George Washington's Death

George Washington's fierce ambition was largely responsible for his many accomplishments that he achieved during his life. Likewise, the man's stubborn ambition was probably the cause of his death also. Two days before his death, George Washington was riding on horseback in the cold weather on the lands of his plantation for several hours, inspecting his lands. When he arrived back home after his work was done for the day, he did not change out of his cold, wet clothes before eating dinner. This decision was made because Washington prided himself on being on time (even to his own dinner). The next morning, he worked outside in the bitter cold as he had the day before. However, he had developed a painful sore throat overnight from the previous day's exposure. Despite his discomfort, Washington continued to work just as hard as the previous day.

Upon going to bed that evening, his symptoms had not at all improved. Very early the following morning (around 3:00 am on Saturday, December 14, 1799), George awoke with a terrible pain in his throat. Unable to speak or swallow, he summoned the help of his personal physician, Dr. James Craik. Two other doctors also assisted Washington as he lay sick in bed: Dr. Gustavus Brown and Dr. Elisha Dick. The three physicians differed somewhat on their plan for treatment of Washington, but they did all agree to bloodlet him.

Bloodletting, although considered medically incompetent today, was a common practice of Washington's time. Bloodletting was the literal bleeding of a patient with the idea that in order to rid the patient's body of any disease-causing pathogens, their "bad blood" must be drained off. However, all this medical procedure did for Washington was cause him to go into shock from loss of blood. Around 10:00 pm on December 14, 1799, George Washington died on his bed in his Mount Vernon home, surrounded by his doctors, his wife Martha, his secretary Tobias Lear, and his valet and several house servants. Prior to passing, Washington had requested that Lear take care of his bookkeeping and accounts as well as his letter collection. Also, he had asked Martha to let him review his will. As was typical, George Washington ensured that everything was in proper order, even as he lay on his deathbed. This sentiment was reflected in his last words: " 'Tis well."

Following the great leader's death, his body was placed in a casket and untouched for three full days, per Washington's wishes. Following this three-day period, his funeral was held at his Mount Vernon home. Many in the colonies publicly mourned the death of America's first true hero and leader. Likewise, the death of Washington was recognized in Europe, particularly by the powerful French ruler, Napoleon Bonaparte. There was much debate following the death of Washington as to where his tomb should be located. Much of the South wanted him to be buried at his Mount Vernon estate in Virginia. However, many members of Congress wanted to construct a memorial tomb for him in the national capital. After much intense debate and much moving around, the body of George Washington was eventually placed in a custom-built tomb on the property of Mount Vernon in 1837. In order to prevent theft or sabotage of the tomb, the tomb's vault was locked behind Washington's casket, and the lock's key was tossed into the nearby Potomac River.