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George Washington Quiz: How Much Do You Know About Our First President?

02/16/2015

George Washington was a legend in his own time, and some of his later biographers have been careless with the facts. A few of the legends are factual, and some are a mix of fact and fantasy. In honor of Washington and the Presidents’ Day holiday, test your knowledge of “the Father of His Country” with this brief quiz and see if you can separate fact from fiction.

 

Question: As a young boy, George Washington got into trouble for chopping down a cherry tree with a hatchet. True or False?

This is one of America’s most enduring legends. It first appeared in The Life of Washington (1806) by Mason Locke Weems and gained wider notoriety when it was printed in one of the McGuffey Readers. Most historians consider the tale a myth, but some believe that it is possible Weems heard the tale from a woman who knew the Washington family.

Because there is no proof, the answer is False. If you do believe the tale, the answer is still False because according to the story, Washington confessed his deed (“I can’t tell a lie, Pa . . . I did cut it down with my hatchet”), and as a result, he did not get into trouble.

 

 

Question: As a teenager, Washington copied out 110 rules of etiquette. True or False?

 We don’t know many details about Washington as a schoolboy, and he described his education as “defective.” Some time before he was sixteen, he copied pages from a French book of manners, Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour and Conversation. Perhaps self-conscious about his lack of a gentlemen’s education, these etiquette rules are regarded as formative influences on the development of his character. The answer is True.

 

Title page of George Washington’s Rules of Civility (Virginia Historical Society, Call number: E312.78 1926)

Title page of George Washington’s Rules of Civility (Virginia Historical Society, Call number: E312.78 1926)

 

Question: George Washington had wooden dentures. True or False?

By the time of Washington’s inauguration, he had only one tooth left. Four different sets of dentures were made for him. A number of myths are associated with them: one is that Washington had a set of wooden teeth, another is that Paul Revere made a set of false teeth for him. Actually, his first set of dentures was made from elephant tusks and a second from a walrus tusk. The third set, attributed to the artist Charles Willson Peale was lead based with two powerful steel springs. The upper teeth were probably made from cow’s teeth. The last set of teeth, now owned by the Smithsonian, was made of gold and hippo and elephant teeth.

Because of ill-fitting dentures, Washington’s mouth often appears in his portraits to be swollen and uncomfortable. The total effect gave him a somber appearance. The answer is False.

George Washington (Virginia Historical Society, Accession number 2001.200.153)

George Washington (Virginia Historical Society, Accession number 2001.200.153)

 

 

Question: Washington contracted smallpox when he was nineteen. True or False?

Smallpox was not common in Virginia when Washington visited Barbados in 1751. He contracted the virus and thereby acquired a life-long immunity. During the American Revolution, smallpox became a deadly threat to both civilians and the military, and Washington ordered that all new army recruits be inoculated. The answer is True.

 

Question: George Washington was the only president who never lived in the White House. True or False?

Washington selected the site for the White House in 1791, but he never lived there. New York and Philadelphia were the capitals while he was president, and the White House was completed after he died. John Adams and his wife, Abigail, moved into the unfinished house in 1800. Washington is the only president who did not live at the White House, so the answer is True.

 

Question: George Washington surveyed Natural Bridge in 1750. True or False?

There is no evidence that Washington surveyed Natural Bridge. Other Washington legends associated with the bridge include that he carved his initials on a spot twenty-three feet up the arch and that he tossed a stone to the top. The answer is False.

Postcard.NaturalBridge

Postcard of Natural Bridge of Virginia claiming that George Washington surveyed the site in 1750. (Virginia Historical Society, Accession number: 2015.1.24)

 

 

Question: George Washington made moonshine at Mount Vernon. True or False?

Washington was the only Founding Father to operate his own whiskey distillery. Five copper stills produced almost 11,000 gallons of whiskey in one year, making it the largest distillery in the country in the eighteenth century. Because Washington paid excise taxes on the whiskey, it was legal and therefore not moonshine. The answer is False.

 

Question: Virginia’s official state dog is the American foxhound, a breed that George Washington developed. True or False?

An avid sportsman, Washington imported French foxhounds for hunting purposes at Mount Vernon. He bred the hounds with his own black and tan hounds to create a new breed, the American Foxhound. Washington doted on his dogs and gave them playful names like Tipsy, Drunkard, Frisky Moose, and Sweet Lips.

In 1966 the General Assembly adopted the American Foxhound as the state dog.

The answer is True.

 

"Under My Own Vine and Fig Tree, 1798" by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris . (Virginia Historical Society, Accession number: 1996.49.11)

“Under My Own Vine and Fig Tree, 1798” by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris . (Virginia Historical Society, Accession number: 1996.49.11)

Question: Which one of these is an image of George Washington?

 

The answer is all of them depict Washington.

Frances Pollard is Vice President for Research Services at the Virginia Historical Society.  Read more posts by Frances.

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