Grade level: 9-12 subject area: U. S. History credit

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The Making of Our First President


Two class periods



U.S. History

Summer Productions, Inc.


Students will understand the following:

1. General Washington—the general and the president—was formed to some extent by the man's early military experiences.

2. The early experiences involved working under difficult conditions and losing as well as winning.


For this lesson, you will need:

Reference materials with detailed treatment of Washington's early military experience

1. The goal of this project is to have students research the early military career of George Washington and, based on their findings, prepare an editorial about Washington for a colonial newspaper.


Begin by having students use various reference sources to piece together a chronological overview of George Washington's early military career—from the fall of 1752 to the summer of 1755.

2. To determine if students have sufficiently taken in the facts and opinions surrounding Washington during the specified period, administer the following true-false quiz orally:
- In November 1752, the 20-year-old George Washington was appointed adjutant in the colonial militia of the southern district of Virginia by his beloved half-brother Lawrence. [false: The appointment was made by Robert Dinwiddie, the governor of Virginia.]
- In the summer of 1753, Major Washington volunteered to carry Governor Dinwiddie's message to the French who were coming down from Canada into the headwaters of the Ohio River. The governor, following orders from the British, demanded that the French immediately withdraw. [true]
- Washington returned to Williamsburg, Virginia, less than three months later with the French expedition's response: They would not withdraw. [true]
- Upon his return to Virginia, Washington recommended to Dinwiddie that a British fort be erected at the forks of the Ohio, and Washington was given a thousand men to help protect the fort. [false: Washington had to raise his own troops without equipment, clothing, or funds. He built a column of two hundred men.]
- Washington's plans had to change. His men built a log stockade, which he named Fort Necessity. Then in May 1754, he routed a French force that he had surprised in a brief battle, which also involved the killing of the French commander and the taking of French prisoners. [true]
- On July 3, 1754, Fort Necessity was attacked by the French, but they surrendered to Washington on July 4. [false: Washington himself had to surrender to the French on July 4, but he was not blamed for losing to a superior force.]
- Later in 1754, Washington was promoted. [false: Later in 1754, Washington resigned because he did not want to report to regular British army officers.]
- In 1755, Washington was invited by a high-ranking British officer to drive the French from another site, Fort Duquesne. [true]
- Although Washington had to lead a retreat in the July 9 battle near Fort Duquesne, he was cited for performing bravely and levelheadedly. [true]

3. Once you are convinced that your students know the basic facts of Washington's early military career and the reputation that he acquired, invite your students to imagine that they are on the editorial board of a newspaper in the colonial settlement of Williamsburg, Virginia, where resided the governor to whom Washington reported. Ask students to discuss what the newspaper will say about Washington when he returns from the retreat of July 9, 1755. Raise these issues:

- Will the newspaper commend Washington or chastise him?
- What will the editorial writers predict about Washington's future leadership abilities in the colonies?
- Looking ahead 250 years to the beginning of the 21st century, what do the editors predict Washington's historical reputation will be—especially, in comparison with other leaders who will have come along in the meantime?

4. Provide basic instruction in or a review of the elements of an editorial. These elements include the following:

- Clearly stating an opinion (in this case, an opinion of Washington's current performance and future reputation)
- Providing sufficient details to support the opinion
- Acknowledging why some readers may disagree with the editorial's position; responding to those readers' views
- Calling for some action by the person being written about or by the readers of the editorial

5. Decide if you want students to work independently, in pairs, or in small groups, and give them time to prewrite, draft, and revise the texts of their editorials about the young George Washington.

6. Have students, pairs, or groups exchange their writing with another student, pair, or group. Ask each recipient to read and then comment on the editorial.

After you have administered the true-false quiz but before younger students write their editorials, have them participate with you in a whole-class discussion of Washington's accomplishments and failures in the early years.

1. Discuss why the British government and the Virginia colonists were both eager to remove the French from the Ohio Valley.
2. Discuss how Washington prepared himself for his future role as a military leader.
3. Discuss why Washington was referred to as both a hero and a criminal as a result of the skirmish near Great Meadows.
4. Why did Washington retire from service in the Virginia colonial militia as a result of the defeat at Fort Necessity?
5. How was Washington's future greatness shaped by his military experiences in “the unknown years”?

You can evaluate your students' editorials using the following three-point rubric:


Three points:clearly states an opinion based on accurate facts; acknowledges and answers opposing opinions; contains unified and coherent paragraphs; contains no errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics


Two points:states an opinion based on accurate facts; acknowledges and answers opposing opinions; contains paragraphs that are mostly unified and coherent; contains some errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics


One point:states an opinion but does not support it with accurate facts; does not acknowledge and answer opposing opinions; contains paragraphs that are not sufficiently unified and coherent; contains many errors in grammar, usage, and mechanics


You can ask your students to contribute to the assessment rubric by having them determine how many facts should be included in the editorial.

The French and Indian War: A Battle Map

Give students a blank map of North America. Ask them to identify the location of the major military campaigns and battles at the beginning of the French and Indian War. Have them color-code the locations as French or British campaigns or victories. Ask students to include Native American tribes that participated in battles between the French and British.

The Brave, the Bold, the Daring: A Speech

Ask students to imagine what life was like for the colonial citizens who lived outside established communities such as Williamsburg, Virginia, in the 1750s. Encourage students to take the part of a guest speaker from the past, pretending to be someone who was not afraid to seek new adventures, to take risks, to explore the unknown, or to fight for a cause.

"A Man on Horseback"

Richard Brookhiser, Atlantic Monthly, January. 1996

"The Radicalism of the American Revolution"

Gordon S. Wood, Alfred A Knopf, 1992

Colonial-Revolutionary Part of the History/Social Studies Web

These pages offers numerous links to other sites of the colonial and revolutionary era of American history, including several on George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, the founding and settling of America, Native Americans, and original source documents describing events from the perspective of the times. - REVOLUTIONARY
The American Presidency

Grolier Online has developed this site, which offers a history of presidents, the presidency, politics and related subjects. It features a tutorial, plus information for children and adults. There is also an exhibit hall, a quiz, and a collection of additional presidential links.
The Papers of George Washington

Want to see what George Washington had to say for himself, both in his youth and later as the first president of the United States? Visit this site at the University of Virginia to read the original documents and learn more about the early years of this founding father.


A decree or order issued by a sovereign or other authority.


The monarch responds with an edict that cracks like thunder across the wilderness.


Any minor or brief encounter in war carried on between small groups.


It couldn't be called a battle; it was more of a skirmish.


A title of respect given to a country gentleman or local dignitary.


In December, 1774, Colonel Washington becomes Squire Washington of Mount Vernon.


A tract of land, with regard to its natural features.


He knew the area; he knew the enemy; he knew the terrain.


A final proposal or statement of terms between two parties, which if rejected, could bring about war.


Governor Dinwiddie sets about to recruit a volunteer to carry an ultimatum to the French.

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

world history


Understands the economic, political, and cultural interrelations among peoples of Africa, Europe, and the Americas between 1500 and 1750.


Understands events in the development of various European colonies between the 16th and 18th centuries (e.g. the conflicts between British and French colonists in North America; their relationships with Native Americans; the causes and results of the French and Indian War).

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

U.S. history


Understands how the early Europeans and Africans interacted with Native Americans in the Americas.


Understands social and economic characteristics of European colonization in the 17th and 18th centuries (e.g. the differences between the French and British colonies in North America and the conflicts which developed from them).

Grade Level:


Subject Area:



Understands the forces of conflict and cooperation that shape the divisions of Earth's surface.


Knows the causes of boundary conflicts and internal disputes between culture groups (e.g. the British and French governments fighting for world dominance, with North America as one of the pawns in the struggle; the conflicts between British and French settlers in North America which helped motivate this larger conflict).

Grade Level:


Subject Area:



Understands the changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources.


Understands the relationship between resources and exploration, colonization, and settlement of different regions of the world (e.g. the importance of land and resources in the British/French struggle for New World supremacy).

Grade Level:


Subject Area:


Understands the importance of political leadership, public service, and a knowledgeable citizenry in American constitutional democracy.

Knows personal qualities necessary for political leadership (e.g. the leadership characteristics displayed by George Washington during the French and Indian War, and the role that they played in his future development as Revolutionary War Commander-in-Chief and President of the United States).
Copyright 2001

Teachers may reproduce copies of these materials for classroom use only.

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