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Six Genuinely Surprising Facts About George Washington

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George Washington
General George Washington at Trenton on the night of January 2, 1777, after the Battle of the Assunpink Creek, also known as the Second Battle of Trenton, and before the Battle of Princeton. (Zeete/Wikimedia Commons)

 

There have been many tributes to George Washington: our capital, an entire state, more bridges and schools than you could hope to count. Then there’s Presidents’ Day, which honors his birth on February 22, 1732. (The remembrance now rarely overlaps with his actual birthday since it occurs on the third Monday of February, but hey, it’s the thought that counts.) We’d like to wish George a happy 285th with a celebration of some things you may not have known about the Father of Our Nation.

He was obsessed with expense reports. While Washington willingly risked his life for America, he expected to be reimbursed for it. Indeed, on July 4, 1776, he made a point of noting that he had purchased a broom.

He adored the poetry of a female slave. Phillis Wheatley wrote an ode to Washington and sent it to him. While he ultimately decided against publishing the work—he feared it would be too much self-promotion—Washington loved the poem and made a point of meeting with her.

He revealed the complexities of slavery when he freed his own slaves. Even in death, Washington proved to be a groundbreaker, freeing his slaves and providing for them in his will. (He was the first and only slave-owning president to do so.) Yet while Washington freed his slaves, his wife Martha didn’t free hers. Indeed, it’s likely she didn’t even have the power to free all of them, as some of her relatives may have also had a claim to that “property.”

He remains the only president who genuinely had to be forced to serve. Presidential candidates like to claim they don’t run because they personally would like the office—they’re just doing what the people want! Then they barely make it through the Iowa Caucus, as the people reveal that wasn’t what they desired at all. Having won the revolution, Washington wanted nothing more than to return to his Mount Vernon estate and reluctantly agreed to first one term and then a second. (After all, he was already 57 when he took office, in an era when the average person was dead before 40.) And you’d have wanted to return to Mount Vernon too because …

He owned an absurdly massive piece of land. At the time of his death, Washington had accumulated roughly 8,000 acres, or 12.5 square miles. (To put this into perspective, the entire island of Manhattan is 22.82 square miles.)

His later years were filled with whiskey. Not so much consuming the stuff, but making it. At the time of his death, the largest whiskey distillery in America was at Mount Vernon. And yes, you can still purchase Mount Vernon spirits today, just in case you want to toast George Washington’s memory properly.

—Sean Cunningham for RealClearLife