Uncovering the Life of the Original American Patriot

Katherine RivardNPF Blog
The faces of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln carved into white stone under blue sky at Mount Rushmore National Monument
Mount Rushmore National Monument — National Park Service

His teeth weren’t all there, and his formal military training was lacking, but that didn’t stop a surveyor and gentleman farmer from Virginia from rising through the ranks to become America’s first president. George Washington set an example for how our country would be ruled for centennials to come and remains one of our nation’s most revered Founding Fathers. Visiting a number of national parks, you can learn more about the life and lessons of the original American patriot.

Remembering His Beginnings

A colonial kitchen with a fireplace for cooking and a wooden table and wooden barrels at George Washington Birthplace National Monument
National Park Service

It was here at Popes Creek Plantation in Westmoreland County in 1732 that George Washington was born. Washington was the eldest of 6. He spent his first three years at the plantation and later performed his first survey on the land. After completing his formal schooling, he went on to work as a land surveyor for Lord Thomas Fairfax.

On Christmas Day, 1779, the home where George Washington was born almost 50 years before burned down. In fact, the abandoned area eventually became known as “Burnt House Point.” It was only in the 1800s that interest from Washington’s adopted grandson, and later attention from individuals, that the site received notice.

Archaeological exploration in 1930 and in 1931 revealed the home’s foundations, and the George Washington Birthplace National Monument officially joined the National Park System. Visitors can still see where the structure once stood, visit a reconstructed home as it would have appeared during Washington’s life, and learn about the society and environment he grew up in.

The New Leader

The Braddock Grave Unit of Fort Necesstiy National Battlefield showing Braddock Road trace in the foreground and the Monument over Braddock's Grave in the background

Braddock Grave Unit of Fort Necessity National Battlefield

National Park Service

Stepping down as president, Washington famously warned his countrymen to stay out of foreign conflict. Long before these warnings, Washington led troops into battle, beginning at the Battle of Fort Necessity — a conflict against the French and Native Americans that became one of the first battles of the French & Indian War. The fighting occurred during the summer of 1754, with attacks throughout the day as rain poured down.

Ultimately, the sides wrote up a truce, and on the morning of July 4, Washington and his men began their march back to Virginia as the French burned the fort. Living history programs each summer bring Fort Necessity National Battlefield to life again, complete with period uniforms and historic weapons.

Overcoming the Naysayers

The Continental Army had been losing most battles under Washington, and support for the leader was beginning to buckle. It was under these conditions that Washington arrived at Valley Forge in Pennsylvania, ready to prove his ability to remain confident and improve the troops’ morale.

The winter encampment of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge ultimately smoothed over most concerns regarding Washington’s leadership, and proved the fortitude of the American troops as they overcame illness and the cold. At Valley Forge National Historical Park, learn the significance of the encampment through ranger programs, tours by trolley, interactive stories with expert storytellers, or by attending an event like the weekly walks led by the Valley Forge Park Alliance.

The Coldest Winter of All

As George Washington and the Continental Army hunkered down for the winter of 1779 in Morristown, New Jersey, there was no way for them to know that it would be the coldest winter on record. The freezing cold and lack of supplies only highlight the resilience of the Continental Army that year.

Today, Morristown National Historical Park interprets the events that unfolded that frigid winter. Learn stories of the soldiers who wintered here, including that of Alexander Hamilton and the 4 other aides-de-camp who supported Washington. Enjoy a ranger program, explore the museums and exhibits, or hike through Jockey Hollow and the Revolutionary War Winter Encampment.

Victory at Last

A painting of General George Washington and his senior staff at the headquarters tents in Yorktown at Colonial National Historical Park

General George Washington and his senior staff at the headquarters tents in Yorktown

National Park Service

The success of Washington’s troops and their French allies at the Battle of Yorktown during 1781, ultimately broke the confidence of the British. This final, triumphant blow to the crown is remembered at the Yorktown Battlefield, part of Colonial National Historical Park. By March 1782, British Parliament decided the costs of the war were not worth continuing, and so, by September 1783, a treaty to end America’s War of Independence was signed.

Learn more right where the history happened by taking a self-guided tour of the Yorktown Battlefield, stopping by the visitor center, or visiting Historic Jamestowne.

Once the British Were Booted

After the Battle of Yorktown, Washington led his troops back to New York, finally retiring from public life in 1783, once the British troops had left New York. Little did he know that he would soon return to public service in Philadelphia.

Independence National Historical Park includes several key sites, including Independence Hall, where Washington was appointed as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in 1775, and the Assembly Room, where both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. constitution were signed. A block away, you’ll find Washington Square, commemorating Washington and the unknown soldier. The park also includes President’s House, where both George Washington and John Adams resided as presidents. Lastly, stop by Congress Hall to see where Congress met in the 1700s and the Senate Chamber where Washington was sworn in as President.

A Parkway in His Honor

The George Washington Memorial Parkway Bridge over the Potomac River leading toward the white Lincoln Memorial on a sunny day in Washington DC
National Park Service

The George Washington Memorial Parkway runs through Washington, D.C., fit with memorials and significant places along its smaller trails. From the Alexandria Waterfront to the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, the park tells a number of historic stories. There are a many ways in which visitors can take advantage of its activities. From learning how to ride a bike in Turkey Run Park to attending a concert, Washington would be pleased with the number of ways to enjoy this park. Keep following the parkway into Virginia and wrap up the journey at Mount Vernon!

The Foremost Face

The sculptor responsible for Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota selected the four presidents whom he felt represented America’s most historic events. Of the four, George Washington is the most prominent, as he laid the foundation for all other events in American history. His carving was completed first and dedicated on July 4, 1930. Attend the park’s ranger program, offered each day of the summer, to learn even more about these presidents and their roles in history.

Rising Above D.C.

The Washington Memorial on the National Mall in the distance under blue skies
National Park Service

One of the nation’s most iconic monuments, the Washington Monument is a 555-foot white obelisk, ascending far above the capital. It was built to honor George Washington and is one of the most recognizable monuments in the United States. The National Park Foundation provided the National Park Service with a grant to restore and modernize the statue. This will allow future generations of visitors to continue to tour the monument and learn about our first president.

Setting an example for all who followed, George Washington remains one of the greatest leaders in American history. For this reason, his life is commemorated throughout the National Park System and visitors can learn more about the significant ways he impacted our young nation at national parks across the country. From New Jersey to South Dakota, #FindYourPark / #EncuentraTuParque to learn more about this Founding Father.

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