Society - People
By: - at October 24, 2013

15 Interesting Facts about George Washington

Exploring the history of the presidency of the United Sates of America while conducting an intelligent conversation about the most influential presidents, it is impossible to not mention George Washington's name. Washington was the first U.S. President to serve with his first term immediately following the Revolutionary War. Not only was he one of the greatest Presidents, but he was also a very intriguing and fascinating person. Looking at all of the political accomplishments of such a great historical figure, it is extremely interesting to learn the dynamic facets of his life that shaped him as a man as well as a President. You may just discover something you did not know about George Washington and unique aspects of this truly inspirational, historical figure's life.

george washington

Here are fifteen interesting facts about George Washington that will entertain as well as educate you, leaving you with a firm grasp of who he truly was.


Reconstruction of Distillery:
Reconstruction of Distiller
By Orygun, via Wikimedia Commons

15)  Distilled His Own Alcohol
As the young nation was growing, there was a sizeable demand for alcohol. After breaking all trade and ties with Britain, the colonies needed to make all of their own liquor. Individuals like Washington took it upon themselves to make liquor not only for their own consumption, but to supply the colonies' thirst for liquor. Washington became a very successful distributor, and producing and distributing alcohol that contributed a large portion of his wealth.

Among the liquors produced at his Mount Vernon distillery were peach brandy, apple brandy and rye whiskey. The Mt. Vernon distillery used all of the latest technology to create a product that was far superior to the countryside stills that currently dominated the supply of alcohol. The success of making a great product is only part of what made Washington a great distributor. He was also good at creating and maintaining business relationships.

Grist Mill at Mount Vernon
Grist Mill at Mount Vernon
By Kadin2048, via Wikimedia Commons

The distillery has long since been shut down, but it was recently restored for tourists to check out Washington's distilling operation. Mt. Vernon is a popular historical site and visitors are welcome to take a tour of the restored distillery.

Mount Vernon Estate, Virginia
Mount Vernon Estate, Virginia
By baldeaglebluff, via Wikimedia Commons

It is a walk back in time to see what was considered to be high tech during Washington's era. The amount produced at the distillery was very small in comparison with the alcohol production standards of today.


14)  Publicly Referred to as General Washington
Those who knew Washington spoke at length of his fantastic leadership skills. This is primarily what led to his assignment as commander of the Continental Army at the age of 44. Washington was entrusted to fight against the British to win freedom from tyranny, and what ultimately led to the formation of the United States of America. He proved to be very effective at his post because the army was able to devise tactics and strategy that were necessary for securing an American victory. The colonies accomplished something that many thought couldn't be done, beating one of the most powerful military forces on the planet.

British Surrender by General John Burgoyne at Saratoga - October 17, 1777
British Surrender by General John Burgoyne at Saratoga - October 17, 1777

It was because of his ability to lead his troops into battle that Washington was seen as the only real contender for the first President of the United States. Outside of the military, he was always referred to as general. Even his wife would call him "general" publicly. There's no information about what she may have called him in private.

Washington with Martha (far right seated) and Children
Washington with Martha (far right) and Children

Any evidence of what Martha may of called him at home was lost when the correspondence letters between the two were burned. Washington’s wife did not want to have the letters to remind her of how much she missed her late husband. Any endearments Washington and his wife may of used on one another were destroyed with the letters.


13)  Loved Eating Hoe Cakes
One of Washington’s favorite foods was actually a breakfast food. He loved to eat hoe cakes. The more common way to cook this simple food is on the stove top and fried in butter, but the way they received their name is of interest. Hoe cakes are named because of the original method of cooking them, which is on the back of a scovil hoe. It is likely that Washington grew up eating these since he grew up on a farm, and the ingredients and the methods for making them were always readily available.

Scovil Hoe - Tool Used for Making Traditional Hoe Cakes
Scovil Hoe - Tool Used for Making Traditional Hoe Cakes

The traditional hoe cake is a pancake made out of cornmeal. After being fried in butter, these very simply pancakes were served with butter and honey. The use of corn was gaining popularity during Washington's lifetime due to the introduction of the crop from the Indians, and the ability to grow corn in almost all areas of the country.

Traditional Hoe Cakes - Washington's Favorite Food
Traditional Hoe Cakes - Washington's Favorite Food

Hoe cakes are still cooked and enjoyed to this day, but they have been mostly replaced by pancakes. The lighter and sweeter alternative is preferred because they are easier to digest and are not quite as dense. When Washington was eating them, a hardy breakfast was necessary to have all the strength needed to work the fields, tending to the everyday chores on a family farm. 


12)  Did Not Have Wooden Teeth
One of the favorite ways to characteristically portray Washington was as a man who had wooden dentures -ouch! slivers in the mouth? While it is true that Washington did have his teeth removed, he did not have replacements made out of wood. Washington had all of his teeth removed after suffering from excruciating oral pain for many years. To replace his teeth, Washington had a silver plate made filled with a mixture of animal and human teeth. It was because of the animal teeth worn as dentures, that Washington was nicknamed “old muttonhead”.

Gilbert Stuart's Portrait of George Washington - 1797
Gilbert Stuart's Portrait of George Washington - 1797

The human teeth that made up Washington’s plate came from his slaves. As a slave owner, there was no requirement to pay the slaves anything for their teeth, but he did anyway. Slaves volunteered to have their teeth removed to earn money. Sales receipts that survived serve as proof that Washington compensated his slaves for their "services". Most slave owners during Washington's time probably wouldn't of paid their slaves. It is very likely slave owners would of forcibly taken them without any regard for their slaves' health or the extreme pain associated with a dental extraction. Washington instead brokered a business deal with his slaves where they willingly participated in the construction of his dentures.

Washington's "Teeth"
Washington's "Teeth"

As you might imagine, the teeth were ill-fitting having come from a hodgepodge of animals and different human jaws. The silver plate was heavy and the cosmetic appearance wasn't all that attractive. Without pulling his original teeth and getting a set of these early dentures, his teeth would have rotted in his mouth and possibly led to further health complications.


11)  Washington’s Birthdate is Incorrect
gregorian calender switchWhen the colonies switched over to the Gregorian calendar, all of the dates were moved back by eleven days. This is a result from transitioning out of the Julian calendar in 1752. Under the old calendar, Washington’s birthdate fell on February 22, 1732. If you are thinking that this date is still his birthdate, then you are correct! Washington refused the idea of changing his birthdate just to follow the new calendar system. He liked the symmetry of his birthdate and kept it.

That rest of the country switched over to the new calendar and began modifying dates. No one ever questioned Washington keeping his original birthdate because he was respected a great deal by the military, and eventually became the first President of the U.S.

"Give us our Eleven Days" - Slogan Used to Protest the Switch - by William Hogarth
"Give us our Eleven Days" - Slogan Used to Protest the Switch - by William Hogarth


10)  The First President Had Other Firsts
Other than being the first President of the United States, there are significant details of his presidency that made Washington stick out from the rest of American Presidents. Among the impressive facts is that in his first term, Washington was never even elected. He was appointed by the new government to take on the newly created position. He was not even sure whether or not he wanted to become President. The rest of the government did not give him much of a choice.

Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze - 1851
Washington Crossing the Delaware by Emanuel Leutze - 1851

Because Washington was so well respected and because of the inexperience of voting for a President, there was no real opposition to Washington being the first President. He is the only President to ever receive all of the electoral votes, and he received this honor for both of his elections.

Freemason Initiation
Freemason Initiation

Some like to make a big deal out of the fact that Washington was a Mason. In fact, he was the first Masonic President of the United States, but he certainly was not the last. The Freemasons have been accused of being an elitist group of individuals bent on controlling the destiny of the United States. In fact, the group welcomes working class Americans as well as those in positions of authority equally. It just happens that many Presidents over the years have been Freemasons.


9)  Warned of the Dangers of a Two Party System
Since Washington was not a politician but rather a General, it was easy for him to see the danger of splitting the leaders of the nation into two political parties. The Republican Party and the Federalist Party were being developed at the time Washington was in office and represent the first parties. Later the Republican Party split into the Jacksonian faction, which later became the modern Democratic Party in the 1830s, and ultimately became the Whig Party. Early in the U.S. the parties tended to break into factions and reassemble under different names. Today the two dominant parties are the Republican Party and the Democratic Party. The fear for Washington was that bickering between the two parties would create differences that could not be easily resolved. This was mostly due to fears of elected officials voting along party lines with very little variation. This would cause the government to fail to accomplish its goals because of party issues, and could possibly grind all of congress to a screeching halt.

logos for political parties

He warned that should party lines be drawn, it could lead to a system in which nothing gets done and the American people would suffer. He believed in this so strongly that his last words as the President of the United States were “beware of the two-party system!”

George Washington at Mount Vernon
George Washington at Mount Vernon

This is seen in modern politics in which bills cannot pass into law, because politicians representing whichever party is currently in the minority are the ones who are introducing the bill. Often opposing members of political parties will kill the others' bills before they can get any traction in the legislature. If one party dominates the house, the senate, and even the presidency, it is clear that government will not be working correctly. If one party dominates every branch of elected government, then the two-party system was just as dangerous as Washington warned. Laws are not passed on their merit as they should be. Congress begins to worry more about how they will look to the rest of their constituents than if voting for a particular bill may be the right thing to do. Sometimes members of congress vote a particular way just to make sure they get re-elected. Today there are multiple parties, but the Democratic and Republican Party still dominate U.S. politics. Washington D.C. as well as state governments are filled with more bickering than ever, and many citizens now look at their country's government as a big joke. Washington was correct and saw this coming more than 200 years ago.


8)  Marijuana Was Grown at Home
Those who enjoy smoking marijuana like to point out that Washington grew marijuana at his home. This happens to be true, but not for the reasons some would wish for. Marijuana was not used as a recreational drug for quite some time. At the time Washington was growing it, he was using it to produce hemp and to encourage soil stabilization.

marijuana plants

Hemp was widely used for a variety of purposes during the early years of the United States. In fact, many historical documents for the United States were written on paper made partially out of hemp. The Declaration of Independence was written on a combination of hemp and flax in the original drafts, while the final draft was written on vellum made from sheepskin. Even today it is still popular to talk about the use of hemp.

draft of declaration of independence

The root structure of marijuana was essential to creating rich soil with lots of aeration. Because marijuana grows quickly and takes hold, it was used for stabilizing soil widely in the United States. What growing marijuana did to the soil was perfect for growing all kinds of plants. Once harvested, the hemp was used to make rope, clothing and paper.


7)  Not a Talker
The majority of politicians enjoy talking, and often it seems if some politicians like to talk just to hear their own voice. This is an important distinction when talking about Washington, because he was defiantly not a politician. Washington felt obligated to take the office of President, in order to get the country on the right path early on in its inception. He was not interested in swaying people to his political slants, because he did not have any to sway people towards.

Portrait of Washington by William "Billy" Lee - 1780
Portrait of Washington by William "Billy" Lee - 1780

As evidence of how little he enjoyed talking, his second inauguration speech was the shortest in American history. At 135 words, the speech was over almost as soon as it started. Washington kept his words simple, marking the last time in history that a leader of any nation would make an effort to keep things simple as simple as possible.

Washington's Inauguration
Washington's Inauguration

Washington let his staff do most of the talking for him. The lack of such things as television, the radio or the Internet made it easier for Washington to communicate sparingly. He did not have to speak to the public other than who was right in front of him, and his appearances were very limited engagements. He preferred the written word and the elegance of being able to express his thoughts through that form of print media.


6)  Liked Writing Letters
Speaking of Washington’s enjoyment of writing, he is also known for having written more letters than any other President in history. To be fair, without any other method of communication available, letters were the de facto method for communicating across long distances. It was secure, you could express yourself in the way you chose, and it was a perfect way to preserve the information being conveyed.

Washington's Letter to Mohammed ben Abdallah Thanking for the Signature of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship - 1787
Washington's Letter to Mohammed ben Abdallah Thanking for the Signature of the Treaty of Peace and Friendship - 1787

All told, Washington wrote more than 20,000 letters. He wrote letters not just to those in the government, but to those in the military as well as his personal acquaintances. All of the letters are still preserved as a part of the history of the United States government. It is interesting to look back at the kind of writing that he was doing as President.

Washington's Letter to General Smallwood During Revolutionary War - 1782
Washington's Letter to General Smallwood During Revolutionary War - 1782

Modern day Presidents only write letters when they are needed, and hardly ever write the letters themselves. Using auto signing and email have become the most common way to send letters to people. Of course, the invention of the phone made it possible to have extensive conversations with people throughout the world, as well as within the United States. There may never be another President who will challenge Washington for the most letters written while in office.


5)  Did Not Want to Be Paid
washington rejecting paymentWhen appointed as President, congress allocated a payment of $25,000 to the entire Executive Branch. This was the money that was supposed to cover the money needed for expenses, cabinet members and staff. Washington refused to receive payment for being President of the United States. Even with his willingness to forego receiving a paycheck, it was not enough to assure that everything could be paid. In many instances, Washington ended up paying the difference out of his own money to keep the government running.

The $25,000 was a lot of money at the time, but once everyone was paid and expenses were dealt with, there was not much left. This is interesting to think about because the current White House staff comprises more employees than there were government employees throughout the entire United States of America during Washington's presidency.

Portrait of Washington by Charles Peale - 1776
Portrait of Washington by Charles Peale - 1776

All Washington asked for in return for his service as President was to be compensated for his expenses. Even though he minimized these expenses as much as possible, the burgeoning government was still unable to reimburse Washington fully. What a surprise right? Not too much as changed since Washington's time as far as how the federal government does business. Some of the expenses have still, to this day, never been reimbursed. Washington did not mind very much as he had the money to spare.


4)  Least Educated President in History
For such a highly revered U.S. President, it is hard for many to believe that Washington never even attended college. Washington attended school formally for only eight years. He dropped out of school at the age of 15 to pursue a career as a surveyor. It was because of the fact that Washington was extremely good at math, that he was able to become a surveyor at 16 without any formal education. 

This is not to say that Washington did not receive any more education during his life. Thanks to his father and brother, he was able to receive an education sufficient enough to understand how the world worked and his place in it. Those who went on to go to college still looked to Washington for advice when running the country.

General George Washington Resigning his Commission.
Becoming a Civilian in Order to Govern the U.S. as a Democracy - 1783

General George Washington Resigning his Commission - Becoming a Civilian in Order to Govern the U.S. as a Democracy - 1783

Part of the education that Washington received on how to be a great leader was from the time he spent as a soldier. He entered the Continental Army and was advanced in the ranks rather quickly. It was because of his ability to advance in the ranks that he was able to be named as the commander of the same army at the age of 44.


3)  Fired the First Shot of the French Indian War
It is infrequent that a large conflict can be attributed to the firing of a single shot. However, Washington is known for being the soldier who fired the first shot in the French Indian War. He was only 22 at the time he was in charge of the Virginia Regiment. The appointment of Washington to be in charge of the unit was made by Robert Dinwiddie. It was Washington’s job to deliver letters to the French telling them to give up their stations.

George Washington During French and Indian War
George Washington During French and Indian War
By Junius Brutus Stearns, via Wikimedia Commons

The French in Ohio denied the request saying they were not going to leave. On May 27, 1754 Washington led a group of Virginian soldiers to the French camp at Chestnut Ridge. It was here that the Virginians surrounded and took the camp. The resulting events of aggression between the sides culminated in the escalation of all out war. While it was not Washington per se who fired the shot, it was his group of soldiers who were there and fired the first shots. The identity of the individual who actually fired the shot is unknown, but it can be narrowed to a small group of soldiers of which Washington was a part of. 


2)  Established the Two-Term Presidency Rule
Washington served 8.5 years as President, but it was his decision to limit the office of United States President to only two terms. It is well known that Washington was happy to leave after only the first term, but he was unanimously voted back into office. In fact, if he were okay with it, he would have been elected into the position of king by his constituents. He was so loved by the American people that many did not want to imagine the country being led by anyone else. Washington was a true patriot and much of the success of the Revolutionary War could be attributed to his conviction of duty as General, and the people for awhile seemed to only want him leading the country. 

Washington at the Signing of U.S. Constitution
Washington at the Signing of U.S. Constitution

Washington realized the danger in creating a new form of government, in this case a democracy, with exactly the same problems as the old form of government (having a monarch.) He decided that after the second term that he would no longer be able to serve as President. He reasoned it to the opposition by stating it was necessary to do this because if it was not done, it would give too much power to one individual for too long a period of time - much like a King. Since the whole idea of the division of power was to limit the strength of any one branch, it was also necessary to limit the power of the President.


1)  Biggest President in U.S. History
While the majority of Presidents have been thin, there have been some presidents that were rather rotund. Even though not every President was svelte, there was no President in history that has ever been as big or as strong as Washington. As one of the foremost soldiers of the era and a farmer before that, Washington had immense strength. At 200 pounds, he was an intimidating figure to all those who encountered him. Stories exist of Washington opening walnuts with nothing more than using his thumb and forefinger.

Washington Statue at Federal Hall, Wall Street
Washington Statue at Federal Hall, Wall Street

The intimidating physical figure Washington possessed made him even more of a natural-born  military leader. He was feared on the battlefield and commanded a presence with those who knew him. During the Revolutionary War, Washington was extremely feared not only by British soldiers but by civilians back in England. While there are no specific accounts of physical encounters, but given the brutal nature of warfare at the time it is realistic that he was a force to be reckoned with.


Final Words
Washington was so much more than just an interesting man. As the first President and one of the most commanding individuals of his era, it is easy to see why he is a figure that many people want to know more about. Sure, he was the guy who added “So Help Me God” to the Presidential Oath and he started the tradition of calling the President by "Mr. President," but he was also a man of seeming unlimited potential. He excelled in everything he did and truly believed in the quality of life the nation could provide if only it was formed in the right way. His willingness to step aside and his humility made him a man unlike any other man in power that has come after him. Modern politics will likely never have another President like Washington, even though many politicians aspire to be as great as him. It is important to remember, at least for modern politicians, that Washington was not a politician. Maybe if our leaders would embrace public service without all of their political games and manipulations just like Washington did, our country would be in much better shape than the mess it is today.


 

 

 

 

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