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6 Myths About George Washington, Debunked

December 11, 2019 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

No, he didn’t really chop down that cherry tree, and his teeth weren’t wooden.

When it comes to mythic American figures, (2011), Washington did visit Philadelphia briefly in 1776, but he did not meet with anyone in Congress or anyone else about flags, and he most likely didn’t even know Betsy Ross.

READ MORE: Did Betsy Ross Really Make the First American Flag?

Myth #3: He had wooden teeth.

Dentures worn by George Washington.

Next to the cherry tree legend, Washington’s supposed wooden teeth are possibly the most repeated myth about the first president. The truth is, though Washington was famous for his enviable strength and healthy constitution, he suffered from dental problems his entire life. By the time he became president in 1789, Washington had only one of his natural teeth remaining; he finally had that one pulled in 1796.

Uncomfortable to wear, dentures affected how Washington looked in portraits, as well as his public speaking. The dental appliance he wore featured filed-down teeth from animals (probably cows or horses) as well as human teeth (possibly, but not definitely, those of slaves) and teeth fashioned from ivory (including elephant, walrus and hippopotamus). While they may have taken on the appearance of wood after being stained through use, they were never made of wood, which with its porousness, splinters and susceptibility to expansion and contraction with moisture, was not a material commonly used by dentists at the time.

READ MORE: Hitler’s Teeth Reveal Nazi Dictator’s Cause of Death

Myth #4: He knelt in prayer in the snow at Valley Forge.

The prayer at Valley Forge.

Among the most prominent legends that grew up around the Continental Army’s now-famous winter encampment at Valley Forge in 1777-78 is the story of a pacifist Quaker man named Isaac Potts supposedly stumbling on Washington kneeling in the snow and praying to God for his army’s deliverance. Moved by Washington’s faith, Potts converted to the Revolutionary cause. Over the years, the scene has been painted, depicted on postage stamps, plaques, marble sculptures and stained glass. President Ronald Reagan even called the image of Washington kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge “the most sublime picture in American history.”

But like the cherry tree legend, little hard evidence exists that this story actually happened. The first version, again, came from Weems, who wrote about it initially in 1804 and later included it in …read more


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