U.S. PRESIDENTS (1732–1799); WESTMORELAND COUNTY, VA
George Washington served as the first president of the United States from age 57 in 1789 to age 65 in 1797, but before that, he was known for his military leadership during the French and Indian War and the Revolutionary War. Other aspects of this Founding Father are less well-known—such as what his teeth were really made of and how his home of Mount Vernon was saved by an unlikely group of women. Here are the facts you should know about George Washington.
1. George Washington’s military career began with the French and Indian War.
George Washington is known as one of the heroes of the American Revolution, but he actually started his military career as a member of the British army in the colonies. In late 1753, a 21-year-old Washington was sent by Virginia Governor Robert Dinwiddie to deliver a message to French troops occupying the Ohio Valley demanding them to move out of the territory, which Britain claimed as its own. French military commander Jacques Legardeur de Saint-Pierre, believing his country had an "incontestable" right to the valley, refused. Washington was sent back to the region in March 1754—but this time it was as a Lieutenant Colonel leading around 160 militia troops from Virginia, with Dinwiddie ordering that he "make prisoners of or kill & destroy" any French who opposed British control.
In May 1754, Washington led an attack on a camp of French troops, killing 13, which helped kickstart what would become the French and Indian War. A few weeks later, in July 1754, Washington suffered his first high-profile military defeat after he was forced to surrender Fort Necessity to French and Native American forces.
2. During the Revolutionary War, George Washington served as Commander-in-Chief.
Before he became president, George Washington served as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War. Once a new government was established, Washington thought of retirement, but his peers, advisors, and the public at large urged him to consider running for the newly created position of president—no one was more respected at the time, and his guidance would be needed for this new government to succeed.
Without participating in any public campaigning, he won 69 out of 69 available electoral votes in the United States’s first presidential election in 1788 (which extended into January 1789), and John Adams, his runner-up, would serve as his vice president. But his military career didn’t end there: George Washington became the only sitting U.S. president to lead troops into battle, doing so during the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.
3. George Washington and his wife Martha didn’t have biological children together.
George Washington is one of five U.S. presidents who never fathered biological children—the others include James Polk, Warren Harding, James Buchanan, and Andrew Jackson. But his marriage to a wealthy widow named Martha Dandridge Custis in 1759 all but guaranteed he wouldn't miss out on raising a house full of kids. In addition to being a stepfather to Martha’s two children from her previous marriage, John Parke Curtis and Martha Parke Curtis, George Washington also helped raise her grandchildren, nieces, and nephews in their home at Mount Vernon.
4. George Washington had no political party.
None of America’s political parties can claim the country’s first president as one of their own. George Washington remains the only president in U.S. history that didn’t represent a political party. It was only after he took office in 1789 that the Democratic Republicans began to emerge as the opposition party in American government, and their rivals became known as the Federalists. As politics became more polarized, Washington avoided picking a side, publicly stating that parties did more to divide the country that strengthen it.
5. George Washington’s wooden teeth are a myth.
One of the most common “facts” attached to George Washington—that he had wooden teeth—is a myth. Washington suffered from dental issues throughout his adult life, and by the time he assumed the presidency in 1789, only one of his original teeth remained in his mouth. The full sets of dentures he started wearing after this point were made from a variety of materials, possibly including ivory, horse teeth, brass, silver alloy, and actual human teeth (possibly from slaves). Wood definitely wasn’t used to make his false teeth, but after prolonged use, his dentures may have been stained enough to look wooden.
6. George Washington likely died from bloodletting at age 67.
On December 14, 1799, about two and a half years into George Washington's retirement, three doctors were called to the ex-president’s house to treat him for a severe sore throat. He had been outside in the cold for most of the previous day and had refused to change out of his wet clothes as to not keep his dinner guests waiting. The doctors suspected the sickness was more serious than a cold, and they removed approximately five pints of blood from him upon the patient's request. He died later that day, his death likely caused by the shock of blood loss.
7. George Washington’s Mount Vernon home was saved from disrepair.
Before it was a major tourist attraction, George Washington’s Mount Vernon home was in ruins. The subsequent owners of his Virginia estate struggled to maintain it, and in the early 19th century, there wasn’t yet a government agency dedicated to preserving historic sites. A woman named Louisa Bird Cunningham passed the property while traveling down the Potomac River one night in 1853 and was dismayed by its dilapidated state. She wrote in a letter to her daughter: “If the men of the country won’t save Mount Vernon, the women should.” Her daughter, Ann Pamela Cunningham, formed The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association that year, becoming the country’s first historic preservation organization. In 1858, the group purchased Mount Vernon for $200,000 and restored it to its former glory.
Famous George Washington Quotes.
- "When one side only of a story is heard and often repeated, the human mind becomes impressed with it insensibly."
- "Knowledge is in every country the surest basis of public happiness."
- "Still I hope I shall always possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain (what I consider the most enviable of all titles) the character of an honest man."
- "It is infinitely better to have a few good men than many indifferent ones."
- "Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence. True friendship is a plant of slow growth, and must undergo & withstand the shocks of adversity before it is entitled to the appellation."
George Washington’s Famous Firsts.
- He was the first president of the United States.
- Signed a bill establishing the first national bank.
- Signed the first United States copyright law.
- Signed the first Thanksgiving proclamation.
- He was the first and only sitting president to lead troops into battle.