The Life and Myth of George Washington

Louis Masur – Rutgers University

Following his death in 1799, George Washington was eulogized as “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countryman.” His name is invoked 220 years later as much as a symbol as an actual person.

Few figures in American history are surrounded by more well-intended mythology than George Washington. An examination of Washington must begin with an exploration of his life as a Virginian, military leader, and the first President of the United States, not to mention as a husband and a slaveowner. Any study of Washington must also consider celebrated myths, such as whether he chopped down a cherry tree or wore wooden dentures, as well as famous images, such as Washington Crossing the Delaware. In his lifetime, Washington became a hero unlike any other and although he was very much an eighteenth-century man, he has much to teach us in our own time!