Washington had been managing his family’s plantation and serving in the Virginia House of Burgesses when the second Continental Congress unanimously voted to have him lead the revolutionary army. He had earlier distinguished himself, in the eyes of his contemporaries, as a commander for the British army in the French and Indian War of 1754.
Born a British citizen and a former Redcoat, Washington had, by the 1770s, joined the growing ranks of colonists who were dismayed by what they considered to be Britain’s exploitative policies in North America. In 1774, Washington joined the Continental Congress as a delegate from Virginia. The next year, the Congress offered Washington the role of commander in chief of the Continental Army.
After accepting the position, Washington sat down and wrote a letter to his wife, Martha, in which he revealed his concerns about his new role. He admitted to his “dear Patcy” that he had not sought the post but felt “it was utterly out of my power to refuse this appointment without exposing my Character to such censures as would have reflected dishonour upon myself, and given pain to my friends.” He expressed uneasiness at leaving her alone, told her he had updated his will and hoped that he would be home by the fall. He closed the letter with a postscript, saying he had found some of “the prettiest muslin” but did not indicate whether it was intended for her or for himself.
On July 3, 1775, Washington officially took command of the poorly trained and under-supplied Continental Army. After six years of struggle and despite frequent setbacks, Washington managed to lead the army to key victories and Great Britain eventually surrendered in 1781. Due largely to his military fame and humble personality, Americans overwhelmingly elected Washington their first president in 1789.