George Washington attended the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from September 5 to October 26, 1774. The purpose of this first congress was to determine how the colonies should respond to the British parliament’s harsh reaction to Massachusetts for the Boston Tea Party. The Coercive Acts, or The Intolerable Acts as they were called by the colonists, not only closed the Port of Boston leaving Massachusetts without needed supplies, but also took away Massachusetts’ right to self-government. These acts spawned a wave of outrage and resistance throughout all thirteen Colonies. For six weeks, Washington met with colonial leaders such as John Adams, John Hancock, and Patrick Henry, listening much, but saying little. The congress considered many options but finally agreed to draw up a Declaration of Rights and Grievances to send to England and to organize a boycott on British trade throughout the colonies until the situation was redressed. Few thought the actions would do any good, so a Second Continental Congress was planned for the following year.
While Washington attended the First Continental Congress, his friend and neighbor, George Mason, made a bold move and organized an independent company of volunteer militia in Virginia. One of their first orders of business was to decide on a regular uniform. They chose a blue coat with buff trim and plain yellow metal buttons, a buff waistcoat and breeches, and white stockings. The colors were not chosen by mere whim or fancy but because they were the longstanding Whig colors of England. Unlike the Torys, the Whigs had regularly shown support for the colonists in Parliament so the colonists felt politically aligned with them. Upon his return from congress, Washington was elected to head Virginia’s new militia and had his personal tailor make up the very first blue and buff uniform. Little did Washington realize that this uniform would remain part of his wardrobe for the rest of his life.
The Second Continental Congress met on May 10, 1775, to plan further responses to Britain’s refusal to repeal or modify the Intolerable Acts. Fighting had already broken out the month before with the Battles of Lexington and Concord, and the mood in Philadelphia was angry and defiant. The delegates were breaking British law simply by meeting, but they no longer cared. Congress was now being called upon to take charge of the war effort. Again, Washington said little. He didn’t need to; the blue and buff uniform he wore said all he needed to say. He was prepared for war. On June 14, 1775, Congress created the Continental Army, and Washington was unanimously elected as General and Commander-in-Chief.
Washington arrived in Cambridge on July 4, 1775, to take command of the Continental Army. For some time, a rag-tag collection of farmers, tradesmen, sailors, and frontiersmen, dressed as though they had just come from the plow, shop, masthead, or woods had been gathering around Boston looking for a leader. The lack of discipline and proper sanitation, as well as the ragged and non-uniform clothing, shocked Washington. He quickly advised his commanders to clothe their officers as they saw fit, but the result was a mishmash of color combinations. One officer chose a red coat, much like that of a British officer, a disaster waiting to happen. To help maintain order, a standard uniform was needed, but lack of order, money, and goods meant that the uniform of the Continental Army would remain non-uniform for the duration of the war. In a sense, the non-uniformity represented the colonists well in their attempt to unite thirteen separate colonies in their fight against a common enemy.
As the war progressed and the colonies became more unified, so did the uniforms. By 1777, General Washington had earned the respect of patriots everywhere, and his blue and buff uniform had become the favored choice. When the war ended, the blue and buff uniform that Washington had first worn to the Second Continental Congress came to symbolize the service and sacrifice of all those who fought in the Revolutionary War.