I am not going to lie to you friends, my knowledge of George Washington is limited to only a few things:
1. He had wooden teeth
2. He was President
3. He cut down a cherry tree and told on himself
4. He was a General
5. His wife had a very annoying parrot that no one liked
6. He is on the one-dollar bill
However, today is his birthday! Happy birthday, George! So, I thought it would be fun to look up some fun facts about the man who is the centerfold for our great nation. When you start looking into the lives of our fore-fathers, you realize two great things:
1. They were human and made human mistakes.
2. They had bad days just like us.
With these thoughts in mind, I decided I wanted to talk about the ‘man’ George Washington and not the ‘president,’ ‘War Hero,’ ‘General,’ ‘Land Owner,’ etc.…
1) George was in love with another woman. George Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis on January 6, 1759, at her home in New Kent County. Let’s talk about this marriage really quickly. Martha was 26 years old and was worth more than 40,000 pounds because her husband, Daniel Parke Custis, had died without a will which left her as executor of his estate. This is big news because, technically, Martha had the same legal rights as a man, which was unheard of during that period. But Martha didn’t like this life. She didn’t want to run the estates herself; she wanted a family. Lucky for her, that amount of wealth and power meant that she didn’t have to marry for security- she was able to marry for love.
In swoops, George, standing 6 foot 2, a military man fighting in the French and Indian War, the recent owner of Mount Vernon, and a man of some means- George was an attractive suitor! He had heard about Martha’s status as a wealthy widow when he traveled to Williamsburg during a brief interlude in the fighting. He quickly decides that this would be a respectable marriage for himself and visits Martha on March 16, 1758. It is love at first sight for Martha, I gather, because after the second visit on March 25, 1758- she is ordering wedding finery from London and a wedding dress that was to be” “grave but not Extravagant nor to be morning.”
But wait! I got gossip. George would marry Martha, but he was at the same writing love letters to Sally Fairfax! I will give you a moment to get over the shock. Good? Okay, let’s go. George and Sally met when he was 18 years old because his older brother Lawrence Washington had married Sally’s sister-in-law Anne Fairfax. Now Sally was two years older than George. So she took him under her wings and taught him things like history, philosophy, and literature. This would have been a whole new world because George had to quit school when he was only 11 years old, when his father died, and had had no formal education. I don’t think that anyone really knew the depths of George’s feelings until a little less than 6 months after his engagement to Martha when he wrote to Sally:
Ohhhhh…. that sly fox! That is definitely a very hard-to-understand love letter, but very sweet! But don’t worry! It all works out. Sally is a very faithful wife to her husband, and George marries Martha, and they do grow to love each other deeply. Sally does keep the letter from George until her tragic death all alone in Europe, so it does make you wonder…. did she love George?
2) George was a step-father. Martha had already had two children from her marriage with Daniel Custis. George took the job of fatherhood very seriously. However, as with many of the children’s stories in that period- it did not end happily.
John Parke Custis, also known as Jacky or Jack, was 4 years old when George and Martha got married. George was anxious for John to receive the education that he never had the opportunity to get. Still, John was not a very studious type. George penned once that he considered John to be a ‘promising boy’ and that he would be coming into a large fortune. George wanted the boy ‘fit for more useful purposes, than a horse Racer.’
When John was 19, he fell in love with Eleanor Calvert, a 15-year-old daughter of another prominent Maryland family. George convinced John to continue his education to support her. Still, less than a year later John and Eleanor were wedded. John and Elanor had 7 children over the next 7 years, only 4 of whom would live.
At the end of the Revolutionary War, John decides to ride out to join his step-father at Yorktown to celebrate the victory. However, soon after Cornwallis’s surrender, John dies along with hundreds of other men from the camp disease that flew through both the American and British troops.
Martha Parke Custis, also known as Patsy, was a baby when the marriage occurred. Still, by the time she was about 12 years old- she was inundated with seizers. While the Washington’s tried everything in the book and consulted all the best doctors in the area- nothing was helping. During the summer of 1770, George kept track of the number of seizures she had. It is noted that she suffered as many as two a day over 26 different days during the season. One afternoon, while Patsy and Eleanor John’s fiancée at the time) where talking, Patsy went to her room to get a letter that she had received from John while he was at college in New York. Eleanor, hearing a strange noise from Patsy’s room, investigated and found Patsy in the middle of a life-threatening seizure. Martha screamed for help. George knelt by his daughter’s side, crying in sorrow and praying for a recovery; family and friends watched as within two minutes- Patsy died at the age of 17.
3) George was a hard man to kill. Did you know that George suffered through diphtheria (a sheet of thick, gray matter covers the back of the throat, making breathing hard); tuberculosis; smallpox; malaria; dysentery; quinsy (a peritonsillar abscess occurs when a collection of pus forms an infection spreads beyond the tonsils into the neck and chest); carbuncle (a group of pus-filled bumps forming a connected area of infection under the skin); and pneumonia. He also almost drowned in an ice-clogged river and survived the burning and massacre of Fort Necessity. In one battle, two horses were shot from underneath him, and he was shot at 4 times, close enough to pierce his clothing. And the guy still lived on! Go, George!
But……the cold got to him. It was a cold, snowy, sleeting, rainy day on December 12, 1799. George, being a man of routines, went out to oversee his daily projects. He was a late coming home; however, his dinner guests were already sitting in the house – so he chooses to not change and entertains as usual. The next day, more heavy snow was falling, but George did not let that hamper him in his goals- off he went.
That evening, he starts to feel sick, and by the early morning hours, he wakes up Martha because he is having a hard time breathing. Dr. James Craik, George’s doctor for over 40 years, comes flying in and decides that bleeding was the right treatment plan. Over the day, two more doctors were called in. Poor George was literally tortured by over 40% of his blood being taken out, herbal teas, and enemas. Then he almost chocks to death when they make him a drink of molasses butter and vinegar- yum, yum. Dr. Craik then applies a toxic tonic to Georges” neck that caused it to blister. Poor George!
Around 11 p.m. that night- George died.
The war hero, President, father, husband, the landowner- was deathly afraid of being buried alive. He requested on his deathbed that he not be put into the family vault for three days. On December 18, 1799, at the young age of 67, George Washington was laid to rest at Mount Vernon. The 6th Congress commissioned Henry” “Light-Horse Harry” Lee to write the former president’s eulogy, where the famous words still right true today:
Happy birth day George Washington!
Sally Fairfax · George Washington’s Mount VernonFrom George Washington to Sarah Cary Fairfax, 12 September 1758 (archives.gov)Did George Washington Have Children? · George Washington’s Mount VernonFirst in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen · George Washington’s Mount Vernon