27 George Washington Facts That Paint America’s First President In A New Light

Published April 30, 2016
Updated March 12, 2024

From the truth behind the cherry tree myth to the shocking story of his infamous dentures, these astounding facts about George Washington will change how you see America's foremost founding father.

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27 George Washington Facts That Paint America’s First President In A New Light
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Every American knows George Washington was the first president, and many likely have heard that he "could not tell a lie." They have heard about a cherry tree, and likely his battlefield prowess. What many may not know, however, is that Washington was also a slave owner — and not a particularly repentant one.

These 27 George Washington facts give an astounding inside look into good, the bad, and the ugly truths behind the Founding Father.

Enduring Myths About George Washington

George Washington Facts About His Cherry Tree

National Parks ServiceOne of the enduring myths about George Washington is an anecdote about his honesty and a cherry tree.

There are lots of interesting facts about George Washington out there — but some are falsehoods that have persisted for centuries.

One of the most common myths has to do with George Washington and a cherry tree. In this story, a young George Washington allegedly damaged one of his father's cherry trees. When was caught, he immediately admitted to what he had done, saying:

"I cannot tell a lie ... I did cut it with my hatchet."

As the story goes, his father proudly told young George that telling the truth is worth more than one thousand trees.

It's a nice story, but likely never happened. After Washington died in 1799, the American public had a great thirst for more information about their first president. A bookseller named Mason Locke Weems decided to capitalize on their curiosity.

A few months after Washington's death, Weem declared: "Millions are gaping to read something about him ... My plan! I give his history, sufficiently minute ... I then go on to show that his unparalleled rise and elevation were due to his Great Virtues."

As a result, he published The Life of Washington — but didn't include the cherry tree myth until a few editions later.

Another enduring "fun fact" about George Washington's teeth maintains that they were made of wood. However, the truth of Washington's dentures is far from fun.

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In reality, Washington did suffer from dental problems. By the time he was in his 50s, he had just one of his own teeth left. But Washington's teeth were not wooden. In fact, they were a combination of animal bones — and human teeth.

George Washington Dentures

FlickrGeorge Washington did not use wood in his dentures, but instead teeth from other people, including his slaves.

Sometimes, Washington was able to salvage one of his own teeth to use in his dentures. But often he'd turn to his slaves. Washington did pay his slaves for his teeth — but not very much, and less than dentists offered in newspaper advertisements at the time.

The True Facts About George Washington Behind The Myths

George Washington Army

Wikimedia CommonsGeorge Washington commanding the Continental Army.

Although myths about America's first president have endured, the true facts about George Washington are fascinating in their own right.

For starters, Washington is — to this day — the highest-ranked military official in the United States. His official rank is "general of the armies." This outranks even four- and five-star generals.

He also remains the most formidable foe that the British have ever faced. In 2012, Washington beat out the likes of Napoleon in a poll that asked Brits to rank their "greatest enemy commander."

Still, Washington actually won only six of the 16 battles he fought during the Revolutionary War, with the rest either lost or called as draws.

As for the best fun facts about George Washington? He may be remembered as the dour-faced Founding Father from his portraits, but he definitely had a sense of humor. He loved giving his dogs playful names — like Madam Moose. In a true stroke of snark, Washington even named one of his dogs Cornwallis, after a British general he defeated in battle.

Washington was also an excellent dancer. He once danced with a general's wife for three hours without sitting down.

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"In someone like George Washington's time [dancing] was seen as something very masculine," said White House historian Matt Costello. "To dance and dance well was part of any type of social interaction."

The Dark Side Of The President Washington's Storied Life

George Washington And Slavery

Wikimedia CommonsGeorge Washington's legacy is tied to his ownership of slaves.

Although the facts about George Washington are often fun and interesting, it's impossible to discuss his life without considering his role as a slave-owner.

Washington was just 11 years old when he first inherited slaves. His father left Washington 10 slaves in his will. From there, Washington continued to buy — and sell — slaves. When he married his wife Martha, she brought 84 slaves with her.

George Washington is often lauded for freeing his slaves upon his death. However, the truth is much more complicated.

In his will, Washington did free his slaves — but he specifically said that they would not be freed until Martha died. Martha ended up freeing them about a year later, but not out of the goodness of her heart.

Abigail Adams, the wife of Washington's vice president and successor, John Adams, noted: "[Martha] did not feel as tho her Life was safe in their Hands, many of whom would be told that it was [in] their interest to get rid of her–She therefore was advised to set them all free at the close of the year."

In other words, Martha was afraid that her late husband's slaves might try to kill her, knowing her death would mean their freedom.

Washington also only freed the slaves that belonged to him. He said nothing about the enslaved people whom Martha had brought to Mount Vernon when they got married. And, in fact, those people remained in bondage. When Martha Washington died, they were divided among her grandchildren.

The facts about George Washington like that go to show that there's more than meets the eye when it comes to the famous Founding Father — for better and for worse.

After looking through these George Washington facts, check out these 33 fascinating Abraham Lincoln facts. Or, enjoy these photos of American presidents as young men.

Kaleena Fraga
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Cite This Article
Fraga, Kaleena. "27 George Washington Facts That Paint America’s First President In A New Light." AllThatsInteresting.com, April 30, 2016, https://allthatsinteresting.com/george-washington-facts. Accessed April 20, 2024.