9 Things You Should Know About George Washington (and his Birthday)

Today in the United States is the federal holiday known as Washington’s Birthday (not “Presidents Day—see item #1). In honor of George Washington’s birthday, here are 9 things you should know about America’s foremost founding father.

1. Although some state and local governments and private businesses often refer to today as President’s Day, the legal public holiday is designated as “Washington’s Birthday” in section 6103(a) of title 5 of the United States Code. The observance of Washington’s birthday was made official in 1885 when President Chester A. Arthur signed a bill establishing it as a federal holiday.*

2. Washington was actually born on February 11, 1732, under the Julian calendar in effect at the time he was born. But his birthday is considered to be February 22 under the Gregorian calendar which was adopted throughout the British Empire in 1752.

3. Although Washington wore false teeth, they were not made out of wood. One set of teeth created by his dentist, included a cow’s tooth, one of Washington’s teeth, hippopotamus ivory, metal, and springs.

4. Washington also never wore a wig, chopped down a cherry tree, or threw a silver dollar across the Potomac River (which is over a mile wide).

5. Although his religious beliefs are still a topic of heated debate, evidence of Washington’s religious life would warrant calling him a “deistic Christian.” Although he was raised in the Anglican Church and frequently attended services, Washington was never confirmed and consistently refused to take Holy Communion. He often used deistic language in reference to God and never used the terms “Jesus” or “Christ” in his correspondence or public communications. (The most famous reference came in a 1779 letter to a delegation of Indians, but the letter was in the handwriting of an aide and most historians argue that the letter was written by the aide rather than Washington.)

6. Washington operated the largest liquor distillery in the country during the 18th century. In 1799, Washington’s distillery produced almost 11,000 gallons of whiskey, valued at $7,500 (approximately $120,000 today). The average Virginia distillery produced about 650 gallons of whiskey per year which was valued at about $460.

7. During the French and Indian War, Washington had two horses shot out from beneath him and found four bullet holes in his coat. However, despite many close calls he was never injured in any of the military actions he served in.

8. Washington was the only founding father to free his slaves. In his will he freed all 124 of his slaves and left enough money in his estate to care for all of them for decades after his death.

9. Washington was the only president who never lived in the White House, never lived in Washington, D.C., and never represented a political party.

* Some sources—including Wikipedia and the U.S. Mint—incorrectly claim that President Nixon changed the name of the holiday to “Presidents Day” to honor all past presidents. While Nixon did issue an executive order making the third Monday in February a public holiday, the claim that he changed the name of the observance is a modern myth.

  • http://thinkingwithareformedmind.blogspot.com Steven Mitchell

    This whole business about the Potomac being a mile wide seems to get a lot of play in the debunking of the silver-dollar myth.

    Much of present-day shoreline southwest of the Mall is indeed drained swamp, with the Potomac originally being much wider there. But there are plenty of places in the DC area where the Potomac is, and always has been, far less than a mile wide. The Francis Scott Key Bridge, for example, has but a 0.2mi span. Likewise, where I-68 currently crosses (Roosevelt Island) the River is only 0.5mi across. Not that it makes the myth any more plausible, but it’s shocking how often the mile-wide canard gets repeated.

  • James


    To number 4- The original story is not that Washington threw a dollar across the Potomac, but the RAPPAHANNOCK River near Ferry Farm. There are many sources confirming his athletic ability, including his strong throwing arm. Though the imaginable story of throwing the silver dollar (or a stone in one case) from Mason Weems and others seems dubious due to the source, throwing a stone across this river in many places is entirely plausible by someone with a very good arm.

    To number 5, I recommend reading “George Washington’s Sacred Fire” by Peter Lillback.

    Washington was far from perfect, though I contend that he was a far greater man, soldier, and president than most give him credit for. Thanks for your bi-partial posts on the “great men!”

    • danny


      I do not believe that Lillback’s book disproves the very substantiated claim of #5 on this list. The book is really just a lot of special pleading. I’ve read a lot on this issue, and Carter’s phrase – “Deistic Christian” (essentially meaning non-Christian) holds true to the evidence.

      • Shawn Keating

        This deistic accusation is maddening and should not be popularized by Christians or scholars. Deism is a system of belief that says God does not intervene in the affairs of man. Washington countless times referred to the role that Providence (God’s intervention) played in his life and the affairs of the nation. He had issues with Anglican communion during and after the Revolution because of its ties to George III as head of the Church of England. Washington knew himself to not be in communion with King George, and could not of good conscience partake. He did partake in Presbyterian communion, as recorded by several pastors who hosted him. He was an active vestryman in the Episcopal church, which he could hardly be if he was not confirmed or allied to their doctrine as recited in their creeds. He was not a pretender or one to go along to get along religiously. His use of titles for God is a manner of expressing respect and not abusing the Name. So a deist who professes belief in God’s providence is a contradiction at its most basic level.

  • Charles Thompson

    He also wasn’t a zombie, and he never fought any vampires…

  • Ann Christine

    To number 9 -As a child, I remember celebrating Lincoln’s birthday on February 12th and Washington’s on February 22 ( or maybe on the two Mondays closest). I remember that they were just too close together and “they” decided to combine the two and have one holiday on the Monday in between them – now called Presidents’ Day.

  • Tony

    I second the recommendation of Peter Lillback’s George Washington’s Sacred Fire. It puts to rest a lot of the debates surrounding Washington’s faith, and shows him to be exactly what he was: an 18th century Virginia Anglican. Not an evangelical, but not a Deist either.

    • Joe Carter

      With all due respect to Dr. Lillback, his book failed to convince Washington scholars that the father of our country was an orthodox Christian. Part of the reason, I suspect, is that Lillback fails to understand deism. The classic five points of deism are:

      1. There is a God.
      2. He ought to be worshiped.
      3. Virtue is the principle element in this worship.
      4. Humans should repent of their sins.
      5. There is life after death, where the evil will be punished and the good rewarded.

      There is evidence that Washington would have likely agreed with all five tenets. But there is scant evidence that he agreed with many essential Christian doctrine, such as the resurrection, incarnation, or Trinity. Lillback’s primary argument is simply that Washington was a member of an Anglican church. But even there Washington was not a typical Anglican. Typical Anglicans took communion. As Washington’s own minister, Rev. James Abercrombie, said, “I cannot consider any man as a real Christian who uniformly disregards an ordinance so solemnly enjoined by the divine Author of our holy religion, and considered as a channel of divine grace.” Many deists and unitarians who attended orthodox services at that time refused to take communion because they did not believe in the Atonement. (Indeed, Abercrombie also claimed that Washington was a deist.)

      Lillback’s argument that Washington was an orthodox Christian is simply not persuasive. At best, Washington could be classified as a unitarian. But the claim that Washington was a Trinitarian believers is based more on revisionist propaganda than the historical record.

      • Tony

        You are arguing that Dr. Lillback, president of Westminster Theological Seminary, is unaware of Deism? Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Southern Seminary, interviewed Dr. Lillback about his book. In it, Dr. Mohler agreed with Dr. Lillback’s conclusions. Do you think Dr. Mohler is unaware of Deism?

        It is a stretch to argue that Washington (or Franklin or Jefferson) were true classic Deists for two reasons: they believed in prayer (and yes, that God does answer prayer) and that God does act providentially in his creation. No true deists believes that. I am not arguing that they were Christians by any stretch of the word (contra Barton on Jefferson). I am arguing that they were not Deists (regardless if Franklin or Jefferson used that term to describe themselves) and that Washington was a Christian. Washington held to every one of the articles of the Anglican Church which is Trinitarian. Again, Dr. Lillback covers all of this in his book. This is historical record, but you have to move passed the propaganda of the last 100 years worth of liberal historical “scholarship” and read Washington’s own words for themselves.

      • http://www.bibleversusconstitution.org/ Ted R. Weiland

        Washington and bulk of the other constitutional framers and founders were neither Deists in the purest sense of the word, nor were they Christians in the Biblical sense of the word. For a balanced approach to these men and their religious beliefs, see Dr. Albert Mohler’s recent interview with Dr. Gregg Frazer on Dr. Mohler’s website.

        Dr. Mohler is President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Dr. Frazer is Professor of History at the Master’s College in California.

        • Trent

          You need to read more on the forgotten founding fathers with all due respect.

          • David

            I agree with you Trent!
            Also here is a link to a much better article on George Washington:

            Here is sample from it:
            In Volume XII of these writings, Jared Sparks delved into the religious character of George Washington, and included numerous letters written by the friends, associates, and family of Washington which testified of his religious character. Based on that extensive evidence, Sparks concluded:
            To say that he [George Washington] was not a Christian would be to impeach his sincerity and honesty. Of all men in the world, Washington was certainly the last whom any one would charge with dissimulation or indirectness [hypocrisies and evasiveness]; and if he was so scrupulous in avoiding even a shadow of these faults in every known act of his life, [regardless of] however unimportant, is it likely, is it credible, that in a matter of the highest and most serious importance [his religious faith, that] he should practice through a long series of years a deliberate deception upon his friends and the public? It is neither credible nor possible.

  • Brian Vawter

    President George Washington also resigned from office willingly against the wishes of most people at that time.

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  • Elizabeth

    Mr. Carter, I just want to let you know that I appreciate your “9 Things You Should Know About…” series. They are interesting and it is fun to examine them against other sources. Thank you for giving us something to consider.

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  • Artie C

    Washington did,however, throw a silver dollar across the RAPPAHANNOCK River at his farm outside Fredericksburg, Virginia. The river there is only 50 yards or so wide. The location is called Ferry Farm because there was a ferry across the river from the Washington farm to the city. The City Dock now stands at the location of the old Ferry on the city side of the river. Where this nonsense about Washington throwing a coin across the Potomac came from, I have no idea.
    We were also taught in school the cherry tree incident was true. It also took place at Ferry Farm. Of course, it seems everything I was taught in my life has been a lie or a myth anyhow.

  • Dan

    In regards to your point about Washington’s deistic beliefs Mr. Carter, what did you make of the evidence presented in Peter Lillback’s book Sacred Fire that supported Christian theism?

  • Chuck

    Concerning number 9—Washington never lived in *the* White House, the one in Washington DC, but he did live at Whitehouse Plantation (which no longer exists) in Virginia. It was Martha’s dower estate, having belonged to her first husband.