George Washington, one of the most revered figures in American history, served as the first president of the United States from 1789 to 1797. Born on February 22, 1732, in Westmoreland County, Virginia, Washington was the eldest of six children. His father’s death when Washington was just eleven years old disrupted his formal education, however, he went on to teach himself through reading, mathematics, and surveying.
Washington’s early life was marked by a mixture of hardships and accomplishments. His early career as a surveyor gave him an appreciation for the vast potential and value of the American frontier. Later, his brave and insightful leadership during the Revolutionary War earned him widespread acclaim and respect. This, coupled with his wisdom and restraint in handling the presidency, would ultimately help shape the course of the nation.
He is often hailed as the “Father of His Country” for his central role in the formation of the United States. Despite his numerous accolades and well-documented achievements, however, there remains much about Washington that is relatively unknown or overlooked. With that in mind, this article aims to shed light on some of the lesser-known facts about this nation’s first president.
George Washington had a fear of being buried alive
Premature burial was a common fear during Washington’s time, due to medical practices that were less sophisticated than those of today. Such fears weren’t entirely unfounded. There were documented cases of people being mistakenly declared dead and nearly buried alive. It was this fear that led Washington to give explicit instructions that his body should not be buried until three days after his death. He believed this would ensure he was indeed deceased, thus averting the horrifying fate of premature burial.
George Washington enjoyed dancing
Dancing was a major component of social life during George Washington’s time, and he was known to be quite the dancer. It’s documented that he particularly loved the minuet, a popular dance of the period known for its elegance and formality. His grace on the dance floor was often commented upon, and he was a frequent attendee at balls and social events. He considered dancing not just a pleasurable pastime, but also a vital tool for social diplomacy.
George Washington suffered from recurring dental problems
From a young age, George Washington suffered from dental issues. Throughout his adult life, he faced recurring dental problems, leading to the loss of many teeth. By the time of his presidency, he had only one natural tooth left. The loss of his teeth caused him considerable pain, impacted his ability to eat certain foods, and affected his speech.
George Washington’s teeth were not made of wood
Contrary to popular belief, Washington’s false teeth were not made of wood. His dentures were instead constructed from a variety of materials, including ivory from elephants and hippos, lead, gold wires, and human teeth, possibly from his own slaves. This common misconception may have arisen due to the discolored and grainy appearance of his ivory dentures, which could give the impression of weathered wood.
George Washington is the only US President to not live in the White House
The White House, as the official residence and workplace of every U.S. President since John Adams, wasn’t completed until after Washington’s presidency. While serving his term, Washington resided in executive mansions in New York City and Philadelphia. Despite never living in the White House, he played a significant role in its establishment, including choosing the site for its construction.
George Washington was an accomplished equestrian
Washington had a lifelong love for horses and was widely recognized as a skilled horse rider. From a young age, he exhibited a natural talent for horsemanship. This skill was crucial in his military career, as the ability to ride well was highly prized in commanding officers. His affinity for horses extended beyond their utility in war and transport; he also enjoyed fox hunting, a popular sport among the Virginia gentry.
George Washington established the first presidential cabinet
Understanding the need for advice and consultation in governance, Washington established the first presidential cabinet. This group of advisors included prominent figures such as Thomas Jefferson, who served as Secretary of State, and Alexander Hamilton, who was appointed Secretary of the Treasury. The establishment of these roles was a critical step in shaping the executive branch of the government, setting a precedent followed by subsequent administrations.
Washington’s presidential term was marked by the Whiskey Rebellion
One of the significant challenges faced during Washington’s presidency was the Whiskey Rebellion. This was a violent tax protest in the United States beginning in 1791 during his presidency. The so-called ‘whiskey tax’ was the first tax imposed on a domestic product by the newly formed federal government. It led to a fierce resistance among Western Pennsylvania farmers, who often made whiskey to convert their surplus rye into a commodity. Washington personally led the militia to suppress the rebellion, demonstrating the federal government’s determination and ability to enforce its laws.
George Washington’s favorite breakfast dish was hoecakes, a type of cornmeal pancake
Washington had simple tastes when it came to food. One of his preferred breakfast foods was hoecakes, a cornmeal pancake often served with butter and honey. In fact, records from Mount Vernon, his plantation home, reveal that he would often eat these cakes “swimming in butter and honey.” This staple food of the American South reflected Washington’s grounding in the farming culture of Virginia.
Washington was an avid farmer and personally oversaw the operations at Mount Vernon
Despite his military and political career, George Washington always thought of himself as a farmer. He took an active interest in farming, often experimenting with crop rotations, livestock breeding, and different farming methods. He oversaw every aspect of his Mount Vernon plantation, which expanded to cover five separate farms over 8,000 acres. He was particularly innovative in his approach to agriculture, often integrating new technologies and practices.
George Washington was an enthusiastic collector of whiskey recipes and owned one of the largest distilleries in the United States at the time
Despite the Whiskey Rebellion during his presidency, Washington had a personal interest in whiskey production. In his later years, he even established a distillery at Mount Vernon, which became one of the largest in America at the time. Washington collected various whiskey recipes and made a profitable business from his distillery, further adding to his diverse and successful ventures.
Washington’s presidential salary was $25,000 per year, which he declined
As President, Washington was entitled to a salary of $25,000 per year, a considerable sum for the time. However, following the example he set during the Revolutionary War, he declined the salary, choosing to only accept reimbursement for expenses incurred in the line of duty. His decision was rooted in his belief that public service should be done for the country’s benefit rather than personal gain.
Washington’s inauguration as the first President of the United States was held in New York City
On April 30, 1789, Washington was inaugurated as the first President of the United States in a ceremony held in New York City, the nation’s capital at the time. The event was marked by pomp and ceremony, with a grand parade and ringing church bells. His oath was administered on a balcony of Federal Hall on Wall Street, after which he delivered his inaugural address to the gathered crowd.
George Washington was considered tall for the 18th century
George Washington stood at approximately 6 feet 2 inches tall, which was notably taller than the average male height in the late 18th century. His height, combined with his natural charisma and commanding presence, made him an imposing figure, whether on the battlefield or in a political gathering. This physical stature further enhanced his aura of leadership and authority.
Washington was an accomplished surveyor and started his career as a land surveyor at the age of 17
Before his military and political career, George Washington worked as a land surveyor. At the age of 17, he was appointed to the official position of County Surveyor for Culpeper County, Virginia. This early profession allowed him to explore and understand the land, shaping his perspectives on the value of westward expansion. His skills as a surveyor also proved valuable during the Revolutionary War, providing him with a detailed understanding of terrain and geography.
George Washington was an early advocate for the abolition of slavery
George Washington’s relationship with slavery was complex. He owned slaves for much of his life but became increasingly uncomfortable with the institution. Towards the end of his life, he expressed a desire for the abolition of slavery, and in his will, he made provisions for the manumission (release) of his own slaves upon the death of his wife, Martha. He was the only slaveholding founding father to do so.
George Washington was the only US president to not formally attend college
Despite his numerous accomplishments, George Washington did not receive a formal college education, making him the only U.S. president to not have attended college. His father’s death when he was young limited his formal education to what could be provided by his mother and the local church. Nonetheless, Washington became an avid reader and self-learner, acquiring knowledge in a wide range of fields.
Washington’s false teeth affected his speech
George Washington’s dental troubles had a significant impact on his life. His false teeth, though state-of-the-art for the time, were uncomfortable and often caused him pain. They distorted his lips and affected his speech, causing him to speak in a low, soft voice. These issues also contributed to his preference for silence and brevity in public speaking.
Washington’s cause of death has been a subject of debate among historians
George Washington died on December 14, 1799. His cause of death was officially listed as “inflammation of the throat,” but modern medical experts believe he died from a severe throat infection, possibly acute epiglottitis. Despite the various theories, the exact cause of his death remains a subject of debate among historians and medical professionals.
Washington was posthumously promoted to the rank of General of the Armies of the United States
In 1976, as part of the United States Bicentennial celebrations, Congress posthumously promoted George Washington to the rank of General of the Armies of the United States. This honorary title was backdated to 1799, making him the highest-ranking military officer in U.S. history. The legislation specified that no officer of the United States armed forces could ever outrank Washington.
Washington was an enthusiastic supporter of the arts
Washington had a deep appreciation for the arts. He was known to frequent the theater, attending plays and opera performances. He believed that the arts played an important role in fostering a sense of culture and national identity. His support for the arts was integral to their growth and development during the early years of the United States.
Washington was the only president who was unanimously elected by the Electoral College
In both of his presidential elections, Washington was unanimously elected by the Electoral College, a feat that has never been repeated. This universal support across political and regional lines reflects the immense respect and trust he commanded from his contemporaries. His unanimous elections speak volumes about his reputation as a leader and the unifying role he played during the nation’s formative years.
During his presidency, Washington established the first federal mint in the United States
As part of his efforts to solidify the economic foundation of the new nation, Washington signed the Coinage Act of 1792, establishing the first federal mint in the United States. Located in Philadelphia, the mint was responsible for producing and circulating coinage. This move was a crucial step in creating a national currency and further developing the country’s economic infrastructure.
Washington was the first president to issue a Thanksgiving proclamation
In 1789, George Washington issued a proclamation designating November 26 as a national day of Thanksgiving. The proclamation encouraged Americans to express their gratitude for the happy conclusion to the country’s war for independence and the successful ratification of the U.S. Constitution. This marked the beginning of the national holiday we now know as Thanksgiving.
George Washington was an accomplished horse breeder
Aside from being a skilled equestrian, Washington was also an avid horse breeder. He recognized the importance of good-quality horses for transportation, farming, and the military. He sought to improve American horse breeds by importing high-quality stallions from abroad. His efforts significantly contributed to the improvement of horse breeds in America.
George Washington was an avid reader
George Washington was a dedicated reader. Despite the lack of a formal education, he valued learning and self-improvement. His personal library at Mount Vernon contained over 900 books covering a broad range of topics, including agriculture, military science, history, and philosophy. His collection demonstrated his wide array of interests and his commitment to continual learning.
Washington was a Freemason
George Washington was a member of the Freemasons, a fraternal organization that traces its origins to the local fraternities of stonemasons. He was initiated into the organization in 1752 and later served as the Worshipful Master of his local Masonic lodge. His membership in the Freemasons played a significant role in his life, providing him with a network of connections and influencing his thinking and values.
His Lasting Legacy
George Washington’s impact on the United States is immeasurable. His leadership during the Revolutionary War and his role in forming the nation’s government have made him one of the most significant figures in American history. His reputation for integrity, courage, and wisdom has left a lasting imprint on the national identity.
Washington’s legacy can be seen in the many institutions, cities, and landmarks bearing his name, including the nation’s capital, Washington D.C. He continues to be revered for his contributions to the creation and early development of the United States, and his image graces the U.S. dollar bill and quarter, further cementing his place in American culture.
Yet, Washington’s legacy is more than just the tangible artifacts and institutions named in his honor. His actions and decisions created precedents that shaped the executive branch’s functioning, such as the creation of a cabinet and the notion of a two-term presidency. The values he espoused – from his commitment to public service to his belief in national unity – continue to be fundamental pillars of the American political ethos.
It’s evident that George Washington was much more than the first president of the United States. From his humble beginnings as a surveyor and farmer to his unparalleled military and political career, his life was marked by a steadfast dedication to the country he helped found. The fascinating facts about his life only add further depth to his character, making him not only an intriguing historical figure but also a man who continues to inspire millions around the world.