Topic: George Washington

Georgia Meets the Papers of George Washington

November 2, 2016

George Washington’s composure under duress and remarkable memory for facts and pertinent details provided the basic tools of successful leadership, the managing editor of The Papers of George Washington told an audience in Savannah, Ga., recently.

Dr. William Ferraro was responding to a question posed by Stan Deaton, senior historian of the Georgia Historical Society, before a crowd of more than 350 at an event titled “George Washington, Leadership and Global Revolution.”  The event, held at Savannah’s historic First Baptist Church in late September, was sponsored by the historical society and the UVA Club of Savannah.

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George Washington by Charles Willson Peale

George Washington Takes Command

by Benjamin L. Huggins, Associate Editor
October 21, 2016

Having looked at George Washington’s Revolutionary War diaries in my previous blog posts, I now turn to his Revolutionary War correspondence. In this and future posts, I will be offering my perspective on pivotal letters in Washington’s war career. To start, I focus on his letter to his friend Burwell Bassett, written on the eve of Washington’s departure to take command of the Continental Army. The letter, dated June 19, 1775, reads in part:

Dear Sir, I am now Imbarkd on a tempestuous Ocean from whence, perhaps, no friendly harbour is to be found. I have been called upon by the unanimous Voice of the Colonies to the Command of the Continental Army—It is an honour I by no means aspired to—It is an honour I wished to avoid, as well from an unwillingness to quit the peaceful enjoyment of my Family as from a thorough conviction of my own Incapacity & want of experience in the conduct of so momentous a concern—but the partiallity of the Congress added to some political motives, left me without a choice—May God grant therefore that my acceptance of it may be attended with some good to the common cause & without Injury (from want of knowledge) to my own reputation—I can answer but for three things, a firm belief of the justice of our Cause—close attention in the prosecution of it—and the strictest Integrety—If these cannot supply the places of Ability & Experience, the cause will suffer, & more than probable my character along with it, as reputation derives it principal support from success—but it will be remembered I hope that no desire, or insinuation of mine, placed me in this situation. I shall not be deprivd therefore of a comfort in the worst event if I retain a consciousness of having acted to the best of my judgment. … P.S. I must Intreat you & Mrs Bassett, if possible, to visit at Mt Vernon as also my Wife’s other friends—I could wish you to take her down, as I have no expectations of returning till Winter & feel great uneasiness at her lonesome Situation—I have sent my Chariot & Horses back.1

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Did George Washington’s false teeth come from his slaves?: A look at the evidence, the responses to that evidence, and the limitations of history

by Kathryn Gehred, Research Specialist
October 19, 2016

Photo courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. Link to original.

Photo courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association. Link to original.

George Washington’s false teeth were not wooden, as you may have heard. They were actually made from a variety of materials, including human teeth. According to the accounting record in Mount Vernon’s Ledger Book B, the teeth may have been pulled from Washington’s slaves.

I get a broad range of reactions to this fact when it comes up in conversation. At one end of the spectrum are those who accept my suggestion: stunned, they imagine George Washington riding around his plantation in search of an unlucky person from the fields, whose teeth he wrenches out. On the other side are those who immediately deny that George Washington would ever have done anything so horrible, and who quickly provide an alternative.

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Martha Washington, Dr. Frankenstein, and the Empty Tomb

By Caitlin Conley, Research Editor
August 10, 2016

It was a dark and snowy night, and George Washington’s stiff body lay frozen in Mount Vernon’s drawing room.

Three desperate doctors had tried and failed to save him. They blistered his legs, prescribed emetics,1 applied poultices to his swollen throat, and bled him almost dry.2 Martha Washington watched, unweeping yet frightened by the amount of blood pouring from her beloved husband of more than 40 years.

The night had worn on.

Martha, sitting at the foot of her partner’s bed, saw George’s quiet become quieter. “Is he gone?” she asked. George’s secretary (and Martha’s friend) Tobias Lear couldn’t speak. He held up his hand in assent. Martha said simply, “‘Tis well. All is now over I shall soon follow him! I have no more trials to pass through!”3

She was wrong.

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George Washington as a “Votary to Love”1

By Elisa Shields, Research Specialist
July 8, 2016

Through history, people can share common experiences that connect them beyond the context of their time. First love is one of those experiences. Regardless of whether the memory of our first love remains obstructed by the pain of heartbreak, has left a bitter taste in our mouth, or is forevermore hidden in our secret garden, it has tainted us each in some way. George Washington, too, experienced that unique kind of love with Sarah Cary Fairfax (“Sally”) shortly before his lifelong communion with Martha Dandridge Custis began in 1759.

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George Washington’s War Diary

By Benjamin Huggins, Associate Editor
June 23, 2016

Washington's first entry. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Washington’s first entry. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress. Click on image to enlarge.

In my most recent blog post, I mentioned that General Washington kept two diaries during the Revolutionary War: his weather diary (which he maintained from January to June 1780) and his journal kept from May to early November 1781. In this post, I want to discuss the latter diary.

Written entirely in Washington’s own hand, the journal shows almost no corrections, suggesting that Washington may have copied the entries into the diary after writing a draft. The journal consists of two volumes: the first covering May to August 14, 1781, and the second spanning from August 14 to November 5, 1781 (the entry for August 14 is split between the two volumes). Washington opened his war diary with a statement of regret:

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Lessons in Courage and Responsibility: Ian Kahn of Turn: Washington’s Spies

By Kim Curtis and Lynn Price
June 7, 2016

IMG_0205[3]Ian Kahn knows George Washington. For three seasons, he has played the General on the AMC television series Turn: Washington’s Spies. An accomplished stage actor, Kahn has also appeared on Dawson’s Creek and Sex and the City. Washington Papers editors Kim Curtis and Lynn Price recently spoke with Kahn about his work on Turn, what this season holds in store, and what George Washington means to him.

When he initially heard about the role of General Washington on Turn, Kahn says, “I thought how wild and wacky it was to play George Washington, but then I read the character description… and I thought, ‘I think I’ve got an idea about how to do this.’” As Kahn began working on the script during his first audition, his hopes were confirmed that he could indeed figure out how to play someone like Washington.

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A Lesson About Duty from General George Washington

By Katie Lebert, Communications Specialist
June 4, 2016

Recently, someone contacted the Washington Papers for help with locating a specific document. They were looking for a letter in which George Washington explained why patriotism was not enough to win the Revolutionary War. Fair payment for the men who fought was also needed:

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The “Epitome of Navigation”: How Lawrence Washington Steered His Brother George

By Alicia K. Anderson, Research Editor
May 27, 2016

Composite image created with Microsoft PowerPoint templates by Alicia K. Anderson. The original portraits of Lawrence (left) and George Washington (right) are courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association.

Composite image created with Microsoft PowerPoint templates by Alicia K. Anderson. The original portraits of Lawrence (left) and George Washington (right) are courtesy of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.

Lawrence, George Washington’s elder half-brother by their father’s first marriage, stayed in Barbados that December of 1751. His condition, presumably tuberculosis, was none improved from their seven-week stay on the island, and he was determined to get better—if not in Barbados, then in Bermuda.1 George, his travel companion, had to get home. A new year’s surveying season was about to begin.2 He also had an important acquaintance to meet: the newly arrived governor of Virginia, Robert Dinwiddie, who, within the year (just months following Lawrence’s death in July 1752), would appoint George adjutant for the colony’s southern district with the rank of major.3

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General Washington Records the Weather

By Benjamin L. Huggins, Associate Editor
April 14, 2016

In the years before he became commander in chief of the Continental Army in the Revolution, Washington kept diaries of, in his words, “Where & how my time is Spent.” Many of these journals have survived, and they have been printed in volumes I, II, and III of the Diaries.1 But during the war, Washington kept a diary only during two periods.

From May to November of 1781, he maintained a daily journal of significant events and occurrences during the campaign that culminated in the decisive Battle of Yorktown. Scholars have made extensive use of this diary. But the general also kept another, lesser-known diary during the war: a diary of the weather at his headquarters at Morristown, New Jersey, from January to June 1780.

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