George Washington


Born in 1732 into a Virginia planter family, George Washington grew to become an 18th century Virginia gentleman. He pursued two interests: exploration and the military. At 16 he helped survey the Shenandoah Valley. In 1754 he was commissioned a lieutenant colonel and fought in the first skirmishes of the French and Indian War. As an aide de camp to General Edward Braddock, he narrowly escaped death as four bullets ripped through his clothing and two horses were shot from underneath him.

From 1759 to the outbreak of the American Revolution, Washington managed his lands around his home at Mount Vernon and was elected a delegate to Virginia. He married Martha Dandridge Custis. But like his fellow Virginia planters, Washington soon felt exploited by the British.

When the Second Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia in May 1775, Washington was elected Commander in Chief of America’s Continental Army. He took command of his troops and embarked upon a war that lasted six years. Finally in 1781, with the aid of French allies, he forced the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown.

Although Washington desired to retire after the war, he soon realized that the nation was not functioning well under its current Articles of Confederation, so he rallied for a Constitutional Convention, which met at Philadelphia in 1787. When the Constitution was ratified, the Electoral College unanimously elected Washington president. George Washington took his oath of office as the first President of the United States on April 30, 1789.

To his disappointment, two political parties were developing by the end of his first term. Tired of politics, he retired at the end of his second term. In his Farewell Address, he urged his countrymen to avoid excessive party spirit and geographical distinctions and warned against long-term alliances with foreign countries. Washington enjoyed less than three years of retirement at Mount Vernon before he died of a throat infection on December 14, 1799.

Following Washington’s death and into the early 19th century, many local militia units around the country changed their names from their city or state affiliations, to “Washington,” in honor of America’s first president. George Washington’s legend was still strong across America and his birthday was a day of celebration in which local militia units paraded.

When the first official American militia was formed in Louisiana following the War of 1812, sometime between 1814 and 1819, one of the artillery units of the preexisting French Battalion of New Orleans Volunteers changed its name to the Washington Artillery.

Newspaper accounts in 1819 document the earliest known use of the name “Washington” with one of these artillery companies. The Louisiana Courrier, dated January 11, 1819, reported that on the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans on January 8th the governor of the state reviewed local militia companies. Among the military units listed was the Washington Artillery (foot), Captain B. Williams commanding. Later that year, The Orleans Gazette and Commercial Advertiser newspaper published a notice dated November 26, 1819 that “Washington Artillerists … assemble in front of the Presbyterian Church, in full uniform, at 2 o’clock.”

Research of Louisiana’s 18th century French and Spanish militia documents an overlapping continuity of personnel within the artillery organizations with each transfer of governing authority. As each artillery unit reorganized and renamed itself under various dominions, its members volunteered their services to protecting their homeland. These artillery units were the ancestors to the current Washington Artillery.

With this proud early history, it is quite evident why New Orleans’ Washington Artillery could draw new members from the city’s social elite year after year, and why, when asked, many Washington Artillerists would say, “The Washington Artillery wasn’t named after George Washington. He was named after us!”