George Washington
George Washington, A National Treasure
The Portrait Kids Washington's Life Exhibition Calendar
Portrait for Kids
The Patriot Papers
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Experience... is the best rule to walk by. --George Washington to John Parke Curtis, West Point, August 24, 1779

SPRING 2003, Seattle:
“George Washington: A National Treasure” on Tour
Tennessee Declares GW Education Day
A Blast From the Past
Not Our Finest Hour
Death Be Not Proud
Trippin' Through Time
The Pudding Papers
* WINTER 2003, Los Angeles
* FALL 2002, Las Vegas
* WINTER 2002, Promotional

The Patriot Papers
print-friendly version MIDDLE SCHOOL, SPRING 2003, SEATTLE

George Washington in His Last Illness

George Washington in His Last Illness,
an etching done in 1800 by an unidentified artist, is an example of the public's fascination with the death of its first American hero.
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution

George Washington Dies at 67

After riding outside during very bad weather last Thursday and Friday, George Washington became ill on Saturday, December 14. An infection known as epiglottitis gave him a sore throat, fever, and difficulty breathing.

Doctors tried a practice called bloodletting: they made small cuts on his arm to take out blood. They hoped to relieve the pressure in his throat so he would be able to breathe better. Unfortunately, bloodletting did not help. Doctors also gave him many different fluids to gargle or swallow, including a mixture of vinegar, molasses, and butter. None of these cures helped the former President breathe easier.

His friend Tobias Lear wrote that Washington grew calm late in the evening, checked his own pulse, and then died peacefully in his bed. His wife Martha was with him, as well as several servants, doctors, and friends.

An elaborate funeral is planned for Wednesday, December 18, including gun salutes and a procession.

would you sign a loyalty oath?

During the Revolutionary War, the British would have required you to sign an oath similar to this:

I voluntarily take this OATH to bear Faith and true Allegiance to His MAJESTY KING George the Third; - and defend to the utmost of my Power, His sacred Person, Crown, and Government, against all Persons whatsoever.

Would you have signed? How many colonists do you think were loyal to the British crown?

Did George Washington Stand a Chance?
Colonial Practice of Bloodletting Helped Cause Washington's Death
-by Vicki Fama, assistant editor

Today, it is easy to think that medicine during the colonial era was crude and painful. Many doctors at the time were self-trained. If he had lived today, George Washington could have been cured with antibiotics. But in 1799, could Washington have gotten better after the treatments he received?

Colonial medicine was based on European medical methods and theories. No one understood how diseases or infection spread. One of the main theories focused on the need for a total balance of tension and fluids in the body. This delicate balance was essential to both physical and mental health. To achieve this balance, Washington's doctors bled him several times. They may have thought that removing extra blood would lessen the swelling in his throat. Unfortunately they took so much blood that it was hard for Washington's body to fight the illness.

Doctors also made Washington gargle with mixtures of vinegar, molasses, and butter. These were used to open up his throat. But his throat was too swollen, and he had a lot of trouble swallowing. He almost choked a couple of times too.

Finally, doctors tried to make him vomit to take out any bad fluids. This can cause the body to lose too much water, and that can make someone sicker.

Even though Washington's doctors did a lot of things that modern doctors would not do, they tried very hard to help him. They used medical practices that were believed to be the most helpful. Washington knew that he was very ill, and he died peacefully.

A modern analysis by White McKenzie Wallenborn, M.D., concludes that Washington died from acute epiglottitis, which is a bacterial inflammation of the epiglottis, a flap at the root of the tongue that prevents food from entering the windpipe. However, some doctors today believe that the excessive loss of blood would have weakened Washington enough to kill him.

George Washington (Lansdowne portrait) by Gilbert Stuart, oil on canvas, 1796

Washington’s dentures,
fitted with human teeth and modeled teeth carved from cow teeth and elephant ivory, circa 1790 Mount Vernon Ladies' Association

The President with No Teeth!

When George Washington became the first President of the United States in 1789, he had only one of his teeth left in his mouth. As a boy, he had cracked walnut shells with his teeth and, as a result, many of them fell out before he was thirty! Over the years, Washington wore several sets of false teeth. Even though many people today believe that these teeth were made out of wood, there is no proof that he ever had wooden teeth. His dentures were made of many things. They were often a combination of human teeth, animal teeth, and ivory. They were put together with wire and a spring, which allowed the dentures to open and close. Throughout his life, Washington had trouble speaking, chewing food, and smiling. The false teeth could be painful and they sometimes made his cheeks and lips puff out. Fortunately modern dentistry now allows painless smiles for even the greatest of walnut lovers.


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