George Washington

Crowning Myth Washington

March 31, 2021

George Washington looms so large over American history — he helped lead troops to victory in the Revolutionary War, served as the first president, and is regarded as “the father of our country” — that a lot of myths and legends sprung up about him, both in his life and after. Here’s the truth about what you’ve heard about George Washington.

He had wooden teeth.

Like many men of the 18th century — before the birth of modern dental hygiene and surgery — George Washington wore dentures. And like many other men, his were made of all kinds of stuff. They yellowed over the years, giving them a hue that reminded people of wood, but there was nothing in his mouth that came from a trunk or a branch. His dentures included materials like copper, brass, lead, silver, ivory, cow and horse teeth, and probably a few teeth from deceased humans, too.

Young George Washington chopped down his father’s favorite cherry tree, and then owned up to it, remarking, “I cannot tell a lie.”

It’s a legend and a fable, concocted by one of the first Washington biographers, a bookseller named Mason Locke Weems. He invented the story whole cloth to demonstrate that America’s most favorite politician was true and honorable, even as a child, and even when doing something childish.

He wore a powdered wig.

Probably because we see his face on dollar bills so often, the image of Washington is the signature image of a 1700s man, complete with that powdered wig, which was the style at the time. Regardless of how he was depicted in portraits, Washington didn’t wear a wig — he powdered his own hair, and he wore it long and tied in the back (like how Lin-Manuel Miranda wears his hair as fellow founding father Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton).

Washington declined the chance to be crowned the king of the United States.

He didn’t say no because he was never offered any such position. Toward the end of the American Revolution, Col. Lewis Nicola published a letter suggesting that appointing Washington a monarch would send a message to other countries that the new U.S. was a force to be reckoned with. Nicola didn’t have the power to make Washington king, and none of the other Founding Fathers ever considered the idea.

George Washington bowed out of the presidency after two terms and retired for good to his farm at Mount Vernon.

A year after his so-called retirement, the federal government asked Washington to be the Commander in Chief of the Army, anticipating an invasion by French forces.

For more actual and true stories about George Washington — told in comic book-style form — check out Show Me History! George Washington: Soldier and Statesman! It’s available now from Portable Press.

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