In George Washington’s era, a lock of hair was an ultimate keepsake. Washington’s hair seems to be in a lot of places, even three Topps baseball trading card packs! Recently, it was found in a 1793 book that belonged to Phillip Schuyler, Alexander Hamilton’s father-in-law. Even more recently, in a Leland’s auction, 5.31-inch locks of his hair were attached to a March 20, 1871 letter from Secretary of State, James Alexander Hamilton (Alexander Hamilton’s third son) to Eleanor G. Collins, in “respect and regard.” The locks were given to James by his mother, Eliza Schuyler Hamilton. The starting bid was $2,500, and the locks fetched $35,763.60 when the auction was completed.
In 1754, after the Battle of the Great Meadows in the French & Indian War, a 22-year-old George Washington wrote to his younger brother John Augustine a letter and added this quote at the end:
“I fortunately escaped without a wound, tho’ the right Wing where I stood was exposed to & received all the Enemy’s fire and was the part where the man was killed & the rest wounded. I can with truth assure you, I heard Bulletts whistle and believe me there was something charming in the sound.”
Alexander Hamilton, aide-de-camp to George Washington, met up with the eligible Elizabeth Schuyler in Morristown, NJ in 1780 in the midst of the turbulent Revolutionary War. Hamilton’s love affliction and impatience with their separation manifests itself in this very personal August 8, 1780 letter. He would go on to marry her on December 14, 1780 in Albany.
Immediately after dinner, I stole from a crowd of company to a solitary walk to be at leisure to think of you, and I have just returned to tell you by an express this moment going off that I have been doing so. You are certainly a little sorceress and have bewitched me, for you have made me disrelish every thing that used to please me, and have rendered me as restless and unsatisfied with all about me, as if I was the inhabitant of another world, and had nothing in common with this. I must in spite of myself become an inconstant to detach myself from you, for as it now stands I love you more than I ought—more than is consistent with my peace. A new mistress is supposed to be the best cure for an excessive attachment to an old— if I was convinced of the success of the scheme, I would be tempted to try it— for though it is the pride of my heart to love you it is the torment of it to love you so much, separated as we now are. But I am afraid, I should only go in quest of disquiet, that would make me return to you with redoubled tenderness. You gain by every comparison I make and the more I contrast you with others the more amiable you appear. But why do you not write to me oftener? It is again an age since I have heard from you. I write you at least three letters for your one, though I am immersed in public business and you have nothing to do but to think of me. When I come to Albany, I shall find means to take satisfaction for your neglect. You recollect the mode I threatened to punish you in for all your delinquencies.
I wrote you a long letter by your father. I suppose you will wait his return before you write. If you do I shall chide you severely and if you do not write me a very long and fond one by him, I shall not forgive you at all. I have written you a short letter since that. We are now at Dobbes ferry.
I would go on but the General summons me to ride.
Adieu My Dear lovely amiable girl. Heaven preserve you and shower its choicest blessings upon you. Love me I conjure you.
Featured painting of Elizabeth Schulyer Hamilton by Ralph Earl, 1787
In this excerpt from his George Washington’s Farewell Address of 1796 (co-written with the assistance of Alexander Hamilton), we can not take for granted that once again, after resigning his military commission after the American Revolution in 1783, after his second term as president, with the greatest of humility and grace, once again retires to civilian life allowing for a transfer of power.
He pays tribute to his fellow Americans for their constancy of support despite the often discouraging situations and prays for their continued “union and brotherly affection” to each other and hopes that the “sacred” Constitution, ultimately a product of the people, is sustained and preserved and looked upon as a shining example for every other nation.
The impressions with which I first undertook the arduous trust were explained on the proper occasion. In the discharge of this trust, I will only say that I have, with good intentions, contributed towards the organization and administration of the government the best exertions of which a very fallible judgment was capable. Not unconscious in the outset of the inferiority of my qualifications, experience in my own eyes, perhaps still more in the eyes of others, has strengthened the motives to diffidence of myself; and every day the increasing weight of years admonishes me more and more that the shade of retirement is as necessary to me as it will be welcome. Satisfied that if any circumstances have given peculiar value to my services, they were temporary, I have the consolation to believe that, while choice and prudence invite me to quit the political scene, patriotism does not forbid it.
In looking forward to the moment which is intended to terminate the career of my public life, my feelings do not permit me to suspend the deep acknowledgment of that debt of gratitude which I owe to my beloved country for the many honors it has conferred upon me; still more for the steadfast confidence with which it has supported me; and for the opportunities I have thence enjoyed of manifesting my inviolable attachment, by services faithful and persevering, though in usefulness unequal to my zeal. If benefits have resulted to our country from these services, let it always be remembered to your praise, and as an instructive example in our annals, that under circumstances in which the passions, agitated in every direction, were liable to mislead, amidst appearances sometimes dubious, vicissitudes of fortune often discouraging, in situations in which not unfrequently want of success has countenanced the spirit of criticism, the constancy of your support was the essential prop of the efforts, and a guarantee of the plans by which they were effected. Profoundly penetrated with this idea, I shall carry it with me to my grave, as a strong incitement to unceasing vows that heaven may continue to you the choicest tokens of its beneficence; that your union and brotherly affection may be perpetual; that the free Constitution, which is the work of your hands, may be sacredly maintained; that its administration in every department may be stamped with wisdom and virtue; that, in fine, the happiness of the people of these States, under the auspices of liberty, may be made complete by so careful a preservation and so prudent a use of this blessing as will acquire to them the glory of recommending it to the applause, the affection, and adoption of every nation which is yet a stranger to it.
After George Washington decided not to pursue a third term, he began writing his farewell address to the American people. With a text mostly by Alexander Hamilton, using Washington’s own thoughts, the Address was published in 1796. In this quote, he declares that the peoples’ differences are not as great as their similarities and ultimately these similarities are what binds them as Americans.
Citizens, by birth or choice, of a common country, that country has a right to concentrate your affections. The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles. You have in a common cause fought and triumphed together; the independence and liberty you possess are the work of joint counsels, and joint efforts of common dangers, sufferings, and successes.
Who is the real George Washington? What did he look like? Here is a contemporary bust of the man himself taken from life by French portrait sculptor Jean-Antoine Houdon in 1786 at Mount Vernon (in-between the end of the Revolutionary War and his first inauguration in New York). Houdon and three assistants spent three weeks in Virginia creating the mold of Washington’s face. The photograph is of a 19th Century Terra Cotta copy of the bust that you can see at Fraunces Tavern Museum in New York City, one of the buildings that we see on the Washington & Hamilton in New York City tour!
Contrary to very popular belief, while George Washington had false teeth and eventually dentures, none of his teeth were made of wood. His dentures were made of lead and filled with “teeth” comprised of human teeth (including those purchased from slaves and some of his own teeth), ivory and bone that were retained by gold wire. His first tooth was extracted when he was 24 and by the time of his inauguration he had only tooth in his gums. Apparently he was self conscious about his dental problems and that made him less willing to speak.
Not exactly something that makes you want to smile.
You’ve seen the enormous 1851 painting by Emanuel Leutze at least in an art book if not the real thing currently at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City…but have you been to the site where the crossing actually occurred?
In 1776, Washington was known for crossing rivers. First it was the East River in New York in August 1776 escaping the British undetected with about 9000 people (which you’ll learn about on the walking tour) and then it was December on the Delaware River with about 2400 people, the prelude to a march to New Jersey the night before the Battle of Trenton. Although Washington crossed the Delaware on Christmas Night 1776, the summer is a great time to visit Washington Crossing Historic Park in Pennsylvania. There’s a visitor’s center, a historic village and a monument, but most importantly you can contemplate the daring maneuver at a very low point for Washington and his army at the beginning of the Revolutionary War.