Tag Archives: Mount Vernon

An Eyewitness Account of the Death of George Washington

George Custis in 1844

     George Washington Custis, Martha Washington’s grandson, was a witness to George Washington’s death.   Custis who was 19 years old when Washington died in 1799 records his account of Washington’s death in Recollections of Washington (1860). Tomorrow, a high-tech look at Washington’s dentures.

     “On the morning of the thirteenth, the general was engaged in making some improvements in the front of Mount Vernon. As was usual with him, he carried his own compass, noted his observations, and marked out the ground. The day became rainy, with sleet, and the improver remained so long exposed to the inclemency of the weather as to be considerably wetted before his return to the house. About one o’clock he was seized with chilliness and nausea, but having changed his clothes, he sat down to his indoor work – there being no moment of his time for which he had not provided an appropriate employment.

     At night on joining his family circle, the general complained of a slight indisposition, and after a single cup of tea, repaired to his library, where he remained writing until between eleven and twelve o’clock. Mrs. Washington retired about the usual family hour, but becoming alarmed at not hearing the accustomed sound of the library door as it closed for the night, and gave signal for rest in the well-regulated mansion, she rose again, and continued sitting up, in much anxiety and suspense. At length the well-known step was heard on the stair, and upon the general’s entering his chamber, the lady chided him for staying up so late, knowing him to be unwell, to which Washington made this memorably reply: ‘I came so soon as my business was accomplished. You well know that through a long life, it has been my unvaried rule, never to put off till the morrow the duties which should be performed today.’

     Having first covered the fire with care, the man of mighty labors sought repose; but it came not, as it long had been wont to do, to comfort and restore after the many and earnest occupations of the well-spent day. The night was passed in feverish restlessness and pain…The manly sufferer uttered no complaint, would permit no one to be disturbed in their rest on his account, and it was only at daybreak he would consent that the overseer might be called in, and bleeding resorted to. A vein was opened, but no relief afforded. Couriers were dispatched to Dr. Craik, the family, and Drs. Dick and Brown, the consulting physicians, all of whom came with speed. The proper remedies were administered, but without producing their healing effects; while the patient, yielding to the anxious looks of all around him, waived his usual objections to medicines, and took those which were prescribed without hesitation or remark. The medical gentlemen spared not their skill, and all the resources of their art were exhausted in unwearied endeavors to preserve this noblest work of nature.

    The night approached – the last night of Washington. The weather became severely cold while the group gathered nearer to the couch of the sufferer, watching with intense anxiety for the slightest dawning of hope. He spoke but little. To the respectful and affectionate inquiries of an old family servant, as she smoothed down his pillow, how he felt himself, he answered, ‘I am very ill.’ To Dr. Craik, his earliest companion-in-arms, longest tried and bosom friend, he observed, ‘I am dying, sir – but am not afraid to die.’ To Mrs. Washington he said, ‘Go to my desk, and in the private drawer you will find two papers – bring them to me.’ They were brought. He continued -‘These are my Wills -preserve this one and burn the other,’ which was accordingly done. Calling to Colonel Lear, he directed – ‘Let my corpse be kept for the usual period of three days.’

     The patient bore his acute sufferings with fortitude and perfect resignation to the Divine will, while as the night advanced it became evident that he was sinking, and he seemed fully aware that ‘his hour was nigh.’ He inquired the time, and was answered a few minutes to ten. He spoke no more – the hand of death was upon him, and he was conscious that ‘his hour was come.’ With surprising self-possession he prepared to die. Composing his form at length, and folding his arms on his bosom, without a sigh, without a groan, the Father of his Country died. No pang or struggle told when the noble spirit took its noiseless flight; while so tranquil appeared the manly features in the repose of death, that some moments had passed ere those around could believe that the patriarch was no more.”
For more info, check out:  “The Death of George Washington, 1799,” EyeWitness to History, http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com (2001).

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Whisky & Washington’s Wealth

Welcome to the launch of Rita Bay’s Blog.  This week’s salute to Washington will include the distillery post below, an excerpt of Washington’s 1789 inaugural address which should be required reading for all US Government servants, one of the few surviving love letters he wrote to Martha, Martha’s home remedy for respiratory problems, a report on the high-tech examination of Washington’s dentures, his statements on the necessity of carrying weapons and an eyewitness account of his death.  Most posts include links to read more info and all of this week’s posts are suitable for children. 

The Reconstructed Distillery

     George Washington, although he farmed around 8,000 acres, rarely had cash on hand.  As a matter of fact, when he was elected President he had to borrow money to relocate to New York City which was the center of the American government in 1789. 

     His fortunes changed, however, when James Anderson, his Scottish plantation manager, recommended that he open a distillery on his Mount Vernon estate.  Mount Vernon possessed the requirements for a successful venture:  nearby access to a market in Alexandria by road or on the Potomac, a consistent source of grain and wood and a constant overhead flow of good quality water.  The distillery was constructed below the millrace to take advantage of the water source available by the flow of gravity.  The cooper in the Mount Vernon cooperage built the barrels for the production and shipping of the whisky

The Distillery's Foundation

     The first batch of 600 gallons in 1797 was so successful that the initial purchase of one copper still was soon followed by the purchase of three additional stills and the construction of a larger distillery.  Washington soon became the largest distiller of whiskey in the United States.  In 1799, his distillery produced 11,000 gallons of rye whiskey with a profit of $7,500.

      The distillery which measured 75’ x 30’ and included a residence for the distiller was torn down about 15 years after his death. Archaeologists at Mount Vernon discovered the foundations of the distillery and began excavations in 1999 with a grant from the Distilled Spirits Council of the US.  After the excavations were completed in 2005, a working distillery was reconstructed which produces whisky using Washington’s own recipe which was 60% rye, 35% corn, and 5% malted barley.

During Reconstruction

    Washington, who had stopped growing tobacco as a cash crop decades before, was an entrepreneur who sought to make Mount Vernon a self-sufficient community.  In addition to wheat as a primary cash crop, he operated a gristmill (which has also been rebuilt) to grind his and his neighbor’s wheat into a fine flour and maintained a fishing operation in the Potomac River which caught and salted shad and herring for consumption at Mount Vernon and for sale to local merchants.  Washington also operated a smithy in which the blacksmith worked for the surrounding farms.  Tomorrow, Wednesday’s Worthy Words post will present an excerpt of Washington’s First Inaugural Address.

For More Info check out:  

Archaeology Magazine’s interactive website Distilling the Past from 2003 or the Mount Vernon website:  http://www.mountvernon.org/learn/pres_arch/index.cfm/sss/82/

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