Photo: Edwin White / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

13 Small But Poignant Facts We Just Learned About George Washington

Voting Rules
Vote up the facts and stories that humanize the larger-than-life figure.

As a leader of the American Revolutionary War and first president of the United States of America, George Washington looms larger than life. But interesting facts about George Washington and tiny details about his life reveal the human side of this titan of American history.

Born on February 22, 1732, in colonial Virginia, George Washington's childhood didn't necessarily foretell his future fame. He fought in the French and Indian War as a young man, an experience that he would brilliantly call upon decades later in the American Revolution.

By the time he became president in 1789, Washington had already become one of the wealthiest men in the country. His marriage to Martha Custis in 1759 brought him happiness and riches in equal measure. But it came at a cost - hundreds of enslaved workers at Mount Vernon enabled their lifestyle.

When George Washington passed on December 14, 1799, he had helped transform America from a collection of colonies into a new nation.

The private, everyday things about George Washington on this list transform the venerated Founding Father into who he really was: a flawed human who struggled with his own challenges, took up his own interests, and lived an imperfect life.

Photo: Edwin White / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

  • 1
    186 VOTES

    He Was A Devoted Father To His Stepchildren, Grandchildren, And Wards

    George Washington never fathered his own children. Martha Custis had children from her first marriage, and it is likely that Washington was rendered sterile from sickness

    Washington raised and loved his wife's surviving children - John and Patsy - as if they were his biological children. He also helped raise his stepgrandchildren, nieces, and nephews.

    Though he was a disciplinarian, Washington tried to guide his young charges on matters of the heart as well.  

    186 votes
  • 2
    317 VOTES

    He Loved Dogs So Much That He Once Called For A Ceasefire To Return His Enemy's Terrier

    George Washington delighted in dogs. As a hunter, he kept a well-stocked kennel of hounds at Mount Vernon, and he's often credited with helping develop the American foxhound breed. Like many dog owners, Washington gave his dogs unique names like Tipsy and Truelove.

    Washington's love of dogs even guided his conduct on the battlefield. While leading troops at the Battle of Germantown in 1777, some soldiers picked up a lost terrier. Its collar indicated it belonged to General William Howe, head of British troops. Washington groomed the dog, called for a suspension of hostilities, and returned the terrier with a note to Howe:

    General Washington's compliments to General Howe. General Washington does himself the pleasure to return to him a dog, which accidentally fell into his hands, and, by the inscription on the collar, appears to belong to General Howe.

    317 votes
  • 3
    158 VOTES

    The Brother He 'Idolized' Passed Prematurely

    George Washington had three older half-siblings from his father's first marriage: Lawrence, Augustine, and Jane. 

    George was especially close to Lawrence, whom he "idolized." Given the age difference - Lawrence was 16 years older than George - and the fact that their father passed in 1743, Lawrence became a father figure to his younger brother.

    When Lawrence came down with what was probably tuberculosis, George accompanied his brother to Barbados for what they hoped was better air in 1751. It didn't work. Lawrence succumbed to his ailments the next year.

    Lawrence's passing was one of the tragedies of George's young life.

    158 votes
  • As A Boy, He Was So Committed To Becoming A Gentleman That He Copied Out 110 Rules Of Etiquette
    Photo: Charles Willson Peale / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    128 VOTES

    As A Boy, He Was So Committed To Becoming A Gentleman That He Copied Out 110 Rules Of Etiquette

    Though born to a wealthy family, George Washington likely didn't get a formal education. His hopes of going to England for school were dashed when his father passed when Washington was 11. His schooling probably stopped when he was 15. But that didn't mean that he stopped educating himself.

    Part of his self-education meant refining his manners so that he could embody gentlemanly virtues. To do this, the young Washington actually memorized manners by copying out 110 rules from an etiquette book dictating how to behave.

    128 votes
  • He Opted To Lead The New Nation Without A Salary
    Photo: Gilbert Stuart / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
    122 VOTES

    He Opted To Lead The New Nation Without A Salary

    Admirers claimed George Washington embodied civic virtue when he declined a salary as the first president of the United States. 

    But rather than an act of patriotic benevolence, Washington's move was a smart one. He only asked that, in place of a salary, Congress pay for his expenses incurred in office. He ended up spending $25,000, which is what he would have received in the form of a salary. 

    122 votes
  • 6
    156 VOTES

    He Had Been Unlucky In Love Before He Met His Future Wife

    A 26-year-old George Washington married 27-year-old Martha Custis, a wealthy widow, in 1759. But though their marriage was happy and loving, Custis wasn't his only love.

    Washington proposed to Custis after no less than three other women - Frances Alexander, Betsy Fauntleroy, and Mary Eliza Philipse - had rejected his proposals of marriage.

    Before he became attached to Custis, Washington's greatest love was Sally Fairfax. Though he found happiness with his wife, Washington could never shake what he had felt for Fairfax in his youth. In 1798, he wrote her a letter claiming he could never "eradicate from my mind the recollection of those happy moments, the happiest in my life, which I have enjoyed in your company."

    156 votes