Happy President’s Day!

Feb. 18th 2013


You know I just couldn’t let this day pass without a little history! So I have pulled together ten little known facts about George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.


George Washington

1.            Most of us know that George Washington had false teeth. But, contrary to legend, his dentures were not made of wood—they  were made out of a combination of carved animal bone and human teeth that he bought out of the mouths of his enslaved workers. (The records of these purchases still exist.) The fact is appalling to us today, but remember that, as a slave owner, Washington would not be required—or necessarily expected—to pay a slave for a tooth at all!


2.            Washington’s favorite breakfast was hoecakes—simple pancakes made with cornmeal—served with butter and honey. Usually fried in butter in a stove-top pan, hoecakes can also be cooked over a fire on the flat back of a hoe, hence their unusual name.


3.            His friends called him “General”—even his wife, Martha (at least in public). We don’t know what she called him privately, though, because she burned their letters after her beloved husband died.

4.            Washington was one of the most successful liquor distributors in the new nation. He built a state-of-the-art distillery at Mt. Vernon, where he made rye whiskey, apple brandy and peach brandy. The distillery has been restored in recent years, and is now open to visitors.

5.            The story of how George Washington, cut down a cherry tree with his new axe, is well known. The incident never happened. It was a story concocted by Washington’s biographer, Parson Mason Weems, years after his death.


6.            As a young man, Washington was confronted by death many times. He suffered and survived dreadful diseases like malaria, smallpox, pleurisy and dysentery. He nearly drowned when he accidentally fell of the raft into the icy river while returning from an expedition to the French Fort le Boeuf. In 1775, bullets grazed his coat, but he was unhurt.

7.            During the election campaign, there was a bitter war of words. A man called Payne felt that Washington had crossed the line by insulting him. He decided to settle the matter with the help of a hickory stick. The following day, Washington set up an interview with Payne. Payne expected that Washington would seek revenge. However, Washington apologized for insulting him and shook his hand.

8.            As the general of the Continental army, Washington was willing to forfeit his salary. He only wanted to be compensated for his expenses. Not only did this win more admirers, but also made sound economic sense. His salary was a meager $500 a month while his total war expenses for eight years added to $447,220!

9.            Washington did not attend college, the only American President not to do so.

10.          His inaugural speech is the shortest in American History. It was only133 words long.



Abraham Lincoln

1.            Lincoln under-utilized his pockets. Lincoln’s stovepipe top hat served as more than fashionable headwear. He used it to store and carry notes, letters, even bills. Why do they call it a stovepipe hat? Well, the rise is so tall and straight up and down with no flair that it resembles a length of pipe. They’re hard to come by nowadays, the traditional top hat being much more current, but still pretty “retro”. Best you go to a custom haberdashery to get one made just for you.


2.          Lincoln was really tall. That stovepipe hat just made a tall guy a whole lot taller. Lincoln was 6’4”, making him our country’s tallest president. That of course begs the question, who was our shortest president? 4th president James Madison stood a stately 5’4”, making him an entire foot shorter than Honest Abe – even without his hat!


3.           Lincoln has no living heirs. Despite the fact that the marriage between Abraham Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln yielded 4 sons, there are no living heirs. Three of the four sons died before their 20th birthdays: Edward died at 4 years of age, Willie at 12 years, at Tad at 18. Robert was the only child who lived into adulthood and his last descendent, Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith died in the 1985 in Saluda, Virginia. (One note – Saluda is just one hour from Belle Grove Plantation!)

Robert Lincoln

Robert Lincoln

Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith

Robert Todd Lincoln Beckwith

4.           Lincoln’s son Robert was a death-magnet. Speaking of Robert, he was sort of a magnet for tragedy. More specifically, presidential assassination tragedy. While he was not present when his dad was killed, he was an eyewitness to Garfield’s assassination, and at the same World’s Fair where McKinley was assassinated. Another interesting fact about Robert, he was saved from a train accident by Edwin Booth, the brother of his father’s killer, John Wilkes Booth.

Edwin Booth

Edwin Booth

5.           Lincoln Liked to Tinker. Lincoln really liked machines and gadgets. He liked to take them apart to see how they worked and try to put them together again. He even tried his hand at inventing, and in 1849 had a patent issued for “A Device for Buoying Vessels Over Shoals”. The machine never made it, but the patent was a new thing for a president, and no president has held a patent since.



6.           Lincoln & Kennedy. You didn’t think we’d leave it out, did you? There are some pretty bizarre coincidences between Abraham Lincoln and John F. Kennedy. Here are a couple:


  • Both were shot in the head with one bullet on a Friday.
  • Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846, Kennedy in 1946.
  • Lincoln’s successor (named Johnson) was born in 1808. Kennedy’s successor (also named
  • Johnson) was born in 1908.
  • Lincoln’s assassin (who went by three names: John Wilkes Booth) was born in 1839.
  • Kenney’s assassin (who also went by three names: Lee Harvey Oswald) was born in 1939.

7.           Lincoln was kind of psychic. In the weeks before his death, Lincoln was extremely melancholy. He had seen portents of his own death, and had been dreaming of death as well. On one occasion looked in the mirror and saw a double reflection, one image much paler and blurrier than the other. He told his wife that he thought it meant that he had survived his first term, but wouldn’t survive his second. The week prior to his death, Lincoln had a dream of hearing crying in a distant room of the White House. He sought out the room and found that it had a coffin in it. He asked the weeping person who had died and the person responded that it was the President. In his dream, Lincoln looked into the coffin and saw himself.


8.           Lincoln dabbled in the occult. Not only did he get premonitions, he also believed in the occult. Well, if he didn’t believe then he was at least willing to go along with it. Because he and Mary had lost little Edward and Willie at such young ages, they actually held séances in the White House trying to contact their dearly departed. Mrs. Lincoln also attended séances at the homes of famous mediums of the day. Whether or not they made contact is unknown.

9.           Lincoln was spiritual, not religious. Despite the last two facts, Lincoln said he was still a Christian. He didn’t, however, feel it necessary to subscribe to a particular brand of Christianity. Though many different sects try to claim him, Lincoln was 100% non-denominational. He never joined a church, didn’t say grace before meals, and spoke on a more spiritual level, rather than religious. He did read the Bible quite often, and did have highly developed spiritual governance. When asked if he thought the Lord was on the side of the North in the Civil War, Lincoln responded, “I am not at all concerned about that…But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.”

10.          Lincoln had a way with words. Not only was Lincoln spiritual and intelligent, he was also a heck of a speech writer. He wrote his own speeches, and it is said that his famous Gettysburg Address wasn’t even the best one! Rumor has it that the speech Lincoln made to the Illinois Republican Convention on May 29, 1856 was his best, but it was either so enthralling that nobody remembered to take notes, or it was so controversial that nobody was allowed to print them. Either way, no record of it exists.

Lincoln Gettysburg

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Posted by Michelle Darnell | in General History | 55 Comments »