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9 Facts About George Washington That You Probably Didn’t Know

George Washington is perhaps one of the most important figures in US history. Washington, America’s first president and a great warrior, has an interesting life story that is also littered with lies. Many of us have heard legends of him going through life with wooden teeth or chopping down the cherry tree, but these facts are just not true.

In fact, George Washington is a lot more interesting than you would think. We have rounded up some facts about him, creating a mini-biography of the life of George Washington.

A lot of his personal letters were destroyed when his wife, Martha, burned them. However, what we have learned from historians shows that he had a very fascinating and lively life.

Washington is an American icon who miraculously survived some diseases and many wars in order to lay the groundwork for the United States. Here are 9 facts about George Washington to learn more about the first US President.

George Washington
John Faed, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

1. He was mostly self-educated

In 1743, George Washington’s father died, and the family had little money left to afford a formal education for the 11-year-old George. By the time he was 15, Washington’s formal schooling had ended, but his thirst for knowledge lasted throughout his life.

During his boyhood, he worked on schooling himself in the gentlemanly arts and was known to have copied the 110 maxims of the Rules of Civility. He later read a lot to become a better farmer, soldier, and president. He corresponded with friends and authors in Europe and America. This way, Washington exchanged ideas that fed the ongoing political, agricultural, and social revolutions of his day.

2. No, George Washington’s teeth weren’t wooden

The former president ruined his teeth by using them to crack walnut shells. While it’s true that he had false teeth, through technology and science, we learned his dentures weren’t actually made of wood.

Instead, they came largely from human teeth that were taken from the mouths of his enslaved workers. Some also came from cow teeth, lead, and ivory. His dentist created a little spring inside the dentures so the president could open and close them.

Wearing them made him feel great discomfort, and that’s one of the reasons he rarely smiled. His morning hoe cakes with butter and syrup (chosen for their softness) had to be chopped into tiny pieces to make them easier to eat.

3. His first love was the wife of one of his close friends

Weeks before his wedding, George Washington wrote a love letter saying: “The world has no business whom I have feelings for, especially since I want to conceal my love declared in this manner to you.”

The letter wasn’t intended for his fiancée, Martha Custis, but for Sally Fairfax, who was married to George Fairfax, Washington’s neighbor, mentor, employer, and close friend. Described as an intelligent, beautiful woman, Sally became friends with Washington when he was still a teenager.

According to historians, she was the one who allegedly taught him how to converse and behave among the powerful and wealthy — and even how to dance the minuet. It is not known whether they had a romantic relationship.

Photo by Fablok from Shutterstock

4. He owned a ton of land

Some historians have claimed that George Washington was the wealthiest president America ever had. He did actually own more than 50,000 acres in the western regions of Virginia and what is now called West Virginia, as well as in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, Ohio, and Kentucky country.

Long before Clark and Lewis began their journey into the western territories, Washington had a sharp appreciation for how an expansion westward would not only enrich the nation but also improve its cohesion.

By linking the east-flowing Potomac and west-flowing Ohio headwaters, George Washington envisioned a continental transportation system that would allow the produce grown in the Ohio Valley to flow quickly and easily to Atlantic ports.

5. George Washington had a complicated relationship with slavery

The former president’s contradictory attitudes toward slavery represent one of the great mysteries of his legacy. Like nearly all wealthy Virginia landowners, George owned enslaved people. He first inherited 10 enslaved people when his father died.

By the time he married Martha Custis, who also had her own enslaved people, he had bought at least eight more. Yes, this is hardly a legacy to be proud of.

However, over the years, Washington’s ideas on slavery changed. During the Revolutionary War, he allegedly grew more uneasy with the thought of owning and purchasing other human beings. So it’s safe to say he supported abolition in theory but never tried it in practice.

His wealth, his plantation, and his position in society depended on the hard work done by enslaved people. When the time came to write his will, it included an order to free his slaves — with the condition that they stay with Martha for the rest of her life.

6. He didn’t want to run the country

After spending eight years on the battlefield, Washington intended to return home — to Mount Vernon, to his family, and to his crops and animals. But before stepping back, he felt it necessary to share some of his hard-earned wisdom with the fledgling nation.

As a result, in the summer of 1783, he wrote his “Circular Letter to the States“, outlining what he thought was necessary for the American experiment to succeed. In many ways, this letter came as a foreshadowing of his famed Farewell Address 13 years later, which served as a prescient warning to the nation of the most likely political perils.

7. Washington was really into his animals

Besides being the country’s first president, George Washington was also its first mule breeder. Recognizing the valuable input of the mule for farmers, the former president is credited with creating the mule stock that boosted American agriculture in the South for generations.

Mules weren’t the only animals he bred. Besides a wide variety of bird species, Washington kept many canine breeds at his historic estate in Mount Vernon, including French hounds, English foxhounds, spaniels, terriers, pointers, Newfoundlands, mastiffs, Greyhounds, and Italian Greyhounds.

Washington was a huge dog lover, and he selectively bred hunting dogs over the years and gave them names like Venus, Taster, Tippler, Sweet Lips, Madame Moose, Drunkard, and Trulove.

Popular Graphic Arts, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

8. Washington was a tough man to kill

A tall and robust man, George Washington survived multiple life-threatening situations. He had smallpox, malaria, diphtheria, tuberculosis, Quinsy, dysentery, pneumonia, and carbuncle. He survived the massacre of Fort Necessity. He survived nearly drowning in an ice-filled river. He even survived four bullets piercing his clothing.

Ironically, it was a cold that killed him. Technically, it was epiglottis, a throat infection that can now be treated with antibiotics. His doctors effectively tortured him as he lay dying, burning him in a failed attempt to remove the sickness and draining him of 40% of his blood.

Washington was terrified of being buried alive, so he directed that his body not be interred for three days after his death.

9. George Washington was in the whiskey business

George Washington smashed with his whiskey business long before Jack Daniels. In 1797, one of his estate managers suggested he open a whiskey distillery at Mount Vernon. The former president was, at first, hesitant — after all, at 65 years old, he had hoped to spend his retirement years in peace.

He eventually said yes to the proposal, and in 1798 the distillery finished construction. By 1799, Washington’s new business had grown into the largest whiskey distillery in the country. The distillery is still operating and produces a limited number of whiskey bottles each year using its original recipe.

You may also want to read 11 Historical Figures That Are Found on the U.S. Money.


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