The Making of a President: George Washington’s Childhood

Unlike other presidents who left records of their childhoods, we know very little about George Washington’s youth. The lack of information has led some stories that are not true about his childhood to pass for what really happened. For example, there is no evidence that George Washington confessed to his father that he cut down a cherry tree, saying, “I cannot tell a lie.” The only thing known for certain about George’s relationship with his father was that it ended when his father died suddenly. George was only eleven years old, and as a younger son he was not supposed to inherit the family estate, known today as Mount Vernon. 

Though he would inherit Mount Vernon eventually, George spent his youth with his mother in a six-room farmhouse near Fredericksburg, Virginia. Although there was a college nearby, George never attended it and only received an elementary school education. His lack of official instruction bothered him during the Revolution when he met other colonists who had more education than he did.

George’s older half brother, Lawrence indirectly influenced the man George Washington would later become. Lawrence had married into the Fairfax family, and one of the Fairfax cousins gave George his first job in 1748. During his work surveying Fairfax property in the Shenandoah Valley, sixteen-year-old George started his now famous diary. He wrote about the conditions of the country, stating that he “went into the Bed as they call’d it when to my Surprize I found it to be nothing but a Little Straw.”

Though he would endure some hardship away from home at times, George was not destined to be a poor younger son. Lawrence died young and George inherited his land. George did not want to sit at home, however. When Lawrence was ill, he applied for a small post in the Virginia militia. Despite his lack of experience, the same Fairfax cousin vouched for his character. Since Lawrence’s death created an opening in the military, Virginia’s governor decided to accept George. Major George Washington left for the west within a year.



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