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Biography of George Washington: 7 Disputed Facts About First President's Life

By    |   Friday, 02 Jan 2015 09:07 PM

The life of George Washington has inspired numerous myths and legends. Biographies have debunked some of the most iconic tales, while other facts remain inconclusive. From chopping down trees to religious leanings, here are seven of the most disputed facts about the first president’s life.

1. Washington did not chop down his father’s cherry tree at the age of 6. This story — and the famous quote “I cannont tell a lie” — was told for generations to illustrate his honesty. The History Channel says the anecdote was created by Parson Weems, who published it in the fifth edition of his book “Life of George Washington the Great” years after the president’s death.

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2. Likewise, Washington did not throw a silver dollar across the Potomac River as a young man. It’s another enduring myth used to show his considerable physical strength. Not only is the Potomac River about a mile wide, but the first United States silver dollar wasn’t minted until five years before Washington's death.

However, there may be a related story that led to this legend. According to the nonprofit that owns his Mount Vernon estate, Washington once threw a piece of slate across the much narrower Rappahannock River.

3. Washington did not wear wooden dentures. Historian Richard Norton Smith said our founding father had one tooth left by the time of his inauguration but his dentures were carved from hippopotamus tusk. He also wore sets of dentures made from a variety of materials, such as gold, ivory and lead.

4. Although he’s often described as having aristocratic roots, Washington’s upbringing was somewhat simple. The family did own slaves and several plantations, but the 2008 discovery of remnants at Ferry Farm by archaeologists showed that Washington’s boyhood home was “modest by the standards of the time,” CNN reported. As a child, George worked in the fields, learning how to grow wheat, corn, and tobacco.

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5. It’s unlikely that Washington grew and smoked cannabis, as advocates of legalized marijuana assert. He grew hemp for industrial purposes such as paper production. An article in the National Constitution Center’s blog says UK researches found that the word marijuana (or marihuana) appeared in the late 1890s and the word referred then to hemp, which was commonly used at the time to make rope, canvas, cloth, and pulp for paper.

6. The phrase “so help me God” at the end of a presidential oath may not have originated with the first president. Historians have found no evidence that he uttered the phrase — which is not required by law — at his inauguration. History professor and author Peter R. Henriques wrote for History News Network that “such [a] claim is almost certainly false” and has no contemporary evidence.

7. One of the most disputed facts about the first president’s life is his religious inclination. The story about his prayer in the snow at Valley Forge is another Weems fable, historian and University of Virginia professor Edward Lengel told NPR. Biographers and historians disagree whether Washington prayed, participated in Communion, or was a deist.

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The life of George Washington has inspired numerous myths and legends. Biographies have debunked some of the most iconic tales, while other facts remain inconclusive. From chopping down trees to religious leanings, here are seven of the most disputed facts about the first president’s life.
biography, george washington, disputed, facts
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2015-07-02
Friday, 02 Jan 2015 09:07 PM
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