Between two and three o'clock Saturday morning, after suffering a fit of fever and shaking, Washington woke his wife and told her that he was unwell. Realizing that he could barely speak and was breathing with difficulty, she wanted to call a servant, but he would not let her do so until daylight. At sunrise Martha summoned Tobias Lear. Seeing the severity of Washington's condition, Lear sent for the General's old friend and physician Dr. James Craik. Since it would be some time before Craik could arrive from Alexandria, Washington requested that his overseer George Rawlins come and bleed him.
In the meantime, a mixture of molasses, vinegar, and butter was prepared and offered to Washington in the hope that it would soothe his throat, but he could not swallow it. Soon after daybreak Rawlins arrived and, with some apprehension, began the unpleasant task of bleeding. Washington noticed his hesitation and urged him, "Don't be afraid." Rawlins made an incision and took about half a pint before Martha, fearing that it might be harmful, urged that he stop the bleeding. Washington, however, said "more." As there was no change, Lear applied a solution of ammonium carbonate externally to the throat, and the General's feet were bathed in warm water. At about this time, Washington said that he would like to sit up for awhile. He dressed and then sat by the fire with Martha for almost two hours.
Dr. Craik arrived shortly after nine o'clock and hurried to his friend's bedside. He diagnosed Washington's illness as "inflammatory quinsy," an infection of the throat. He applied a blister of cantharides externally to the throat, hoping to draw the inflammation to the surface, and he performed a second bleeding. Washington inhaled a steaming mixture of vinegar and water, but he could not gargle the potion of vinegar and sage tea offered him. By this time, he was unable even to cough effectively, although encouraged to do so by Dr. Craik. Upon seeing no improvement in Washington's condition, Craik bled him for a third time.
Later that afternoon, Dr. Elisha Dick arrived from Alexandria, and again Washington was bled. The blood was thick and came slowly. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Gustavus Brown came from his home in Port Tobacco, Maryland, to confer with the other doctors. The physicians noted that Washington now appeared able to swallow. Taking advantage of this opportunity and hoping to purge the General of his infection, Craik administered a dose of calomel and repeated portions of tartar emetic.
At about four-thirty in the afternoon, Washington asked Martha to bring two wills from his desk. After receiving them, Washington selected one and asked Martha to burn it, which she did. She took the other and put it safely away. Washington then called Lear to his side and took his hand, saying, "I find I am going, my breath cannot continue long, I believed, from the first attack it would be fatal, do you arrange and record all my late military letters and papers—arrange my accounts and settle my books, as you know more about them than anyone else, and let Mr. Rawlins finish recording my other letters which he has begun."
I pray you to take no more trouble about