President George Washington: Little Known Facts and Trivia

About first president of the United States George Washington, some trivia and little-known facts.


--Washington's experiences as a young man made it seem unlikely that he would ever live long enough to achieve greatness. He suffered from malaria, smallpox, pleurisy, and dysentery, all before he was 30. On his way back from the famous expedition to the French Fort le Boeuf, he fell off his raft in an icy river and nearly drowned. Later in the same trip he was shot at (and missed) by an Indian standing less than 50' away. In Braddock's Defeat in 1755, 4 bullets punctured Washington's coat and 2 horses were shot out from under him, but the young officer somehow emerged unscathed.

--In 1755, in the midst of an election campaign for seats in the Virginia assembly, 23-year-old Colonel Washington said something insulting to a hot-tempered little fellow named Payne, who promptly knocked him down with a hickory stick. Soldiers rushed up to avenge Washington, who got to his feet just in time to tell them that he could take care of himself, thank you. The next day he wrote Payne a letter requesting an interview at a tavern. When Payne arrived, he naturally expected a demand for an apology and a challenge to a duel. Instead, Washington apologized for the insult that had provoked the blow, hoped that Payne was satisfied, and then generously offered his hand.

--Admiring biographers make much of the fact that Washington turned down a salary from the Continental Congress and asked instead that he be paid only for his expenses as commander-in-chief. As it turns out, the general made a sound financial decision. If he had accepted the salary ($500 a month) he would have received a total of $48,000 for his service. As it was, his expense account during 8 years of war came to $447,220, according to the smallest estimate. Included in this total were sums for a new carriage, expensive saddles, and imported wines for his headquarters.

--When the capital was moved from New York to Philadelphia, Washington, who had been disappointed in the food that he had been eating as President, brought his black slave Hercules from Mount Vernon to serve as cook. Pennsylvania law provided that slaves be given their freedom after 6 months' residence in the State. To avoid the possibility of losing the services of his master chef, Washington would send Hercules back to Mount Vernon just before the 6 months were up. Then, several weeks later, he would have him returned to the capital. Hercules, who soon won a reputation in Philadelphia as a flashy and colorful dresser, was much too smart to stand this arrangement for long. One night before the end of Washington's term he disappeared and much to the President's disappointment was never heard from again.

--One of the most seriously misleading of the Washington legends is the story of the pious general kneeling in prayer in the snow at Valley Forge. Not only is there no evidence to support this tale, but Washington was notorious in his parish church for his refusal to kneel at any of the customary moments in the Episcopal service. As his minister declared disapprovingly after the President's death, "Washington was a Deist." Although Martha was a devout churchwoman, George never shared her enthusiasm. On communion Sundays he always walked out before taking the eucharist, leaving Martha to participate in the service alone.

--Like many another farmer, Washington looked on with amused interest at the mating habits of his domestic animals. One creature in particular delighted him: a prize jackass, presented to him by the King of Spain and named by Washington Royal Gift. In a letter to Lafayette, Washington commented, "The Jack I have already received from Spain in appearance is fine, but his late Royal master, tho' past his grand climacteric, cannot be less moved by female allurements than he is; or when prompted can proceed with more deliberation and majestic solemnity to the matter of procreation." In a similar vein, Washington later wrote to a neighbor who patronized the Mount Vernon stud farm: "Particular attention should be paid to the mares which your servant brought, and when my Jack is in humour, they shall derive all the benefits of his labor, for labor it appears to be.

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