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Was George Washington a


A Most Merry and Illustrated Inquiry

Revised © 2015 Charles F. Cooper

An "exceeding" nasty people

George Washington!

He was first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen. Even today, when serious academics argue about who was our greatest President, it always boils down either to Abraham Lincoln or George.

Of course, from time to time, your sundry professors will take potshots at him with "new" revelations. After all, here was a man who carried on numerous affairs while married to Martha, was a hypocritical gloryhound who actively sought command of the Continental Army while claiming he didn't want it, and worst of all, George, who proclaimed liberty for all mankind, owned over 300 slaves.

But the traditional historians can come right back and point out that if you're truly objective George stands up pretty well. Reports of the "affairs" were just the result of muckraking revisionist historians who misunderstood his letters to Sally Fairfax, and anyway his so-called affair with her never went further than adolescent puppy love. His actively seeking military office and the fame that went with it (and being modest about it) was simply the political and social norms of the times. And finally, in his later years, he even advocated slavery's statutory abolition, and alone of all the slaveholding presidents, ultimately set his own slaves free.

But there is one question all historians - revisionists, traditionalists, and amateurs - have avoided. And yet it is the single most important question remaining for those of us living in this democracy that George wrought.

Was George Washington a hard ass?

It's certainly understandable that historians have shied away from investigating such a question. After all, hard assedness is one of the most difficult characteristics to assess (no pun intended). It's also one thing that most people will try to keep out of sight (again double entendre not necessarily intended). Certainly you couldn't expect that George, who wrote maybe 20,000 letters knowing full well that generations of historians would read them, to try to sound too much like a hard ass. And even the hardest of hard asses can seem a genial fellow if he ends letters sent to an enemy general, "I am, Sir, your most ob't and humble servant".

But from time to time the evidence of George's hard ass has come out in the open. For instance, in 1775, soon after he took command of the Continental Army, George was writing to a relative:

I dare say the Men would fight very well (if properly Officered) although they are an exceeding dirty and nasty people.

Now if you accept George probably meant an "EXCEEDINGLY dirty and nasty people", and not a dirty and nasty people who excelled at their endeavors, this does sound like George was a hard ass. Since his men were fighting for almost no pay, eating food taken by forage, and sleeping on the ground, they would be expected to have a bit of a "dirty and nasty" look. So it seems like George could have cut them a bit of slack. After all, not all of his men could afford to haul around a four post bed from camp to camp (as George did) nor run up expenses of almost half a million (yes, that's half a million) dollars in seventeenth century currency (for which he was, by the way, reimbursed by Congress).

If you continue to weed through the mounds of correspondence, it looks like George could be a hard ass even after he became President. Read his comments from a letter in 1794:

I say, under these circumstances, for a self created, permanent body, (for no one denies the right of the people to meet occasionally [yes, George said the right to meet OCCASIONALLY]), to petition for, or to remonstrate against any Act of the Legislature &ca) to declare that this act is unconstitutional, and that act is pregnant of mischief; and that all who vote contrary to their dogmas are actuated by selfish motives, or under foreign influence; nay in plain terms are traiters [that's they way George spelled it] to their Country, is such a stretch of arrogant presumption as is not to be reconciled with laudable motives.


George conceded the people had the right to meet "occasionally".

First, note that George - admittedly ticked off by those pesky Pennsylvanians who were stirring up the Whiskey Rebellion - said people only have a right to meet "occasionally". Surely only a hard ass could have so soon forgotten the very Constitution he helped forge. And not only that, he maintained that if people remonstrate against ANY (yes, ANY) act of the Legislature (sc. Congress) or declare an act was unconstitutional, and worse, if they dared question his motives, they had such "arrogant presumption" that they couldn't have "laudable motives" either.

That sounds like a hard ass.

But it's with his family that George most often displayed his granite heinie . In 1785 he wrote to his distant cousin, Lund Washington, who had managed Mount Vernon while George was off fighting the British. The subject was about how his namesake nephew, George Augustine Washington, and George Augustine's wife, the former Fanny Bassett, had been trying to find a place to live.

Before their marriage he and Fanny were both told that it would be very agreeable to Mrs. W. and myself, that they should make this House their home 'till the squalling and trouble of children might become disagreeable.

Certainly anyone who's put up with the "squalling and trouble of children" can sympathize with George. But he's really coming off like a hard ass here. After all, he's perfectly happy to have a young couple live with him - but only until they had kids, (which was pretty much unavoidable in those days). Then he'd boot them out.


Disagreeable Squallers

Lund, who as mentioned above ran Mount Vernon while George was in the army, seems to have had to put up with George's rough posterior more often that most (contrary to popular opinion, Martha was not left in charge - during the war, she was often with George, even at Valley Forge). Lund sent George regular reports to let him know what was going on, and George would send whatever instructions he thought Lund would need.

At one point Lund thought it would be a good idea to use prisoners of war as laborers, a practice that is even now accepted by international law (POW's were used for labor by both the Allied and Axis in the Second World War). So Lund asked George to ship down a few prisoners to Mount Vernon.

But George's reply was NOT a gracious acknowledgment to a good idea for essentially free labor. He started chewing Lund out.

In one of your letters (speaking of the difficulty of getting workmen) you recommend it to me to engage some of the Enemy who were prisoners with us; many of whom you say are good workmen. Why, let me ask, when they hired themselves by the authority of Congress, and, comparatively speaking, were in your own neighbourhood, would you not do this for me? None of them were within 300 miles of me, and most of them were within from 55 to 80 miles of you. But you seem to have had an unconquerable aversion to going from home; one consequence of which is I expect I shall lose all my rents."

What George meant by loosing his rents was that some of the tenants on his lands in western Virginia were over a year in arrears. He went on and ragged on Lund for not traveling and getting the money himself.

Today heading off to western Virginia from Washington isn't too bad once you get away from the Beltway, but back in George's day, it was a rough trip. Thirty miles was about all you could manage in a day, and a round trip of 100 miles to conduct even minor business could easily take a couple of weeks. So if Lund was going to seriously try to collect rent from a bunch of deadbeats, he could easily count on being gone at least a month if not two.

But was George really being all that unreasonable? After all, with his time as Commander of the Continental Army and his stint as President, George spent as much time away from Mount Vernon as he was there. And at one time, he went a full six years without even setting foot on his estate. So what's the problem?

The problem was what George told Lund to do went directly against his other instructions.

See, Mount Vernon was really a collection of five connected farms. Each farm had its own manager (or more accurately, overseers) and they, in turn, were supervised by the manager of what is now modern Mount Vernon itself (then called the Mansion House Farm). George made it clear that not only were the individual overseers to be on the job all the time, but that the Mount Vernon manager had to be around to keep an eye on THEM. Or as George himself put it:

With me, it is an established maxim, that an Overseer shall never be absent from his people [his "people" was George's euphemism for slaves - more on that later]-but at night, and at his meals [eighteenth century delicacy prevented George from mentioning potty breaks] and IF HE IS TO BE UNDER YOUR EYE [emphasis added] I do not conceive it would be any difficulty to accomplish this, having it so expressed in a written agreement, with a penalty annexed."

So George had the "established maxim" that the Overseer should actually be with the slaves at all time, and he also expected the manager of Mount Vernon to keep a close eye on the overseers, some of whom were a bit bibulous and not always reliable. So if Lund headed off to collect rents for a month or so only to return to find the overseers had been "absent from his people", you know George would have really ragged on Lund for spending so much time away. Lund would be dam'd [to quote George] if he did, dam'd if he didn't.

Doesn't that sound like a hard ass?

But that wasn't the only time George was a hard ass to Lund. There was the time the British were sailing up and down the Potomac and, among other things, burning down the farms and houses of the Rebels. Naturally they stopped at Mount Vernon. Lund wrote George about what happened and that because of his actions (he bribed the British with food), the British didn't destroy any of George's property. Lund probably thought he deserved at least a pat on the back, but instead George gave him a kick in the pants. Or as George wrote:

That which gives me most concern is that you should go on board the enemys Vessels [George also had trouble with apostrphes], and furnish them with refreshments. It would have been a less painful circumstance to me, to have heard, that in consequence of your non-compliance with their request, they had burnt my House, and laid the Plantation in ruins.

So Lund saves Mount Vernon by giving the British some pigs and chickens and a few bottles of wine. Then George goes and says he would have preferred to have Mount Vernon burned down. Yeah, right, George. So one can imagine Lund feeling a bit chagrined and thinking that his distant cousin was being something of, well, being something of a hard ass.


George was "concerned" when he found Lund had given "refreshments" to the British and wrote that he would rather the British had burned Mount Vernon down. Yeah, right, George.

The truth is, though, that George covered his hard ass pretty well, and it's very easy to go through his correspondence and find passages that would argue for the opposite. Just because he sometimes got peeved at relatives, kids, his soldiers, and his farm managers doesn't really make him a hard ass, does it? And at the end of the war he did write Lund a very nice letter maintaining that he had always had the utmost confidence in him.

But there's one place where George's hard assedness is pretty indisputable. And that's when he dealt with his slaves. Then George could REALLY be a hard ass.

Wait a minute, you might say. Sure, George owned slaves, but you have to take things into account. You should judge George in the context of his own times, not ours. In that case, George was all right.

For instance, George owning slaves wasn't his fault. It was because his folks were rich tidewater planters and he inherited the slaves. And a lot of the slaves at Mount Vernon were not even his. They were Martha's and by Virginia law, George couldn't free them anyway.

And don't forget that George was far more humane than most slave owners. He didn't even like the word slave. He even referred to them just as he did to his white workers. They were laborers. Or they were servants. Or carpenters, joiners, blacksmiths, or seamstresses. When designated by race he would refer to them as Negroes or even the fairly modern "blacks". And George, ever paternalistic sometimes called them his "people".

More importantly, he refused to break up slave families by buying or selling them. This was true even in the later years when most of the slaves were too young or too old to work. Nor did he allow his slaves to be whipped.

And finally, George - alone of all the slaveholding presidents - freed his slaves. So in the end, George was able to rise above his roots and do what was right.


Well, if there's two sides to every argument, there's two sides to every hard ass.

First, when he was young, George really wasn't all that rich. If you're rich, you don't hire on as a surveyor in your late teens. Yes, he became well set up when his brother Lawrence died, and he inherited Mount Vernon. But he REALLY became rich only when he married Martha.

It's also true George may have had an aversion to the "S" word (as did Thomas Jefferson), but you can bet that didn't fool the slaves for a minute. They were slaves and they knew it.

And claiming that George didn't whip slaves is falling back on what a future American president might term a legal accuracy. True, George HIMSELF did not whip his slaves, but he had no objection for others doing so. In notes to his overseers, he would occasionally mention they should whip such and such slaves who misbehaved. True he didn't order corporal punishment routinely or for minor infractions, but saying George did not allow slaves to be whipped just isn't true.

Also George DID buy and sell slaves. In what has to be one of the most cold-blooded documents from any slave holder, George wrote a note that he wanted to sell "a Negro" to the West Indies and use the proceeds to buy a hogshead of molasses, a barrel of limes ("if good & Cheap"), ten pounds of tamarinds (a date-like fruit from Asia and Africa), ten pounds of sweetmeats, and anything that was left over would be used to buy "good old Spirits". Now some people point out this was before the revolution when George had yet to think of liberty for all men, but as late as 1797 and long after he vowed not to buy or sell slaves, he was thinking about buying a new slave to replace one who ran away.

And finally, although he did allow for the freeing of his slaves in his will, that was NOT while Martha was still alive. And it can be easily argued that this wasn't for any reasons of humanity. He simply didn't know what to do with them and the inefficiency of the slave system was sending Mount Vernon into bankruptcy.

But you don't just have to listen to what George said. Plenty of visitors to Mount Vernon left remarks about George and his (ahem) people.

One of the most garrulous was an Englishman named Richard Parkinson. In 1798, he was thinking about leasing part of Mount Vernon from George. But he wasn't all that impressed with what he saw and opted to rent out a farm near Baltimore. Still, he remained on good terms with George, so what he said is particularly noteworthy. In the book about his visit, published a few years later, Parkinson wrote:

Only take General Washington as an example: I have not the least reason to think it was his desire, but the necessity of the case: but it was the sense of all his neighbors that he treated them [the slaves] with more severity than any other man."

This shows two things 1) Richard himself was not particularly enlightened himself regarding the issue of slavery (he was, in fact, quite biased) and 2) George was a hard ass.

But it's from Richard's comments that we can confirm that George had the one characteristic that makes a hard ass really be a hard ass. He just ACTED like a hard ass.

As Richard put it:

The first time I walked with General Washington among his Negroes, when he spoke to them, he amazed me by the utterance of his words. He spoke as differently as if he had been quite another man, or had been in anger.

 George spoke "differently" to his slaves.

What this means is that George was constantly ragging and griping at his slaves and for no good reason. And that means he was a hard ass.

Probably a more concrete example of George being a hard ass, though, comes from his actual treatment of his slaves. When the abolitionist really began to get active in the 1830's (long after George was dead and gone), they told how the slaves were made to labor from sun-up to sundown with virtually no rest. Modern research has shown, though, this wasn't always the case. There were some plantations where the slaves worked in the fields only in the morning and were allowed to work on their own gardens and tend to domestic chores in the afternoon and evening. And Frederick Law Ohmstead, the landscape architect of Central Park, told how during his ante-bellum ramblings, said he met a Mississippi plantation owner who let the slaves decide on their work pace and determine what work was needed that day, and who fed them exactly the same food that he ate.

These more humane plantations weren't the rule by any means, but they did exist. So where did George and Mount Vernon fit in? Surely, you'd think paternalistic, freedom loving George would set up one the easier going establishments for "his people".

Sorry, but by his own admission, George was a sun-up to sundown man. As he himself wrote to one of his overseers:

To request that my people [there's that 'my people' jazz again] may be at their work as soon as it is light - work 'till it is dark - and be diligent while they are at it can hardly be necessary ... the presumption being that, every labourer [George used English spelling] (male or female) does as much in the 24 hours as their strength, without endangering their health, or constitution, will allow of."

And he expected them to be up and WORKING at sun-up, not just getting up at sun-up. If you weren't at the job then, George would let you know it. Or as he put it:

I begin my diurnal course with the Sun; that if my hirelings [hirelings - sure, George] are not in their place at that time, I send them messages expressive of my sorrow for their Indisposition.

So George was not only a hard ass, but also a wise ass.

From what George said about his "diurnal course", apologists point out that George himself also followed the dawn to dusk regime. After all, a twelve hour work day was pretty typical back then for everyone. So George didn't demand of others more than he demand of himself or what was unusual for the average paid laborer or merchant.

Well, true, George's own day may have been dawn to dusk, but it wasn't quite as rigorous as that of his slaves. Or as he said:

By the time I have accomplished these matters [he wrote], breakfast (a little after seven Oclock ...) is ready. This over, I mount my horse and ride round my farms, which employs me until it is time to dress for dinner.

Sounds like a really grueling day doesn't it?

In a lot of ways George comes off as having pretty much the same unenlightened views as your run of the mill Southern plantation owner. In his letters and diaries, George spent a lot of time griping about the work (or lack of) that he got out of "his people". The slaves stole, he complained, they faked sickness, they weren't diligent, they drank his wine (and claimed it was the guests), and dang it, they just goofed off, and just didn't give him the work the thought was due him.

In today's parlance, we'd have to say George just didn't "get it". He couldn't understand why his slaves weren't as enthusiastic about his grand plans for Mount Vernon as he was. As far as he was concerned, putting in new fields, building his new-fangled threshing barn, digging drainage ditches, planting trees, rotating crops, and all the rest were not just ways to generate more income. George was a true pioneer in new agricultural methods and was one of the first planters to recognize the dangers of single-crop (particularly tobacco) agriculture. He knew that his success in making Mount Vernon a showcase plantation would influence future generations of farmers, not only in Virginia, but also in other states as well. But to the slaves, it was all just more work.

George never understood his slaves' lack of enthusiasm.


And just what could they expect when they DID make Mount Vernon one of the premier plantations of the South? Not much if you believed some of the visitors. On a plantation that often produced bumper crops, the slaves didn't even get a balanced diet. As one visitor commented:

He (that is, George) regularly delivered weekly to every working Negro two or three pounds of pork (that's about 4 to 7 ounces a day for WORKERS) and some salt herrings (intended mainly for the non-workers), often badly cured [!], and a small portion of Indian corn."

He also added:

General Washington weighed the food for all his Negroes, young and old, and as he was a man of minute calculations, he probably knew what they cost, to a fraction."


George was a man of minute calculations.

It's no surprise that the slaves themselves complained they weren't getting enough to eat. And George (to his credit) did up their allotment - at least once. But even then George's documented complaint that he had to lock up his smoke house shows that the slaves still didn't think they got enough to eat.

And their houses? If you go visit Mount Vernon, you can stop by and look at the slave quarters. They are, to say the least, rather spartan. But were they actually worse than what the ordinary citizen - who might live in a log cabin - had? How did they compare to what a European peasant had?

Well, if you believe what Polish statesman Julian Niemcewizc, who visited George in 1798, said, you have the answer to THAT.

"They are more miserable than the most miserable of our cottages of our peasants. The husband and wife sleep on a mean pallet, the children on the ground; a very bad fireplace, some utensils for cooking."

And the clothes? They were barely subsistence even by slaveholder standards. Julian said the slaves only got "a jacket and a pair of homespun breeches per year", and George's would be leasee, Richard Parkinson, even added:

"It is said that he never clothed them [the slaves] until they were of a certain age." 

So what do we know about George taking care of "his people"? Well, he gave the active workers a few ounces of pork a day, others some badly cured fish, and everyone got a "small portion" of corn. The men were issued a jacket and pair of pants per year, and George didn't bother giving the youngest kids any clothes at all.

This doesn't sound much like the "enlightened master" of Southern mythology.

But it sure does sound like a hard ass.

It wasn't just the field hands who George treated so miserly. Those who served in the Mount Vernon mansion itself, and who strictly speaking were under the direction of Martha, found George's gluteal region just as refractive.

Martha, by all accounts, was equal to George in managerial skills. She had to be. In any given year, she and George could expect to entertain over 700 visitors, many of whom were complete strangers. A good chunk just popped by unexpectedly. By custom of the time, as long as the visitor presented a credible letter of introduction, George was beholden to put the visitors up for at least a night or two and to wine and dine them as befitting a gentleman's hospitality.

Naturally the people who did the real work for these 700 guests were the house servants, virtually all of whom were slaves. Martha picked these herself, and they handled all the routine domestic chores; the cooking, the sewing, and the cleaning. In all of this she, like George, had specific expectations. But if the expectations weren't met, she was never a hard ass.

Why should she be? She could call in George.

And she did. There was the time that Martha noted that the seamstresses began fall behind in their quota of nine shirts a week. Some were only making six shirts, and one of the girls was making only five. Martha wasn't the one to tell the girls to shape up or they'd be shipped out. George did. Or as he himself wrote:

It is observed, by the Weekly reports, that the Sewers make only Six shirts a week, and the last week Caroline (without being sick) made only five; MRS. WASHINGTON SAYS [emphasis added] their usual task was to make nine with Shoulder straps, and good sewing: TELL THEM THEREFORE FROM ME [emphasis again added], that what has been done, shall be done by fair or foul means; and they had better make choice of the first, for their own reputation, and for the sake of peace and quietness. OTHERWISE THEY WILL BE SENT TO THE SEVERAL PLANTATIONS [again emphasis added], and be placed as common laborers under the Overseers thereat[this is probably meant to be 'there at', but could also have meant 'threat' - sometimes George didn't spell so good]. Their work ought to be well examined, or it will be most shamefully executed, whether little or much of it be done.

Martha was never a hard ass. Why should she be? There was always George.


Working for such a hard ass, it's no surprise that a lot of George's slaves weren't all that happy. And yes, some ran away. Two even did so as late as George's second term as President. Not realizing that the new capital, Philadelphia, was a hotbed of the fledgling abolitionist movement, George and Martha had brought along several of their Mount Vernon slaves.

The best documented case of the runaways was that of Oney Judge. At the time (1796) she was probably just a teenager and was Martha's personal servant and a skilled seamstress. It was probably not the nine-shirt quota that made Oney high-tail it, but the fact she had just learned she was going to be given away as a wedding present to Martha's granddaughter, Elizabeth Custis. Oney would have none of it, and she took off one night and was hidden by some of her Philadelphia friends.

George, ranting and raving that Oney would show such "ingratitude" and who "without the least provocation absconded from her Mistress" [direct quote], was determined to get her back. But he had to be careful. Anti-slavery sentiment was so strong in Philadelphia, George was cautioned that Oney's recapture could literally start riots. So in what was the first instance of a President using government personnel for private use, George asked his Secretary of Treasury, Oliver Wolcott, to discreetly "handle" the matter.

Wolcott turned to the customs inspector in Philadelphia, Joseph Whipple, who was able to track down and talk to Oney. She made what to those of us living hundreds of years later seems an amazing offer. She would return, she said, if George and Martha would make a provision in their wills that she'd be freed when they died. You'd think that both Washingtons could have taken such a generous offer in good grace.

Well, with a hard ass like George you know what the answer was. No soap. As George himself wrote to Inspector Whipple:

To enter into such a compromise with her, as she suggested to you, is totally inadmissible, for reasons that must strike at first view: for however well disposed I might be to a gradual abolition, or even to an entire emancipation of that description of People (if the latter was in itself practicable at this moment) [you sound really generous here, George] it would neither be politic or just to reward unfaithfulness with a premature preference; and thereby discontent beforehand the minds of all her fellow-servants who by their steady attachments are far more deserving than herself of favor [for man with a reputation for taciturnity, George really did seem to like run-on sentences].

Anyway, as far as George was concerned Oney could be a slave for life and that was that. George really showed her, yes, sir. She could just take it or leave it.

She left it, of course. She went to New Hampshire and married a sailor.

This was too much for George. He knew, after all, that the Fugitive Slave Act permitted him to recover his "property" even in states where slavery was illegal (after all, Freedom Loving Hard Ass George signed the bill himself). So he sent his nephew Burnwell Bassett to find Oney and "persuade" her to return. Well, Burnwell did find Oney and she once more said she wouldn't return unless George and Martha accepted her terms.

Oney told Burnwell she wouldn't return unless George accepted her terms.

For a man who was by no means stupid, George could certainly come off as rather dense. He just couldn't let the matter drop. And if he couldn't get Oney back by fair means (to use his terms), he'd try the foul. Nothing happened for a couple of years, until Burnwell went back to New Hampshire on another business trip. There he told his host, Senator John Langdon, he was hoping to have Oney kidnapped. Although the senator seems to have a rather mixed attitude toward slavery, he got word to Oney. She managed to sneak out of town for a couple of weeks and Burnwell went back to Mount Vernon empty handed. George probably would have have kept this sort of stuff up indefinitely, but he had to stop the following year when he died.

It's not too surprising that Oney didn't harbor particularly fond memories of George. Fifty years later she was still trashing her former master, telling a reporter that tales of his piety were hogwash and that he spent his Sundays drinking and playing cards.

Sundays with George

Shortly after Oney took off, another slave decided Life Without George might not be so bad. That was George's favorite cook, a young man named Hercules. And again, George just didn't understand why Hercules didn't want to stick around and be the slave of a hard ass for the rest of his life.

What really galled George was he had pretty much let Hercules run the kitchen as he saw fit. He even said it was OK for Hercules to sell any leftover food and keep the proceeds. So Hercules actually made out pretty well. He cleared about $200 a year - good money in those days and making him one of the best paid slaves in American history.

But as Curt Flood said nearly two hundred years later, a well paid slave is still a slave. The day before they were to return to Mount Vernon, Hercules took off. As with Oney, George tried by hook or crook to get Hercules back. But he never did.

What is particularly noteworthy is that George even at that late date (1797) was willing to break his vow of not buying or selling slaves. When Hercules ran away, he wrote to his nephew George Lewis.

The running off of my Cook, has been a most inconvenient thing to this family; and what renders it more disagreeable, is, that I had resolved never to become the Master of another Slave by purchase; but this resolution I fear I must break."

So if it meant keeping to his principles or getting a good cook, George would go for the good cook every time. (In this case, though, George finally did find a cook-for-hire.)

Your professorial historians will say George had "ambivalent and complex attitudes" toward his slaves, which were a result of his fairly typical seventeenth century prejudices mixed in with his trying to reconcile his own beliefs in liberty for all men. But it's hard to deny that George was first and foremost using his slaves to make a buck. And if to the majority of "his people" he may not have been the worst of the Southern plantation owners, he certainly wasn't the best. So whether George is to be faulted because he owned slaves or praised because he finally freed them, one point remains beyond historical dispute. George Washington was a hard ass.


The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745-1799, 39 Volumes, (Editor: John C. Fitzpatrick). Read what George himself had to say about virtually everything. Although he knew he was writing for posterity, he sometimes let his guard down. Originally published between 1931 and 1944, this edition is still the most accessible and complete collection of George's letters. The greatest advantage is there is an on-line edition edited by Frank Grizzard which is available to anyone free of charge at

 Other, more modern, editions of George's letters are available but they're not yet as complete and you have to pay for them.

George Washington's Expense Account by George Washington and Marvin Kitman (Simon & Schuster, 1970). Marvin found George's expense account in the New York Public library and began a study on George's finances during the Revolutionary War. As everyone knows, George did not accept a salary for serving as commander of the American army, but few know that his yearly "expenses" many times more than his salary as President. This book has the whole manuscript of George's expenses with annotations and comments. Some people have gone into spittle flinging diatribe of how this makes George look like he was ripping off the country (he spent over $6000 in alcoholic beverages in one year), and that people who find the book amusing are anti-American. Shoot, George was just starting the tradition we have today where senators, representatives, and other elected officials get fat expense accounts, cut rate health insurance, and inflation adjusted pensions all at taxpayers expenses while promoting business practices of - quote - "free enterprise" - which means stripping away pensions and health care of low level workers while paying government subsidized megabuck bonuses to executives whose stupidity has run their companies into the ground and still have fat expense accounts, cut rate health insurance, and inflation adjusted pensions.

That said, George's total bill was $449,261.51 which most people say was equivalent to between $4,000,000 and $8,000,000 today. However, that's not a good comparison. In colonial days and early American days, the currency values were much higher. For instance, in 1803 the correction for inflation for 1944 was nil ($1 in 1799 = $1 in 1943). All in all, inflation as we know it didn't start until after World War II.

Mud and Guts: A Look at the Common Soldier of the American Revolution, written and illustrated by Bill Mauldin, Division of Publications, National Park Service, U. S. Dept. Of Interior, 1978. Bill Mauldin, the great WWII cartoonist was as good a writer as he was a cartoonist and any book by Bill will not only have plenty of his drawings, but is well worth reading in its own right. As the title says this booklet is mostly about the common soldier of the American Revolution, but it does talk some about George. Compared to our twentieth century military leaders, Bill found him closest to Douglas MacArthur.

George Washington and Slavery: A Documentary Portrayal, by Fritz Hirschfeld. University of Missouri Press, 1997. Probably the best book so far on George's attitude and dealings with his slaves.

Early American Views on Negro Slavery from the Letters and Papers of the Founders of the Republic by Matthew Mellon. An early edition was printed in 1934 but it was the revised edition in 1969 that made got people interested in how the Founding Fathers viewed slavery. In principle, George's views on race were not really objectionable by modern standards, if you cut him a bit of slack.

Slavery at the Home of George Washington, Editor: Philip J. Schwarz, Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union Library, 2002 A collection of papers by a number of authors. A good book but because of it's nature (multiple authors) it seems a bit fragmented.

An Imperfect God: George Washington, His Slaves, and the Creation of America by Henry Wiencek , Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003. The most recent and accessible book about George and his slaves and the one sold most in the major establishment bookstores. But it was not really used as a source here. Not a bad book, but the book by Fritz Hirschfeld is better.

The internet is becoming increasingly valuable for serious students of history, both to find copies of primary source material and to publish their findings. An excellent article about Oney Judge (including the report of the interview) is at

Other online archives can be found at

American Memory (Library of Congress):

The Library of Congress online WPA slave narratives can be found at

A selection of the WPA slave narratives has been posted by the University of Virginia at

A huge collection of early documents, books, pamphlets, and articles (including works by Thomas Jefferson) are at The Online Books Page (University of Pennsylvania) at

Some of these titles are actually links to other sites and most are in text format so the down load rapidly and take little memory.

The trouble is you never know how long the sites will last.

Also a stop at Mount Vernon is always worth the time. You can pick up a lot of tidbits about George from the guides and rangers.