One of the earliest historical documents to surface in the modern discussion of the meaning of the constitutional phrase “natural born citizen” was a letter from John Jay, who would become chief justice of the US Supreme Court, to George Washington, delegate to the Constitutional Convention, who would become the first president of the United States. The letter said:
Permit me to hint, whether it would be wise and seasonable to provide a strong check to the admission of Foreigners into the administration of our national Government; and to declare expressly that the commander in chief of the American army shall not be given to, nor devolve on any but a natural born citizen.
Now the question is: did Jay intend to exclude George Washington himself? It hardly seems credible that Jay intended to include the very man who was the commander of the American Continental Army. Therefore, it must be the case that John Jay included George Washington among the natural born citizens.
George Washington was born in Virginia, a colony that became part of the United States. The Treaty of Paris 1783 (signed by the way by John Jay), used the concept “real British subjects” to distinguish the Loyalists from those who would become American citizens. Clearly George Washington made his choice to cast his lot with the Americans through his deeds during the war. Washington was born into Virginia society and remained with it when Virginia declared its independence and joined the United States.
What about George Washington’s father? Augustine Washington, like his son, was also a Virginia planter. When Virginia signed the Declaration of Independence, Augustine Washington signed no oath of loyalty to the new government, he did not support the war, and he did not cast his lot with the Americans. No, he had died decades before in 1743. Augustine Washington lived and died a British Subject.
So in summary: John Jay, first chief justice of the US Supreme Court, most likely considered George Washington, son of a British Subject, to be a natural born citizen of the United States.
Update: Since the original publication of this article, some readers have found it difficult to understand how George Washington could be a natural born citizen of the United States, when he was born before there was a United States. The first citizens of the United States considered their primary allegiance to the community into which they were born. They were born Virginians, South Carolinians, New Yorkers. When those colonies became states of the United States, those primary allegiances did not change. Any allegiance they owed the Crown of Britain dissolved but they remained native and natural born Virginians, South Carolinians and New Yorkers, and as such native and natural born citizens of the United States.
By way of example I offer the case of Jared Shattuck. Shattuck was born in Connecticut before the American Revolution. The US Supreme Court in the case of Murray v. The Charming Betsey (1804) described Mr. Shattuck as a native of the United States and of Connecticut.