Referred to as the “Father of His Country,” George Washington began his life as an English citizen and went on to be named the first President of the United States. Coming from humble beginnings, Washington proved to be an extremely ambitious man, slowly rising through the ranks of the British and later Patriot armies. In 1775, he was named the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, winning decisive battles and defeating the British in the American Revolutionary War. Washington was far more than just a skilled tactician and politician– take a deeper look into the life of the man that the United States wouldn’t have existed without and learn some personal facts that were left out of most history books.
No One Will Ever Outrank Him In The US Military
In 1976, George Washington has posthumously named the highest rank in the United States military. According to Air Force Magazine, “When Washington died, he was a lieutenant general. But as the centuries passed, this three-star rank did not seem commensurate with what he had accomplished. After all, Washington did more than defeat the British in battle. Along the way, he established the framework for how American soldiers should organize themselves, how they should behave, and how they should relate to civilian leaders.”
So, in 1976, he was named the General of the Armies of the United States, and nobody will ever outrank him.
He Owned Over 50,000 Acres And Believed In Westward Expansion
At times, George Washington is said to have been the richest president in United States history. It is believed that he owned more than 50,000 acres in total in locations now known as West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, Kentucky, and Ohio. On top of that, long before the famous Lewis and Clark expedition, Washington maintained that they should be looking West.
He felt that acquiring more territory westward would help to benefit the new nation, as well as bring the country together. He believed that connecting the Ohio and Potomac rivers would help create a continental transportation system, linking the country together.
He Loved Entertainment
Although history has painted George Washington to be an extremely focused and stoic individual, that isn’t necessarily the case. Yes, he did what needed to be done and took care of business, but he also enjoyed cutting loose.
There are numerous accounts of Washington dancing late into the night at parties and balls, as well as his love for the theater, which he frequented regularly. Apparently, during a time when men and women were often separated, Washington was known to go out of his way to converse and interact with women.
He Wasn’t A Devout Christian
Biographer Edward Lengel noted that George Washington “was a very moral man. He was a very virtuous man, and he watched carefully everything he did. But he certainly doesn’t fit into our conception of a Christian evangelical or somebody who read his Bible every day and lived by a particular Christian theology. We can say he was not an atheist on the one hand, but on the other hand, he was not a devout Christian.”
While he attended church he did not take communion, and never went out of his way to claim that he was a Christian. According to Barry Schwartz, ” In the enlightened tradition of his day, he was a devout Deist—just as many of the clergymen who knew him suspected.”
He Was Lucky On The Battlefield
While George Washington was an expert military tactician, his plans and strategies didn’t necessarily protect his own life. He was almost killed in battle countless times and had the evidence to prove it.
At the battle of Braddock, Washington’s troops were caught in a crossfire between British and Native American soldiers. As a result, two horses were shot from under Washington and his coat was pierced by four musket balls. Miraculously, Washington walked away unharmed.
He Disapproved Of The Boston Tea Party
George Washington may have agreed with the outrage that led to the Boston Tea Party occurring, however, he condemned the actual act. Washington was a firm believer in private property rights, so he saw the Boston Tea Party as nothing more than an act of vandalism while others considered it to be in the name of patriotism.
He even believed that those involved should have personally compensated the British East India Company for all of the damages they had caused.
He Didn’t Have Wooden Teeth
A common misconception, George Washington never had wooden teeth. While this may have been a practice at the time, Washington did not participate. Although he did have many of his teeth removed and later replaced, his new teeth were a combination of carved animal bone, gold, ivory, and teeth that he purchased from his own slaves.
The purchase records of Washington buying teeth from his slaves still exist today, and it’s safe to say Washington knew that using wooden teeth wouldn’t be the most effective solution.
He Fell In Love With His Friend’s Wife
Before marrying Martha, George Washington professed his love to Sally Fairfax, the wife of his good friend George William Fairfax.
In a letter written in 1758, Washington writes: “‘Tis true I profess myself a votary to Love. I acknowledge that a Lady is in the case; and, further, I confess that this lady is known to you. Yes, Madam, as well as she is to one who is too sensible of her Charms to deny the Power whose influence he feels and must ever submit to … You have drawn me, my dear Madam, or rather I have drawn myself, into an honest confession of a Simple Fact.” We wonder if Martha ever learned about this.
He Organized Spying And Espionage
Although he was a man of morals, when it came to war, Washington went to all lengths to win the battle. During the Revolutionary War, Washington organized spy networks to gain information from the other side, while simultaneously misleading his enemies.
He sent secret agents across enemy lines, often times supplying British officers with the wrong information to benefit his underlying motives. Washington was known as quite the spymaster during his time.
He May Have Been Infertile
Strangely enough, George Washington never fathered any children himself. In 2007, John K. Amory from the University of Washington School of Medicine proposed that Washington might have been infertile due to an infection caused by tuberculosis.
He wrote: “Classic studies of soldiers with tuberculous pleurisy during World War II demonstrated that two-thirds developed chronic organ tuberculosis within five years of their initial infection. Infection of the epididymis or testes is seen in 20 percent of these individuals and frequently results in infertility.”
He Died On Accident
Although Washington was plagued by illnesses for the majority of his life, his death is assumed to have been the cause of medical malpractice. Washington had caught a simple cold and had undergone a bloodletting, a common medical practice.
However, in an attempt to cure him, the procedure was done at least four different times. This had proved to be too much, and it is estimated that he had lost 40% of his blood. Washington died not long after his final procedure.
He’s The Only Sitting President That Has Gone Into Battle
George Washington is the only President of the United States to ride into battle while serving as president. According to the Alcohol and Tobacco, and Trade Bureau, “On September 19, 1794, George Washington became the only sitting U.S. president to personally lead troops in the field when he led the militia on a nearly month-long march west over the Allegheny Mountains to the town of Bedford.”
While we have had countless presidents who started their careers in the military, none have actively fought in a war as acting President of the United States.
He Inherited His First Slaves At Age 11
As a young man, Washington accepted slavery. He was taught by his family that slaves were the proper way to manage the household and plantation. Washington was just 11-years-old we he first inherited slaves.
Over 300 African American slaves lived and worked in bondage at Washington’s estate, Mount Vernon, in his lifetime. In his will, he requested that his slaves be freed upon his wife’s passing. Ultimately, fewer than half of the slaves were freed when Martha passed, as many owned by Custis estate remained enslaved.
He Owned A Whiskey Distillery
George Washington established a whiskey distillery at his home at Mount Vernon in 1798, and it proved to be successful. According to Julian Niemcewcz, a Polish visitor, the distillery produced 12,000 gallons of whiskey a year.
At one point, Washington even wrote to his nephew, “Two hundred gallons of Whiskey will be ready this day for your call, and the sooner it is taken the better, as the demand for this article (in these parts) is brisk.” It’s a shame the distillery isn’t around today!
He Was Named Commander-In-Chief After He Was President
In 1798, the United States was anxious about a possible French invasion. It was during that time that George Washington was named as the commander-in-chief of the United States Military. Even though Washington was no longer president, his name was used to help with recruiting, since George Washington was an extremely well-known figure and icon of the United States.
He only served as an advisor since he was relatively old by then, but he expressed that he wished he had been a bigger help. In a letter, he admitted that as commander-in-chief, he didn’t know much about what was going on with the military.
He Saved The American Revolution. Twice.
During the Revolutionary War, George Washington’s actions helped save the efforts of the Colonial effort not once, but twice. After numerous defeats in New York and New Jersey in 1776, George Washington made the bold decision cross the Delaware River when most generals might have fallen back.
This led him to win three key battles which helped to beat the English and boost the American soldier’s morale. Furthermore, in 1781, Washington decided to attack the British Army at Yorktown. His victory proved to be the decisive victory of the war.
He Was The First Person To Sign The United States Constitution
During the American Revolution, George Washington saw the issues with the Articles of Confederation. So, in 1787, Washington went to Philadelphia to attend the Constitutional Convention. There, Washington was unanimously elected to preside over the Constitutional Convention, a job that took a whole four months to accomplish.
While there were plenty of participants who had a lot to say during the convention, George Washington was not one of them. However, being president of the convention, he had the authority of writing his name on the document first.
He Was Mostly Self-Educated
After Washington’s father died in 1743, there was very little money left in the family for an 11-year-old George to be formally educated for long. So, Washington’s formal educated ended when he was just 15-years-old, but that didn’t mean he gave up on educating himself.
Mostly on his own, he studied warfare, agriculture, politics, and everything else that led him to become the hero of the United States that he is today. He also frequently corresponded with other intellects and surrounded himself with some of the smartest minds around at the time.
He Was A Volunteer
George Washington is the first and only president to unanimously receive all of the electoral votes. Washington never actually ran for the position of president but was voted into office by popular demand. This happened for both of his terms, and as president he never accepted a salary, even using his own money to help pay the salaries of cabinet members and other positions in the executive branch.
Although he was heavily involved in the planning of Washington DC and the White House, he never lived in either. His inaugurations took place in both New York and Pennsylvania, both capital cities at the time.
He Established Many Presidential Traditions
During his two terms, George Washington established many presidential traditions that are still common practice today. He was the first to say “So help me God” at the end of the Presidential Oath of Office, words that every president since has repeated.
He also came up with the idea to refer to the chief officer and “Mr. President” as well. In addition, he also established the two-term limit for any president as well as issued the first Thanksgiving Proclamation, making Thanksgiving a national holiday.
His Birthday Isn’t What We Think
Surprisingly, Washington was born on February 11, 1731, not February 22, 1732, which is what we’ve been led to believe. When Washington was born, England was still going by the Julian calendar, established by Julius Caesar in 46 BC.
According to that calendar, Washington was born on February 11, 1731. Yet, in 1752, England changed to the Gregorian calendar and has followed it ever since. By this calendar, George Washington would have been born on February 22, 1732, the date most people consider to be Washington’s birthday.
He Had French Citizenship
After establishing a friendly personal and political relationship with France during the Revolutionary War, in 1792, Washington was made an honorary citizen of France. While he didn’t speak French and had never visited the country either, he was honored regardless.
However, during the French Revolution, Washington and others who had been made honorary citizens began to distance themselves with the country. The made it clear that they wanted no association with the mass executions and other horrors occurring in France at the time.
His Hair Was Real
During Washington’s lifetime, it was common for men to wear wigs. Many assume that Washington’s dapper-looking hairstyle was a wig, but that isn’t the case. His hair was his own, grown long and tied back into a ponytail or queue.
Also popular with the times, Washington powdered his hair to make it appear white, as seen in portraits. His natural hair color when he was a young boy was actually red.
He Didn’t Have a Middle Name
The first president of the United States did not have a middle name, which wasn’t odd for the time. In fact, middle names were not common practice until the early 19th century, and of the first 20 presidents of the United States, only five of them had middle names.
Washington’s name is forever remembered and celebrated in American history. There are 30 counties, a state, and the nation’s capital named after the Founding Father.
He Was Frugal About Feeding His Slaves
When it came to feeding the slaves who took care of his home and plantation, Washington’s view was: “as much as they can eat without waste and no more” according to the Mount Vernon estate. However, his slaves often went one or two days without food, and begged to be given more.
Enslaved adults were given 1 quart of cornmeal and 5-8 ounces of salted fish each day at Mount Vernon. Many of them hunted and fished to supplement the food given to them.
Washington Penned a Lot of Letters
The most famous paper George Washington penned was the Constitution of the United States, but he penned tens of thousands of letters during his lifetime. His estate estimates that he penned between 18,000 and 20,000 letters and they’ve collected 297 volumes of them.
That would mean he spent several hours a day taking the time to pen correspondence and official government documents. He also wrote love letters to his wife, Martha.
He Loved Dogs
Washington was a known dog lover and owned many dogs in his lifetime. He bred Foxhounds for hunting, and would keep around 30 dogs on his estate at any given time. He loved them so much, he was given the title, “Father of the American Foxhound.”
He documented his beloved hounds in his journal, and we know that three of them were named Drunkard, Tipler, and Tipsy. Judging by those names, it doesn’t sound like they were very skilled at hunting!
He Didn’t Always Own Mount Vernon
It’s hard to imagine that the first president of the United States wasn’t the highest member of his family, but just like any other family, Washington’s elder sibling was given the family’s estate. Washington’s father Augustine built Mount Vernon initially as a modest property.
When he died, Washington’s elder half-brother took ownership, and Washington leased some space from him. He started expanding the house, even though he didn’t yet own it, in the 1750’s, and took proper ownership of the estate in 1761.
His Second Inaugural Address Is The Shortest In History
The second time George Washington was unanimously elected President of the United States, he didn’t have much to say about his victory. On March 4, 1793 he stood at the Senate Chamber of Congress Hall in Philadelphia to address the American people.
His speech only consisted of 135 words, and lasted just ten minutes long- the shortest inaugural address in U.S. history. In that short time he managed to briefly touch on a number of subjects including foreign policy and education. He even announced the consequences he would accept if he didn’t act as a proper president to his people.
He Made Mules Popular
When it came to farm work, Washington was very passionate about mules. While many plantation owners believed horses were best-suited in farm labor, Washington studied agriculture and came to the conclusion that mules were the best animal to work on the land.
He believed mules were stronger and had more endurance than a horse. They also consumed 1/3 less food than horses, required less water, and cost less to maintain than horses.
George Didn’t Really Chop Down A Cherry Tree
As the first president and Founding Father of the U.S., people were fascinating with George Washington, and wanted to know more about his life, especially after he died. Mason Locke was one of the first authors to write a biography about Washington. He published The Life of Washington in the year 1800 and it instantly became a bestseller.
In the book, however, Locke fabricated a story about Washington damaging a cherry tree of his father’s when he was young. When he confessed to being responsible, his father was pleased with his integrity and truthfulness and didn’t punish him. Locke made the whole story up. It’s since been repeated thousands of times.
Washington Grew Up On A Farm In Fredricksburg, Virginia
When he was a boy, before moving to Mount Vernon, Washington and his family lived on a farm. His parents purchased a 280-acre farm with some dwellings already on the land. They rented the adjoining 300 acres and grew tobacco, corn, and wheat on Ferry Farm.
Just five years after the family purchased the farm in Fredricksburg, Virginia, Washington’s father Augustine passed away at the age of 49. Augustine left Ferry Farm to Washington, and he sold it to a Scottish immigrant for 2,000 pounds, according to the Mount Vernon estate website.
He Handwrote the 110 Rules of Civility
When George Washington was a boy, it was common for people to write out the 110 Rules of Civility– social etiquette rules that one should follow when in company. According to the Mount Vernon Estate, the practice originated in France in the late sixteenth century.
At fourteen years old, young George took part in this activity and that’s part of why people think he grew up with such a noble character. The rules include being respectful, loyal, and polite.
He Loved Fox Hunting
Washington had plenty of land around his estate at Mount Vernon and enjoyed inviting neighbors and friends over for fox hunting. Often times in the fall and winter seasons, he would jump on his horse and take his foxhound dogs to hunt in the fields, streams, and woods on the property.
Fox hunting was a very popular sport for men in the eighteenth century, complete with fashionable attire. The hunter needed to be a skilled rider as well, and Washington loved to jump his horses over the fallen logs and through the streams.
He Didn’t Kill The Foxes When He Hunted Them
Washington absolutely loved the thrill of fox hunting, including the chase and the horsemanship. He detailed each of his days spent hunting in his journal. One of the things Washington included was that his dogs and him never killed the foxes after the pursuit.
They would chase the foxes across many acres, pin them in a corner, and then leave peacefully and head back to the estate. He didn’t feel the need to kill the fox, he just enjoyed the hunt.
He Enjoyed The Companionship Of Hunting
Along with enjoying being outside on the land, riding horses, and chasing foxes with his dogs, in his journals, from the time he was young, Washington documented that he liked the companionship that came along with his hunting pals.
Washington often went fox hunting with Lord Dunmore, the Governor of Virginia, and William Lee, who was an enslaved worker and a skilled rider. Washington would spend hours with these men, hunting foxes around the acreage of Mount Vernon.
He Was Upset About The Pay Of Virginian Soldiers
During the French and Indian War, Washington served in the British Army where he grew frustrated that the British soldiers were getting paid double what the soldiers from Virginia were getting paid. He respectfully voiced his opinion and requested that they get equally paid for their equal work.
In a letter to Robert Dinwiddie on May 18, 1754 Washington wrote, “I really do not see why the lives of his Majesty’s subjects in Virginia should be of less value, than of those in other parts of his American dominions; especially when it is well known, that we must undergo double their hardship.”
The British Army Demoted Him
Already upset with the unequal pay of Virginian soldiers in the British Army, and royal commissioners, Washington was distraught when he was given the news that the British Army had demoted him. He went from the position of lieutenant colonel to a captain leading ten Virginians.
In a letter to William Fitzhugh, Washington wrote, “I think, the disparity between the present offer of a Company, and my former Rank, too great to expect any real satisfaction or enjoyment in a Corps, where I once did, or thought I had a right to, command” according to Mount Vernon estate.
He Led Military Intelligence Operations
During the Revolutionary War, Washington led military intelligence efforts that proved to be a great contributor to the success in the war. Utilizing code names, ciphers, book codes, and other techniques, American troops were able to communicate vital information across enemy lines.
While the information he needed was getting back to him, Washington put just as much effort into spreading misinformation. He became quite skilled at it, which only became apparent long after the war had ended.
He Was One Of The First To Use Invisible Ink
Washington was constantly looking for ways to change and improve the way the American troops passed along secret information. He got the idea to pass along letters that would appear as blank pages until a certain chemical was poured on the paper.
He enlisted James Jay to help him create the chemical and special ink. Correspondence was regularly intercepted by the opposing side, so this new method would prove to be very helpful for Washington and the troops to pass messages along safely.