George Washington Dies

At 10:00 p.m. on December 14, 1799, George Washington died at his Mt. Vernon home after five decades of service to his country.

His last words reportedly were: "I feel myself going. I thank you for your attentions; but I pray you to take no more trouble about me. Let me go off quietly. I cannot last long." Washington was sixty-seven years old.

After the Revolutionary War, Washington hoped to live as a gentleman farmer in Virginia, yet he repeatedly deferred this wish in order to serve his country. Called to the presidency in 1789, he told the citizens of Alexandria, Virginia, on April 16 of that year, "my love of retirement is so great, that no earthly consideration, short of a conviction of duty, could have prevailed upon me to depart from my resolution 'never more to take any share in transactions of a public nature.'" Unanimously re-elected to the presidency, he completed a second term and retired in 1796. As late as 1798, however, when war with France seemed imminent, Washington again accepted command of American forces.

After retiring from the presidency in March 1797, Washington returned to Mount Vernon with a profound sense of relief. He devoted much time to farming.

On July 4, 1798, Washington was commissioned by President John Adams to be Lieutenant General and Commander-in-chief of the armies raised or to be raised for service in a prospective war with France. He served as the senior officer of the United States Army between July 13, 1798 and December 14, 1799. He participated in the planning for a Provisional Army to meet any emergency that might arise, but did not take the field.

On December 12, 1799, Washington spent several hours inspecting his farms on horseback, in snow and later hail and freezing rain. He sat down to dine that evening without changing his wet clothes. The next morning, he awoke with a bad cold, fever, and a throat infection called quinsy that turned into acute laryngitis and pneumonia. Washington died on the evening of December 14, 1799, at his home aged 67, while attended by Dr. James Craik, one of his closest friends, Dr. Gustavus Richard Brown, Dr. Elisha C. Dick, and Tobias Lear V, Washington's personal secretary. Lear would record the account in his journal, writing that Washington's last words were "'Tis well."

Modern doctors believe that Washington died largely because of his treatment, which included calomel and bloodletting, resulting in a combination of shock from the loss of five pints of blood, as well as asphyxia and dehydration. Washington's remains were buried at Mount Vernon. To protect their privacy, Martha Washington burned the correspondence between her husband and herself following his death. Only three letters between the couple have survived.

Throughout the world men and women were saddened by Washington's death. Napoleon ordered ten days of mourning throughout France and in the United States thousands wore mourning clothes for months. On December 18, 1799, a funeral was held at Mount Vernon.

I leave you with undefiled hands, an uncorrupted heart, and with ardent vows to heaven for the welfare and happiness of that country in which I and my forefathers to the third or fourth progenitor drew our first breath.”

— George Washington in his Farewell Address to the People of the United States, September 17, 1796.