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by Lia Blanchard

With both Flag Day and Fathers’ Day coming next week, it seems fitting to write about George Washington. He is now a very familiar icon, but how much do you really know about the “father of our country”?

George Washington

1) The boy Washington didn’t chop down a cherry tree

We’ve all grown up hearing the story about a young George chopping down his father’s cherry tree and admitting it when questioned, conceding, “I cannot tell a lie.” The story first appeared in the fifth edition of a book about Washington by Mason Locke Weems, with no source attributed. Weems is generally considered to have fabricated the story.

2) He almost joined the British Royal Navy

At age 14, the young Washington was offered a position on a ship in the British Royal Navy. He desperately wanted to go, but his recently widowed mother refused to allow him to leave. Instead, he took a position surveying the Virginia countryside.

3) He survived many encounters with death

George Washington was a hardy, resourceful, and very lucky man. He survived several encounters with death, including:

  • Malaria, pleurisy, dysentery and smallpox, all by age 24. Fortunately, he was then immune to smallpox as it killed 130,000 other Revolutionary War soldiers.
  • A near-drowning in the ice-cold Allegheny River, followed by a freezing night with no fire in December 1753.
  • An ambush in the French and Indian War, during which bullets ripped through his coat and hat, and two horses were shot from under him – yet he was unharmed.
  • Another malaria type of illness at age 54.

4) He had no children of his own                                                                 

George Washington married Martha Custis on January 6, 1759. Martha was a widow with two young children, and George stepped right into the role of stepfather. The children called him “Poppa” and Washington cared for them deeply, but Martha conceived no children with him; it is likely that the smallpox left him sterile.

What about your dad?

There’s no denying that George Washington led an amazing life. What would our country would be like today if he had joined the Royal Navy, succumbed to smallpox, or had been killed in war?

Everyone has a story, and everyone you know contributes to your life in some way, shaping you into who you are. Think about your own father. What interesting things about his life do you know? What four amazing things about him don’t you know? Wouldn’t that make a fascinating conversation on Fathers’ Day?

Next: Gifts to enjoy with your dad on Fathers’ Day

Additional Resource
Parry, Allison, and Skousen (2009). The Real George Washington: The True Story of America’s Most Indispensable Man. National Center for Constitutional Studies.