"I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation," the National Archives quote George Washington in a letter to his brother following the French and Indian War. He wasn't kidding. In a piece written for Washington's birthday this week, the Washington Post reveals America's first president was nigh indestructible. In his lifetime, Washington bested smallpox, malaria, infections, abscesses, tuberculosis, dysentery, and a boil "the size of two fists." And that's not even mentioning the battles he survived. Washington claimed that during the French and Indian War, four bullets ripped through his coat and two horses were shot while he rode them. He apparently had so many close calls he was rumored to be dead. Yet somehow he managed to live to 67.
Washington's resilience was all the more impressive as he was living at time with, as the New England Journal of Medicine puts it, "no well-defined concept of infection...no vaccines, almost no specific or effective treatments for infections diseases." As an illustration of this point, Washington finally died in 1799 when he came down with a sore throat and chills after riding around his property in the snow, according to the Washington Papers. Doctors tried everything to cure him—from molasses mixed with butter, to vinegar mixed with sage tea, to removing five pints of blood from the former president. None of it worked. A friend described Washington's "dignified" final words, which were—frankly—a long time coming: "I am just going...Tis well." (Thomas Jefferson's home is getting a renovation with slave Sally Hemings in mind.)