George Washington, 1732–1799
No. He was born February 11, 1732, near Bridges Creek, on an estate later called Wakefield (probably named by Washington’s nephew William Augustine Washington), in Westmoreland County, Virginia, about forty miles south of Mount Vernon.
Washington died at Mount Vernon in the late evening on December 14, 1799 from a throat infection called epiglottitis. On December 18 he was buried in the family vault at Mount Vernon.
A: Mrs. Washington designated the Masonic Fraternity to take charge of the funeral. She requested, however, that Colonel Philip Marsteller, who was not a Mason, be a pall bearer. The five remaining pall bearers were all Masons.
The first public celebration, of which there is record, was at Valley Forge, February 22, 1778, when Proctor’s Continental Artillery band serenaded Washington. The first public celebration as a holiday was by order of Comte Rochambeau, February 12, 1781, when the French Army in Rhode Island was granted a holiday on that day, Monday. February 11th, 1781, Washington’s birthday by the Julian Calendar, happened to fall on Sunday.
An old-fashioned George Washington joke from the Charlottesville (Virginia) Chronicle, 25 May 1883:
“When did George Washington die?” asked a teacher of a large boy. “Is he dead?” was the astonished reply. “Why, it is not more than six months ago that they were celebrating his brithday, and now he is dead. Its a bad year on children. I reckon his folks let him eat something that didn’t agree with him.”
February 11th was GW’s birthday according to the Julian (Old Style) calendar, but in 1752, the corrections of the Gregorian (New Style) Calendar were adopted by England, Ireland, and the colonies, and GW’s birthday became 22 February [Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig, eds., The Diaries of George Washington, vol. VI, January 1790–December 1799 (Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1979) 282.]
Under England’s interpretation of the Julian Calendar the new year began on 25 March. Because the year under the Julian Calendar was 365 days 6 hours, by the sixteenth century a considerable surplus had accumulated, moving the vernal equinox from 21 to 11 March. The error was corrected in 1582 by the Gregorian Calendar (New Style), adopted by most European countries. By 1752, when Great Britain adopted the Gregorian Calendar, the displacement was 11 days.[Donald Jackson, ed., The Diaries of George Washington, vol. I, 1748-65 (Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1976), 6.]
According to the record of his birth in the family bible, Washington was not given a middle name.
George Washington was the son of Augustine Washington and his second wife, Mary Ball Washington. Few people know of George’s father, because Augustine died when George was only eleven and he rarely spoke of him. But many people knew of his mother, Mary Ball Washington. She lived to be 82, and saw her son elected first President of the United States in 1789. (courtesy Mount Vernon)
Washington had five brothers and one sister who reached maturity: Lawrence, Augustine, Samuel, John Augustine, Charles and Betty. The first two were half-brothers. There were also a half-brother and half-sister and a full sister who died young.
To the best of our knowledge Washington was about six feet in height. There are records which show his measurement to have been between six feet and six feet two inches at various times. He registered six feet three and one-half inches when measured for his coffin.
No. He wore his own hair which was light brown in color, tied in a queue and powdered. The queue was sometimes worn in a small black silk bag.
He had several sets of false teeth over the years, but they were not made of wood. For at least one set, Washington’s dentist, Dr. John Greenwood, used a cow’s tooth, one of Washington’s teeth, hippopotamus ivory, metal and springs. The teeth fit poorly. (courtesy Mount Vernon)
One set is in the Baltimore College of Dental Surgery, one set in possession of Joseph R. Greenwood of New York, and another set at Mount Vernon.
Probably not. The story was likely invented by a man named Mason Weems shortly after Washington’s death. Ironically, the story was intended to show how honest Washington was: George confesses to his father saying, “I cannot tell a lie.”
Yes. At age eleven he inherited ten slaves from his father. By the end of Washington’s life, over three-hundred African-American slaves lived at Mount Vernon. (courtesy Mount Vernon).
Yes. Washington’s attitude towards slavery changed as he grew older and especially as he fought for liberty in the Revolution. He emancipated his slaves in his will and his estate paid pensions to the older African Americans for decades.
The picture on the Dollar Bill was taken from the “Athenaeum” Portrait of George Washington by Gilbert Stuart. The original was painted in 1796.
There are nineteen artists of which there is little doubt that Washington sat for portraits. For some of these he sat more than once. Washington also sat for sculptors Houdon and Ceracchi.
Robert E. Lee married the granddaughter of Jackie Custis who was Washington’s stepson. Lee is also GW’s third cousin, twice removed, since both men are descended from Augustine Warner, Sr., and Mary Towneley Warner (GW by way of their son, Augustine, Jr., and Lee by way of their daughter, Sarah). (courtesy Frank Grizzard)
Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. It is not unlikely that he was within the bounds of Vermont during his trip to Lake Champlain in 1783.
The only trip George Washington made outside of his own country was when he accompanied his half-brother Lawrence to the Barbados (1751–1752).
Washington was not a college graduate but he received an honorary LL.D. from five educational institutions: Harvard, 1776; Yale, 1781; University of Pennsylvania, 1783; Washington College (Maryland), 1789; Brown, 1790. Although he did not complete college, Washington did maintain a large library at Mount Vernon.
No. Washington acquired much legal training incidentally in connection with his duties as guardian and the many trusteeships and executorships which he assumed. He was, moreover, for years a justice of the peace of Fairfax County and not only heard minor cases, but also was a member of the County Court, which had an extended jurisdiction in equity as well as in civil and criminal law. In colonial days the justices were the county gentlemen, not trained lawyers, but the service was an excellent training in legal knowledge.
Only a rough estimate can be given. The best authorities have estimated the total to be between 18,000 and 20,000. Of these, considerably fewer than half are in Washington’s own hand writing.
The last letter that George Washington wrote was to his farm manager on December 13, 1799, the day before he died. He wrote Alexander Hamilton on the proposed Military Academy, on December 12.
To his nephew, Bushrod Washington.
John Washington, according to the best accounts available, landed in America early in the year 1657. His father had been a follower of Charles I during the civil war in England and had lost his benefice by order of Parliament, and evidently the young man was on his own very early. He was probably about 25 years old when he immigrated. George Washington was a direct descendant of John Washington, the immigrant.
No. In fact “The Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation” have been traced back to the sixteenth century. Some of the maxims were so fully exemplified in Washington’s life that biographers came to regard them as formative influences on his character.
Martha Washington, 1731–1802
Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis, a widow, on January 6, 1759.
To the best historical knowledge Martha Washington was some eight months older than George Washington.
Martha Washington had four children by Daniel Parke Custis, two of whom died before she married Washington.
George Washington died on December 14, 1799, and Martha Washington died on May 22, 1802.
Martha destroyed nearly all of GW’s letters to her shortly before her death in 1802. Three letters, however, did survive. Two are printed in The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series, vol. 1, 18 June 1775 and 23 June 1775. These letters were found by Martha Parke Custis Peter, one of Martha Washington’s granddaughters, in a drawer of a small desk that she inherited from Mrs. Washington. The 18 June 1775 letter is now held at Tudor Place, home of Martha Parke Custis Peter and her husband Thomas Peter.
Yes. Martha Washington arrived at Valley Forge about February 3, 1778, and remained until June 8.
Mount Vernon, Home of George and Martha Washington
No. It was built by Lawrence Washington, George Washington’s elder half-brother, or by his father for him. George Washington added to and remodeled it.
Mount Vernon was left to Lawrence Washington’s infant daughter Sarah with his widow retaining a life interest in the property. At Sarah’s death in 1754, George Washington leased the life rights from Lawrence’s widow until her death in 1761 when he inherited it under the terms of his half-brother’s will. Read the Lease of Mount Vernon, 17 December 1754.
Mount Vernon was named after a British Admiral, Edward Vernon, under whom Lawrence Washington served in 1740 in the Cartagena Expedition.
The house is 96 ft. long and 30 ft. deep. The porch columns are about 20 ft. high and 16 in. square. There is a porch or piazza on the side that overlooks the Potomac River, which is the east front of the house. Take a cyber-tour of the Mount Vernon mansion or the grounds of the estate. (hosted by Mount Vernon)
The Mount Vernon estate was divided into five farms. The names were as follows: The Mansion House, or Home Farm; River Farm; Union Farm; Dogue Run Farm; Muddy Hole Farm.
Mount Vernon is of frame construction, and the sheathing is beveled and covered with a mixture of paint and sand to give the appearance of stone.
The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union took over Mount Vernon on February 22, 1860. Since that time this patriotic organization has managed the establishment, exerting every effort to maintain its beauty and charm in its original form. The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union bought the estate from John Augustine Washington in 1858 for $200,000. This John Augustine was a great-grandson of George Washington’s brother John Augustine.
Washington raised corn, oats, barley, rye and buckwheat. Washington also cultivated hay crops, including alfafa, as well as common vegetables. Washington substituted wheat for tobacco as his chief crop.
“WITHIN THIS ENCLOSURE REST THE REMAINS OF GENL. GEORGE WASHINGTON.” Over the door of the inner tomb is inscribed: “I AM THE RESURRECTION AND THE LIFE.”
George Washington’s Military and Presidential Roles
On July 20, 1749, at the age of 17, George Washington became official Surveyor of Culpeper County, Virginia.
George Washington served as a member of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1759–1774. Also, he was a member of the first and second Continental Congresses in 1774 and 1775.
Washington became Commander in Chief of the Continental Army in 1775, at the age of 43.
Yes. The two best known were “Culper, Sr.” and “Culper, Jr.”
Never, although he narrowly escaped bullets on various occasions. Among these were at Braddock’s Defeat where two horses were shot under him and he had four bullets in his clothes; at the final skirmish of the Forbes expedition, on November 12, 1758, where he rushed between two parties of British who were firing at each other; at Kip’s Bay skirmish on September 15, 1776, where he rashly exposed himself in an attempt to rally the militia; at the battle of Princeton, January 3, 1777; and when making a reconnaissance of the British after the landing at the Head of Elk on August 26, 1777.
During the Revolutionary War Washington rode two horses at least though there may have been others. His favorite mount, especially in time of action, was Nelson, a sorrel. The other horse was named Blue Skin. The latter horse seems to have been a light bluish gray, closely akin to white.
No. He took the oath of office from the balcony of Federal Hall, New York City, was proclaimed President and then proceeded to the Senate Chamber. There he made his address before the members of both Houses of Congress.
It is true of Washington’s Second Inaugural Address which was only 135 words long and took less than two minutes to read. His First Inaugural Address was some 2,000 words long.
No Chief Justice of the Supreme Court having been appointed, Robert R. Livingston, Chancellor of New York, administered the oath of office.
Eight days: April 16–23, 1789.
Washington refused to accept any pay for his services. He kept a minute expense account which was submitted to and paid by the government.
Washington was not elected as a party candidate. He received the unanimous vote of the Presidential electors at both elections, 1789 and 1793.
President Washington vetoed but two bills (both minor measures) during his administration. Neither was passed over the veto.
No. John Adams was the first President to occupy the White House.
They occupied a comparatively small, red brick house at 190 High Street.
Washington was at first reluctant to accept payment for his services. Later, however, he evidently agreed that it would not be a good precedent, and would cause complications in accounts. Congress appropriated $25,000 a year for the President and Washington accepted this salary. It was the largest salary in America for personal services at that time. It must be pointed out, however, that the government did not provide a Presidential mansion and that Washington had to maintain the expenses of his household from this amount, and complained that it was scarcely adequate.
As President of the Constitutional Convention, Washington was the first signer of the document.
Washington was not in Congress at the time. He was already in the field, fighting for independence.
Alexander Hamilton, Secretary of the Treasury, soon became President Washington’s chief political advisor.
When the French Bastille was captured by the mob, Lafayette sent a key of the notorious prison to Washington at Mount Vernon, where it remains today.
The selection of the Federal District [Washington, D.C.] was the result of a political deal between Hamilton and Jefferson. Jefferson assisted Hamilton in getting his Assumption Bill passed, in return for which Hamilton swung enough northern votes to locate the Capital of the United States on the Potomac River. George Washington was authorized by Congress to select the site within certain limits on the Potomac. Washington designated Major Charles Pierre L’Enfant to “prepare a plan of the city.”
Yes. Washington laid the cornerstone on September 18, 1793.
George Washington started the first American Navy by fitting out small vessels during the siege of Boston. The crews for these vessels were made up of Army officers and soldiers who knew something about the sea.
George Washington issued the First Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamation on October 3, 1789. Read it here.
Washington never delivered his Farewell Address in public. It was dated September 17, 1796, and transmitted to the people of the United States through the medium of David Claypoole’s American Daily Advertiser, Philadelphia, in its last issue of September 19, 1796.
History of the George Washington Bicentennial Celebration, Vol. II, Literature Series (Washington, D.C.: George Washington Bicentennial Commission, 1932), 643-688. (unless otherwise noted)