."
1752. Lawrence Washington died and George inherited Mount Vernon, the home Lawrence built and lived in. Along with taking over the responsibilities of running a large plantation, George also took over Lawrence's work in the Virginia militia. He also entered politics, serving in the Virginia House of Burgesses.
1754. George Washington became well known as a soldier and leader when he commanded the Virginia militia during the French and Indian War. He resigned in 1759 and returned to Mount Vernon.
1759. George Washington married Martha Custis. Martha's husband had died. She had two young children who were raised by George and Martha at Mount Vernon.
1774/1775. George Washington was a Virginia delegate to the First and Second Continental Congresses. Representatives from all the colonies met at these meetings to discuss problems with England. Washington was especially unhappy with England's laws that prevented expansion of his land holdings in the west. People in the colonies had to sell their goods very cheaply to England and they were angry about the taxes they had to pay to England. Some colonists had already begun a Revolution against English forces.
1775. The Continental Congress appointed George Washington Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. He did not ask for the job but felt he should do his duty. He led the colonial troops for eight years during and immediately after the American Revolution.
1783. George Washington returned home to Mount Vernon after the war. He added on to the main house, built new buildings, and experimented with new crops, such as wheat, corn, potatoes, buckwheat, oats, and rye. He liked being a farmer and wanted his farm to be profitable. But The Articles of Confederation that loosely governed the thirteen individual states were not holding the new country together. Something different was needed.
1787. Washington was chosen as presiding officer of the Constitutional Convention that met in Philadelphia. Members wrote a new Constitution to govern all of the United States. The new document called for a President of the United States, and George Washington was chosen for the job. Again George Washington did not seek the job, but again he felt his country had called and he must answer the call.
1789. George Washington traveled from Mount Vernon to New York City by horse and carriage. His journal entry for April 16, the day he left for his inauguration, reflects his feelings about being chosen President and his "obedience to [the] call." The trip to New York City took a week. People waited along the way to see the famous general and their future president. He was inaugurated President in New York City on April 30.
1792. Washington was reelected, but he would refuse to consider a third term.
1797. After serving two terms as President, George Washington again went home to Mount Vernon. He took charge of his farms and entertained many visitors.
1799. George Washington died at Mount Vernon.
George Washington had a big job to do. His job was to help the individual states work together to become one nation. While Washington was president, he visited states in New England and in the South so that many people could meet and see him. People in many different places knew he was working for them.
Washington organized the government into departments so it would run smoothly. He let Congress make laws, but he made decisions about working with other countries. In his Farewell Address, George Washington warned the United States against involvement overseas.
Washington helped plan a capital city for the new country. It would be named after him -- Washington, D.C. He never lived there because both the city and the President's home were still being built when he died.
Mount Vernon was the plantation home where George Washington lived as a young man and as an adult. When George took over Mount Vernon he experimented with growing many other crops and stopped growing tobacco. He made five farms from the land he owned.
Today, Mount Vernon is a much larger home than it was when George Washington moved into it. While he lived there, he enlarged the house -- adding the large porch with pillars that faces the Potomac River and the large dining room where he was officially notified of his election as the first U.S. President. George Washington had a private study added to the mansion. The master bedroom was also an addition to the original house. Mrs. Washington used the room as her office "...from which she would oversee the household, the laundry and the kitchen, as well as teach her grandchildren and some of the slave children to sew and read." George Washington died in this bedroom. George and Martha Washington are buried in a tomb on the grounds of Mount Vernon.
More than 300 slaves lived and worked on the Mount Vernon farms when George Washington died in 1799. Most of the slaves worked in the fields. "Food grown at Mount Vernon was distributed to the slaves and their families and to the Washingtons." Washington taught trades to his slaves, and trained them for jobs. All of the Mount Vernon slaves were set free when Washington died. Some slaves were paid pensions until their deaths.
George Washington had a reputation as a strong leader and an honest man. His refusal to grab power was admired even before he died. But after his death, some legends, paintings, and books elevated him even more.
Make a timeline. Collect information and create a timeline of George Washington's life. (The timeline should begin with 1732 and end with 1998 so students will have a good understanding of how long ago Washington lived.) You might add to the timeline the names of subsequent presidents so students will become familiar with their names. You might even add important dates in your students' lives, such as the years in which they were born. Add dates for other important events your students have studied. Include on the timeline many of the important dates in Washington's life that appear above in the A Brief Timeline section.
Handwriting/citizenship. Washington's schooling, done mostly at home, included mathematics, geography, surveying, and the "Rules of Civility." George copied these rules of behavior to practice his handwriting -- and to learn how he was expected to behave. See George Washington's handwriting and some of the Rules of Civility he copied. You might use several of these rules as a handwriting exercise for your students. Encourage students to create Rules of Civility for the 1990s.
Name your home. George Washington's home was called Mount Vernon. Many homes had individual names during George Washington's time. Invite students to think of names for their own homes. Students can write a sentence or a paragraph to explain why they chose the names they chose.
Geography. On a U.S. map trace George Washington's trip to his inaugural. Why did the trip from Mount Vernon to New York take a week? How long might it take today? If you were going to travel that distance, how would you choose to travel? What choices might Washington have had? How do Presidents travel today?
More geography. Locate the Washington Monument on a map of Washington, D.C. Identify other places famous or familiar on the map. To learn more about the Washington Monument, click on the monument on the map. Invite students to build models of the monument using paper, blocks, or other materials.
Article by Anne Guignon
Copyright © Education World
George Washington's Mount Vernon
Visit this site for a wealth of information about George Washington and the home he loved. You can even send electronic trading cards by E-mail. Find booklists for students and teachers and information about School Programs. Programs include Colonial Days at Mount Vernon and Mount Vernon Visitors, "a program that brings history to your classroom." Also take a virtual tour of Mount Vernon.
Apotheosis of George Washington
This site discusses the deification of Washington during his life and after his death. Works of art throughout the Web site, including the mural on the ceiling of the Capitol rotunda, illustrate the authors' conclusions.
Last updated 01/05/2015