The George Washington We Never Knew

Mount Vernon, an Estate

Mount Vernon in the 21st Century.
Mount Vernon in the 21st Century. | Source

That's Not Washington!

The George Washington presented to many elementary school or K-5 school children is not the man of reality. As often as not, he has been portrayed to have had the personality of a door and inoperative teeth. He's been described to elementary school classes as short and glum. Not someone to whom children would gravitate.

Our George Washington

Washington's teeth were a combo of human teeth and modeled teeth carved from cow teeth and elephant ivory, circa 1790 [Mount Vernon Ladies' Association information].
Washington's teeth were a combo of human teeth and modeled teeth carved from cow teeth and elephant ivory, circa 1790 [Mount Vernon Ladies' Association information]. | Source

I think Washington was somehow confused with John Adams during early history lessons. However, the tremendous breadth and depth of the research that Mary Higgins Clark (the suspense queen) performed in the late 1960s make up for it in spades.

In school, we were taught that George Washington wore wooden teeth. On a sketchy pseudo-tour of Mount Vernon in the Stone Age, I was shown old dentures in a dusty glass case and told that George Washington's teeth were made of wood. They were not, in fact, wooden (see photo, below right).

Washington was by modern rumor a stick-in-the-mud that always told the whole truth, especially when cutting down cherry trees -- But all that was all made-up propaganda advertising of the 18th Century, plied to boost and enlarge Washington's moral image after death. A man known as Parson Weems was his posthumous speech writer in these events, but Gworge Washington was a real human being.

Kids probably don't care that General Washington crossed the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War in the dead of winter with newspapers lining the boots of himself and his men for warmth, until they stand outside in the winter's snow, ice, wind, and hail to feel the searing cold for a time themselves. They surely don't know that his wife Patsy crossed enemy lines to be with him that winter, or that her nickname was Patsy and few called her Martha.

On Mount Rushmore, South Dakota.
On Mount Rushmore, South Dakota. | Source

Real History and Popular Myth

I remember, as a child, being required to memorize "quotes from Washington", along with the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States , and the Gettysburg Address . As an adult, I have found the memorized quotes to be all fiction.

However, Mary Higgins Clark, the great mystery writer came to the rescue back in 1969 with her first book to unlock the mysteries of the real George Washington. I've just discovered it and have done so in its newest edition, Mount Vernon Love Story . It's original title was Aspire to the Heavens, the family motto of the Ball family that gave us the strict Mary Ball Washington, the first president's mother.

In elementary school, we didn't even know he had a mother.

Native Americans admired the 6'3" George Washington for his advanced horse riding skills --That makes him definitely more interesting than a door, and he could dance very well.

I want to start over in a new 1st Grade, and if Ms. Clark is such a good investigative writer, I also want to read all of her mysteries.

After the Colonists' defeat at Germantown, the victorious Brit, General Howe, lost his dog when it walked over to Washington's camp. Washington wrote a note dated October 6, 1777 to General Howe and sent the dog safely back across enemy lines under a flag of truce.

Source

Mount Vernon Love Story by Mary Higgins Clark

True Fiction

Mount Vernon Live Story by Mary Higgins Clark. 1969, 2003.

This story is a thoroughly researched biographical fiction and the writer's very first book, completed after performing the research for a media series on George and Martha Washington and their Mount Vernon. It is about the love of the land and love of country as much as it is about the love between President and First Lady. It offers a deeper look into all of these relationships than I had every imagined. and through it, I have a new vision of the founding of the New Nation and the personality of many of its founders. As such, I believe it should be required reading at the middle school level.

I am joyous that this book changed my childhood impressions formed by that long ago visit to Mount Vernon before Colonial Virginia became a well-maintained modern historic attraction. As a better preserved National Historical Place, it now presents a different image that leaves me speechless. The damp house and the dimly lit, dusty furnishings, portraits, and display cases have given way to something much more honorable to the period and the people.

Clark's book begins with George Washington on his last day in office, preparing to attend the Inaugural Address of John Adams. We gain an understanding of the possible range of emotions and memories President Washington felt on this day, hoping he had done a good job and not made too many mistakes in government. We witness the whirlwind packing spree to leave the presidential mansion the long, bumping carriage ride that eventually led back to Mount Vernon.

Back and forth in each successive chapter, a voice or a sound, or an image reminds George of an earlier time and we can relive it with him. In this way, we gain a three-dimensional knowledge of the Father of Our Country and how he came to that position. The story is fiction, but based so in history that the spirit of it is true,

I am impressed that Washington did not seek any of the leadership positions given to him, but that he accepted them and fulfilled them admirably. In this, he is a little like Pope Benedict, who did not want to be Pope, but who is Pope and one that works for positive change.

Early Soldier

George worked with the English Army at first, but broke away for national Independence. IN the book, Sally always called him "Young Washington." Patsy always called him "old man."
George worked with the English Army at first, but broke away for national Independence. IN the book, Sally always called him "Young Washington." Patsy always called him "old man."

The President

On his last day in office in the book, Washington wears his black velvet suit.
On his last day in office in the book, Washington wears his black velvet suit. | Source

Young Washington

Mount Vernon Love Story spans time for 52 years from 1745 - 1797 and spares us his end and death in 1799.

As a boy on the family’s Ferry Farm, George was handled so harshly by his mother, that he spent much time at his brother’s estate, Mount Vernon. He probably loved it there the first time he went. Meeting the neighbors at the next estate, Belvoir, George is admiring of both Mr. and Mrs. George William (Sally) Fairfax. From a surveying “internship” of sorts with George William Fairfax, Washington chose as a teenager to pursue a career as a surveyor.

The book plays out an agonizing type of not-quite love affair between Sally and Washington, whom she always calls “Young Washington.” The truth of that relationship is probably not really knowable, but it plays out well and believably in this book.

After George attempts to help in the French and Indian War and joins the military and survives a horrid battle, he attracts nationwide fame and everyone wants to meet him (this is not at all like a wooden door or wooden teeth!).

Making the rounds of parties as he is able, George meets a Mr. and Mrs. Custis and is impressed by their devotion and their dancing skills. Throughout the story, we see the future president polish his dancing skills as well as card playing skills in order to gain socialization that he uses well later in life. When Mr. Custis dies, George makes it a point to get to know Martha Custis – Patsy – and her young daughter and son better.

The Custis estate is the original White House, all estates being given a name in that era in Virginia. While there, George and the Custises become a family. While old history lessons and the old Mount Vernon tour site portrayed them as cold and unloving, they were not. They were real people in a blended family full of love and trials.

They also suffered horrid illnesses and loneliness as George went off to fight in the Revolution. However, Patsy went to Valley Forge in the dead of winter to be with him. I am grateful to have a better opinion of them both today and commend the author for the rich experience that she has given me.

The Fairfaxes of Belvoir

Click thumbnail to view full-size
SallyGeorge William (all public domain).
Sally
Sally
George William (all public domain).
George William (all public domain).

The Real Martha Washington - Patsy

Patsy Washington

This surprisng cover portrait of Patsy Washington, described at this link on the artist’s web site

",,,was based primarily on a computer generated age-regression image created by a Louisiana State University forensic anthropologist."

Gladly, Martha Washington was not at all the fat, dumpy, cold woman we were told about in elementary school (we though she must have been very ugly). I shall always call her "Patsy" from now on.

Patsy was quick on the uptake, observant, witty, patriotic, and brave; and picturing her at Valley Forge is thrilling. In reality, she journeyed there to stay with Washington and his troops during that part of the Revolutionary War campaign.

This book is required reading to accompany Mount Vernon Love Story, if we want a truer picture of life among the Washing tons before and after they became the original First Family.

Washington's Character

After British General Howe defeated Washington and his troops at Germantown, General Howe's dog wandered into the American camp.

One of the colonial soldiers noticed Howe's name on the dog's collar and took the animal to General Washington. Washington wrote a note dated October 6, 1777 to General Howe and sent the dog back across enemy lines under a flag of truce, unharmed.

Reference: Drive-Thru History, TBN Television Special on George Washington and the Revolutionary War.

1755, Washington on Horseback at the Battle of Monongahela

CREDIT: Rier, imp. Lemercier, Paris. "Life of George Washington--The soldier." 1854. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.
CREDIT: Rier, imp. Lemercier, Paris. "Life of George Washington--The soldier." 1854. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress. | Source
The Battle of Germantown, drawn in or before 1880 by Christian Schussele.
The Battle of Germantown, drawn in or before 1880 by Christian Schussele. | Source

© 2009 Patty Inglish

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Comments 22 comments

Rochelle Frank profile image

Rochelle Frank 7 years ago from California Gold Country

Thanks so much for this. I think some of the PBS miniseries of late have tried to give a more rounded view of out first president. The tales we were told are more like mythic parables of ancient heroes-- without the passion.

Certainly the "real" Washington must have been a complex and interesting person.

Mt. Vernon is a lovely place, and I can well envision his desire to retire there after such a busy and stressful public life.


Staci-Barbo7 profile image

Staci-Barbo7 7 years ago from North Carolina

The best review of a book I have read in a long time. Excellent Hub, Patty!


Ladybird33 profile image

Ladybird33 7 years ago from Georgia USA

Thank you, I have a passion about our Presidents and learning more and more about them, which I did in this hub.


ecoggins profile image

ecoggins 7 years ago from Corona, California

Your hub stats show that you are a real pro at these things. This is another example of your mastery.


RVDaniels profile image

RVDaniels 7 years ago from Athens, GA

Interesting and informative. Thanks for a good hub.


alekhouse profile image

alekhouse 7 years ago from Louisville, Kentucky

Very interesting, Patti. Enjoyed it. I never heard the part about the "wooden teeth" Only know the part about the truth and the cherry tree. Guess we went to a different school :)


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Rochelle - I will keep my eye out for PBS specials on George Washington; I really want to know more about him now -- I am aghast and ashamed of my first opinion. Thanks for visiting and givign us that info about PBS!

Staci-Barbo7 - Thank you for the encouraging words and I will continue love reading and reviewing. Knowing that these are read and enjoyed helps a lot.

Ladybird33 - I am so glad that we have access to more infomraton now, to stoke those very passions. Thanks for commenting!

scoggins - I contuinue to learn each day and hope to also improve, so thanks for your kind words and encouragement. :)

RVDaniels - Thanks for reading; I hope to discover more books as good.

alekhouse - Funny, isn't it? There were, as I recall, 2 oor 3 sets of teth in a dusty glass case at Mount Vernon llong ago. One may have been a reproduction done in wood, in fact; but neither set look wooden. The teeth on displpay now are a different set and a place in New Orleans claims to have another ivory set of G. W. teeth. The Mystery of the Teeth could be written...


Journey * profile image

Journey * 7 years ago from USA

This is some interesting information about George Washington. Patty, thanks for sharing.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Thanks for reading, Journey, and I;m glad you've liked this article.


emohealer profile image

emohealer 7 years ago from South Carolina

Isn't it so different when we look at the personal aspects of anyone versus what they "did" with their life. This new look at George Washington that you have pesented here delves into his why versus his what, with a more clear picture of who he was.

Thanks for a great hub, a new insight, and yes, the introduction to some must reads as you say.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Thank you, emohealer. The why versus the what is very important, as you say. We sometimes forget that people were people at the beginning of the USA and not just actions.

Today, we have more access into all the whys, but I found this book accidentally. I look forward to finding others, purposefully.


dohn121 profile image

dohn121 7 years ago from Hudson Valley, New York

As many of us have come to realize once attending college, we had to un-learn everything we'd learned up until that point in time and relearn American history. For the most part, I was shocked and surprised to learn a few things about George Washington, as he wasn't exactly what you would call "affluent" upon meeting Patsy. Some might say that he used her for money and leverage so as to rise up in the ranks. Thanks, Patty for writing this.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

There are all sorts of things packed into the real events of history. Thanks for your comments, dohn121 -- I was completely shocked after high school, in the working world and again in college, by what is true.


Smireles profile image

Smireles 7 years ago from Texas

Thank you so much for this lively and informative review on the life of George and "Patsy" Washington. Since I have never done any research on George Washington I was surprised to see that his name was George William. I am a family historian (amateur) and my family name Rone has many men named George Washington Rone in so many different family lines that it is amazing. I was always curious because my uncle is named George William and that offers new insight into a research question in my mind. The name George Washington and George William were used over and over with no variations in all the family lines I have found. Thank you for this article and the insight. Oh, and yes, I was taught about the wooden teeth in school, too!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Hi Smireless and thanks for commenting. George William Fairfax and wife Sally were Washington's neighbors at Belvoir next to Mount Vernon. Everyone called Fairfax by his first two names - George William - to distimguish him from George Washington, so I apologize If I did not make this clear enough. I wonder how many in your family have been named after either one of these men! And I wonder if George and George William were not distantly related somehow.

Thanks again! You family tree is very interesting. You may be related to one of these Georges, I think.


GojiJuiceGoodness profile image

GojiJuiceGoodness 6 years ago from Roanoke, Virginia

I just wrote two hubs about George Washington & it's great to see that others have a proper view of the REAL George Washington. Since I was homeschooled, I never was taught all this fiction about George Washington. We studied men in history not because it was "politically correct", but because they were true men to admire!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

Glad to hear you say so, GojiJuiceGoodness. Kids hate being lied to by adults - in classrooms or anywhere else.


bonny2010 profile image

bonny2010 6 years ago from outback queensland

A really good hub - loved the research and the pictures - I remember reading about the wooden teeth in school as well, never could get over how he never got any splinters


David P Shirk profile image

David P Shirk 6 years ago

Very Good.

Washington would also write a letter 3 or more times before it was deemed good enough to send. Before making any major political descisions he would often get the advice of Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton. By the end of his lifetime, he was disgusted with the amount of politics that grew so well in the new republic. It was under his first term that he took Hamiltons advice over that of Jefferson and Madison, and established the First Bank of the United States. This showed that even though he mostly disagreed with Hamilton (and in many cases saw him as an upstart in his early years), he still respected Hamilton enough to give him ear.

When the Continental Congress called him out of retirement to sit over the drafting of the constitution, he went only after a great amount of worry that people would see it as a political power play due to the fact that he had early relinquished his seat of power shortly after the Revolution.

Even after that he was upset to be once again called forth during the uprising such as shays rebellion, and as soon as he was satified at the end, immediately left the service again.

Wachington was a man who strove very hard to keep up with the affluence in the circle of Gentleman - the same circles kept by those like Franklin and Jefferson. He was indeed a stoic man in his later years as life began to weigh on him.

Etc Etc.

Just a few things I thought I should add :-)


Freeway Flyer profile image

Freeway Flyer 6 years ago

What has always impressed me about Washington was the fact that he did not seek personal power. He could have been King George. At the least, he could have been a more powerful president. Instead, he stayed true to the principles of the republic and tried to abide by the Constitution. How many leaders throughout history would have done the same in his position?

Also, reality is always more interesting than legend.


GlstngRosePetals profile image

GlstngRosePetals 5 years ago from Wouldn't You Like To Know

great Hub I love reading anything that has to do with history. I wish our presidents that we have chosen could be more like Washington and then maybe things that are wrong with America wouldn't exist today.. Also congradulations on making it to 100!!!!


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 4 years ago from North America Author

FYI to Anonymous - George Washington sent the following edict to all his troops:

"The General is sorry to be informed that the foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing, a vice hitherto little known in our American Army is growing into fashion. He hopes that the officers will, by example as well as influence, endeavor to check it and that both they and the men will reflect that we can little hope of the blessing of Heaven on our army if we insult it by our impiety and folly. Added to this it is a vice so mean and low without any temptation that every man of sense and character detests and despises it."

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