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26 June, 2013
The True George Washington
II. PHYSIQUE
by Ford, Paul Leicester


Writing to his London tailor for clothes, in 1763, Washington directed him to "take measure of a gentleman who wares well-made cloaths of the following size: to wit, 6 feet high and proportionably made--if anything rather slender than thick, for a person of that highth, with pretty long arms and thighs. You will take care to make the breeches longer than those you sent me last, and I would have you keep the measure of the cloaths you now make, by you, and if any alteration is required in my next it shall be pointed out." About this time, too, he ordered "6 pr. Man's riding Gloves--rather large than the middle size,"... and several dozen pairs of stockings, "to be long, and tolerably large."

The earliest known description of Washington was written in 1760 by his companion-in-arms and friend George Mercer, who attempted a "portraiture" in the following words: "He may be described as being as straight as an Indian, measuring six feet two inches in his stockings, and weighing 175 pounds when he took his seat in the House of Burgesses in 1759. His frame is padded with well-developed muscles, indicating great strength. His bones and joints are large, as are his feet and hands. He is wide shouldered, but has not a deep or round chest; is neat waisted, but is broad across the hips, and has rather long legs and arms. His head is well shaped though not large, but is gracefully poised on a superb neck. A large and straight rather than prominent nose; blue-gray penetrating eyes, which are widely separated and overhung by a heavy brow. His face is long rather than broad, with high round cheek bones, and terminates in a good firm chin. He has a clear though rather a colorless pale skin, which burns with the sun. A pleasing, benevolent, though a commanding countenance, dark brown hair, which he wears in a cue. His mouth is large and generally firmly closed, but which from time to time discloses some defective teeth. His features are regular and placid, with all the muscles of his face under perfect control, though flexible and expressive of deep feeling when moved by emotion. In conversation he looks you full in the face, is deliberate, deferential and engaging. His voice is agreeable rather than strong. His demeanor at all times composed and dignified. His movements and gestures are graceful, his walk majestic, and he is a splendid horseman."

Dr. James Thacher, writing in 1778, depicted him as "remarkably tall, full six feet, erect and well proportioned. The strength and proportion of his joints and muscles, appear to be commensurate with the pre-eminent powers of his mind. The serenity of his countenance, and majestic gracefulness of his deportment, impart a strong impression of that dignity and grandeur, which are his peculiar characteristics, and no one can stand in his presence without feeling the ascendancy of his mind, and associating with his countenance the idea of wisdom, philanthropy, magnanimity and patriotism. There is a fine symmetry in the features of his face, indicative of a benign and dignified spirit. His nose is straight, and his eye inclined to blue. He wears his hair in a becoming cue, and from his forehead it is turned back and powdered in a manner which adds to the military air of his appearance. He displays a native gravity, but devoid of all appearance of ostentation." In this same year a friend wrote, "General Washington is now in the forty-seventh year of his age; he is a well-made man, rather large boned, and has a tolerably genteel address; his features are manly and bold, his eyes of a bluish cast and very lively; his hair a deep brown, his face rather long and marked with the small-pox; his complexion sunburnt and without much color, and his countenance sensible, composed and thoughtful; there is a remarkable air of dignity about him, with a striking degree of gracefulness."

In 1789 Senator Maclay saw "him as he really is. In stature about six feet, with an unexceptionable make, but lax appearance. His frame would seem to want filling up. His motions rather slow than lively, though he showed no signs of having suffered by gout or rheumatism. His complexion pale, nay, almost cadaverous. His voice hollow and indistinct, owing, as I believe, to artificial teeth before his upper jaw, which occasions a flatness."

From frequent opportunity of seeing Washington between 1794 and 1797, William Sullivan described him as "over six feet in stature; of strong, bony, muscular frame, without fullness of covering, well-formed and straight. He was a man of most extraordinary strength. In his own house, his action was calm, deliberate, and dignified, without pretension to gracefulness, or peculiar manner, but merely natural, and such as one would think it should be in such a man. When walking in the street, his movement had not the soldierly air which might be expected. His habitual motions had been formed, long before he took command of the American Armies, in the wars of the interior and in the surveying of wilderness lands, employments in which grace and elegance were not likely to be acquired. At the age of sixty-five, time had done nothing towards bending him out of his natural erectness. His deportment was invariably grave; it was sobriety that stopped short of sadness."

The French officers and travellers supply other descriptions. The Abbé Robin found him of "tall and noble stature, well proportioned, a fine, cheerful, open countenance, a simple and modest carriage; and his whole mien has something in it that interests the French, the Americans, and even enemies themselves in his favor."

The Marquis de Chastellux wrote enthusiastically, "In speaking of this perfect whole of which General Washington furnishes the idea, I have not excluded exterior form. His stature is noble and lofty, he is well made, and exactly proportionate; his physiognomy mild and agreeable, but such as to render it impossible to speak particularly of any of his features, so that in quitting him you have only the recollection of a fine face. He has neither a grave nor a familiar face, his brow is sometimes marked with thought, but never with inquietude; in inspiring respect he inspires confidence, and his smile is always the smile of benevolence."

To this description, however, Brissot de Warville took exception, and supplied his own picture by writing in 1791, "You have often heard me blame M. Chastellux for putting too much sprightliness in the character he has drawn of this general. To give pretensions to the portrait of a man who has none is truly absurd. The General's goodness appears in his looks. They have nothing of that brilliancy which his officers found in them when he was at the head of his army; but in conversation they become animated. He has no characteristic traits in his figure, and this has rendered it always so difficult to describe it: there are few portraits which resemble him. All his answers are pertinent; he shows the utmost reserve, and is very diffident; but, at the same time, he is firm and unchangeable in whatever he undertakes. His modesty must be very astonishing, especially to a Frenchman."

British travellers have left a number of pen-portraits. An anonymous writer in 1790 declared that in meeting him "it was not necessary to announce his name, for his peculiar appearance, his firm forehead, Roman nose, and a projection of the lower jaw, his height and figure, could not be mistaken by any one who had seen a full-length picture of him, and yet no picture accurately resembled him in the minute traits of his person. His features, however, were so marked by prominent characteristics, which appear in all likenesses of him, that a stranger could not be mistaken in the man; he was remarkably dignified in his manners, and had an air of benignity over his features which his visitant did not expect, being rather prepared for sternness of countenance.... his smile was extraordinarily attractive. It was observed to me that there was an expression in Washington's face that no painter had succeeded in taking. It struck me no man could be better formed for command. A stature of six feet, a robust, but well-proportioned frame, calculated to sustain fatigue, without that heaviness which generally attends great muscular strength, and abates active exertion, displayed bodily power of no mean standard. A light eye and full--the very eye of genius and reflection rather than of blind passionate impulse. His nose appeared thick, and though it befitted his other features, was too coarsely and strongly formed to be the handsomest of its class. His mouth was like no other that I ever saw; the lips firm and the under jaw seeming to grasp the upper with force, as if its muscles were in full action when he sat still."

Two years later, an English diplomat wrote of him, "His person is tall and sufficiently graceful; his face well formed, his complexion rather pale, with a mild philosophic gravity in the expression of it In his air and manner he displays much natural dignity; in his address he is cold, reserved, and even phlegmatic, though without the least appearance of haughtiness or ill-nature; it is the effect, I imagine, of constitutional diffidence. That caution and circumspection which form so striking and well known a feature in his military, and, indeed, in his political character, is very strongly marked in his countenance, for his eyes retire inward (do you understand me?) and have nothing of fire of animation or openness in their expression."

Wansey, who visited Mount Vernon in 1795, portrayed "The President in his person" as "tall and thin, but erect; rather of an engaging than a dignified presence. He appears very thoughtful, is slow in delivering himself, which occasions some to conclude him reserved, but it is rather, I apprehend, the effect of much thinking and reflection, for there is great appearance to me of affability and accommodation. He was at this time in his sixty-third year ... but he has very little the appearance of age, having been all his life long so exceeding temperate."

In 1797, Weld wrote, "his chest is full; and his limbs, though rather slender, well shaped and muscular. His head is small, in which respect he resembles the make of a great number of his countrymen. His eyes are of a light grey colour; and in proportion to the length of his face, his nose is long. Mr. Stewart, the eminent portrait painter, told me, that there were features in his face totally different from what he ever observed in that of any other human being; the sockets for the eyes, for instance, are larger than what he ever met with before, and the upper part of the nose broader. All his features, he observed, were indicative of the strongest and most ungovernable passions, and had he been born in the forests, it was his opinion that he would have been the fiercest man among the savage tribes."

Other and briefer descriptions contain a few phrases worth quoting. Samuel Sterns said, "His countenance commonly carries the impression of a serious cast;" Maclay, that "the President seemed to bear in his countenance a settled aspect of melancholy;" and the Prince de Broglie wrote, "His pensive eyes seem more attentive than sparkling, but their expression is benevolent, noble and self-possessed." Silas Deane in 1775 said he had "a very young look and an easy soldier-like air and gesture," and in the same year Curwen mentioned his "fine figure" and "easy and agreeable address." Nathaniel Lawrence noted in 1783 that "the General weighs commonly about 210 pounds." After death, Lear reports that "Doctor Dick measured the body, which was as follows--In length 6 ft. 3-1/2 inches exact. Across the shoulders 1.9. Across the elbows 2.1." The pleasantest description is Jefferson's: "His person, you know, was fine, his stature exactly what one would wish, his deportment easy, erect and noble."

How far the portraits of Washington conveyed his expression is open to question. The quotation already given which said that no picture accurately resembled him in the minute traits of his person is worth noting. Furthermore, his expression varied much according to circumstances, and the painter saw it only in repose. The first time he was drawn, he wrote a friend, "Inclination having yielded to Importunity, I am now contrary to all expectation under the hands of Mr. Peale; but in so grave--so sullen a mood--and now and then under the influence of Morpheus, when some critical strokes are making, that I fancy the skill of this Gentleman's Pencil will be put to it, in describing to the World what manner of man I am." This passiveness seems to have seized him at other sittings, for in 1785 he wrote to a friend who asked him to be painted, "In for a penny, in for a Pound, is an old adage. I am so hackneyed to the touches of the painter's pencil that I am now altogether at their beck; and sit 'like Patience on a monument,' whilst they are delineating the lines of my face. It is a proof, among many others, of what habit and custom can accomplish. At first I was as impatient at the request, and as restive under the operation, as a colt is of the saddle. The next time I submitted very reluctantly, but with less flouncing. Now, no dray-horse moves more readily to his thills than I to the painter's chair." His aide, Laurens, bears this out by writing of a miniature, "The defects of this portrait are, that the visage is too long, and old age is too strongly marked in it. He is not altogether mistaken, with respect to the languor of the general's eye; for altho' his countenance when affected either by joy or anger, is full of expression, yet when the muscles are in a state of repose, his eye certainly wants animation."

[Illustration Removed: FIRST (FICTITIOUS) ENGRAVED PORTRAIT OF WASHINGTON]

One portrait which furnished Washington not a little amusement was an engraving issued in London in 1775, when interest in the "rebel General" was great. This likeness, it is needless to say, was entirely spurious, and when Reed sent a copy to head-quarters, Washington wrote to him, "Mrs. Washington desires I will thank you for the picture sent her. Mr. Campbell, whom I never saw, to my knowledge, has made a very formidable figure of the Commander-in-chief, giving him a sufficient portion of terror in his countenance."

The physical strength mentioned by nearly every one who described Washington is so undoubted that the traditions of his climbing the walls of the Natural Bridge, throwing a stone across the Rappahannock at Fredericksburg, and another into the Hudson from the top of the Palisades, pass current more from the supposed muscular power of the man than from any direct evidence. In addition to this, Washington in 1755 claimed to have "one of the best of constitutions," and again he wrote, "for my own part I can answer, I have a constitution hardy enough to encounter and undergo the most severe trials."

This vigor was not the least reason of Washington's success. In the retreat from Brooklyn, "for forty-eight hours preceeding that I had hardly been off my horse," and between the 13th and the 19th of June of 1777 "I was almost constantly on horseback." After the battle of Monmouth, as told elsewhere, he passed the night on a blanket; the first night of the siege of York "he slept under a mulberry tree, the root serving for a pillow," and another time he lay "all night in my Great Coat & Boots, in a birth not long enough for me by the head, & much cramped." Besides the physical strain there was a mental one. During the siege of Boston he wrote that "The reflection on my situation and that of this army, produces many an uneasy hour when all around me are wrapped in sleep." Humphreys relates that at Newburg in 1783 a revolt of the whole army seemed imminent, and "when General Washington rose from bed on the morning of the meeting, he told the writer his anxiety had prevented him from sleeping one moment the preceeding night." Washington observed, in a letter written after the Revolution, "strange as it may seem, it is nevertheless true, that it was not until lately I could get the better of my usual custom of ruminating as soon as I awoke in the morning, on the business of the ensuing day; and of my surprise at finding, after revolving many things in my mind that I was no longer a public man, or had any thing to do with public transactions."

Despite his strength and constitution, Washington was frequently the victim of illness. What diseases of childhood he suffered are not known, but presumably measles was among them, for when his wife within the first year of married life had an attack he cared for her without catching the complaint. The first of his known illnesses was "Ague and Feaver, which I had to an extremity" about 1748, or when he was sixteen.

In the sea voyage to Barbadoes in 1751, the seamen told Washington that "they had never seen such weather before," and he says in his diary that the sea "made the Ship rowl much and me very sick." While in the island, he went to dine with a friend "with great reluctance, as the small-pox was in his family." A fortnight later Washington "was strongly attacked with the small Pox," which confined him for nearly a month, and, as already noted, marked his face for life. Shortly after the return voyage he was "taken with a violent pleurise, which ... reduced me very low."

During the Braddock march, "immediately upon our leaving the camp at George's Creek, on the 14th, ... I was seized with violent fevers and pains in my head, which continued without intermission 'till the 23d following, when I was relieved, by the General's [Braddock] absolutely ordering the physicians to give me Dr. James' powders (one of the most excellent medicines in the world), for it gave me immediate ease, and removed my fevers and other complaints in four days' time. My illness was too violent to suffer me to ride; therefore I was indebted to a covered wagon for some part of my transportation; but even in this I could not continue far, for the jolting was so great, I was left upon the road with a guard, and necessaries, to wait the arrival of Colonel Dunbar's detachment which was two days' march behind us, the General giving me his word of honor, that I should be brought up, before he reached the French fort. This promise, and the doctor's threats, that, if I persevered in my attempts to get on, in the condition I was, my life would be endangered, determined me to halt for the above detachment." Immediately upon his return from that campaign, he told a brother, "I am not able, were I ever so willing, to meet you in town, for I assure you it is with some difficulty, and with much fatigue, that I visit my plantations in the Neck; so much has a sickness of five weeks' continuance reduced me."

On the frontier, towards the end of 1757, he was seized with a violent attack of dysentery and fever, which compelled him to leave the army and retire to Mount Vernon. Three months later he said, "I have never been able to return to my command, ... my disorder at times returning obstinately upon me, in spite of the efforts of all the sons of Aesculapius, whom I have hitherto consulted. At certain periods I have been reduced to great extremity, and have too much reason to apprehend an approaching decay, being visited with several symptoms of such a disease.... I am now under a strict regimen, and shall set out to-morrow for Williamsburg to receive the advice of the best physician there. My constitution is certainly greatly impaired, and ... nothing can retrieve it, but the greatest care and the most circumspect conduct." It was in this journey that he met his future wife, and either she or the doctor cured him, for nothing more is heard of his approaching "decay."

In 1761 he was attacked with a disease which seems incidental to new settlements, known in Virginia at that time as the "river fever," and a hundred years later, farther west, as the "break-bone fever," and which, in a far milder form, is to-day known as malaria. Hoping to cure it, he went over the mountains to the Warm Springs, being "much overcome with the fatigue of the ride and weather together. However, I think my fevers are a good deal abated, although my pains grow rather worse, and my sleep equally disturbed. What effect the waters may have upon me I can't say at present, but I expect nothing from the air--this certainly must be unwholesome. I purpose staying here a fortnight and longer if benefitted." After writing this, a relapse brought him "very near my last gasp. The indisposition ... increased upon me, and I fell into a very low and dangerous state. I once thought the grim king would certainly master my utmost efforts, and that I must sink, in spite of a noble struggle; but thank God, I have now got the better of the disorder, and shall soon be restored, I hope, to perfect health again."

During the Revolution, fortunately, he seems to have been wonderfully exempt from illness, and not till his retirement to Mount Vernon did an old enemy, the ague, reappear. In 1786 he said, in a letter, "I write to you with a very aching head and disordered frame.... Saturday last, by an imprudent act, I brought on an ague and fever on Sunday, which returned with violence Tuesday and Thursday; and, if Dr. Craik's efforts are ineffectual I shall have them again this day." His diary gives the treatment: "Seized with an ague before 6 o'clock this morning after having laboured under a fever all night--Sent for Dr. Craik who arrived just as we were setting down to dinner; who, when he thought my fever sufficiently abated gave me cathartick and directed the Bark to be applied in the Morning. September 2. Kept close to the House to day, being my fit day in course least any exposure might bring it on,--happily missed it September 14. At home all day repeating dozes of Bark of which I took 4 with an interval of 2 hours between."

With 1787 a new foe appeared in the form of "a rheumatic complaint which has followed me more than six months, is frequently so bad that it is sometimes with difficulty I can raise my hand to my head or turn myself in bed."

During the Presidency Washington had several dangerous illnesses, but the earliest one had a comic side. In his tour through New England in 1789, so Sullivan states, "owing to some mismanagement in the reception ceremonials at Cambridge, Washington was detained a long time, and the weather being inclement, he took cold. For several days afterward a severe influenza prevailed at Boston and its vicinity, and was called the Washington Influenza." He himself writes of this attack: "Myself much disordered by a cold, and inflammation in the left eye."

Six months later, in New York, he was "indisposed with a bad cold, and at home all day writing letters on private business," and this was the beginning of "a severe illness," which, according to McVickar, was "a case of anthrax, so malignant as for several days to threaten mortification. During this period Dr. Bard never quitted him. On one occasion, being left alone with him, General Washington, looking steadily in his face, desired his candid opinion as to the probable termination of his disease, adding, with that placid firmness which marked his address, 'Do not flatter me with vain hopes; I am not afraid to die, and therefore can bear the worst!' Dr. Bard's answer, though it expressed hope, acknowledged his apprehensions. The President replied, 'Whether to-night or twenty years hence, makes no difference.'" It was of this that Maclay wrote, "Called to see the President. Every eye full of tears. His life despaired of. Dr. MacKnight told me he would trifle neither with his own character nor the public expectation; his danger was imminent, and every reason to expect that the event of his disorder would be unfortunate."

During his convalescence the President wrote to a correspondent, "I have the pleasure to inform you, that my health is restored, but a feebleness still hangs upon me, and I am much incommoded by the incision, which was made in a very large and painful tumor on the protuberance of my thigh. This prevents me from walking or sitting. However, the physicians assure me that it has had a happy effect in removing my fever, and will tend very much to the establishment of my general health; it is in a fair way of healing, and time and patience only are wanting to remove this evil. I am able to take exercise in my coach, by having it so contrived as to extend myself the full length of it." He himself seems to have thought this succession of illness due to the fatigues of office, for he said,--
"Public meetings, and a dinner once a week to as many as my table will hold, with the references to and from the different department of state and other communications with all parts of the Union, are as much, if not more, than I am able to undergo; for I have already had within less than a year, two severe attacks, the last worst than the first. A third, more than probable, will put me to sleep with my fathers. At what distance this may be I know not. Within the last twelve months I have undergone more and severer sickness, than thirty preceding years afflicted me with. Put it all together I have abundant reason, however, to be thankful that I am so well recovered; though I still feel the remains of the violent affection of my lungs; the cough, pain in my breast, and shortness in breathing not having entirely left me."
While at Mount Vernon in 1794, "an exertion to save myself and horse from falling among the rocks at the Lower Falls of the Potomac (whither I went on Sunday morning to see the canal and locks),... wrenched my back in such a manner as to prevent my riding;" the "hurt" "confined me whilst I was at Mount Vernon," and it was some time before he could "again ride with ease and safety." In this same year Washington was operated on by Dr. Tate for cancer,--the same disorder from which his mother had suffered.

After his retirement from office, in 1798, he "was seized with a fever, of which I took little notice until I was obliged to call for the aid of medicine; and with difficulty a remission thereof was so far effected as to dose me all night on thursday with Bark--which having stopped it, and weakness only remaining, will soon wear off as my appetite is returning;" and to a correspondent he apologized for not sooner replying, and pleaded "debilitated health, occasioned by the fever wch. deprived me of 20 lbs. of the weight I had when you and I were at Troy Mills Scales, and rendered writing irksome."

A glance at Washington's medical knowledge and opinions may not lack interest. In the "Rules of civility" he had taken so to heart, the boy had been taught that "In visiting the Sick, do not Presently play the Physician if you be not Knowing therein," but plantation life trained every man to a certain extent in physicking, and the yearly invoice sent to London always ordered such drugs as were needed,--ipecacuanha, jalap, Venice treacle, rhubarb, diacordium, etc., as well as medicines for horses and dogs. In 1755 Washington received great benefit from one quack medicine, "Dr. James's Powders;" he once bought a quantity of another, "Godfrey's Cordial;" and at a later time Mrs. Washington tried a third, "Annatipic Pills." More unenlightened still was a treatment prescribed for Patsy Custis, when "Joshua Evans who came here last night, put a [metal] ring on Patsey (for Fits)." A not much higher order of treatment was Washington sending for Dr. Laurie to bleed his wife, and, as his diary notes, the doctor "came here, I may add, drunk," so that a night's sleep was necessary before the service could be rendered. When the small-pox was raging in the Continental Army, even Washington's earnest request could not get the Virginia Assembly to repeal a law which forbade inoculation, and he had to urge his wife for over four years before he could bring her to the point of submitting to the operation. One quality which implies greatness is told by a visitor, who states that in his call "an allusion was made to a serious fit of illness he had recently suffered; but he took no notice of it" Custis notes that "his aversion to the use of medicine was extreme; and, even when in great suffering, it was only by the entreaties of his lady, and the respectful, yet beseeching look of his oldest friend and companion in arms (Dr. James Craik) that he could be prevailed upon to take the slightest preparation of medicine." In line with this was his refusal to take anything for a cold, saying, "Let it go as it came," though this good sense was apparently restricted to his own colds, for Watson relates that in a visit to Mount Vernon "I was extremely oppressed by a severe cold and excessive coughing, contracted by the exposure of a harsh journey. He pressed me to use some remedies, but I declined doing so. As usual, after retiring my coughing increased. When some time had elapsed, the door of my room was gently opened, and, on drawing my bed-curtains, to my utter astonishment, I beheld Washington himself, standing at my bedside, with a bowl of hot tea in his hand."

The acute attacks of illness already touched upon by no means represent all the physical debility and suffering of Washington's life. During the Revolution his sight became poor, so that in 1778 he first put on glasses for reading, and Cobb relates that in the officers' meeting in 1783, which Washington attended In order to check an appeal to arms, "When the General took his station at the desk or pulpit, which, you may recollect, was in the Temple, he took out his written address from his coat pocket and then addressed the officers in the following manner: 'Gentlemen, you will permit me to put on my spectacles, for I have not only grown gray, but almost blind, in the service of my country.' This little address, with the mode and manner of delivering it, drew tears from [many] of the officers."

Nor did his hearing remain entirely good. Maclay noted, at one of the President's dinners in 1789, that "he seemed in more good humor than I ever saw him, though he was so deaf that I believe he heard little of the conversation," and three years later the President is reported as saying to Jefferson that he was "sensible, too, of a decay of his hearing, perhaps his other faculties might fall off and he not be sensible of it."

Washington's teeth were even more troublesome. Mercer in 1760 alluded to his showing, when his mouth was open, "some defective teeth," and as early as 1754 one of his teeth was extracted. From this time toothache, usually followed by the extraction of the guilty member, became almost of yearly recurrence, and his diary reiterates, with verbal variations, "indisposed with an aching tooth, and swelled and inflamed gum," while his ledger contains many items typified by "To Dr. Watson drawing a tooth 5/." By 1789 he was using false teeth, and he lost his last tooth in 1795. At first these substitutes were very badly fitted, and when Stuart painted his famous picture he tried to remedy the malformation they gave the mouth by padding under the lips with cotton. The result was to make bad worse, and to give, in that otherwise fine portrait, a feature at once poor and unlike Washington, and for this reason alone the Sharpless miniature, which in all else approximates so closely to Stuart's masterpiece, is preferable. In 1796 Washington was furnished with two sets of "sea-horse" (i.e., hippopotamus) ivory teeth, and they were so much better fitted that the distortion of the mouth ceased to be noticeable.

Washington's final illness began December 12, 1799, in a severe cold taken by riding about his plantation while "rain, hail and snow" were "falling alternately, with a cold wind." When he came in late in the afternoon, Lear "observed to him that I was afraid that he had got wet, he said no his great coat had kept him dry; but his neck appeared to be wet and the snow was hanging on his hair." The next day he had a cold, "and complained of having a sore throat," yet, though it was snowing, none the less he "went out in the afternoon ... to mark some trees which were to be cut down." "He had a hoarseness which increased in the evening; but he made light of it as he would never take anything to carry off a cold, always observing, 'let it go as it came.'" At two o'clock the following morning he was seized with a severe ague, and as soon as the house was stirring he sent for an overseer and ordered the man to bleed him, and about half a pint of blood was taken from him. At this time he could "swallow nothing," "appeared to be distressed, convulsed and almost suffocated."

There can be scarcely a doubt that the treatment of his last illness by the doctors was little short of murder. Although he had been bled once already, after they took charge of the case they prescribed "two pretty copious bleedings," and finally a third, "when about 32 ounces of blood were drawn," or the equivalent of a quart. Of the three doctors, one disapproved of this treatment, and a second wrote, only a few days after Washington's death, to the third, "you must remember" Dr. Dick "was averse to bleeding the General, and I have often thought that if we had acted according to his suggestion when he said, 'he needs all his strength-- bleeding will diminish it,' and taken no more blood from him, our good friend might have been alive now. But we were governed by the best light we had; we thought we were right, and so we are justified."

Shortly after this last bleeding Washington seemed to have resigned himself, for he gave some directions concerning his will, and said, "I find I am going," and, "smiling," added, that, "as it was the debt which we must all pay, he looked to the event with perfect resignation." From this time on "he appeared to be in great pain and distress," and said, "Doctor, I die hard, but I am not afraid to go. I believed from my first attack that I should not survive it." A little later he said, "I feel myself going. I thank you for your attention, you had better not take any more trouble about me; but let me go off quietly." The last words he said were, "'Tis well." "About ten minutes before he expired, his breathing became much easier--he lay quietly--... and felt his own pulse.... The general's hand fell from his wrist,... and he expired without a struggle or a Sigh."

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