First Entrepreneur

How George Washington Built His -- and the Nation's -- Prosperity


By Edward G. Lengel

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The United States was conceived in business, founded on business, and operated as a business — all because of the entrepreneurial mind of the greatest American businessman of any generation: George Washington.

Using Washington’s extensive but often overlooked financial papers, Edward G. Lengel chronicles the fascinating and inspiring story of how this self-educated man built the Mount Vernon estate into a vast multilayered enterprise and prudently managed meager resources to win the war of independence. Later, as president, he helped establish the national economy on a solid footing and favorably positioned the nation for the Industrial Revolution. Washington’s steadfast commitment to the core economic principles of probity, transparency, careful management, and calculated boldness are timeless lessons that should inspire and instruct investors even today.

First Entrepreneur will transform how ordinary Americans think about George Washington and how his success in commercial enterprise influenced and guided the emerging nation.




WASHINGTON FAMILY FORTUNES WERE FOUNDED ON tobacco and land. But ambition was the catalyst for prosperity. George’s great-grandfather John Washington, who arrived in Virginia in 1656, was an apparently undistinguished clergyman’s son in his mid-twenties who yearned to make his fortune. Rough and ready, he understood instinctively how to roll with fate’s punches and make the most of any situation. These were boom years for the Chesapeake region. Tobacco dominated the economy, drawing planters wealthy and poor and laborers free and enslaved, to cultivate the crop and feed Europe’s ever-growing demand. The prospects were extensive, but so were the risks. Tobacco prices fell steadily as production increased, but thus far profits had remained solid as efficiencies and technological improvements caused planters’ costs to decline. Everyone knew, though, that the boom would not last forever.

Washington must have had this on his mind as his ship, the Sea Horse of London, entered the Chesapeake and he caught his first glimpse of America’s shores. Prosperity beckoned, and so did ruin. His first experiences were anything but auspicious. Upon arrival in Virginia—the first port of entry remains uncertain—the ship unloaded its cargo of English goods, and the ship’s agent debarked to exchange the cargo for good Virginia tobacco. Washington, who as the ship’s second master looked to share in the profits, likely watched with interest as hogshead barrels of dried leaf were loaded on board until the holds seemed fit to burst. As the ship readied for its journey home, he could have been excused for mulling over how he would invest his profits. Heading down the Potomac in early 1657, however, the ship ran aground, and before the crew could get it afloat, a howling winter storm lashed the normally placid river into a frenzy. Waves sank the vessel, and its entire cargo was lost.

John was unharmed, but his whole investment had disappeared with the sinking ship, and he had neither the money nor the means of getting back to England. Making matters worse, the castaway soon fell to legal bickering with the ship’s master over wages and how to pay for raising the vessel. Such a sudden turn of fortune may have devastated a lesser man. Instead of bemoaning his fate, however, Washington curried supporters among the Virginia gentry and soon befriended a moderately prosperous planter named Nathanial Pope. That worthy not only backed up Washington in his litigation with the shipmaster but also approved the young man’s union in marriage with his daughter Anne. Along with her hand, John acquired £80 and 700 acres of land—more than enough to make his start. He decided to remain in Virginia.

At the top, seventeenth-century Virginia society resembled the British aristocracy. Power belonged to men with money and political connections. Chief among them were the great Proprietors, who had secured their power from the crown. Over time the wealthy became wealthier as they cornered the best and largest land patents. The rest had to pick up the crumbs as best they could.

John Washington was one of the up-and-comers—a cheeky, ambitious youth who spurned complacency and assembled his fortune piece by piece. Through the headright system—by which a planter received a small land grant for each settler he imported, at his own cost, to the New World—Washington acquired 1,820 acres of potentially arable land. He secured rights to more by barter, simple purchase, or the securing of grants to deserted land and small forest tracts. By 1668, he owned 5,000 acres. In 1675, at one fell swoop, he acquired 5,000 more.

While these land acquisitions were under way, John sought and won a series of lucrative colonial offices, contracts, and appointments—essential for upward mobility in the colonial system. He became a member of Virginia’s House of Burgesses, a lieutenant colonel of the militia, and the owner of a mill, a tavern, and a shop. He even collected rent from a courthouse and a prison. With some of the proceeds from these and other business ventures, John planted and grew tobacco—which served in effect as the colonial currency.

Though he was a success at business, John Washington fell victim to an untimely death—a fate that would also plague his male descendants for many generations. When he passed away in 1677, John was only forty-six. But he left behind a prosperous estate. The bulk of it went to his oldest son, eighteen-year-old Lawrence. A perfectly respectable gentleman, Lawrence nevertheless lacked the family fire for self-improvement. He served as a burgess and in other offices, but in limited business dealings he added only 440 acres to his inheritance. Lawrence married well, however, to Mildred Warner. She came from a prominent Virginia political family. Through her, Lawrence established connections that would serve his family well in the future, even though he died at the early age of thirty-eight in 1698.

Lawrence Washington left behind three children: John, who was seven; Augustine, who was three; and Mildred, who was just a baby. Their mother died a few years later after marrying a second time. Fortunately for the children, a cousin intervened legally to prevent the ill-intentioned stepfather from plundering their estate. Unfortunately for Augustine Washington, as the second son he received only a small portion of his father’s legacy—a mere 1,100 acres when he came of age. For his branch of the family, the upward climb would have to start anew from a point much further down the ladder.

Augustine Washington is said to have been tall, strong, blond, and good-natured. Friends called him Gus. In personality, though, he hearkened back to his grandfather John. Astute and ambitious, he refused to rest with his second son’s portion of the family estate and set about amassing large holdings of his own. Like his father and grandfather—and like his future sons Lawrence and George—Augustine Washington made a good marriage. Just after turning twenty-one in about 1715, he tied the knot with the teenage Jane Butler. Her marriage portion included over 600 acres. With this and a number of local official appointments to start on, Augustine began trading and purchasing tracts to expand his estate.

At the time, Virginia was in a frenzy of land fever. The Proprietors leveraged their wealth and political connections to secure the largest and richest holdings as the colony expanded westward. Just like his grandfather, though, Augustine established his personal empire by stages. His new holdings included a tract along Pope’s Creek on the south bank of the Potomac River. Here, in 1727, he finished building a house. He kept the structure modest, for it was too early to rest in comfort. Augustine wanted to save his capital for other purposes, such as buying more land, growing tobacco, building a mill, and investing money. As a young entrepreneur who anticipated a long road to fortune, he treated wealth not as an excuse to waste his days in idle luxury but as a means for acquiring more wealth.

In Augustine’s day, land was king but iron was trendy. The British government, seeking to end the nation’s dependence on Swedish ore, encouraged its New World colonists to build furnaces. Many attempted to do so, but not until the Principio Iron Works were established in Maryland in 1720 did any of these operations earn substantial profits. Spurred by the ministers in London, Principio ironmaster John England began prospecting for more mineral-rich land and soon discovered it along the Accokeek Creek in Virginia—where Augustine Washington owned extensive property. At first, the young planter could hardly believe his good fortune. John England came to Virginia to bargain with him for the use of his land, but Washington hesitated. The ironmaster was an aggressive salesman, and the Virginian may have feared being duped.

Upon discovering Washington’s fondness for wine—a proclivity his son George would share—England proffered him “a small present” of it to secure his favor. Gus accepted the gift, but though it may have pleased his palate, it failed to melt his heart. He now believed the venture would be profitable, but was determined to secure a substantial personal share in the ongoing enterprise rather than simply sell out. As he continued negotiating with England, Washington craftily bought up all the iron-rich land along the Accokeek he could find. He also gathered information—perhaps from reading, certainly from interaction with his peers—about the still-infant iron industry. Only after he had a full understanding of its prospects and dangers did he set forth to drive the hardest possible bargain with Principio—one that would maximize his personal profits and minimize his risks.1

In essence, Washington sought a partnership that simultaneously placed him at minimum liability for the substantial costs of mining and of constructing and repairing furnaces, secured him one-sixth of the profits for all iron produced, and gave him an opt-out clause to negotiate an even better contract in the future should the venture prove successful. In the winter of 1729–1730, he sailed to England, where he appointed an agent and signed a formal contract with the Principio Company’s British owners. The supposedly uncouth colonial had proved a shrewd businessman.

Business success was marred by personal tragedy. On returning to Virginia in the spring of 1730, Augustine discovered that his wife had died the previous November, leaving behind three bereaved children: Lawrence, Augustine, and Jane. Though deeply saddened, he permitted himself little time for grieving. On March 6, 1731, Augustine Sr. married for the second time. His bride was twenty-three-year-old Mary Johnson Ball.

The partnership was beneficial from both points of view. Mary was not rich—she was an orphan of modest means—but her personality fit Augustine’s needs perfectly. Posterity, drawing upon her oldest son George’s resentment, has given his mother a bad name. In legend—for there are no reliable firsthand depictions of her in youth—she appears as a nettlesome, overanxious, and undereducated woman who ruled her maternal roost with iron discipline and scant indulgence. She would certainly grow hard to handle in her later years. As a young woman, however, Mary complemented Augustine, who was overwhelmed by business concerns and often away from home.

Mary was nothing if not tough. If asked, she probably would have said that she had no time for luxuries like delicacy or sentimentality. As an orphaned youth she had developed a fierce stubbornness and self-reliance that the men of her time must have found intimidating. Not so Augustine. In Mary he sought, and found, a woman who could manage. For her part, she must have been impressed by her husband’s shrewd business sense—although he may have invested too near the extent of his means for her comfort. Mary’s ruling mantras were thrift and self-discipline. They were qualities that would serve her well, and in which she would steep her children.

Mary’s firstborn, George, came into the world on February 22, 1732 (February 11 according to the soon-to-be-outmoded Julian calendar). Five more children would follow and grow to adulthood. Although Augustine’s two boys by Jane Butler—his daughter died young—would soon be off to grammar school, Mary still had much to handle, and her husband’s ventures didn’t make things any easier. In 1735 he moved his family to a larger home on Little Hunting Creek. Three years later, he moved them again to an estate along the Rappahannock opposite Fredericksburg. He had little time to help them settle in.

The Augustine Washington of Parson Weems’s fables is a loving father, deeply involved with his children. Loving he may have been—George would remember him fondly—but involved he was not. The prime reason for this was his involvement in the Principio venture, which often lured him away to oversee the furnaces and in 1736 sent him to England to negotiate a better contract. While his business ventures flourished with profits and new land acquisitions, responsibility for managing his home devolved upon Mary.

Contrary to popular imagination, an early-eighteenth-century homemaker of moderately prosperous means spent little time sewing dresses or baking pies. Instead, Mary and other women of her class had to manage day-to-day affairs on the scale of a small business enterprise: overseeing and keeping accounts; directing purchases for everything from food to furniture, clothes, and home improvements and repairs; instructing slaves and workmen; and seeing to the children’s needs, discipline, and education. A woman of more delicate sensibilities might have crumbled under the pressure or tried to turn over her responsibilities to someone else, but Mary was unafraid. She ran a tight ship.

George, by all accounts a healthy, vigorous boy, had two primary influences growing up. One was his mother, who irritated him with her strictness even as he absorbed her principles of personal conduct. Another was his older half-brother Lawrence, whom George would come to love despite his fecklessness. Mary and Lawrence presented George with deeply contrasting examples. She probably disapproved of Lawrence and worried about his influence over George. Where she was stern, Lawrence was easygoing; where she was parsimonious, he was extravagant; and where she was prudent, he was careless. Worst of all, she was a realist and he a dreamer. No doubt seeking escape from his mother’s hard regimen, George sought refuge in Lawrence’s company when he could—although his half-brother was away for long periods, first to be educated in England and then to serve in an American contingent under British command during a military expedition to South America. Upon his return home Lawrence, ever-optimistic, saw opportunity in the hectic rough-and-tumble business world of eighteenth-century Virginia without sensing the dangers that would eventually blight his fortunes.

Tobacco still dominated production and trade in the Virginia of George Washington’s youth. Land was the true foundation of wealth, however, just as it had been in John Washington’s day. Proprietors in the Northern Neck and along the James River held hundreds of thousands of fertile acres, and thought nothing of bartering or even gambling away tracts of 5,000 or 10,000 acres at a time. A large social and economic gap separated these proprietors from the upper and middle ranks of the Virginia gentry, who thought themselves fortunate if they could farm 20,000 acres. Below the gentry came smallholders who held a few dozen or a few hundred acres, followed by subsistence farmers and—at the lowest rung of the social ladder—slaves. Between the two poles of proprietors and slaves, however, there was tremendous economic—and, to some degree, social—mobility. Despite more than a century of settlement, land remained abundant—with perhaps as many as 1 million acres remaining unclaimed in Virginia east of the Blue Ridge. Even claimed land east of the mountain barrier remained heavily forested and mostly untilled. The west beckoned with limitless possibility.

By the mid-1740s the costs of tobacco production as well as prices had stabilized at a profitable level for planters, so investment in the colony’s main industry remained attractive. Towns sprouted up along waterways to support the tobacco trade—just like steel, oil, or railway towns would do in later centuries—with all their concomitant shops, inns, taverns, and houses of entertainment or ill repute. Young George Washington knew one of these boom towns as a child. Across the Rappahannock he could see and frequently visited Fredericksburg, with its lively shops, bustling quarry, and, above all, its teeming wharf. Hogsheads of tobacco were hauled there from warehouses and loaded onto ships for the first stage of the Atlantic journey. Washington observed another wannabe boom town, Falmouth, rising in direct competition with Fredericksburg just a few miles up the Rappahannock. Though he enjoyed riding, fishing, and games, George had no penchant for wasting his time. There was too much going on around him.

Virginia was awash in entrepreneurs, including indentured servants working out their terms of service before they set off to make their fortunes, small farmers striving to set aside disposable capital, and middling to large planters seeking to amass and cultivate (or mine) land ever more efficiently and profitably. Investment opportunities were plentiful, and speculation rife. Gentry strove to acquire land, increase productivity, corner markets, and beat competitors. They bought, sold, and bartered not only land but also offices, for political patronage was central not only to social standing but also to wealth. In fact, the two were interchangeable. Above a certain level, it was impossible to build wealth without simultaneously buttressing social and political status. Many, unfortunately, fell so deeply into debt in the process of seeking to maintain that status that they collapsed spectacularly, ending up in prison or the eighteenth-century version of Skid Row. But the prospect of ruin dissuaded no one. Some rose, some fell—it was all part of the game. Refusing to play it only invited contempt.

Augustine played the game well but did not live to enjoy his fortune. On April 12, 1743, he died suddenly at age forty-nine, leaving behind a substantial estate to be parceled out among his progeny. As the eldest son, Lawrence received the choicest share, including the land on Little Hunting Creek (the future Mount Vernon) and the iron enterprise along the Accokeek. Augustine Jr.’s share included plenty of good land in Westmoreland County. George was not neglected—he got Ferry Farm and land on Deep Run along with three lots in Fredericksburg—but his three younger brothers also received good portions of their late father’s wealth. Besides, by the terms of the will Mary Washington retained control over all her children’s property until they reached their majority.

George and his siblings would come to count themselves lucky that their late father’s will was as efficient and businesslike as the man himself. The boys would not have to spend years disentangling themselves from legal imbroglios or discharging their father’s debts. Just as fortunately for them, their mother was an excellent steward. As a woman she had no power to build the estate, but she could certainly have ruined it by neglect had she so desired. Instead, Mary managed her charge with assiduous care, passing on to each of her children modest but intact fortunes that they could use as foundations for future development.

In the short term, however, Augustine’s death was an unmitigated tragedy for George Washington. Nowhere was this truer than in its effect on his education. This, he would have known even at eleven years old, could have established the foundation for his future social standing and prosperity. The best opportunities were abroad. George’s half-brothers, Lawrence and Augustine Jr., had both been schooled in England. For George and his younger siblings, though, all such hopes were now dashed. They would have to learn at home, from such tutors and instructors as their mother thought she could afford. There was also no escaping Mary’s firm domestic regimen. George became so desperately restless that Lawrence cooked up a scheme in 1746 to sign him up for service on a British seagoing vessel. The boy had his bags packed and ready to go until his mother strictly and sensibly put an end to the nonsense and returned him to his duties.

Though George would bemoan his lack of formal education for the remainder of his life—and work to overcome it—his youthful learning was usefully practical if not comprehensive. He acquired, he later remembered, only the “principles of grammar” and the “rudiments of geography, history, & the studies which are not improperly termed the humanities,” but he also received instruction in “the highest branches of mathematics.” This doubtless reflected both his mother’s sense of priorities and his own inclinations. She was concerned that he should learn the practical principles of estate management—for which an ability to work with numbers was vital—alongside the virtues of diligence and hard work. But he also enjoyed it. The overall effect of this upbringing was to produce a man who was somewhat awkward and uncouth, but with a can-do readiness to make his way in the world.2

George’s surviving school exercise books reveal his growing young mind and its many outstanding qualities. At math, he was studious and efficient. He competently learned the basic principles of economics, management, and geometry. And he was a diligent copyist. The much-ballyhooed “Rules of Civility” that he penned as a child were likely a copybook exercise—perhaps dictated by his mother—from an old sixteenth-century French Catholic handbook. But he also copied complex legal documents. His mother insisted on attention to detail, and George discovered that he had a talent for it. With little leisure to read for pleasure, he learned to study books for practical knowledge—a habit that would remain with him for the rest of his life.

Native self-awareness, carefully cultivated, allowed him to visualize both his strengths—such as his tremendous memory and capacity for hard work—and his deficiencies—such as his irritable temper. Such habits constituted a recipe for self-improvement that would reach perfection in the oven of ambition. From his mother and the entrepreneurial society of his day, George acquired an abiding ambition to improve himself. But he also developed—perhaps from Lawrence—a dreamer’s sense of the possible. A recently discovered picture that he may have drawn as a teenager depicts a sailing ship of the type that plied the tobacco trade—a symbol of American commerce and hopes of prosperity. Washington spent his youth training to become a self-made man.

To the teenage Washington, fame and fortune seemed within easy reach. This was no mere adolescent fantasy. In July 1743, just a few months after his father’s death, George’s gadabout half-brother Lawrence scored a coup by marrying into the most powerful family in Virginia. Lord Thomas Fairfax—sixth Baron Fairfax—was sole Proprietor of Virginia’s vast Northern Neck of some 5 million acres. Few men outside Europe’s royal dynasties combined greater wealth, political power, and social influence. His cousin Colonel William Fairfax, who served as Lord Thomas’s land agent and administrator for the Northern Neck, was the direct instrument of that power in Virginia. With the wealth and prestige emanating from his post and family prestige, Colonel Fairfax built the magnificent Belvoir plantation in 1741 along the banks of the Potomac River. Fortuitously, Belvoir was just a short four-mile ride from Lawrence’s property on Little Hunting Creek. In the spring and summer of 1743, Lawrence galloped that path eagerly and often until the object of his attentions became apparent: Colonel Fairfax’s eligible young daughter Ann.

The two were married in a sumptuous ceremony that must have bedazzled eleven-year-old George. After it was over, far from brushing the boy away, the easygoing young couple welcomed him to the estate they now called Mount Vernon, and let him tag along on their frequent visits to Belvoir. No one admonished George to stand aside and keep away from the furniture. Instead, good-natured Colonel Fairfax encouraged the boy to saunter with him among the magnificent gardens; ride to inspect farms, mills, and other operations; and marvel at the mansion house’s grandiloquent furnishings. The colonel even read with George, regaling him with the dramas of antiquity. In time, the boy also became fast friends with the colonel’s son George William Fairfax—eight years his senior—and later with George William’s lovely wife Sally Cary Fairfax. The Fairfaxes must have found George Washington well-behaved, or at least easy to correct. By instruction and example they trained him in the mores of genteel deportment.

There were practical lessons, too. At Belvoir, Washington learned how to build wealth through the selling and purchase of land. Though land in Virginia sometimes changed hands by fairly casual means, in the Northern Neck it was a precise business. Lord Fairfax and Colonel Fairfax both demanded precise knowledge of the dimensions, topography, and resource potential of the land under their control. It was probably on his rides with the colonel that George developed a “nose” for good land, including knowledge of how the best tracts were situated with respect to soil quality, vegetation, and the proximity of navigable waterways.

Young George also learned the challenges of cultivation, management, and, above all, improvement—not just how to acquire land but how to make it more profitable. It all started with the basics. Surveying was among the most vital trades in colonial Virginia. Accurate surveying could make the difference not only between good and bad land but also between a clear title of ownership and legal disputes that could bankrupt farmers and encumber tenants for generations. Colonial Virginia was a litigious society, as George would learn to his sorrow in the future when he consented against his better judgment to serve as executor for the disposal of ill-defined estates.

Surveyors were in high demand as expert technicians, and well if not handsomely paid. Educated young men on their way up in the world often took to surveying as an entry-level profession. They started as apprentices before moving on to freelance work or salaried appointments—preferably, of course, with one of the great Proprietors. Surveying was interesting work for a healthy youngster who enjoyed the outdoors and had a talent for mathematics, geometry, maps, and other detail-oriented tasks. When he was about fourteen, perhaps after observing a surveying operation while accompanying the colonel and his son, George dusted off some old surveying instruments left behind by his father and tinkered with them, learning by experiment. Fredericksburg abounded with local surveyors, and perhaps after talking with them he set out to practice on and around Ferry Farm.

Padding about fields and woods, setting up equipment and drawing measurements, George discovered that he had a talent for the craft. For the first time, and to his great relief, he could put to use his talent for exactitude and efficiency outside school exercises and copy books. After several months of tests, he completed his earliest known formal survey on August 18, 1747. He was still too inexperienced to survey professionally in his own right, but he took the first step by signing on as an assistant to a local surveyor. His first teenage job—in contrast with the employment experiences of most of humanity—was a huge hit.


  • "In this original, lucid, and accessible study, Edward Lengel deploys his mastery of George Washington's vast correspondence to reveal a surprising yet highly significant side to his character. He shows how the energy, realism, and willingness to innovate that typified Washington's approach to his own business ventures was transferred, with momentous consequences, when he led America in war and peace. First Entrepreneur provides a fascinating portrait of an inveterate micro-manager whose hands-on experience taught him that commerce was the strongest cement for bonding the newly United States."—Stephen Brumwell, author of George Washington: Gentleman Warrior

    Kirkus Reviews, 12/15/15
    "[Lengel] organically traces the evolution of Washington's free market thinking through his first and second presidential terms: building a national economy, encouraging domestic manufacturing, establishing a central bank, and developing a sense of unity of purpose. A deeply researched and nicely handled biography."

    Houston Press, 1/15/16
    “[Lengel] has literary command. And he shows us a Washington most frightened—not by any British garrison or Hessians or influenza plague, but by debt.”

    Manhattan Book Review, 1/14/16
    “Awaken[s] [a] forgotten dimension of Washington's personal story.”
  • Journal of the American Revolution, 2/10/16
    First Entrepreneur is very readable and provides a view of Washington that most, even those who have followed Washington closely, may never have recognized. It is fascinating, enlightening and very convincing. Highly recommended.”

    InfoDad blog, 2/11/16
    “Lengel does a good job of showing how the first president's hatred of debt and concerns about poor public credit, inefficient government and an insecure currency helped shape the nation's early policies.”

    Portland Book Review, 5/4/16
    “A highly informative and interesting read regarding the life of George Washington and how his business sense helped shape a nation…For a book that fuses history and economics, this is a surprisingly entertaining piece of nonfiction.”

    Collected Miscellany, 8/15/16
    “Lengel again brings his extensive knowledge of George Washington to his latest book…A good read…Interesting and engaging.”

    Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 124, No. 3
    “Lengel's prose is brisk and interesting…A vivid portrait of Washington from a new angle…An informative and readable book that reveals new insights into Washington's career and character.”
  • Praise for First Entrepreneur

    "First Entrepreneur is an almost magical book. It deftly tells the little known story of George Washington's life as a man of business and simultaneously convinces us that his vision of a commercial nation creating a community of interests between all parts of America was (and still is) the key to our survival as a nation. Edward Lengel has added a new dimension to Washington's greatness."—Thomas Fleming, author of The Great Divide

    "Edward Lengel, who knows George Washington inside and out, has authored a thoughtful, carefully researched, and gracefully written account of the founder as a businessman. Mention Washington and the picture that comes to mind is that of a soldier and statesman. But, as Lengel demonstrates, Washington was a bold, risk-taking, innovative, calculating, and, above all, successful investor and entrepreneur. Lengel shows how Washington brought his business and managerial skills to his roles as commander of the Continental Army and the presidency and how they helped him succeed in those capacities. This is an excellent and illuminating book that deserves to be read."—John Ferling, author of Whirlwind: The American Revolution and the War That Won It
  • Roanoke Times, 2/14/16
    “Lengel is in a position to explain Washington's long-term influence on American society, and explain it with authority…Lengel has used Washington's own words to develop a profile of the early nation's premier entrepreneur, and by so doing he has presented a very human George Washington…After reading this book, even critics are likely to agree that George Washington deserves Henry Lee's assessment as ‘first in the hearts of his countrymen.'”

    Deseret News, 2/13/16
    “Readers looking for a new appreciation for America's first president need look no further than Edward G. Lengel's new book…Throughout the book, Lengel shows his deep understanding of the self-educated first president with a desire to be successful…First Entrepreneur shows readers a side of George Washington that until now may have been underappreciated…While many have credited Washington with helping to create a new nation, in this book he is finally recognized as being something beyond a great leader: a successful entrepreneur.”

    Under the Radar, 2/8/16
    “Lengel presents Washington's genius from a different angle, as an entrepreneur who strategically built both his own personal and familial wealth and the economy of a burgeoning nation.”
  • Library Journal, 2/15/16
    “Business-minded readers interested in…America's first chief executive will learn plenty.”

    Wall Street Journal, 2/12/16
    “Worth the time of anyone interested in Washington and the birth of the United States…[Lengel] makes a strong case in First Entrepreneur that [George Washington] was a superb military administrator…Mr. Lengel brings needed attention to this vital and neglected aspect of Washington's generalship…Enjoyably written and learned.”

    Publishers Weekly, 2/8/16
    “Lengel views a familiar subject through the unfamiliar lens of entrepreneurship, showing how the first American president set the nation on a course of prosperity…Lengel also offers an enlightening examination of Washington's strategies as head of the Continental Army and later as president…An insightful look at a lesser-known aspect of this iconic figure.”
  • "Lengel's book succeeds in showing how Washington's acumen as a businessman complemented his leadership throughout the war and during his presidency...Lengel's book is an interesting and novel approach to delving into the complexity of a virtuous man."—What Would the Founders Think?, 10/30
  • "Lengel knows a great deal about his subject...Lengel's proximity to Washington's vast correspondence has enabled him to show a side of Washington that has gone under the radar-his entrepreneurial skills...Academics, students, and history enthusiasts alike will take a great deal from this book...Wonderfully written...Elegant, engaging prose...Given that so much has already been written about Washington, the fact that Lengel has offered new information should not be underestimated."—Journal of Southern History
  • "Tautly organized and engagingly written...First Entrepreneur succeeds admirably in its goal of systematically exploring and highlighting Washington's considerable entrepreneurship."— (Economic History Association)

On Sale
Jan 26, 2016
Page Count
296 pages
Da Capo Press

Edward G. Lengel

About the Author

Edward G. Lengel is a military historian, battlefield tour guide, and travel enthusiast who has published award-winning books on World War I and the Revolutionary War, including To Conquer Hell: The Meuse-Argonne, 1918, and Thunder and Flames: Americans in the Crucible of Combat, 1917-1918. He has contributed articles for Military History, Military History Quarterly, American Heritage, and American History, and appears frequently on television and radio, including the History Channel, NPR, and other networks.

Learn more about this author