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Interesting US History
A Website Devoted to Interesting Events in U.S. History





March 30, 2009

George Washington: The Man (Part 1)

 Click here for Part 2

Most of us know that George Washington was a great General that led the colonists through the Revolutionary War. Equally well known is the fact that George Washington was the first president elected under our current Constitution. But many of us don’t know nearly as much about the man himself.

It is hard to imagine but even though Washington was elected as our first President, he almost never had a chance to serve in the office. Washington was stricken with many serious illnesses throughout his life from childhood until death including many life-threatening diseases such as smallpox, tuberculosis, malaria, pneumonia, and influenza. The disease that finally lead to his death was thought to be diphtheria at the time (in the 18th century it was called “croup”) but more recently, it has been suggested that it might have been an inflammation of the larynx and vocal cords caused by a strain of virulent streptococci. In fact it also might have been his treatment (the practice of bleeding) which contributed to his death.

During Washington’s time as president, he would bow to his visitors rather than shake hands believing that hand shaking was beneath the office of the presidency. He surrounded himself with great men and was willing to listen to their opinions. Washington held the office of president in high regard and always wanted to make a good impression. As president, he visited every state in the Union at the time and he would often ride in a carriage until he was close to his destination then mount his white horse Nelson so he could arrive in style.

Despite his reputation as a great leader and motivator, George Washington was somewhat socially awkward and shy. As a young man he had fallen in love several times but his proposal of marriage was rejected on at least two occasions. One of his early loves was for Sally Fairfax. Sally was elegant, slim, and sophisticated but she was also married to one of his good friends. Although he realized his feelings could never be fully reciprocated, it did not stop him from writing several letters to her over the years declaring the depth of his passion and devotion to her. The final such letter was written only a year before his death.

In spite of his feelings for Sally, Washington married Martha Custis, a short, plump woman who was also the richest widow in Virginia. As time went on, George and Martha developed a genuine attachment to one another. Unfortunately the details of their relationship remain somewhat of a mystery since Martha burned all their correspondence after his death.

Mark Bowman

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The Real George Washington (American Classic Series)