11 Surprising Facts About George Washington You Never Learned In School
Our first President's drink of choice, favorite dog names, and first love. Plus, the truth about the cherry tree.
Mount Vernon is more than just a large estate
Washington expanded his family estate, Mount Vernon, from 2,000 acres to a whopping 8,000 acres. The property included five separate farms, which grew a variety of crops, including wheat and corn. Managers bred mules, and maintained fruit orchards and a fishery. The vegetable garden itself could feed a family of 14; a necessity, as the President frequently hosted more than 600 guests a year. Read up on these surprising facts you never knew about U.S. presidents.
Washington was in the whiskey business
In 1797, one of Washington’s estate managers suggested she open a whiskey distillery at Mount Vernon. Washington agreed, and by the time of his death in 1799, the distillery produced nearly 11,000 gallons of whiskey a year, making it the largest producer in America at the time. The distillery still churns out a limited number of bottles each year using its original recipe.
With a 6-foot-2 frame, George Washington was our fourth-tallest President
The tallest was Abraham Lincoln, 6 foot 4, and the shortest was James Madison, at 5 foot 4. Some pundits have noted that height likely plays a role in presidential elections; the taller of the two major-party candidates tends to take the lead. By the way, this is the real reason we celebrate Presidents’ Day.
He had only one original tooth by the time of his inauguration
George Washington likely started losing his teeth in his mid-20s at a rate of one tooth each year. He suffered from a lifetime of toothaches, even though his dental hygiene was probably more sophisticated than that of other men at the time. By 1789, the year he was inaugurated, he wore a set of clacking, creaky dentures. It’s no wonder his dentist was such a great sidekick!
His dentures were not made of wood
Although the wooden-teeth myth prevails, forensic anthropologists found that Washington’s dentures were made from a combination of horse, donkey, and even human teeth, according to NBC. The dentures opened and closed by way of a heavy-duty spring. In order to keep his mouth shut and overpower the spring, Washington would have to keep his mouth clenched. This would have affected the way he looked and spoke.
He created his own dog breed
George Washington loved dogs and fox hunting, so it was only natural for him to want to breed the perfect foxhound. Because of his work, he is occasionally called the father of the American Foxhound, according to Animal Planet. He owned 36 of these pups, and gave them unusually mushy names like Sweet Lips, Tipsy, Venus, and True Love. Don’t miss these delightful little-known talents of U.S. presidents.
His first love wasn’t Martha Washington
Washington met an intelligent and beautiful Sally Fairfax, the woman he is rumored to have loved first, when he was 16. According to researchers at Mount Vernon, she taught him the best manners for moving in Virginia’s highest social circles, and even how to dance the minuet. Sally married one of George’s closest friends, George Williams Fairfax, and the couple visited Mount Vernon frequently. Washington didn’t marry Martha Dandridge Custis until he was 26. Letters show he was still in close contact with Sally at the time.
He had some close calls in the French and Indian War
During the French and Indian War, Washington was lauded as a hero after emerging unscathed from an ambush attack near Fort Duquesne in Pennsylvania. According to several accounts, Washington had two horses shot out from under him, and four bullets pierced his coat. We bet you didn’t know these wacky facts about Washington, D.C.
He had a complicated history with slavery
At the time of George Washington’s death, Mount Vernon had a population of some 318 slaves (123 belonged to him and 153 were dower slaves from Martha Washington’s first husband’s estate), according to anthropologists at Mount Vernon. Before his death, Washington ordered his slaves be freed after Martha’s death. When he died, she freed them, after family members warned her they could easily overthrow her. Sources offer differing insight into Washington’s behavior as a slave owner.
And that cherry tree myth? Totally false
The myth was invented by one of Washington’s first biographers, Mason Locke Weems, in The Life and Memorable Actions of Washington. The tall tale first appeared in the book’s fifth edition, published in 1806. Its purpose was to paint Washington as a role model for young Americans, proving that the man’s public greatness was due to his private virtues (honesty, courage, etc.). In 1836, the story was recast as a children’s story. And that’s how rumors spread. Next, read about these surprising presidential firsts you probably never knew about.