The son of a landowner and planter, George Washington was born on February 22, 1732, in the British-ruled colony of Virginia. His father died when he was 11, and his older brother, Lawrence, helped raise him. Washington was educated in basic subjects including reading, writing, and mathematics, but he didn’t attend college. Not much else is known about his childhood. Stories about his virtues—such as his confession of chopping down his father’s cherry tree—were actually invented by an admiring writer soon after Washington’s death.
During his 20s, he fought as a soldier in the French and Indian War, Great Britain’s fight with France over the Ohio River Valley territory. After the war, Washington returned to Virginia to work as a farmer.
Virginians elected Washington to their colonial legislature, or government, when he was 26. Soon after, he married Martha Dandridge Custis, a wealthy widow with two young children. They settled at Mount Vernon, a family home Washington had inherited.
As a government official, Washington spoke out against unfair laws, such as high taxes, during Great Britain’s rule. In 1774 and 1775, he was one of Virginia’s representatives at the First and Second Continental Congresses, a group of representatives from the 13 colonies that would eventually become the United States. The Second Congress helped future third president, Thomas Jefferson, write the Declaration of Independence in July 1776, proclaiming that the 13 colonies were now independent states, no longer under British rule. An army was formed to oppose the British, and Washington was selected to lead it.