Not much is known about Washington's early education, although children of prosperous families like his typically were taught at home by private tutors or attended private schools. It's believed he finished his formal schooling at around age 15.
As a teenager, Washington, who had shown an aptitude for mathematics, became a successful surveyor. His surveying expeditions into the Virginia wilderness earned him enough money to begin acquiring land of his own.
In 1751, Washington made his only trip outside of America, when he travelled to Barbados with his older half-brother Lawrence, who was suffering from tuberculosis and hoped the warm climate would help him recuperate. Shortly after their arrival, George contracted smallpox. He survived, although the illness left him with permanent facial scars. In 1752, Lawrence, who had been educated in England and served as Washington's mentor, died. Washington eventually inherited Lawrence's estate, Mount Vernon, on the Potomac River near Alexandria, Virginia.
In December 1752, Washington, who had no previous military experience, was made a commander of the Virginia militia. He saw action in the French and Indian War and was eventually put in charge of all of Virginia's militia forces. By 1759, Washington had resigned his commission, returned to Mount Vernon and was elected to the Virginia House of Burgesses, where he served until 1774. In January 1759, he married Martha Dandridge Custis. Washington became a devoted stepfather to her two children.
In the ensuing years, Washington expanded Mount Vernon from 2,000 acres into an 8,000-acre property with five farms. He grew a variety of crops, including wheat and corn, bred mules and maintained fruit orchards and a successful fishery. He was deeply interested in farming and continually experimented with new crops and methods of land conservation.
By the late 1760s, Washington had experienced firsthand the effects of rising taxes imposed on American colonists by the British, and came to believe that it was in the best interests of the colonists to declare independence from England. Washington served as a delegate to the First Continental Congress in 1774 in Philadelphia. By the time the Second Continental Congress convened a year later, the American Revolution had begun and Washington was named commander in chief of the Continental Army.
Washington proved to be a better general than military strategist. His strength was not in his strategies on the battlefield but in his ability to keep the struggling colonial army together. His troops were poorly trained and lacked food, ammunition and other supplies. However, Washington was able to give them the direction and motivation to keep going.
Over the course of the grueling eight-year war, the colonial forces won few battles but consistently held their own against the British. In October 1781, with the aid of the French, the Continental forces were able to capture British troops under General Charles Cornwallis in Yorktown, Virginia. This action effectively ended the Revolutionary War and Washington was declared a national hero.
In 1783, with a peace treaty signed between Great Britain and the U.S., Washington, believing he had done his duty, gave up his command of the army and returned to Mount Vernon, intent on resuming his life as a gentleman farmer and family man. However, in 1787, he was asked to attend the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia and head the committee to draft the new constitution. His impressive…