George Washington the Man

The only US President to Free His Slaves

Statue of George Washington in the National Cathedral
Statue Of Nation's First President George Washington Stands Within National Cathedral. Alex Wong / Getty Images

While not busy doing things like leading revolutions and helping to write constitutions, George Washington lived many very non-mythical days. One of best articles separating the myth from the man is "The Surprising George Washington" by Richard Norton Smith.

'The Ultimate Dead White Male'

"According to Newsweek, 14 percent of all American preschoolers think that George Washington is still sitting in the Oval Office, wrote Smith.

"To the rest of us, Washington appears every February to sell cars and appliances before vanishing into the historical mists, the Ultimate Dead White Male."

And a Great Boss

Smith's article presents fascinating anecdotal glimpses of Washington's more "common" undertakings like his contract with a liquor-loving man employed as a gardener at Mount Vernon.

"... if allowed four dollars at Christmas, with which to be drunk four days and four nights; two dollars at Easter, to effect the same purpose; two dollars at Whitsuntide, to be drunk for two days, a dram in the morning, and a drink of grog at dinner and at noon," Smith notes. [Whitsuntide is the name used in Britain and Ireland for the Christian festival of Pentecost, the seventh Sunday after Easter.]

The Lamb’s Blood Resuscitation Attempt

Then, there's the account of how, on the night of his death, Washington's friend, Dr. Thorton, attempted to revive the deceased hero in a most progressive, but unusual manner.

"First to thaw him in cold water, then to lay him in blankets, and by degrees and by friction to give him warmth, and to put into activity the minute blood vessels, at the same time to open a passage to the lungs by the trachea, and to inflate them with air, to produce an artificial respiration, and to transfuse blood into him from a lamb."

You'll also find out the truth about Washington's set of "wooden" teeth, who called him "Old Muttonhead," and other not-so-well-known George Washington myths.

Here are some more Washington trivia answers:

  • Washington was the only Founding Fathers to free his slaves.
  • He was the only president who did not live in Washington D.C.
  • The nation's capitol, along with 1 state, 31 counties and 17 cities (Maybe 18 counting the town of "George," in central Washington State) are named in his honor.
  • As a farmer, Washington grew marijuana on his farm and promoted it's growth as a useful economic crop throughout the nation. (In the 1790s, marijuana was typically grown for its industrial value as hemp in rope and fabrics, and for its value as soil stabilization crop. It was many years later that the recreational, medicinal and illegal use of marijuana became popular.)
  • As a farmer, he is credited with introducing the mule to American agriculture.
  • He was the first Mason to serve as president.
  • He was the only president to win a unanimous vote of the Electoral College.
  • Washington's 2nd inaugural address was the shortest inaugural address ever delivered - just 135 words.

“Nearly two hundred years after his death, no American is more instantly recognizable to--or more remote from--his descendants,” wrote Smith.

“Standing in a thousand city parks, frozen in marbled veneration, the Father of His Country inspires more awe than affection.”