On page 124 of his book, Hirschfeld published a post-war letter from Washington to Marquis de Lafayette, a Frenchman of African ethnicity, who had served the general very well in the Revolutionary War (the French were allies of the Americans against the British). Lafayette had written to Washington on February 5, 1783, congratulating the general on winning the war. Lafayette referred to Washington as “my dear General, my father, my best friend who I love with an affection and respect” (Hirschfeld, p. 123). Clearly, Washington learned a lot about the black man during the war — and had earned respect therein. Lafayette added that it would be a good idea now that the war was over to “free the Negroes.” Washington responded in April 5, 1783, saying he would be “happy to join you in so laudable a work” (Hirschfeld, p. 124).
Washington and Illness: Dr. Michael L. Cheatham writes in the journal the American Surgeon that in the years after Washington left the British military — and prior to leading the Continental army — he suffered “recurrent episodes of malaria, dysentery, and tuberculosis” (Cheatham, 2008, p. 770). Amazingly during the six years of the Revolutionary War, despite poor conditions, Washington enjoyed reasonably good health. That is all the more remarkable considering that there was a smallpox epidemic among his troops in 1779, Cheatham explains (p. 771). In fact, General Washington ordered all his troops inoculated against smallpox that was “perhaps the first mass inoculation in America,” Cheatham asserts (p. 771). While Washington served his two terms as president he endured “bouts of influenza, pneumonia, recurrent malaria, and an abscess of the thigh that required surgical drainage,” Cheatham explains on page 771.
He died on December 14, 1799 at the age of 67; the exact cause of his passing remains controversial to this day. Cheatham writes that Washington developed “fulmiant acute epiglottis,” due to a horse ride in the sleet and snow and his subsequent failure to remove his wet and cold clothing for many hours after returning to his house at Mount Vernon (p.770).
Conclusion: There are many important facets of George Washingtons service to his country that are not well-known. Too often a child will say that he or she knows about George Washington because of the story of chopping down a cherry tree and refusing to lie to his dad. But the real story of the nations first president should be more along the lines of pointing out his remarkable leadership as General — overcoming British forces that far outnumbered his — and his classy patriotism as the president of the new nation. Todays elected officials could learn a lot from Washington about the art of fairness, eschewing cronyism, and listening to all sides.
Cheatham, Michael L. “The Death of George Washington: An End to the Controversy?” the
American Surgeon. Vol. 74. (2008): 770-774.
Countryman, Edward. “Getting to Know George Washington.” Southwest Review Vol. 94, No. 2