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Who was George Washington?

The story of America's first president

All Americans know about George Washington.  He was the first president of the United States of America, and his face appears on the iconic one dollar bill.  He has also given his name to the capital city of the USA, Washington D.C, .... and to a state, the state of Washington. No other American is quite so famous ! 

This document, with exercises and answers, is included in  A Background to English,  a collection of 27 B1 - mid-B2 intermediate English reading texts, with exercises and answers, available from Amazon worldwide, and leading bookstores, including Barnes & Noble in the USA and Waterstones in the UK.

An unforgettable president ...

Ben Affleck
George Washington's portrait is on the iconic one dollar bill
If you had to sum up George Washington's life in one word, that word would have to be unforgettable. George's story is one of travel and adventure, full of risks and, most of all, full of glory.
   After all, in 1789, he was elected the first president of the United States, a country that was to become the most powerful in the world. At the end of his life, in 1799, George was an international hero.
   But, if you look back into George's early years, you will see that things were not always so rosy. George was sent into the Army as a very young man. For a colonist of his generation, it was a respectable thing to do. It gave him an opportunity to make a living, and at the same time see the country, which at the time was full of wild animals and Indians. It was a tough life, but an interesting one. One could hunt forever in the vast forests. One could explore new lands seemingly forever.
   A lover of Nature, George became a surveyor with the Army, a job which led him further and further into the wild, unknown country. As for the Indians, they were generally friendly, and were good trading partners.  All in all, George's young years were full of carefree wandering in a new, virgin land.
Ben Affleck
George Washington rides to battle in the French & Indian war
   Yet suddenly one day, the threatening news came: wild animals and Indians were not the only inhabitants of the woods. Virginia scouts had found French soldiers on the other side of the Appalachians. It was said that the French claimed all land west of the mountains for New France. This was bad news for the governor of Virginia, who wanted the same land — at all costs.
   In his quest to get the land beyond the mountains, the governor called upon his best soldier to deal with the situation: it was young George Washington, barely 22 years old at the time. The governor told George to go and find the French, and give them a simple message: leave the region immediately, or get ready for battle.
   Wanting to serve and please his authorities, George did as he was told. He went over the mountains with a small army, found the French, and passed on the governor's message. But, of course, the French did not wish to leave. Inevitably, the conflict developed into a war, known as the French and Indian War; that is, the French and some Indian allies fighting the British colonials.
   For George, it was a difficult time. To cut a long story short, it was the only time in his life that he had to surrender an army — at Fort Necessity, near the forks of the Ohio. In that battle, George nearly didn't become the first president of the United States. His army was surrounded by the French and Indians, badly outnumbered, so he had to surrender the fort. Luckily for him, the French allowed him and his army to leave with their horses and guns. The battle had been lost, but the English, who were more numerous, eventually won the war.
  The French and Indian War was a learning experience for George, one that he would later exploit in the War for American Independence. Indeed, twenty years later, George was dressed in an American uniform, and fighting not against the French, but against the British.
  In this war, it is said that George's fiery leadership inspired his American troops when they were starving and cold, and he emerged from the war as the greatest general.
  It was no surprise that the victorious Americans chose him as their first president. As for getting his picture on the dollar bill, that didn't come until after George was long dead and gone, proving that his spirit was truly an unforgettable one.

sum up: to give a brief review or summary - rosy: nice - colonist : (in the USA at the time) a man from England - make a living: make enough money to live - hunt : chase wild animals - seemingly: apparently - surveyor: person who measures land - trading partners: people with whom one buys and sells - carefree: casual, with no worries or responsibilities - threatening news: news of danger - quest: attempt - deal with: confront, handle -to cut a long story short: in short - forks of the Ohio: place where the Ohio river begins, from two other rivers - outnumbered: having many less men than the enemy - fiery: strongly emotional - starving: without food

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More American history texts:  Gettysburg (Advanced)  -  Ellis Island  (Advanced) - Martin Luther King (Advanced) -  Rosa Parks (Advanced) - Thanksgiving (Advanced) -  Buffalo Bill (Intermediate)

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1. Select the nearest equivalent to these expressions which occur in the text .

1. was to become -  
2. claimed all land -
3. passed on the governor's message -
4. nearly didn't become the first president -
5. was a learning experience -

2. Make up questions to which these are the answers, using the question word indicated.
  1. In 1799 .
  2. French soldiers . 
  3. Because he wanted it too. 
  4. To give them a simple message.
  5. The French and the Indians.
  6. At Fort Necessity.
  7. With his fiery leadership.
  8. Much later  long after his death.

Answers to exercise 1 and suggested answers for exercise 2 can be found in the answers section of A Background to English, the new paperback  "best of" B1-B2 intermediate texts from Linguapress.
As well as answers, this collection of 27 texts includes some texts not available online, and access to more audio recordings. 

For teachers

The passive: Get students to think up sentences about George Washington using the passive voice. There are several examples in the article, for example :  he was elected the first president of the United States, George was sent into the Army as a very young man.

Reading for information :
Ask students to pick out as many words and phrases as possible that tell us what sort of a man George Washington was.

This teaching resource is © copyright Linguapress renewed 2023.
Text revised from on an article originally published in Freeway, the intermediate level English newsmagazine. Republication on other websites or in print is not authorised

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Intermediate level EFL resource

Readability - plain English
Flesch-Kincaid Grade level: 8.7
Reading ease level:  66
CEF level: B1
IELTS Level 4 - 5
From Linguapress......

Also available in French

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