Washington Backs a Long Shot
Soon after the battles at Lexington and Concord, colonial militia forces from all over New England converged on Boston and laid siege to the city. In May 1775, a Vermont landowner named Ethan Allen led a militia outfit he had organized—the Green Mountain Boys—against Fort Ticonderoga between Lake Champlain and Lake George in New York and seized it from British regulars. Next, Crown Point, on the western shore of Lake Champlain, fell to rebel forces. Despite these early triumphs, anyone who assessed the situation with a cold eye would have put money on the British and not the Colonial Americans. Britain was an established imperial power, with deep pockets, a tested army, and the most powerful navy in the world. Moreover, while the colonies had acted in unity, the colonists were hardly unanimous in the desire to rebel. Each colony contained a large “Loyalist” population.
Then there was the matter of leadership. The English had a king and a prime minister, while the colonies had no king or other chief executive. And that wasn’t the half of it. The colonies had no government at all, no treasury, and no regular army. True, a Continental Congress had convened, but 13 separate colonial assemblies vied with it for power and authority.
Forty-three-year-old George Washington, now a prosperous Virginia planter, was accustomed to long odds. He had played them during his militia service in the French and Indian War. Sometimes he had won. Mostly, he had lost. On June 15, 1775, at the suggestion of John Adams of Massachusetts, the Second Continental Congress asked Washington to lead the as-yet nonexistent Continental Army. Washington accepted.