The United States’ first president is remembered as an expert military leader, the guy with a mouth full of cellulose, instead of the usual dentin, and the super-honest kid who could never “tell a lie.” However, as with most historical figures, much of George Washington’s image in the popular collective memory has its roots in fable, rather than fact. As History.com notes, he was a better spy than military commander, and Washington’s teeth were not made of wood, as the legend states. Also, as Mount Vernon clarifies, that whole story about him coming clean after taking his new hatchet to his father’s cherry tree was a myth made up by an early biographer of Washington.
Clearly there are more than a few tall tales about the star Founding Father that a bit of light scholarship can straighten out easily. However, there’s another mystery about the man that historians haven’t been able to figure out. While Washington was said to have been an excellent stepdad to John “Jacky” Parke and Martha “Patsy” Parke Custis — the two kids from his wife’s first marriage — he and Martha never had any children of their own. Several theories that lay the blame on diseases like tuberculosis, measles, and smallpox have been put forth, but the real reason George Washington never had any biological children remains a mystery to the historical record.
George Washington was a good dad, even without his own kids
Jacky and Patsy may not have been his biological children, but that didn’t stop Washington from being a good dad to them. And, according to Mount Vernon, they weren’t the only rug rats running around the president’s plantation, either. He and Martha also took care of her four grandchildren after the death of her son in 1781. Washington would eventually convince his brother-in-law to take two of the kids to help lighten their load, because there were even more youngsters scurrying around Mount Vernon. Washington’s younger brother Samuel also died in 1781, leading to the president welcoming a slew of nephews and nieces into his home, as well.
George Washington’s own father died when the future president was just 11 years old, making it impossible for him to finish his education (he was forced to drop out of elementary school), so he knew how important it was for children to have a father figure. He would end up suffering loss as a stepfather, as well as a son, after the death of Patsy during an epileptic seizure when she was 17. Washington was reportedly devastated by the beloved teenager’s tragic death. He may not have had any kids of his own, but Washington was still an excellent father, grandfather, and great grandfather, in addition to Founding Father.
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