George Washington Death – Onset of ill Health

On Thursday, December 12, 1799, Washington inspected his farms on horseback in snow and sleet. He returned home late for dinner but refused to change out of his wet clothes, not wanting to keep his guests waiting.

He had a sore throat the following day but again went out in freezing, snowy weather to mark trees for cutting. That evening, he complained of chest congestion but was still cheerful.

George Washington Death
George Washington Death

On Saturday, he awoke to an inflamed throat and difficulty breathing. Later he ordered estate overseer George Rawlins to remove nearly a pint of his blood, a practice of the time.

George Washington Death – Final Hour

Washington’s death came more swiftly than expected. He feared being buried alive. So at his deathbed, he instructed his private secretary Tobias Lear to wait three days before his burial. 

According to Lear, he died peacefully between 10 and 11 p.m. on Saturday, December 14, 1799. His wife Martha remained seated at the foot of his bed. His last words were, “Tis well”, in his conversation with Lear about his burial.

George Washington Death – Cause of Death

The diagnosis of Washington’s illness and the immediate cause of his death have been subjects of debate since the day that he died.

The published account of Drs. Craik and Brown stated that his symptoms had been consistent with cynanche trachealis (tracheal inflammation), a term of that period used to describe severe inflammation of the upper windpipe, including quinsy.

Accusations have persisted since Washington’s death concerning medical malpractice, with some believing that he had been bled to death.

Various modern medical authors have speculated that he died from a severe case of epiglottitis complicated by the given treatments. Most notably event is the massive blood loss which almost certainly caused hypovolemic shock.

George Washington Death – Final Resting Place

His family buried Washington in the old Washington family vault at Mount Vernon. It is situated on a grassy slope overspread with willow, juniper, cypress, and chestnut trees.

It contained the remains of his brother Lawrence and other family members. The decrepit brick vault was in need of repair, prompting Washington to leave instructions in his will for the construction of a new vault.

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