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How much do you know about George Washington?

Some things you might not know about our first President and Commander in Chief:

Washington did not have a middle name. His birthday was February 11, 1731, not February 22, 1732. The reason is when the colonies switched to the Gregorian calendar from the Julian calendar, his birthday was moved 11 days. Since his birthday fell before the old date for New Year’s Day, but after the new date for New Year’s Day, his birth year was changed to 1732.

Washington’s hair was real; it looked white because he powdered it. President Washington was made an honorary citizen of France in 1792. He never travelled to Europe.

Washington was named by President John Adams as commander-in-chief of the U.S. military in 1798, when fears were growing of a French invasion. Apparently, this was a strategy to help recruiting, as Washington’s name was very well-known. He only served in an advisory capacity due to his age.

In 1976 Congress awarded George Washington posthumously the highest rank in the U.S. military never to be outranked.

Throughout his life, Washington suffered from a laundry list of ailments: diphtheria, tuberculosis, smallpox, dysentery, malaria, quinsy (tonsillitis), carbuncle, pneumonia, and epiglottitis—to name a few. On the day he died—December 14, 1799—Washington was treated with four rounds of bloodletting, which removed five pints of blood from his body. It seems that it proved to be too much.

Washington requested that he be buried at Mount Vernon, and his family upheld his request, despite repeated pleas by Congress. They wanted to put his body underneath a marble statue in the Capitol. Parson Weems, who wrote a myth-filled biography of Washington shortly after he died, and made up the cherry tree story. No one knows the exact number of letters he penned somewhere between 18,000 and 20,000.

Washington spent the early part of his career as a professional surveyor. One of the earliest maps he created was of his half-brother Lawrence Washington’s turnip garden. Over the course of his life, Washington created some 199 land surveys that helped him in his role as a military leader.

Washington kept and bred many hunting hounds. He is known as the “Father of the American Foxhound,” and kept more than 30 of the dogs. According to his journals, three of the hounds’ names were Drunkard, Tipler, and Tipsy. He did not have wooden teeth, but he did have teeth problems.

When he attended his first inauguration, he only had one tooth left in his head. According to Joseph Ellis’s His Excellency, several letters show that before he married Martha, Washington was in love with Sally Fairfax, who was the wife of George William Fairfax. George Washington was widely criticized in the press later in his presidency for having an overly monarchical style and his declaration of neutrality in overseas conflicts. Thomas Jefferson was among the most critical of Washington in the press, and John Adams recalled that after the Jay Treaty, the presidential mansion “was surrounded by innumerable multitudes, from day-to-day buzzing, demanding war against England, cursing Washington.”

Washington owned a whiskey distillery installed at Mount Vernon in 1798 and it was profitable. While the World War II generation was dubbed the greatest, George Washington and his army never had money. All those with property and savings were forced to finance the war with the knowledge that if they lost the war, they would all be hanged as traitors to the Crown.

Gene Hays is an author and historian with an author’s page at Amazon.com

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