Washington: The Man Who Could Have Been King

Contributor: Suzanne Riordan. Lesson ID: 13319

A homeschooled child, Washington grew up to be a gentleman farmer, a military hero, and America's first president. While he wasn't perfect, he was arguably the greatest leader the country has known!


United States

learning style
Auditory, Visual
personality style
Lion, Beaver
Grade Level
High School (9-12)
Lesson Type
Dig Deeper

Lesson Plan - Get It!

  • Can you guess who is, and presumably always will be, the highest-ranking member of the U.S. Army?

Watch George Washington was promoted to six-star general from We Are The Mighty:

The name George Washington is known all over the world. Americans know him as the hero of the American Revolution and the first president of the United States.

  • But how much do you really know about him?

For an introduction to his life, watch George Washington - First U.S. President | Mini Bio | Bio from Biography:

Early Life

Washington was born in 1732 in Virginia. His great-great-grandfather, John Washington, had come to America from England in the 1600s.

  • Do you think that someone's childhood shapes who they become as an adult?

For George Washington, growing up in the beautiful countryside of Virginia right along the Rappahannock River gave him a great appreciation for nature, a strong knowledge of agriculture, and a good work ethic.

When he was 6 years old, the family moved to Ferry Farm.

Ferry Farm, Virginia

Image by Aamarcian, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

Washington was homeschooled from ages 7 to 15 and later studied Latin and classic literature with a local schoolmaster.

His father died when he was 11, and he went to live with his older brother, Lawrence, at the family estate of Mount Vernon. Lawrence and his wife were good to him and taught him many things, especially how to behave properly in society.

Washington learned practical skills from those around him. By the time he was a teenager, he had learned how to manage the farm, including growing tobacco and raising livestock.

He also became a land surveyor. He spent several years traveling around with a surveying team.

Mount Vernon

After Washington's brother died, he inherited the family farm at Mount Vernon. This would be his beloved home for the rest of his life.

the mansion at Mount Vernon

Image by Otherspice, via Wikimedia Commons, is licensed under the CC BY-SA 4.0 license.

Discover how Washington managed his farm in George Washington's Farm from George Washington's Mount Vernon:

French and Indian War

Washington became an officer in the Virginia Militia, which was under the control of the British prior to the Revolutionary War.

At that time, the British and French were fighting over the Ohio Valley, with each side building forts in the area to protect their interests. The French convinced a number of Native American tribes to support them, so the British were fighting the French and the Indians (hence the name of the war).

Washington ended up being in the middle of a few of these battles, and he amazingly escaped death several times!

Watch Bulletproof George Washington Tim Barton from WallBuilders / David Barton:


Martha Dandridge Custis, 1757

Image [cropped] by John Folwell, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

After the war, Washington returned to Mount Vernon and married Martha Custis, a wealthy widow with two children.

Take a few minutes to meet Martha, George's wife for 40 years and the first First Lady of the United States, in The Life of Martha Washington from George Washington's Mount Vernon:

House of Burgesses and Continental Congress

Though Washington loved his farm, he was also eager to serve his country. As a wealthy landowner, he was greatly respected and was elected as a representative to Virginia's House of Burgesses.

At this time, conflict was brewing between England and the colonies. There were arguments over taxes and some other issues, and neither side was willing to compromise.

It took a while for Washington to be convinced that rebelling against British rule was the right thing to do. Remember, he was a loyal British citizen! But as a representative in the House of Burgesses, he strongly protested against unjust taxes and called for a boycott of British goods.

War of Independence

When it became clear that the conflict could only be resolved by war, Washington was ready. He went to the Continental Congress to offer his help with the military.

The Congress put him in command of the Army. There was just one problem -- there was no army! He had to begin to build one himself.

The early days of the Revolution didn't go well at all. The Revolutionary army lost battle after battle. When their campaign in New York failed, they retreated to New Jersey and then crossed over the Delaware River into Pennsylvania.

It was a bitterly cold winter, and the Hessian soldiers (fighting for the British) certainly didn't expect any trouble from the retreating Continental Army.

You may know what happened next, as depicted in this famous painting:

Washington Crossing the Delaware

Image by Emanuel Leutze in 1851, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

Washington launched one of history's most successful surprise attacks, crossing the icy waters in the middle of the night.

Watch a portion of The 10 Days That Changed The World, Washington's Crossing the Delaware from Jim Wyler:

It was a great victory for George Washington. However, there were many more defeats to come, which became arguably the lowest point of his military career.

Valley Forge

Throughout the war, the army was under-funded, lacking even the most basic supplies. The winter at Valley Forge proved to be the worst of all.

More soldiers died from the cold, hunger, and disease there than in all the battles of the war.

Watch History Brief: Washington's Army at Valley Forge from Reading Through History:

Surrender at Yorktown

The war finally ended with the defeat of the British at Yorktown and their final surrender.

Siege of Yorktown

Image by Auguste Couder in 1836, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

As soon as he could, Washington resigned his commission in the Army and said farewell to his troops.

General George Washington Resigning His Commission

Image by John Trumbull in 1824, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

Washington was the hero of the whole country and could have easily used his fame and position to gain great power. He could have become the first King of America.

But that was not what he wanted. It was not power he fought for, but freedom and democracy.

Instead, Washington returned home. Mount Vernon had almost gone to ruin, with its owner being gone for over eight years!

Constitutional Convention

America had gained its freedom, but the question now was: how was it to be governed?

A convention was called together to write a constitution for the new country.

Despite his desire to stay at Mount Vernon, Washington was again called to serve. He was asked to lead the Virginia delegation to the Constitutional Convention, and he was chosen to be the presiding officer of the Convention.

Scene at the Signing of the Constitution of the United States

Image by Howard Chandler Christy in 1940, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

When the Constitution had been written, he again returned to Mount Vernon.

But another call to service was coming!


When the electors gathered to elect the first president, they unanimously chose George Washington. He's the only American president ever to be unanimously elected.

It was difficult being the first ever to serve in this incredibly important position, but Washington was probably the perfect man for the job. He was determined to act and be treated as an elected leader, not a king.

He cared very much about making an efficient government and setting the standard for future years. He surrounded himself with wise counselors and listened to their opinions.

Learn more about his time as president in Washington and the Presidency from George Washington's Mount Vernon:

Last Years

After two presidential terms (eight years), Washington returned to Mount Vernon to resume his life as a gentleman farmer and spend time with his wife and grandchildren.

The Washington Family

Image by Edward Savage in 1796, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

Sadly, he died only two years later in December 1799.

Washington on his Deathbed

Image by Junius Brutus Stearns in 1851, via Wikimedia Commons, is in the public domain.

Martha Washington told others that she would soon follow her husband. She died a few years later.

George and Martha are buried at Mount Vernon.

Now that you've met Mr. Washington up close, move on to the Got It? section to take a short quiz on his life and create a newspaper article!

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