By: Evan Barker
George Washington (1732-99) was commander in chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War (1775-83) and served two terms as the first U.S. president, from 1789 to 1797. The son of a prosperous planter, Washington was raised in colonial Virginia. As a young man, he worked as a surveyor then fought in the French and Indian War (1754-63). During the American Revolution, he led the colonial forces to victory over the British and became a national hero. In 1787, he was elected president of the convention that wrote the U.S. Constitution. Two years later, Washington became America's first president. Realizing that the way he handled the job would impact how future presidents approached the position, he handed down a legacy of strength, integrity and national purpose. Less than three years after leaving office, he died at his Virginia plantation, Mount Vernon, at age 67.
In June 1775, Congress ordered General George Washington to take command of the Continental Army besieging the British in Boston. Despite having little practical experience in managing large, conventional armies, Washington proved to be a capable leader of the American military forces during the war. Narrowly escaping destruction during the 1776 New York Campaign, Washington was able to deliver a set of morale-boosting victories at Trenton and Princeton that helped to sustain the cause during its darkest moments – victories that also encouraged the French military to enter the war on the American side.
While he lost more battles than he won, George Washington employed a winning strategy against his more experienced British foe. By avoiding battles that would place his entire army at risk, Washington sought to wear down the British by remaining in the field and pressing his enemy where practicable. In October of 1781, Washington, in conjunction with the French military, delivered the decisive blow of the war at the Battle of Yorktown. With victory now in hand, Washington, on December 24, 1783, returned his commission to a grateful Congress, thereby reinforcing the American principle of civilian control over the military.