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Washington was born at the family estate, on the banks of the Potomac River, in Westmoreland County, Virginia, at 10 am, February 22, 1732.
Washington's father died when he was 11 years old. Lawrence Washington, George's older brother, apparently became a surrogate father for George. At the age of 16, George moved in with Lawrence at his estate, Mt. Vernon. At 16, Washington helped survey the Shenandoah lands for Thomas, Lord Fairfax.
The next year, 1749, Washington received his first official appointment- as surveyor of Culpepper County, Virginia.
In 1752, his brother died of tuberculosis and Washington inherited the Mt. Vernon estate. That same year, Washington received his first military commission - as a major in the Virginia militia.
During the French and Indian War he oversaw the construction of Fort Necessity in what is today Western Pennsylvania. After the fort was overrun by superior French and Indian troops, Washington resigned his commission. He returned to service in 1755 to serve as the aide-de-camp of General Braddock.
Braddock's ill-fated attempt to seize Fort Duquesne from the French resulted in his death and the defeat of his forces. Washington assumed command, allowing the remaining British forces to retreat. After this battle, Washington was promoted to colonel and regimental commander.
In 1758, Colonel Washington resigned his commission after being elected to the Virginia House of Burgess. In his position with the Virginia assembly, he was a leader of those in the Virginia legislature pressing for strong action against England.
Washington was a delegate to the First and Second Continental Congress. He was at first a supporter of measures that might bring about an understanding with England. However, he quickly decided that this was unlikely to work.
Washington chaired the committee whose task it was to find ways of arming the impending revolution. Washington became the unanimous choice to lead the new Continental Army. This was due both to his military experience and the prestige of having a prominent Virginian at the head of the army.
As Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, Washington led that army through its early success in liberating Boston to its loss in New York; through the hardship of Valley Forge to the ultimate victory at Yorktown.
Washington was the overwhelming choice to be the President of the Constitutional Convention in 1787.
He was a supporter of a strong federal government.
President Washington was a believer in a strong Presidency. As the first President, he could set many rules. Washington believed in working closely with his staff, and relied heavily on advice of his cabinet.
Due to Washington's popularity, Congress did not challenge any of his cabinet appointments. This established the principle that Presidents will automatically have their appointments approved. When the President came to Congress to "consult" on the making of foreign treaties, he felt he was treated beneath the dignity of the office of the Presidency. It was the last time he would consult Congress on a foreign policy decision, thus setting a precedent for future presidents, who rarely confer with Congress before foreign policy decisions.
During the Washington Presidency, two major political battles took place. The first battle was between those who believed in a strict interpretation of the American Constitution and those opposed. The second dispute was between those favoring England and those in support of France in the ongoing European War.
Those who believed in strict Constitutional interpretation were led by Madison. By strict interpretation, they intended the central government to be no stronger than those powers laid out for it in the constitution. The Federalists, led by Alexander Hamilton, believed that the government had implied power over the individual states. Hamilton proposed that the Federal Government establish a Bank of the United States to help fuel economic growth. The opposition stated that the government lacked such power under the constitution. Washington sided with the Federalists and the Bank was established.
Thomas Jefferson, then Secretary of State, sided with France in her war with England. Hamilton sided with England. Washington proclaimed a strict policy of neutrality that resulted in Jefferson's resignation. Washington's view was that the United Sates should attempt to stay out of European conflicts. In addition, he felt that it was essential that the United States have as many peacetime years as possible to increase its strength before fighting any further wars.
During his Presidency, Washington personally insured that the Whiskey Rebellion, in protest of a tax imposed on whiskey, was put down. He thus crushed the first challenge to federal authority.
Surprisingly, one of the major events to take place during the Washington Presidency was accomplished with much debate but little conflict. This was the ratification of the first 10 amendments to the constitution - known as the Bill of Rights.
Washington wanted to retire after his first term of office. He was persuaded to retain the Presidency in light of the partisan politics which he felt could undo much of the statebuilding he had accomplished. Washington retired from the Presidency on March 3, 1797.
George is a city in Grant County, Washington, United States. The population was 501 at the 2010 census. The "humorous homage" to President George Washington has landed George, Washington on lists of unusual place names. 
The city is known for being near the Gorge Amphitheatre, sometimes called "The Gorge at George". The Gorge Amphitheatre was the location of the annual Sasquatch! Music Festival.
The city also celebrates national holidays such as the Fourth of July, and Washington's Birthday, with cherry pies. The world's largest cherry pie is also baked every year on July 4, and served to a crowd. 
George Washington's Ancestry and Family History
George Washington's ancestry points back to England, as did many of the people living in colonial America during his time. His earliest ancestors include several members of the English royalty, the most significant of whom was the great king Charlemagne. More recent evidence of Washington's English heritage are found in Selby Abbey in Yorkshire, England. The Washington family coat of arms is found in some of the stained glass artwork there. This artwork was most likely dedicated to John Wessington, a member of an influential family in Durham, England. The name "Wessington" came from the original name of the land that the family first settled in the twelfth century.
Another name for the Wessington family was "Washington." George Washington's great-great-grandfather Lawrence Washington earned a college education in England and began serving as a reverend in Essex in 1633 until the fighting of the English Civil War began. Because of Lawrence's sympathies to the British crown, he was removed from his position in his local church. The loss of his job resulted in Lawrence Washington dying in poverty in 1654. However, Lawrence Washington's son John Washington emigrated to the colonies after the death of his father.
Settling in Virginia, John Washington married Anne Pope. Anne's family was a wealthy one made up of plantation owners, and she and John were given a plot of land as a wedding gift. John Washington, the great-grandfather of George Washington, began the Washington tradition of farming, and became a successful farmer in Westmoreland County, Virginia. Additionally, John Washington became involved in Virginia local politics and the military. John Washington's son Lawrence Washington (the grandfather of George Washington) went to law school back in England but soon returned to Virginia to inherit his father's farms and lands. One of the lands which he inherited was named Little Hunting Creek. This piece of land would be renamed Mount Vernon in the future. Lawrence Washington was married twice, due to the death of his first wife Jane. He had four children with Jane. One of these children was named after his father: Lawrence Washington. He was a close step-brother to George Washington as the two were growing up. The elder Lawrence Washington also fathered six children with his second wife, Mary Ball. His oldest child from Mary was George Washington. Although modern historians have investigated the ancestry of George Washington because of his position as a key historical figure, George Washington himself as apparently quite unaware of his own lineage. In fact, he said in a letter that it was "a subject to which I confess I have paid very little attention." Maybe this lack of interest in his family heritage is correlated with the willingness of George Washington to break away from the traditions and rule of the mother country of Great Britain and fight for the independence of a new nation.
Where We Are
The Washington, D.C., area offers a front-row seat to history. Students are immersed in their surroundings through trips to museums, battlefields and historical sites including the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Jamestown Settlement, the Gettysburg Battlefield, the Society of the Cincinnati and George Washington&rsquos Mount Vernon estate.
Through the department's collaborative relationships with institutions throughout the region, students also have extraordinary access to historical documents at the National Archives, the Library of Congress, the National Security Archive and the Smithsonian Institution.
Author, Kuwait Transformed: Oil and Urban Life
"[Senior year] was the first time I ever studied Kuwait's history. . Being able to unearth unused documents about the subject I was researching was really thrilling. I didn't quite know it back then, but that experience officially turned me into a historian."
History of the Diary Manuscripts
Description of the years in which Washington kept diaries, their dispersal and loss, and a listing of the location of surviving diary manuscripts.
Except for special occasions, such as his mission to the French commandant and his voyage to Barbados, Washington apparently kept no daily record until 1760. Even then, his diary-keeping was erratic until 1768, when he settled down to a program that he was to continue faithfully until he became commander in chief in 1775.
Washington kept no diary during most of the Revolution. The rigor of his activities would have made it difficult to do so, and the full record of the period which accumulated in his official letterbooks and general orders rendered the custom less necessary. He tried to resume his old habit in 1781, but it was not until he had resigned his command and returned home that he became a confirmed diarist again.
It seems likely that diaries were kept for the presidential years 1789-97, and the fact that so few have survived is particularly vexing to historians. "The Journal of the Proceedings of the President (1793-97)," a daily account of Washington's official activities and correspondence, written in the first person but kept by his secretaries, will be published later. An entry for 16 April 1789, recounting his departure from Mount Vernon to assume office, appears only in Jared Sparks, ed., The Writings of George Washington (12 vols. Boston, 1833-37), 1:441-42. The entry for 23 April 1789, remarking on the enthusiasm with which the public received him, is from Washington Irving, Life of George Washington (5 vols. New York, 1857-59), 4:511. So at least we know that Jared Sparks and Washington Irving had access to material indicating that Washington began his presidency with a determination to continue the record. Diaries are extant for the period covering his tours of the northern and southern states and a brief one kept during the Whisky Rebellion of 1794. Apart from an unrewarding record for 1795, all else is lost for the presidential years.
The earliest diaries were kept in notebooks of various sizes and shapes, but when Washington began in earnest to make daily entries he chose to make them in interleaved copies of the Virginia Almanack, a Williamsburg publication. By the end of the Revolution he had grown accustomed to the blank memorandum books used in the army, and he adopted a similar notebook for his civilian record. By 1795 he had gone back to his interleaved almanacs.
As Fitzpatrick observes, ruled paper was not available to Washington, and he obtained regularly spaced lines by using a ruled guide-sheet beneath his writing paper. "This practice gives us evidence of his failing vision, as the diaries, after the Presidency, show frequent examples of his pen running off the outer edge of the small diary page, and whole words, written on the ruled guide-sheet beneath, escaped notice of not being on the diary page itself" (John C. Fitzpatrick, ed., The Diaries of George Washington, 1748-1799 [4 vols. Boston and New York, 1925], 1:x).
Upon Washington's death in 1799, most of his papers still in his hands became the property of his nephew Bushrod Washington, an associate justice of the U. S. Supreme Court. We shall have more to say about the fate of these invaluable documents in the Introduction to Volume I of The Papers of George Washington.
Destruction and dispersal of the papers began very early when Mrs. Washington reportedly burned all the correspondence she had exchanged with Washington during his lifetime--overlooking only two letters, we believe. There followed long years of careless handling by Bushrod, biographer John Marshall, and editor Jared Sparks. Indeed, what is most important in the story of Washington's papers is not such natural processes as fire, flood, mildew, and the tendency of paper to fall into dust. Rather, there has been an overabundance of stewardship by misguided caretakers, persons who thought they knew what was important and what was trivial, what should be saved and what given away to friends and autograph collectors.
The editor who laments the disappearance of so many Washington diaries can only sink into despondency upon learning that Bushrod gave many away. To diplomat Christopher Hughes, in 1825, he gave the 1797 diary and a sheaf of Washington's notes on agriculture Hughes dispersed these among his friends in the United States and Europe. Two years later, Bushrod gave the diaries for 1795 and 1798 to Margaret and Robert Adams, of Philadelphia. Then he presented the 1767 diary to Dr. James W. Wallace, of Warrenton. These and certain other diaries once in private hands have been preserved others apparently have not.
Jared Sparks's turn to mishandle the papers came in 1827, when he persuaded Bushrod to let him take large quantities to Boston, where he was to prepare his twelve-volume edition, The Writings of George Washington (Boston, 1837). Sparks decided that carefully excising a Washington signature from a document, and sending it to a friend, did not really damage the manuscript as a piece of history that a page torn from a Washington diary, or an entire Washington letter, could safely be given away if he, Sparks, judged it to be of no historical value. It was Sparks who cut Washington's draft of his first inaugural address into small pieces and so thoroughly disseminated this document of more than sixty pages that the efforts of several collectors have failed to reassemble more than a third of it. Even after he had supposedly returned all the papers to the Washington family, Sparks retained a supply to distribute. He was still mailing out snippets in 1861.
The pillage stopped in 1834 when the Washington family sold the basic collection to the U. S. government. This corpus, together with a later, smaller sale, forms the basis of the principal Washington archive at the Library of Congress. Other acquisitions have been made throughout the years. In the following list the present location of all known diaries and diary fragments is shown. The Regents' Numbers are numbers assigned by Fitzpatrick in the 1920s and used since as a cataloguing device. The diaries without Regents' Numbers were not published by Fitzpatrick, nor were several to which he assigned numbers but could not locate. His number 54, which he believed to have been kept but did not locate, is partially represented by the next diary in the series.
Why you voted for George Washington
My hero is George Washington. Unfortunately, Washington’s name has become so familiar that we forget what a great person he was. He commanded a ragtag army of volunteers against what was then the mightiest force in the world: the British empire. He did so not from the comfort of a Manhattan townhouse, but from shared quarters in the frozen fields of Valley Forge.
His leadership managed to fight a far more superior better trained army because of passion and the need for freedom from the crown.
Alexander, Caesar, or Napoleon could have beaten him on the battlefield, but Washington was the most principled of all of them. Not simply power hungry, he voluntarily relinquished command after defeating the greatest military power of the day, and declined to rule his new country as king.
Successfully transitioned the American people from hereditary to electoral rule. By stepping down after his second term ended, he set a precedent for a peaceful transfer of power that did not depend on a leader’s lifespan.
He could have been a king, instead became the first president of what would become the greatest modern nation. He was a brilliant general who fought against The military superpower at the time with Militia and won. He also chopped down a cherry tree.
George Washington was the first President of the United States and he will always be remembered and was a hard act to follow
George W. risked his neck to lead a ragtag militia to a victory that inspired revolutions all over the world (France to name one) and then became president. A job he promptly quit and went back to become a wealthy farmer again just like nothing happened. He was already wealthy, he didn’t want the power or fame. Most of the other canidates here wanted to be king or even a God.
He called morality “a necessary spring of popular government”.
I WOULD PERHAPS ADD ACCOUNTABILITY TO THAT STATEMENT..
HE BELIEVED IN A PERFECT UNION. AND DROVE THE BRITISH OUT OF AMERICA TO GAIN INDEPENDANCE
Acclaimed as the father of his country he developed the forms and rituals of government that have been used ever since, and built a strong, well-financed national government that avoided war, suppressed rebellion and won acceptance among Americans of all types. he is the man.
He was the first president of USA and in my opinion the best. A National Treasure that no-one will forget
Even through adversity and almost being replaced Washington never faltered. Without him the greatest nation on earth would not be as we know it.
His example set the standards for future US leaders.
Founded one of the most powerful countries in the modern world, and fough against large odds.
In all reality the biggest underdog fight in history, is England against the Colony’s. Therefore to win when at a disadvantage you must have an exceptional leader, or the best. It was nearly impossible to wage war on the country who supplies you with weapons, and with boats, and horses, and everything.
Against great odds he bravely fought and succeeded which resulted in the world’s first truly democratic country.
Was the presence that molded a small number of ill-equipped militia into a force that defeated the greatest power on earth at the time. After securing the military victory, he had the foresight to realize that US leaders should not be in office for life, as he declined being named / elected such office and left it for others to continue after his 2 terms of service.
In my opinion the Greatest Leader of all time would have to go to Jesus. But since he’s not on the list I vote for George washington as the best all around leader. Coming from the bottom up was not handed some special birth right kingdom or prince of any kind and rose up to become the founding father of the greatest nation in the world not only in military might , Technology, but ideas that have spread across the world people from all over the world come to America because of freedom because of a dream that can become real cause one man stood up and lead a new nation or should i say colonies and united them to go on and achieve what no other country would even think would be possible at the time the birth of an independent and powerful nation. These top 3 leaders u guys got posted on there did not measure up to george Washington. Yeah, they might of lead larger armies or had more battles and so on but he not only lead in the battle field but also created from nothing a new form of government which is still to this day the best form of government in the world and am guessing will continue to be till one day a global government is created.
Washington is great because he knew how to give up power for the greater good of his nation
Although his early military campaigns did not succeed, George Washington was able to overcome the early failures and lead a ragtag group to relative success over the British empire. He negotiated treaties and then when the war ended, he voluntarily stepped down from power. He reluctantly agreed to take on the mantle of leadership again as president, but despite all of this, he remained humble to the end.
I believe he is the greatest simply because he had no initial intention of becoming such a great leader, because those who fight for power usually end up abusing that power, this is my opinion.
He wasn’t the greatest general but was tenacious and he was a very wise president who set the standard for nearly 100 years (and beyond for some people).
If I had choices not on your survey I’d probably choose either Genghis Khan or Solomon.
George Washington won a war that, by all accounts, he should not have won. He was fighting against an enemy who had superior training, equipment, and numbers, and yet, he led 13 colonies who were not even united yet to their independence. Even after this amazing feat, he became the first president, who set precedents that almost every president to this day has followed. He pulled a few small British colonies together into a nation that would one day become the greatest superpower in the world. And, throughout all of this, he never wanted to be the leader of this nation, and yet, he did so anyway, because he knew that he was the most qualified to be the leader who all future presidents would look to as the model leader.
George Washington wasn’t a very talented general in warfare, but what he lack in military strategy he made up in courage. He would inspire soldiers to fight for him for the sake liberty. There was no one at the present time that could fill his status at that time. For without Washington I don’t think the United States would have existed.
When Washington was the President of the United States, he had the opportunity to remain “permanent,” since many Americans wanted him to. His wisdom and intelligence led him to say no to this, since he knew that to do so would be counter to all the Americans had just fought for.
He did not get full of himself.
Whereas most leaders had a vast empire to lead, Washington had to make do with a makeshift army of farmers.
George Washington was not only a great general who fought the most powerful nation of his time and succeeded, but he developed guerrilla warfare and as the first president of the United States he set forth a strong tradition for other presidents to follow.
After leading the underdog Americans to victory, he could have taken over the country, and could have ruled as King. Instead he step down, and stepped aside which established the model for future US Presidents.
Washington was a combination of a soldiers General, and a capable diplomat, with a drive to succeed and not let those beneath him down. He did not crave power or influence, but rather shied away from it.
Because he could have been King of America, but instead chose to make the U.S. a democracy thereby ensuring that the “great experiment” (democracy) would flourish.
Washington’s part in creating a new nation and then stepping down from all that power laying at his feet. This character trait gives Washington the edge in my book.
Voluntarily gave up power after two terms setting a precedent for peaceful transition of power.
George Washington is the greatest, because he alone knows that for an empire to be truly great, it cannot be confined to himself.
George Washington, at his peak days, could have became president of America for many many terms, perhaps even for life, like many dictators would do. Instead, he refused to run for third term, and starting the trend (later to become law) that presidents serve only two terms.
George Washington was a brilliant military strategist who helped liberate his fellow peoples from THE world superpower of the day. In addition, upon gaining independence, Washington could have ruled with absolute power. His virtuosity to abstain from that power makes him the greatest leader. Alexander would have been my choice for best military leader.
George Washington was not the great military leader, like Augustus, Alexander, or many others on the list. But every other leader on the list ruled. While there were great moments in each leaders civilization they were undoutedly despots. Washington, however, governed and only for 8 years. What makes his so remarkable is even while he was the most popular man in America in the 1790’s and could have easily been president as long as he pleased, he stepped down to allow the next generation of Americans to govern themselves. Knowing full well the legacy he was leaving, one that didn’t involve monarchy.
George Washington was a great general and statesman, but there are probably others on the list that were as good as or better. What makes Washington such a good leader is this: He had the chance to become a tyrant, but instead he resigned his post and really wanted to live peacefully, away from politics. But instead he stepped up to lead the young United States through its first few years. He gave up his power and avoided turning America into a dictatorship. As George III said, “If he does that, he will be the greatest man in the world.”
Not only was General George Washington a fighter and leader in the American Revolution he also set the bar for all following presidents. Such greatness is obvious in modern texts, but also in the fact that many in his own time wanted him to be King! His refusal of absolute power and his understanding of the greatness in liberty and self determination by the people is what many civilizations have striven for in their leaders.
Not only was George Washington an inspiration to everyone in the country he is on of the only leaders in history to voluntarily give up their power and set a great precedent for American presidents that prevented any one president from being in power for too long, if only we had term limits for Congress.
George Washington overcame political and military challenges. Moving troops, timing, and giving then taking ground was brilliant. The country that he helped form is still standing strong and he was wise enough to step away from power and let the people lead themselves.
Led an obviously and painfully underequipped and undertrained group of rebels to victory against the world’s undisputed superpower.
George Washington is the father of the United States of America, which is the greatest country in the world.
The USA is the first country to put men on the moon. Before this decade is out, the USA will sending men (along with new advanced science equipment) to the moon again (this time the spacecraft will land close to one of the poles). It is the USA where the internet was started. If not for the internet, this contest for which I am now a contestant could not exist right now. I also predict that the USA will be the first country to have human beings set foot on the planet Mars.
Before GW was our first president, he was a general, and before that, he rose through the ranks of the military as results of his merit.
The United States of America was an underdog in the war known as the American Revolution. Had it not been for the brilliance and bravery of General George Washington, the USA and all previously mentioned achievments might not exist right now.
The United States of America is not a perfect country. No country is. I am not a perfect human being. No human being is. Human beings are corruptable. Power is one of the things that can corrupt. Absolute power can corrupt absolutely.
The Constitution of the USA has checks and balances that can prevent power from corrupting too much. Although GW did not sign the Declaration of Independence or the Articles of Confederation, GW was involved with creating and did sign the US Constitution.
In short, once again, George Washinton as the father of the greatest country in the world is the greatest leader of all time.
10 Facts About Washington & Slavery
Despite having been an active slave holder for 56 years, George Washington struggled with the institution of slavery and spoke frequently of his desire to end the practice. At the end of his life, Washington made the decision to free all his slaves in his 1799 will - the only slave-holding Founding Father to do so.
1. George Washington first became a slave owner at the early age of eleven.
When Washington&rsquos father Augustine died in 1743, George Washington became a slave owner at the early age of eleven. In his will, Augustine left his son the 280 acre family farm near Fredericksburg, Virginia. In addition, Washington was willed ten slaves. As a young adult, Washington purchased at least eight more slaves, including a carpenter named Kitt. Washington purchased more enslaved people in 1755, including four men, two women, and a child.
2. At the time of George Washington&rsquos death, the Mount Vernon enslaved population consisted of 317 people.
Of the 317 enslaved people living at Mount Vernon in 1799, a little less than half (123 individuals) were owned by George Washington himself. Another 153 slaves at Mount Vernon in 1799 were dower slaves from the Custis estate. When Martha Washington's first husband, Daniel Parke Custis, died without a will in 1757, she received a life interest in one-third of his estate, including the slaves. Neither George nor Martha Washington could free these slaves by law and upon Martha&rsquos death these individuals reverted to the Custis estate and were divided among her grandchildren.
3. George Washington's marriage to Martha Custis significantly increased the number of enslaved people at Mount Vernon.
After marrying Martha Dandridge Custis in January of 1759, George Washington's slaveholdings increased dramatically. As the widow of a wealthy planter who died without a will in 1757, Martha&rsquos share of the Custis estate brought another eighty-four enslaved people to Mount Vernon. The stark increase in the enslaved population at Mount Vernon at this time reflected similar trends in the region. When George Washington took control of the Mount Vernon property in 1754, the population of Fairfax County was around 6,500 people, of whom a little more than 1,800 or about 28% were slaves of African origin. The proportion of slaves in the population as a whole rose throughout the century by the end of the American Revolution, over 40% of the people living in Fairfax County were slaves.
4. The threat of physical and psychological violence underpinned slavery.
Slaveowners administered punishments to control their workforce. In his later years, George Washington believed that harsh and indiscriminate punishments could backfire and urged overseers to motivate workers with encouragement and rewards. Still, he approved of &ldquocorrection&rdquo when those methods failed. Mount Vernon&rsquos enslaved people endured a range of punishments depending on the alleged offense.
In 1793, farm manager Anthony Whitting accused Charlotte, an enslaved seamstress, of being &ldquoimpudent,&rdquo by arguing with him and refusing to work. As punishment, he whipped her with a hickory switch, a reprisal Washington deemed &ldquovery proper.&rdquo Charlotte&rsquos response&mdashthat she had not been whipped for 14 years&mdashsuggests that physical punishment was sporadic, but not unheard of, at Mount Vernon.
5. The enslaved people at Mount Vernon practiced diverse religious traditions and customs
Influences from both African and European religious practices can be found amongst Mount Vernon&rsquos enslaved population. Some slaves at Mount Vernon participated with local, organized Christian congregations, to some degree. Also, Mount Vernon's enslaved community developed at least one spiritual leader from within their own community, named Caesar, according to a runaway slave advertisement from the spring of 1798.
Further, the enslaved population at Mount Vernon had contact with at least three other Christian denominations: Baptists, Methodists, and Quakers. There were also several remnants of religious traditions from Africa continuing to some degree at Mount Vernon, including both Vodoun and Islam.
6. On numerous occasions, people enslaved by the Washington household ran away in an attempt to regain their freedom.
Mount Vernon&rsquos enslaved community took opportunities, when possible, to physically escape their enslavement. For example, in April of 1781 during the American Revolution, seventeen members of the Mount Vernon enslaved population&mdashfourteen men and three women&mdashfled to the British warship HMS Savage anchored in the Potomac off the shore of the plantation.
In other instances, members of the enslaved community who were directly connected to the Washingtons either attempted to or were successful in their escape plans. These individuals included Washington&rsquos personal assistant Christopher Sheels, whose plan to escape with his fiancée was thwarted the family cook Hercules and Martha Washington&rsquos personal maid Ona Judge, both of whom escaped successfully.
7. People at Mount Vernon also resisted their enslavement through less noticeable means.
Running away was a risky venture that often did not succeed. As a result, Mount Vernon&rsquos enslaved population frequently resisted their bondage through a variety of methods while working on the plantation. Individuals utilized less noticeable methods of resistance, including feigning illness, working slowly, producing shoddy work, and misplacing or damaging tools and equipment. More active methods of protest included actions such as theft, arson, and sabotage of crops. Theft was a particularly frequent act of visible slave resistance. Over the years enslaved people at Mount Vernon were accused of stealing a wide variety of objects, including tools, fabrics, yam, raw wool, wine, rum, milk, butter, fruits, meats, corn, and potatoes.
8. In December of 1775, Washington--the newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army--received a letter from Phillis Wheatley containing an ode written in his honor.
Phillis Wheatley was an enslaved woman brought to Boston from West Africa at just seven years of age. Uncommon for practices at the time, Wheatley received instruction in subjects ranging from Greek, Latin and poetry from the daughter of her owners. By age twelve Wheatley began writing poetry and by eighteen had become well-known for the publication of an elegy she wrote commemorating the death of a prominent preacher. In the winter of 1775, Wheatley sent Washington a letter containing an ode to the newly appointed Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. The poem concluded: "Proceed, great chief, with virtue on thy side, / Thy ev&rsquory action let the goddess guide. / A crown, a mansion, and a throne that shine, / With gold unfading, WASHINGTON! Be thine."
Washington responded kindly to Wheatley in a letter, the only known missive that he wrote to an enslaved individual, and even addressed the letter to "Miss Phillis," an unusually polite way for a member of the gentry to address an enslaved person. Although there is no proof that the two met in person, General Washington invited Wheatley in March 1776 to call on him at his headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
9. With little free time and control over their everyday life, Mount Vernon's enslaved population attempted to exert some free will and choice when it came to their private lives.
Mount Vernon&rsquos enslaved community usually worked a six-day week, with Sunday generally being the day off for everyone on the plantation. On a daily basis, in addition to their day's work, the enslaved had their own housekeeping work such as tending chickens and garden plots, cooking, preserving the produce of gardens, and caring for clothing. With precious little free time and control over their own schedules, enslaved people at Mount Vernon attempted to exert some control over their personal lives. Some spent their free time socializing at Mount Vernon, or neighboring plantations where their spouses lived. Others used their time to play games and sports. A visitor to Mount Vernon from Poland during the summer of 1798 recorded witnessing a group of about thirty people divided into two teams, playing a game he referred to as "prisoner's base," which involved "jumps and gambols.&rdquo
10. George Washington left instructions in his will to emancipate the people enslaved by him, upon the death of Martha Washington.
Washington wrote his will several months before his death in December 1799. In the document, Washington left directions for the eventual emancipation of his slaves after the passing of Martha Washington. Of the 317 enslaved people at Mount Vernon in 1799, 123 of the individuals were owned by George Washington and were eligible to be freed as per the terms of the will.
By law, neither George nor Martha Washington could free the Custis dower slaves. Upon Martha Washington&rsquos death in 1802, these individuals were divided among the Custis grandchildren. By 1799, 153 of the people enslaved at Mount Vernon were part of this dower property.
In accordance with state law, George Washington stipulated in his will that elderly enslaved people or those who were too sick to work were to be supported by his estate in perpetuity. The remaining non-dower enslaved at Mount Vernon did not have to wait for Martha Washington&rsquos death to receive their freedom. Writing on the subject to her sister, Abigail Adams explained that Martha Washington&rsquos motives were largely driven by self-interest. &ldquoIn the state in which they were left by the General, to be free at her death,&rdquo Adams explained, &ldquoshe did not feel as tho her Life was safe in their Hands, many of whom would be told that it was [in] their interest to get rid of her&ndashShe therefore was advised to set them all free at the close of the year.&rdquo In December 1800, Martha Washington signed a deed of manumission for her deceased husband's slaves, a transaction that is recorded in the Fairfax County, Virginia, Court Records. They would finally be emancipated on January 1, 1801.
Slavery at George Washington's Mount Vernon
Lives Bound Together explores the personal stories of the people enslaved at Mount Vernon while providing insight into George Washington&rsquos evolving opposition to slavery.
Slave Life Tour
Mount Vernon offers a 45-minute guided walking tour highlights the lives and contributions of the enslaved community who built and operated Mount Vernon, the plantation home of George and Martha Washington.
Slave Cemetery Survey
Learn more about Mount Vernon's recent archaeological studies within the Mount Vernon Slave Cemetery.
Slavery at Mount Vernon
Learn more about the enslaved community that lived on the Mount Vernon farms.
Enslaved Community of Mount Vernon
- Carolina Branham
- Christopher Sheels
- Davy Gray
- Dick Jasper
- Edmund Parker
- Edy Jones
- Frank Lee
- Nancy Carter Quander
- Ona Judge
- Sambo Anderson
- William (Billy) Lee
3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway
Mount Vernon, Virginia 22121
Mount Vernon is owned and maintained in trust for the people of the United States by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, a private, non-profit organization.
We don't accept government funding and rely upon private contributions to help preserve George Washington's home and legacy.
Mount Vernon is owned and maintained in trust for the people of the United States by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association of the Union, a private, non-profit organization.
We don't accept government funding and rely upon private contributions to help preserve George Washington's home and legacy.
The Center for Digital History at the Washington Library
The Center for Digital History is the Washington Library's home for digital research, scholarship, and public history centered on the Revolutionary and Founding eras. In collaboration with partners at Mount Vernon and beyond, the CDH seeks to expand knowledge about early America through digital projects that inform new scholarly research initiatives and teaching opportunities.
The Center's Current Projects Include:
The Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington
Reaching more than 10,000,000 people since its creation in 2013, the Digital Encyclopedia examines the wide range of subjects related to George Washington’s world and the colonial and founding eras.
Conversations at the Washington Library Podcast
Conversations at the Washington Library is a weekly podcast about early American history and the people who teach it.
Digital Collections at the Washington Library
The Digital Collections were selected from the resources of the Washington Library.
Washington's World Interactive Map
Washington's World Interactive Map examines the places important to George Washington during his many travels.
The Quotable George Washington
The Quotable George Washington offers documented quotes from the first president of the United States in an effort to combat apocryphal attributions.
Give Me Liberty: African Americans in the Revolutionary War
In this online exhibit, explore the difficult choice the Revolutionary War posed for enslaved African Americans.
Fighting For Their Cause: Women’s Activism, from Mount Vernon to Suffrage
This online exhibit highlights the involvement of members of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association in the suffrage and anti-suffrage movements.
Mount Vernon Everywhere!
The "Mount Vernon Everywhere!" database explores the myriad of places named after or inspired by Mount Vernon.
George Washington's Friends and Enemies
Thanks to the generous support of the Virginia SAR, the George Washington's Friends and Enemies project will facilitate the research of the people most important to George Washington's life.
The Center for Digital History was proud to be a part of building Be Washington!, a multi-million dollar first-person interactive leadership experience available at Mount Vernon and online.
Many of our projects are done in collaboration with institutions and scholars from around the world.
Are you interested in working with us to explore the history of early America and the Early Republic?
George Washington: The Reluctant President
Editor’s note: Even as the Constitution was being ratified, Americans looked toward a figure of singular probity to fill the new office of the presidency. On February 4, 1789, the 69 members of the Electoral College made George Washington the only chief executive to be unanimously elected. Congress was supposed to make the choice official that March but could not muster a quorum until April. The reason—bad roads—suggests the condition of the country Washington would lead. In a new biography, Washington: A Life, Ron Chernow has created a portrait of the man as his contemporaries saw him. The excerpt below sheds light on the president’s state of mind as the first Inauguration Day approached.
The Congressional delay in certifying George Washington’s election as president only allowed more time for doubts to fester as he considered the herculean task ahead. He savored his wait as a welcome “reprieve,” he told his former comrade in arms and future Secretary of War Henry Knox, adding that his “movements to the chair of government will be accompanied with feelings not unlike those of a culprit who is going to the place of his execution.” His “peaceful abode” at Mount Vernon, his fears that he lacked the requisite skills for the presidency, the “ocean of difficulties” facing the country—all gave him pause on the eve of his momentous trip to New York. In a letter to his friend Edward Rutledge, he made it seem as if the presidency was little short of a death sentence and that, in accepting it, he had given up “all expectations of private happiness in this world.”
The day after Congress counted the electoral votes, declaring Washington the first president, it dispatched Charles Thomson, the secretary of Congress, to bear the official announcement to Mount Vernon. The legislators had chosen a fine emissary. A well-rounded man, known for his work in astronomy and mathematics, the Irish-born Thomson was a tall, austere figure with a narrow face and keenly penetrating eyes. He couldn’t have relished the trying journey to Virginia, which was “much impeded by tempestuous weather, bad roads, and the many large rivers I had to cross.” Yet he rejoiced that the new president would be Washington, whom he venerated as someone singled out by Providence to be “the savior and father” of the country. Having known Thomson since the Continental Congress, Washington esteemed him as a faithful public servant and exemplary patriot.
Around noon on April 14, 1789, Washington flung open the door at Mount Vernon and greeted his visitor with a cordial embrace. Once in the privacy of the mansion, he and Thomson conducted a stiff verbal minuet, each man reading from a prepared statement. Thomson began by declaring, “I am honored with the commands of the Senate to wait upon your Excellency with the information of your being elected to the office of President of the United States of America” by a unanimous vote. He read aloud a letter from Senator John Langdon of New Hampshire, the president pro tempore. “Suffer me, sir, to indulge the hope that so auspicious a mark of public confidence will meet your approbation and be considered as a sure pledge of the affection and support you are to expect from a free and enlightened people.” There was something deferential, even slightly servile, in Langdon’s tone, as if he feared that Washington might renege on his promise and refuse to take the job. Thus was greatness once again thrust upon George Washington.
Any student of Washington’s life might have predicted that he would acknowledge his election in a short, self-effacing speech full of disclaimers. “While I realize the arduous nature of the task which is conferred on me and feel my inability to perform it,” he replied to Thomson, “I wish there may not be reason for regretting the choice. All I can promise is only that which can be accomplished by an honest zeal.” This sentiment of modesty jibed so perfectly with Washington’s private letters that it could not have been feigned: he wondered whether he was fit for the post, so unlike anything he had ever done. The hopes for republican government, he knew, rested in his hands. As commander in chief, he had been able to wrap himself in a self-protective silence, but the presidency would leave him with no place to hide and expose him to public censure as nothing before.
Because the vote counting had been long delayed, Washington, 57, felt the crush of upcoming public business and decided to set out promptly for New York on April 16, accompanied in his elegant carriage by Thomson and aide David Humphreys. His diary entry conveys a sense of foreboding: “About ten o’clock, I bade adieu to Mount Vernon, to private life, and to domestic felicity and, with a mind oppressed with more anxious and painful sensations than I have words to express, set out for New York. with the best dispositions to render service to my country in obedience to its call, but with less hope of answering its expectations.” Waving goodbye was Martha Washington, who wouldn’t join him until mid-May. She watched her husband of 30 years depart with a mixture of bittersweet sensations, wondering “when or whether he will ever come home again.” She had long doubted the wisdom of this final act in his public life. “I think it was much too late for him to go into public life again,” she told her nephew, “but it was not to be avoided. Our family will be deranged as I must soon follow him.”
Determined to travel rapidly, Washington and his entourage set out each day at sunrise and put in a full day on the road. Along the way he hoped to keep ceremonial distractions to a minimum, but he was soon disabused: eight exhausting days of festivities lay ahead. He had only traveled ten miles north to Alexandria when the townspeople waylaid him with a dinner, lengthened by the mandatory 13 toasts. Adept at farewells, Washington was succinctly eloquent in response. “Unutterable sensations must then be left to more expressive silence, while, from an aching heart, I bid you all, my affectionate friends and kind neighbors, farewell.”
Before long, it was apparent that Washington’s journey would form the republican equivalent of the procession to a royal coronation. As if already a seasoned politician, he left a trail of political promises in his wake. While in Wilmington, he addressed the Delaware Society for Promoting Domestic Manufacturers and imparted a hopeful message. “The promotion of domestic manufactures will, in my conception, be among the first consequences which may naturally be expected to flow from an energetic government.” Arriving in Philadelphia, he was met by local dignitaries and asked to mount a white horse for his entry into town. When he crossed a bridge over the Schuylkill, it was wreathed with laurels and evergreens, and a cherubic boy, aided by a mechanical device, lowered a laurel crown over his head. Recurrent cries of “Long Live George Washington” confirmed what his former aide James McHenry had already told him before he left Mount Vernon: “You are now a king under a different name.”
As Washington entered Philadelphia, he found himself, willy-nilly, at the head of a full-scale parade, with 20,000 people lining the streets, their eyes fixed on him in wonder. “His Excellency rode in front of the procession, on horseback, politely bowing to the spectators who filled the doors and windows by which he passed,” reported the Federal Gazette, noting that church bells rang as Washington proceeded to his old haunt, the City Tavern. After the bare-knuckled fight over the Constitution, the newspaper editorialized, Washington had united the country. “What a pleasing reflection to every patriotic mind, thus to see our citizens again united in their reliance on this great man who is, a second time, called upon to be the savior of his country!” By the next morning, Washington had grown tired of the jubilation. When the light horse cavalry showed up to accompany him to Trenton, they discovered he had left the city an hour earlier “to avoid even the appearance of pomp or vain parade,” reported one newspaper.
As Washington approached the bridge over Assunpink Creek in Trenton, the spot where he had stood off the British and Hessians, he saw that the townsfolk had erected a magnificent floral arch in his honor and emblazoned it with the words “December 26, 1776” and the proclamation “The Defender of the Mothers will also Defend the Daughters.” As he rode closer, 13 young girls, robed in spotless white, walked forward with flower-filled baskets, scattering petals at his feet. Astride his horse, tears standing in his eyes, he returned a deep bow as he noted the “astonishing contrast between his former and actual situation at the same spot.” With that, three rows of women—young girls, unmarried ladies and married ones—burst into a fervent ode on how he had saved fair virgins and matrons alike. The adulation only quickened Washington’s self-doubt. “I greatly apprehend that my countrymen will expect too much from me,” he wrote to Rutledge. “I fear, if the issue of public measures should not correspond with their sanguine expectations, they will turn the extravagant. praises which they are heaping upon me at this moment into equally extravagant. censures.” There was no way, it seemed, that he could dim expectations or escape public reverence.
By now sated with adulation, Washington preserved a faint hope that he would be allowed to make an inconspicuous entry into New York. He had pleaded with Gov. George Clinton to spare him further hoopla: “I can assure you, with the utmost sincerity, that no reception can be so congenial to my feelings as a quiet entry devoid of ceremony.” But he was fooling himself if he imagined he might slip unobtrusively into the temporary capital. Never reconciled to the demands of his celebrity, Washington still fantasized that he could shuck that inescapable burden. When he arrived at Elizabethtown, New Jersey, on April 23, he beheld an impressive phalanx of three senators, five congressmen and three state officials awaiting him. He must have intuited, with a sinking sensation, that this welcome would eclipse even the frenzied receptions in Philadelphia and Trenton. Moored to the wharf was a special barge, glistening with fresh paint, constructed in his honor and equipped with an awning of red curtains in the rear to shelter him from the elements. To nobody’s surprise, the craft was steered by 13 oarsmen in spanking white uniforms.
As the barge drifted into the Hudson River, Washington made out a Manhattan shoreline already “crowded with a vast concourse of citizens, waiting with exulting anxiety his arrival,” a local newspaper said. Many ships anchored in the harbor were garlanded with flags and banners for the occasion. If Washington gazed back at the receding Jersey shore, he would have seen that his craft led a huge flotilla of boats, including one bearing the portly figure of Gen. Henry Knox. Some boats carried musicians and female vocalists on deck, who serenaded Washington across the waters. “The voices of the ladies were. superior to the flutes that played with the stroke of the oars in Cleopatra’s silken-corded barge,” was the imaginative verdict of the New York Packet. These wafted melodies, united with repeated cannon roar and thunderous acclaim from crowds onshore, again oppressed Washington with their implicit message of high expectations. As he confided to his diary, the intermingled sounds “filled my mind with sensations as painful (considering the reverse of this scene, which may be the case after all my labors to do good) as they are pleasing.” So as to guard himself against later disappointment, he didn’t seem to allow himself the smallest iota of pleasure.
When the presidential barge landed at the foot of Wall Street, Governor Clinton, Mayor James Duane, James Madison and other luminaries welcomed him to the city. The officer of a special military escort stepped forward briskly and told Washington that he awaited his orders. Washington again labored to cool the celebratory mood, which burst forth at every turn. “As to the present arrangement,” he replied, “I shall proceed as is directed. But after this is over, I hope you will give yourself no further trouble, as the affection of my fellow-citizens is all the guard I want.” Nobody seemed to take the hint seriously.
The streets were solidly thronged with well-wishers and it took Washington a half-hour to arrive at his new residence at 3 Cherry Street, tucked away in the northeast corner of the city, a block from the East River, near the present-day Brooklyn Bridge. One week earlier, the building’s owner, Samuel Osgood, had agreed to allow Washington to use it as the temporary presidential residence. From the descriptions of Washington’s demeanor en route to the house, he finally surrendered to the general mood of high spirits, especially when he viewed the legions of adoring women. As New Jersey Representative Elias Boudinot told his wife, Washington “frequently bowed to the multitude and took off his hat to the ladies at the windows, who waved their handkerchiefs and threw flowers before him and shed tears of joy and congratulation. The whole city was one scene of triumphal rejoicing.”
Though the Constitution said nothing about an inaugural address, Washington, in an innovative spirit, contemplated such a speech as early as January 1789 and asked a “gentleman under his roof”—David Humphreys—to draft one. Washington had always been economical with words, but the collaboration with Humphreys produced a wordy document, 73 pages long, which survives only in tantalizing snippets. In this curious speech, Washington spent a ridiculous amount of time defending his decision to become president, as if he stood accused of some heinous crime. He denied that he had accepted the presidency to enrich himself, even though nobody had accused him of greed. “In the first place, if I have formerly served the community without a wish for pecuniary compensation, it can hardly be suspected that I am at present influenced by avaricious schemes.” Addressing a topical concern, he disavowed any desire to found a dynasty, citing his childless state. Closer in tone to future inaugural speeches was Washington’s ringing faith in the American people. He devised a perfect formulation of popular sovereignty, writing that the Constitution had brought forth “a government of the people: that is to say, a government in which all power is derived from, and at stated periods reverts to, them—and that, in its operation. is purely a government of laws made and executed by the fair substitutes of the people alone.”
This ponderous speech never saw the light of day. Washington sent a copy to James Madison, who wisely vetoed it on two counts: that it was much too long and that its lengthy legislative proposals would be interpreted as executive meddling with the legislature. Instead, Madison helped Washington draft a far more compact speech that avoided the tortured introspection of its predecessor. A whirlwind of energy, Madison would seem omnipresent in the early days of Washington’s administration. Not only did he help draft the inaugural address, he also wrote the official response by Congress and then Washington’s response to Congress, completing the circle. This established Madison, despite his role in the House, as a pre-eminent adviser and confidant to the new president. Oddly enough, he wasn’t troubled that his advisory relationship to Washington might be construed as violating the separation of powers.
Washington knew that everything he did at the swearing-in would establish a tone for the future. “As the first of everything in our situation will serve to establish a precedent,” he reminded Madison, “it is devoutly wished on my part that these precedents may be fixed on true principles.” He would shape indelibly the institution of the presidency. Although he had earned his reputation in battle, he made a critical decision not to wear a uniform at the inauguration or beyond, banishing fears of a military coup. Instead, he would stand there aglitter with patriotic symbols. To spur American manufactures, he would wear a double-breasted brown suit, made from broadcloth woven at the Woolen Manufactory of Hartford, Connecticut. The suit had gilt buttons with an eagle insignia on them to round out his outfit, he would wear white hosiery, silver shoe buckles and yellow gloves. Washington already sensed that Americans would emulate their presidents. “I hope it will not be a great while before it will be unfashionable for a gentleman to appear in any other dress,” he told his friend the Marquis de Lafayette, referring to his American attire. “Indeed, we have already been too long subject to British prejudices.” To burnish his image further on Inauguration Day, Washington would powder his hair and wear a dress sword on his hip, sheathed in a steel scabbard.
The inauguration took place at the building at Wall and Nassau streets that had long served as New York’s City Hall. It came richly laden with historical associations, having hosted John Peter Zenger’s trial in 1735, the Stamp Act Congress of 1765 and the Confederation Congress from 1785 to 1788. Starting in September 1788, the French engineer Pierre-Charles L’Enfant had remodeled it into Federal Hall, a suitable home for Congress. L’Enfant introduced a covered arcade at street level and a balcony surmounted by a triangular pediment on the second story. As the people’s chamber, the House of Representatives was accessible to the public, situated in a high-ceilinged octagonal room on the ground floor, while the Senate met in a second-floor room on the Wall Street side, buffering it from popular pressure. From this room Washington would emerge onto the balcony to take the oath of office. In many ways, the first inauguration was a hasty, slapdash affair. As with all theatrical spectacles, rushed preparations and frantic work on the new building continued until a few days before the event. Nervous anticipation spread through the city as to whether the 200 workmen would complete the project on time. Only a few days before the inauguration, an eagle was hoisted onto the pediment, completing the building. The final effect was stately: a white building with a blue and white cupola topped by a weather vane.
A little after noon on April 30, 1789, following a morning filled with clanging church bells and prayers, a contingent of troops on horseback, accompanied by carriages loaded with legislators, stopped at Washington’s Cherry Street residence. Escorted by David Humphreys and aide Tobias Lear, the president-elect stepped into his appointed carriage, which was trailed by foreign dignitaries and throngs of joyous citizens. The procession wound slowly through the narrow Manhattan streets, emerging 200 yards from Federal Hall. After alighting from his carriage, Washington strode through a double line of soldiers to the building and mounted to the Senate chamber, where members of Congress awaited him expectantly. As he entered, Washington bowed to both houses of the legislature—his invariable mark of respect—then occupied an imposing chair up front. A profound hush settled on the room. Vice President John Adams rose for an official greeting, then informed Washington that the epochal moment had arrived. “Sir, the Senate and House of Representatives are ready to attend you to take the oath required by the Constitution.” “I am ready to proceed,” Washington replied.
As he stepped through the door onto the balcony, a spontaneous roar surged from the multitude tightly squeezed into Wall and Broad streets and covering every roof in sight. This open-air ceremony would confirm the sovereignty of the citizens gathered below. Washington’s demeanor was stately, modest and deeply affecting: he clapped one hand to his heart and bowed several times to the crowd. Surveying the serried ranks of people, one observer said they were jammed so closely together “that it seemed one might literally walk on the heads of the people.” Thanks to his simple dignity, integrity and unrivaled sacrifices for his country, Washington’s conquest of the people was complete. A member of the crowd, the Count de Moustier, the French minister, noted the solemn trust between Washington and the citizens who stood packed below him with uplifted faces. As he reported to his government, never had a “sovereign reigned more completely in the hearts of his subjects than did Washington in those of his fellow citizens. he has the soul, look and figure of a hero united in him.” One young woman in the crowd echoed this when she remarked, “I never saw a human being that looked so great and noble as he does.” Only Congressman Fisher Ames of Massachusetts noted that “time has made havoc” upon Washington’s face, which already looked haggard and careworn.
The sole constitutional requirement for the swearing-in was that the president take the oath of office. That morning, a Congressional committee decided to add solemnity by having Washington place his hand on a Bible during the oath, leading to a frantic, last-minute scramble to locate one. A Masonic lodge came to the rescue by providing a thick Bible, bound in deep brown leather and set on a crimson velvet cushion. By the time Washington appeared on the portico, the Bible rested on a table draped in red.
The crowd grew silent as New York Chancellor Robert R. Livingston administered the oath to Washington, who was visibly moved. As the president finished the oath, he bent forward, seized the Bible and brought it to his lips. Washington felt this moment from the bottom of his soul: one observer noted the “devout fervency” with which he “repeated the oath and the reverential manner in which he bowed down and kissed” the Bible. Legend has it that he added, “So help me God,” though this line was first reported 65 years later. Whether or not Washington actually said it, very few people would have heard him anyway, since his voice was soft and breathy. For the crowd below, the oath of office was enacted as a kind of dumb show. Livingston had to lift his voice and inform the crowd, “It is done.” He then intoned: “Long live George Washington, president of the United States.” The spectators responded with huzzahs and chants of “God bless our Washington! Long live our beloved president!” They celebrated in the only way they knew, as if greeting a new monarch with the customary cry of “Long live the king!”
When the balcony ceremony was concluded, Washington returned to the Senate chamber to deliver his inaugural address. In an important piece of symbolism, Congress rose as he entered, then sat down after Washington bowed in response. In England, the House of Commons stood during the king’s speeches the seated Congress immediately established a sturdy equality between the legislative and executive branches.
As Washington began his speech, he seemed flustered and thrust his left hand in his pocket while turning the pages with a trembling right hand. His weak voice was barely audible in the room. Fisher Ames evoked him thus: “His aspect grave, almost to sadness his modesty, actually shaking his voice deep, a little tremulous, and so low as to call for close attention.” Those present attributed Washington’s low voice and fumbling hands to anxiety. “This great man was agitated and embarrassed more than ever he was by the leveled cannon or pointed musket,” said Pennsylvania Senator William Maclay in sniggering tones. “He trembled and several times could scarce make out to read, though it must be supposed he had often read it before.” Washington’s agitation might have arisen from an undiagnosed neurological disorder or might simply have been a bad case of nerves. The new president had long been famous for his physical grace, but the sole gesture he used for emphasis in his speech seemed clumsy—“a flourish with his right hand,” said Maclay, “which left rather an ungainly impression.” For the next few years, Maclay would be a close, unsparing observer of the new president’s nervous quirks and tics.
In the first line of his inaugural address, Washington expressed anxiety about his fitness for the presidency, saying that “no event could have filled me with greater anxieties” than the news brought to him by Charles Thomson. He had grown despondent, he said candidly, as he considered his own “inferior endowments from nature” and his lack of practice in civil government. He drew comfort, however, from the fact that the “Almighty Being” had overseen America’s birth. “No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the affairs of men, more than the people of the United States.” Perhaps referring obliquely to the fact that he suddenly seemed older, he called Mount Vernon “a retreat which was rendered every day more necessary, as well as more dear to me, by the addition of habit to inclination and of frequent interruptions in my health to the gradual waste committed on it by time.” In the earlier inaugural address drafted with David Humphreys, Washington had included a disclaimer about his health, telling how he had “prematurely grown old in the service of my country.”
Setting the pattern for future inaugural speeches, Washington didn’t delve into policy matters, but trumpeted the big themes that would govern his administration, the foremost being the triumph of national unity over “local prejudices or attachments” that might subvert the country or even tear it apart. National policy needed to be rooted in private morality, which relied on the “eternal rules of order and right” ordained by heaven itself. On the other hand, Washington refrained from endorsing any particular form of religion. Knowing how much was riding on this attempt at republican government, he said that “the sacred fire of liberty, and the destiny of the republican model of government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.“
After this speech, Washington led a broad procession of delegates up Broadway, along streets lined by armed militia, to an Episcopal prayer service at St. Paul’s Chapel, where he was given his own canopied pew. After these devotions ended, Washington had his first chance to relax until the evening festivities. That night Lower Manhattan was converted into a shimmering fairyland of lights. From the residences of Chancellor Livingston and General Knox, Washington observed the fireworks at Bowling Green, a pyrotechnic display that flashed lights in the sky for two hours. Washington’s image was displayed in transparencies hung in many windows, throwing glowing images into the night. This sort of celebration, ironically, would have been familiar to Washington from the days when new royal governors arrived in Williamsburg and were greeted by bonfires, fireworks and illuminations in every window.
Excerpted from Washington: A Life. Copyright © Ron Chernow. With the permission of the publisher, The Penguin Press, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
The Death of George Washington
On Thursday, December 12, 1799, George Washington was out on horseback supervising farming activities from late morning until three in the afternoon. The weather shifted from light snow to hail and then to rain. Upon Washington's return it was suggested that he change out of his wet riding clothes before dinner. Known for his punctuality, Washington chose to remain in his damp attire.
The next morning brought three inches of snow and a sore throat. Despite feeling unwell, Washington went to the hanging wood area on the east side of the Mansion after the weather cleared to select trees for removal by enslaved workers. Throughout the day it was observed that Washington's voice became increasingly more hoarse. Friday evening, as typical for most evenings, Washington read from the newspapers with his secretary Tobias Lear and his wife Martha. Due to the increased throat irritation, Washington asked Lear to complete the reading.
After retiring for the night Washington awoke in terrible discomfort at around two in the morning. Martha was concerned about his state and wanted to send for help. However, having just recovered from a cold herself, Washington would not allow his wife to leave the comfort of their room. When Caroline Branham, an enslaved housemaid, came to light the fire at daybreak, Martha sent for Tobias Lear who rushed to the room. There he found Washington in bed having difficulty breathing. Lear sent for George Rawlins, an overseer at Mount Vernon, who at the request of George Washington bled him. Lear also sent to Alexandria for Dr. James Craik, the family doctor and Washington's trusted friend and physician for forty years.
While waiting for Dr. Craik's arrival, Rawlins extracted a half-pint of blood. Washington favored this treatment&mdashdespite Martha's voiced concern&mdash as he believed that it cured him of past ailments. Washington was also given a mixture of molasses, butter, and vinegar to soothe his throat. This mixture was difficult to swallow causing Washington to convulse and nearly suffocate.
As the morning progressed Washington did not feel any relief. Martha requested that Tobias Lear send for a second doctor, Dr. Gustavus Brown of Port Tobacco. Brown was a physician that Craik felt had an excellent reputation for diagnosis and moderate medicating. Dr. Craik arrived at nine in the morning, examined Washington, and produced a blister on his throat in an attempt to balance the fluids in Washington's body. Craik bled Washington a second time and ordered a solution of vinegar and sage tea prepared for gargling.
At eleven, Dr. Brown had not yet arrived and Craik sent for a third physician, a definite sign that he felt the ailment was serious. At noon an enema was administered, but there was no improvement in Washington's condition. Washington was bled for the fourth and final time. It was later reported that a total of thirty-two ounces of blood was extracted during the last bleeding.
Another conference of physicians occurred. Craik administered an emetic to induce vomiting, though without beneficial results. Despite the care and attention of three physicians, his beloved wife, friends, and enslaved servants, George Washington's condition worsened. At four-thirty in the afternoon, George called Martha to his bedside and asked that she bring his two wills from the study. After review, Washington discarded one, which Martha burned.
George Washington then called for Tobias Lear. He told Lear, "I find I am going, my breath can not last long. I believed from the first that the disorder would prove fatal. Do you arrange and record all my late military letters and papers. Arrange my accounts and settle my books, as you know more about them than any one else, and let Mr. Rawlins finish recording my other letters which he has begun."
At five in the afternoon, George Washington sat up from bed, dressed, and walked over to his chair. He returned to bed within thirty minutes. Craik went to him and Washington said, "Doctor, I die hard but I am not afraid to go I believed from my first attack that I should not survive it my breath can not last long." Soon afterward, Washington thanked all three doctors for their service. Craik remained in the room. At eight at night more blisters and cataplasms were applied, this time to Washington's feet and legs. At ten at night, George Washington spoke, requesting to be "decently buried" and to "not let my body be put into the Vault in less than three days after I am dead."
Between ten and eleven at night on December 14, 1799, George Washington passed away. He was surrounded by people who were close to him including his wife who sat at the foot of the bed, his friends Dr. Craik and Tobias Lear, enslaved housemaids Caroline, Molly, and Charlotte, and his enslaved valet Christopher Sheels who stood in the room throughout the day. According to his wishes, Washington was not buried for three days. During that time his body lay in a mahogany casket in the New Room. On December 18, 1799 a solemn funeral was held at Mount Vernon.
Blanton, Wyndham B. "Washington's Medical Knowledge and Its Sources," Annals of Medical History, 4 (1932), 52-61.
Knox, J. H. Mason, Jr. "The Medical History of George Washington, His Physicians, Friends and Advisers," Bulletin of the Institute of the History of Medicine, 1 (1933), 174-91.