Despite being the most famous Founding Father, George Washington was the most enigmatic of that brethren. Beneath the iconic General and President were complex layers of motivation and anxiety in the political, social, and economic spheres. As with all people, Washington was the sum of his experiences, and much of Washington's ambitions and anxiety were shaped from his childhood to his early-twenties before the beginning of the French & Indian War in 1754 in the Ohio River Valley.
Nonetheless, Washington was exceedingly smart, and quick to grasp ideas, whether they were his or from someone else. Even as an older child, he knew good advice when he heard it, and more-often-than-not acted upon it. Washington learned the 110 Social Maxims, which was the universal etiquette for Gentlemen in Colonial Virginia. Washington followed the maxims almost to the letter; to others, Washington was cool, pragmatic, and controlled . . . but those genteel manners were a social facade that concealed his stormy emotions. It would be a very rare event indeed for anyone to witness Washington's virulent temper at Mount Vernon, during the Revolutionary War, or as President.
Anne's father, William Fairfax, owned five million acres, from the Potomac to the Shenandoah Valley; by marrying into the Fairfax family, Lawrence crossed the chasm from being merely comfortable to being fabulously rich and influential. Almost immediately, Colonel William Fairfax saw the young George Washington as a protege, grooming him for bigger and better things as a member and representative of the Fairfax clan . . . Washington would have never had his future opportunities without that marriage. Washington now had his social, economic, and political platform for advancement in Colonial Virginia, all at the age of 11.
At age 15, due mostly to derive an income on his own, Washington learned how to be a good surveyor. Also, while acting as an agent for others in terms of land speculation (especially for the Fairfax family), he could scout potential choice areas for himself. Surveying was a perfect fit, in that Washington loved the outdoors, was very good with math, and was an excellent problem-solver. His years as a surveyor meant a lot of time in the saddle, and as a result, Washington would become one of the great horsemen of his time.
At age 17, Washington was named the surveyor for William & Mary College; he became the youngest official surveyor in the history of Colonial Virginia, and as a result he was able to skip many social steps in terms of status. When he turned 18, Washington already had a plantation, where he focused on growing corn, wheat, and tobacco (By 1756, at the age of 23, Washington owned 2315 acres in the Shenandoah Valley, which today is NW Virginia).
In 1751 (Washington was 18), Lawrence contracted tuberculosis, and he and George went to Barbados, in an effort to help Lawrence recover his health. In Barbados, George contracted smallpox, and was nursed back to health inside of a month. By 12 December, 1751, Washington was completely recovered, but bore a pock-marked nose for the rest of his life; Washington now had immunity to the most virulent scourge for 18th Century armies.
It was at this point in his life that Washington decided to trade his life as a surveyor to become a soldier, like his beloved half-brother Lawrence. Due to his connection with the Fairfax family, Washington became a Major in the region's militia, with the additional title of Adjutant for the Northern District; it was the most prominent and prestigious military position in all of Colonial Virginia. In short order, Washington became a Freemason, mostly to gain more meaningful social contacts. By the age of 21, George Washington possessed large tracts of land, African slaves, and military and social status, but it came in part at tremendous cost, in that much of it would not have been possible without the deaths of his father and half-brother.
At age 21, Major George Washington, Adjutant for the Northern District of the Commonwealth of Virginia, was at the forefront of the events that unfolded in the Ohio River Valley that led to the start of the French and Indian War . . . his experiences to that point prepared him well for the challenges that awaited him in the Ohio River Valley.
(Pictured: a portrait of Washington shortly after being
promoted to Colonel in the Virginia Militia)