Ep. 19 - Dr. Jim Ambuske and Jeanette Patrick of the Washington Library
Join me for my visit to Mount Vernon and my discussion about the first president and his relationship to whiskey.
Listen to the Episode
This interview pairs nicely with the Whiskey Lore Story Episode: The Whiskey Rebellion: Seeds of Discontent (Part 1)
How did George Washington go from dealing with the whiskey rebellion to opening his own distillery? Well, I went to Mount Vernon to find out the answer to that question and ended up learning so much more.
Join me as I talk with Jim and Jeanette about Washington's management style, his distiller and distillery, and some of the myths that surround him.
- Photos from my visit to the Washington Library and Distillery at instagram.com/whiskeylore
- Was it class warfare?
- Herman Husband the contrarian
- The reasons for Hamilton's excise
- Who can bear the cost of this tax?
- Whiskey as currency
- Did the farmer distillers leave for Kentucky?
- Washington's way of enlisting opinions and surrounding himself with great minds
- The balance of Hamilton vs Jefferson/Randolph
- Washington doing both
- Hamilton's plan to kick the crap out of them
- Looking beyond Western Pennsylvania for influences
- The Democratic Societies
- Fallen Timbers and Mad Anthony Wayne
- Worst defeat per capita for a U.S. force
- European power intrigue
- Washington and the insurrectionists vs Lincoln and the Confederacy
- Washington's drink of choice
- The dialogue between James Anderson and George Washington during the hiring process
- Was Mount Vernon a profitable venture? Washington's financial shape.
- Washington's micromanaging and James Anderson
- Washington's temper
- The largest distillery in that time period
- Washington's unexpected death from quinzy
- The Premature Burial by Edgar Allen Poe
- Martha and the freeing of the slaves
- The fate of the distillery
Listen to the full episode with the player above or find it on your favorite podcast app under "Whiskey Lore." The full transcript is available on the tab above.
This is a machine generated transcription. A human edited transcription will be available by the end of the weekend.
Welcome to Whiskey Lore: The Interviews
I'm your host Drew Hannush - Amazon best selling author of the Whiskey Lore Travel Guide to Experiencing Kentucky Bourbon
and welcome to an encore interview from back in late 2020 when I was in the middle of research for Season 4's mini-series on the Whiskey Rebellion.
Thanks to Liz Covert of the Ben Franklin's World podcast, I was put in touch with Dr. Jim Ambuske at theCenter for Digital Research at the Washington Library at Mount Vernon and he not only offered his services in helping me research, but he also set up my interview with Steve Bashore, the master distiller at George Washington's distillery at Mount Vernon.
In the following discussion Jim along with Jeannette Patrick, a writer and researcher at the Washington Library, they'll walk me through my questions about George Washington the man, his distillery, and his motivations and actions during the Whiskey Rebellion.
After this meeting, Jeannette took me on a behind the scenes tour of the grounds of Mount Vernon, and I saw the very cool building Washington designed for his grains, definitely something to see. Saw some excavation work being done on a structure that predates George's ownership of the property. And had the incredible honor to turn a few pages in the 220+ year old distillery ledger that was managed by James Anderson. An incredible piece of history for any whiskey lover.
Now, this is a research interview, so you may be best served by first listening to the mini-series about the Whiskey Rebellion on Whiskey Lore podcast feed, before jumping into this discussion, but this too may peak your curiousity and get you going to those episodes anyway.
As we pick up the conversation, I was discussing how, to me, Hamilton's whiskey tax, which punished the farmers in rural areas but promoted city distillers, seemed to smack of class warfare.
And so here is my discussion with Jim Ambuske and Jeanette Patrick.
Yeah I think in a lot of ways some of the farmers out there did see it in terms of what we would now call class warfare herman husband is a very good example of that he's a guy you might look up herman husband's a fascinating character because he participated in sort of every major contrarian event in the 18th century the great awakening the american revolution the the whiskey rebellion there wasn't there was a revolution not a revolution he didn't like and he was really sensitive to the fact that sort of the aristocratic easterners could take advantage of people out in the west in certain circumstances I mean I think the thing that to think about is the way in which the economy works in this period and debt is central to all of that debt and credit is is the way in which the economy works there is no great plethora of specie you know hard money to be had and so everything works on credit so you've got sort of the big macro situation where the united states has a massive post-war debt I think with the the federal government had something like 50 million dollars in debt at the end of the war the states had something like 26 million Hamilton's great idea after the passage of the constitution is to assume the state debt into the federal government combine it as as one he does that for a couple of reasons one he wants to attach people to the new government and so if they are indebted to that new government or if the new government is responsible for controlling that debt they'll have an interest in the government's survival because a lot of people think at this point that the union is still going to fracture the other other things he wants to do is he wants to make the united states a credit worthy nation and to do that he thinks if the federal government assumes the debt and then creates a sinking fund to show that the u.s can pay that debt well then they'll be able to get international credit from other lenders the excise tax is a consequence of that as you've already noted I mean they there are import duties that's sort of the common way of taxation in the 18th century at least in the post-war period there's no real income tax at all you know people are very suspicious of that those things so the the excise tax is what I think it might be the first actually one of the first direct taxes on domestic products that you see in this period and then the problem is is that that kind of tax falls disproportionately on the people you're talking about the the the easterners and can pay bear the cost a little bit more because they don't have to transport their whiskey as far to market the larger producers can pay a flat rate and so they're paying for those who are paying a flat rate or who can produce in volume I think are paying on average something like six cents a gallon whereas the smaller producers and the who become the rebels are paying by the gallon as as opposed to that flat rate and they've got fewer stills so they're paying about nine cents a gallon and plus you've got post-war inflation too which is good for some people it's bad for other people and so you've got this imbalance taking place Hamilton's you know believes this is necessary to establish the government on a sure footing to actually pay down its debts make it a credit worthy lending nation but it's coming at a high price for a lot of people that you're looking at in this period so for the farmer distiller I mean whiskey was really currency yeah oh yeah and in part because this isn't a period yet in which the us has direct access to the mississippi and so they can't immediately ship wheat or other kinds of grain down river to to markets in new spain or even to the atlantic it's going to take time to get that stuff over the mountains and so by the time the grain gets to eastern ports it's probably spoiled so transforming it into into whiskey is the most expeditious way of doing it and you're right it does become a kind of currency and because of the tax that currency becomes more valuable to some people than others and causes a lot of complications so I've heard a lot of people say that when the whiskey rebellion happened a lot of these farmer distillers just took off for kentucky to get away from it all through your studies does this sound like it would be true yeah I that doesn't sound exactly right to me and I wouldn't think that that's probably true I mean there there might be some who are motivated by the aftermath of the whiskey rebellion to go to kentucky but kentucky in general is a hot commodity at this point I mean it's becomes a state 1792 as a former district of virginia there's a lot of land out there where people who are interested in tobacco farming or other kinds of farming or interested in owning enslaved laborers certainly and you know enslaved laborers is not only in their eyes and efficient means of of economy but it's also a major social status for them and so they might have aspirations for that kind of stuff but you know kentucky tennessee these western areas in this point are and often ways the place to be and people are excited about moving there so there might have been some folks who did depart because of the whiskey rebellion but they might have just seen better opportunities in general in going to kentucky so let's talk a little bit about George Washington and getting into his management style if you look at his cabinet then you get a sense that he liked to surround himself with the greatest minds the the best of the best even if they were coming from opposing points of view like a Hamilton or a jefferson is this the way that he tended to do things when he was a general back during the revolutionary war as well kind of enlist all of these different opinions before making a decision yeah it actually goes further back than that Washington's management style both in military and and presidential terms dates back to his service in the seven years war when he is in the what what was then called the other the family of general braddock essentially when he was at aid to camp to general edward braddock in the seven years war and one of braddock's management styles was to solicit the opinions of his officers before he made any major decisions and Washington really learned from that I mean when Washington is that age he was a pretty ambitious brash young man but he learns from braddock the value of listening to other people particularly in a military context when so much is on the line and he takes that and runs with that throughout his military and political career you see that when he's holding his councils of war during the revolution you know we have the minutes from these things often where he's asking you know what he would do is he would say I'm interested in attacking this particular piece of ground in this particular time frame he would ask the officers in his immediate command and you know some of his aides to solicit written opinions about the wisdom or the the futility of making such an attack and then he would gather them together in a council of war and talk with them about their opinions you know asking questions you know having those officers debate and trying to get some kind of consensus about what their actions should be sometimes Washington knew what he wanted to do often he knew what he wanted to do but he knew that he needed the opinions of others if he was going to make a sound judgment that's that's the kind of management style he brought into his presidential administration as well as he referenced he put together an all-star team of who's whose of revolutionaries in that first cabinet but he's got one of the two the great challenges he faces is he's got jefferson and Hamilton in that cabinet and they don't start out hating each other but by the end at the end of of their time together in that cabinet you know their positions relative to each other have become untenable and so he spends a lot of the time trying to manage that situation but he does the same thing you know when Hamilton comes up with his plan for a national bank or for his plan for manufacturing he asked various cabinet members for their written opinions and then convenes them on occasion to talk about some of these major issues so same thing with the whiskey rebellion I think you know I think he he would have convened he did a convenient cabinet on that you know he solicited opinions certainly from Alexander Hamilton even when Hamilton leaves the cabinet he's still a shadow advisor to Washington you know he's still asking his opinion but he's also getting legal opinions from the attorney general randolph certainly and other people as well trying to figure out what's the best approach and how to make sure that that he as president can well and faithfully execute the laws but also not overreach so you had jefferson in opposition to Hamilton in the cabinet and then when jefferson stepped out in comes randolph and it's just like Hamilton's changing dance partners on the opposition and you've got Hamilton who wants to use the militia and then you've got randolph who thinks diplomacy is the best way to go but what I find fascinating is that Washington decided to do both yeah I know I think that's a great point I mean what he's trying to find that middle course between you know randolph's sort of desire to like let's just work this out through legal means where in Hamilton what does he say he's like like we I can't remember the quote something about you know the the the government must be herculean in its efforts or something like that where he's basically let's just go kick the crap out of him
oh man Hamilton did like using that military machine yeah exactly exactly so you know again and that's where you see that deliberative process play out in the ways in which they attempt to first negotiate with the rebels you know try to get them to disperse you know there's the peace commissioners and there's that proclamation that orders them to disperse by september one and he's he's priming the pup you know kind of saying like listen we're going to give you every legal excuse to stop what you're doing and to stop disobeying the law but there will come a point where we have to take potentially more extreme measures and you kind of see that process play out over the course of of those several months so one of the things that we do sometimes with history is we tend to look at everything in isolation and not really pay attention to the other things that may be going on at that time period that may influence decisions and this was a time period when the the terror was going on over in france and france was a interesting country for this country to pay attention to because they really had kind of followed their revolutionary steps by looking at what we did and now you had this whiskey rebellion going on and was this people looking back and seeing what they were doing over there and how were these were these situations playing out in Washington's mind when he's trying to make decisions on how to handle the whiskey rebellion yeah you've actually got sort of two big contexts to think about one is that international context in the sense that the french revolution has become extraordinarily violent in 1793 Washington issues a neutrality proclamation trying to keep the united states out of the war from either supporting you know britain or france while trying to maintain american trade but he well knows from various incidents that a lot of americans are inspired by france despite knowledge of how violent it's become and there are these little things that are starting to pop up called democratic societies which is simply a kind of simple way to look at it is is democratic societies or having a jeffersonian mindset that the people themselves are sovereign and that you know they are are their own best masters and that you know they they can sort of decide for themselves in a lot of ways you know how they should proceed in life the other so that's that's percolating the back of their mind you know they're worried that some kind of domestic rebellion could you know potentially translate into something much greater you know they're they're also very aware as we said earlier that the united states is still very fragile I mean it's it's it's easy to look back and think that the united states was on a solid footing post-constitution but every major european power and not not a little percentage of the american population expected the united states to come apart in any any given moment so they're worried about that the other major challenge they've got actually is in ohio at the same time that this 13 000 militia is marching to western Pennsylvania the the what was called the the legion under the command of general anthony wayne is waging a campaign against the ohio shawnee confederacy which they eventually defeated fallen timbers in the fall of 1794 and the united states under the Washington administration had been waging a protracted campaign against the miami shawnee confederacy since they took office suffering major defeats under josiah harmer and under arthur sinclair actually harmers or sinclair's defeat is I think still to this day the worst defeat per capita by an american army in united states history essentially wipes it out and so there is of a federal army is fighting in the ohio country at this point so there's trying they're thinking about that international context with the french revolution and trying to make sure that domestic discontent doesn't take a violent turn but then they're also very aware of the fact that on their the western fringes of the united states which they claim but you know still under the control of the the miami and shawnee who you know whose land it actually is they're fighting that protracted war as well so they've they've got they've got a lot going on in that period that and Washington's worried about all of it well and then you also had the european powers really not that far disconnected from their time in north america and some of them still lingering so you had spain great britain and they were kind of teasing people back then about maybe coming in and lending a hand in in these uprisings yeah there's a lot of spanish intrigue and a lot of american intrigue with spaniards particularly in the west and yeah you're absolutely right there's this it's easy to think that once independence is achieved there's a kind of disconnect between the us and europe but that's just not the case I mean the united states mains remains deeply entangled with britain long after independence even though it's a close ally with france and the spanish are on the southern borders and frontiers and so they're it's very much a very a real present thing in their minds now one of the things I really like about George Washington the reason why he's my favorite president is because he set a lot of precedence and one of those presidents was walking away after two terms which was something that was respected all the way up into the beginning of the 20th century so there's no reason for term limits because all the presidents kind of followed that along and so when I think about the whiskey rebellion and how it ended there were 20 people who were put on trial two convicted and Washington pardoned both of them and when I heard that it got me thinking about abraham lincoln and how at the end of the civil war after the confederacy put their guns down he basically decided not to punish them but just allow them back in and say hey you know you're part of the family again we had disagreement but you know here we are we are the united states again and and so they were all welcomed back in so with Washington pardoning these two guys do you see this as Washington's way of saying hey this is over with and let's just move forward well in part yes I think the the analogy to lincoln in the south you know in his plan for reconstruction had he live is is a good one you know what I what I think they're thinking about with the whiskey rebellion is that the show of forest has caused the rebels to disperse they made it very clear that the federal government is willing to do what it needs to do to enforce federal law up to the point of declaring that local authority cannot handle the situation and that there needs to be a federalized military force to help execute the the laws but then the other side of it though as you rightly point out is that very few people are prosecuted and those that are are pardoned and so what's going on there in part is that Washington's willingness to show leniency you know if if they had taken that army and met you know still 500 people who were still willing to cause trouble disobey the laws and there had been some kind of attack well then instead of aspiring just enough fear that the federal government is going to take measures necessary to enforce its its own will and to enforce the constitution if there was some kind of major major attacker where there were hundreds of people killed or there were hundreds of of other kinds of incidents well then you've got a situation in which americans by and large are going to start to worry about tyranny which they already do I mean there's there is still a heck of a lot of skepticism about the federal government under that constitution you know the democratic societies are a good reflection of that so if instead you showed us enough force to get them to disperse to get them to show the rebels that the federal government is serious but then you pardon people and you don't prosecute people and you show leniency you are showing a willingness to forgive and forget that that you've made your point but that you're not going to press it any further and that you hope by showing that grace that then you people will willingly obey the law and not cause trouble in the future so it's kind of a carrot and stick kind of thing well I hope you're enjoying the conversation with dr Jim mbusky and Jeanette patrick and Jeanette will be coming up here in the second half we'll talk a little bit about George Washington's drinking habits learn a little bit about that distillery and we're going to hear some gruesome details about how George Washington died now this is one of those myths that is more of a general history myth rather than being a whiskey myth but I had to ask about it because I've heard multiple stories on it and I wanted to get the real scoop since I was at Mount Vernon so we'll get to that in just a moment and if you are planning a trip to kentucky now that everything hopefully is going to open up in 2021 and you want to plan out an ultimate list of distilleries to visit well check out whiskey laura's travel guide to experiencing kentucky bourbon I profile 32 distilleries that I visit in kentucky and I've organized all the information into a powerful planning guide where you can compare contrast and decide on the perfect set of distilleries for your journey to bourbon country I tell you my top three reasons why you should visit each I'll teach you the logistics of how to plan out your days tell you how to handle tastings and I'll even give you enough history and process that you'll have a great foundation of information about how bourbon is made and that'll get you past the overwhelmed feeling that you can get hearing all that information all up front and then this way you get more of the subtle nuances of what makes each distillery special in what they focus on there's even some handy tips in there about how to prepare for the fast-paced bourbon tastings at the 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welcome back to the center for digital research at the Washington Library I am talking with Jeanette patrick and we're going to be talking a little bit more about Washington's distillery and about the drinking habits of our first president so back in colonial times originally rum was the drink of choice and then it evolved into rye whiskey because that was something that they could make locally and then a lot of our forefathers drank madeira wine and I've always associated Washington with madeira wine as well so so I want to find out from from Jeanette was madeira Washington's drink of choice so yes madeira is we think Washington's drink of choice he orders barrels of it like frequently there's we have the financial records that show it so that's definitely his personal drink like there's beer being brewed on the estate and some of it is for Washington and his guests but there's also evidence that suggests the enslaved community is brewing for their own consumption as well and we think that that's the reason whiskey is brood also is that there is some property like use by family and guests but it's also for the enslaved community and then Washington just has so much grain he then turns it into his commercial business so what kind of grain was he growing here at Mount Vernon Steve's definitely gonna have the best answer but we know he's growing wheat and rye and barley and he has he's growing like five or six different grains in varying quantities based on the year so I would guess that you know he Anderson probably knew how much surplus or what percentage of what he had and you know played with what was available so Anderson's an interesting guy because he comes in not as a distiller but comes in as a farm manager and he gets hired right as George Washington is stepping down from the presidency and they've got this little awkward back and forth they have going on through letters I guess they hadn't met each other before and it just seems like a curious time to be hiring a new manager so we see like throughout Washington's time he almost always has managers at Mount Vernon especially when he's away and so what becomes a Mount Vernon estate when he dies is it is about 8 000 acres and it's broken into five separate farms so where we are now as part of manchin house farm and then there were four outlying farms that were all almost connected but there's land in between each of the different plots and so he has farm managers basically from one from when he can afford them on each farm has their own and then someone is often heading them and it's it's so that he can keep track so I don't know who is managing the farm at the end of the presidency before Anderson comes in but I'm guessing for some reason Washington frequently has problems with his managers and so I don't know that the end of the presidency is what causes him to hire Anderson I'm guessing it's just he had an opening yeah and we see depending on the year like higher turnovers because Washington is an incredibly like strict like like he has very high expectations he's very strict with like the decorum he wants his hired staff to show off there's there's a farmer at one point he's very angry that like keeps getting drunk and he's just like he wants to fire him and the manager of the estate at the time for some reason like it takes them a while to decide to do it so it could have been just that you know Anderson is in the area and he probably finds you know finds people who know of his of him yeah and that's how we end up with him here so let's talk about Mount Vernon and the kind of the state it was in around the time of the distillery getting started there's a grist mill already there are crops but he seems somewhat hesitant about the suggestion of starting a distillery and he's very cautious about the costs of getting this thing going was Mount Vernon as a whole a profitable venture for Washington so he definitely struggles many times throughout his life and he gets key inflections of cash at really opportune moments but I'd say he he is very much a land rich and by land also enslaved people rich you know person who then is frequently cash poor so I mean he's he's in a lot of debt he dealing with tobacco and like having to trade that with the brits and so when he marries Martha who is the widow of an incredibly wealthy man cash and enslaved people come in and so he's able to expand Mount Vernon and after one of Martha's children dies we see another influx in the amount of cash that like Martha then has access to and so we see another expansion happening of the estate and so he is an incredibly like frugal isn't probably the right word because he likes to buy nice things when he can afford them but he is definitely very attuned to his financial situation and he he seems to always be trying very hard to be out of debt and to have in not self-sufficient plantation because he needs the trade like it has you know he has people to sell it to but he definitely seems I mean he he doesn't die in debt like so many of his yeah but I mean he doesn't die with a lot of cash either like he he has some but it's not a lot yeah in gree entirely it's in a lot of ways it's a race to the bottom while it's also a race to the top because in order to maintain that aristocratic lifestyle you've got to spend on finery fine things you know you've got to compete with your fellow peers in the social class and so they're in a sense trying to outdo each other and Washington you know all these guys know jefferson and monroe they know that they can't afford to keep doing this stuff but they feel the social pressure to do so and right you know the revolutionary war was a particularly hard time because he did take expenses you know all of his expenses you know we have records of those which are pretty amazing but he didn't draw a salary in part because he didn't want to look like he was doing this for his own self-interest but that had real financial consequences for his farm and then of course you know he's not running his farm as Jeanette said you know he he had a very particular way he liked to run Mount Vernon and when he wasn't there he was frequently disappointed with the people who were particularly his family members who were running it during the war so it it took its financial toll and you know he's he spends the rest of his life after the war trying to recover you know there's it wasn't there was some dispute of whether he was going to take a presidential salary and and he was sort of hemming and hauling and someone and finally sort of said you dude you kind of need this to take the money yeah I think it was especially when he realizes he has to set up basically you know another like nice house to entertain people and all of the expenses he's going to be accruing from the social part of the presidency I think is what finally helps him realize because you know he he doesn't have the cash to do any of that so here we go again into Washington's management style and we talk about how you know from what I understand of George Washington he used to send back detailed documents telling exactly how he wanted his managers to handle things at Mount Vernon so he was kind of a micro manager from a distance and then here comes James Anderson into this situation and Washington has all the time in the world now to focus on what his managers are doing firsthand and so it doesn't surprise me that in the spring of 1798 Anderson threatens to leave so I have to ask about Washington's management style we know how he was as a general and as a president where he was enlisting the opinions of others did that all disappear when he returned home I mean maybe but we see like Washington is still gathering information on the best farming techniques he you know he's writing to there's a woman in maryland what arthur young in england yes and so he's you know he's talking to arthur miller in england he's talking to a woman in maryland who has this grand greenhouse that Washington wants and he gets plans from her and then has it a similar one built here so he's still like he's still doing the research and he's still talking to people in the area or you know from further out so yes it is him making these very you know specific decisions and expecting high ex you know work out of his staff but I think that we still see him doing similar things where you know he and I think I think a lot of it also goes back to he doesn't have a formal education like many of his peers and so he throughout his life seems to be concerned he's going to come across as uneducated or not understanding you know the normal thing for his new class and so I think we see that the style he learns under braddock is really impactful through the rest of his life kind of helping him not feel like you know an ignorant you know country boy as he's in these grand situations so yeah I think I think he probably would have listened to Anderson but if he didn't like what he was saying like yeah he's gonna he's gonna make the decisions but I think we see that with you know his military decisions also he's listening to people but he's making the decision he wants to have thing you know have things done the way he wants them done so it brings up an interesting question about how Washington worked with people overall because I did some reading and read the story about where Alexander Hamilton and Washington Washington had barked something at Hamilton and Hamilton stood his ground and made Washington actually feel bad about how he had responded so coarsely to Hamilton did Washington have a temper and and was that temper something that he sometimes felt guilty about yeah he had a very famous temper actually and I can't remember who said it but it might have been jefferson no it was jefferson you know he would he described him later in life when he was kind of looking back on the revolution that you know Washington was a the the perfect picture of comportment and composure but you but you could always see that simmering underneath the beneath was just what he called this great rage and that I think it's what was it when it let loose it met with great fury or something like that and it did on a number of occasions you know you know after the battle of monmouth when he it tears apart charles lee general charles lee you know when he yells at Hamilton and Hamilton and jefferson after a cabinet meeting or during cabinet meetings you know he kind of loses it on them so there were the moments you know he was always always attempting to keep things under control but sometimes it would let loose its boundaries and and and people would see it so talking a little bit more about Washington's distillery I know at one point it was claimed that the distillery was the largest at its time and now it's kind of been pulled back to one of the largest distilleries during that time period and here is where I run into the biggest issue because if this Hamilton tax the excise tax was forcing records to be kept then we should know what the largest distillery was and so in 1799 or 98 whichever year it was the distillery at Mount Vernon was doing 11 000 gallons a year so we know that number and then we could look at somebody like evan williams who claims to be kentucky's first distiller even though in 1783 kentucky wasn't a state it wasn't a county there wasn't anything called kentucky around at that time he was actually in virginia and so trying to figure out you know there's no licenses for these distilleries at that time but there was the tax revenue information and john neville he should have been measuring that was part of his job was to measure how much whiskey was being produced by him and by other distillers in western Pennsylvania so I mean I got a I got a question where do we find these records so that we can finally put to bed who the largest distillery was so we have Washington's records from his like the financial ledgers he keeps and so I would guess that if there are other larger stills there's probably a good chance that they you know those records still exist somewhere also if they are paying the taxes on them then there should be federal tax records and so the national archives or the library of congress would have those if they still exist okay so here's another mystery that I want to clear up about George Washington again my favorite president and one of my favorite historical figures and when he came back to Mount Vernon in 1797 a place that he had always you know talked about coming back to he was so in love with that that area and he just wanted to be back home well he finally gets back home he lives three years and then he dies and he didn't die in a very pleasant way from what I've heard I didn't know what he had died of and then I looked it up and saw that he died of quincy and so now I had to look up what quincy was kind of walk us through how he died kind of that that last couple of days how he ended up in this because it wasn't expected this was he was a healthy man and then suddenly things turned for the worse pretty quickly so Washington like the like the tail part of it is like he every day he goes and he checks his farms and he's out writing and it starts to probably snow because it's december and he comes back and he's a very punctual person and he's late for dinner and so he doesn't change out of his wet clothes and so that's obviously not what he dies from but you know how it impacts his immune system so he he wakes up in the middle of the night feeling very sick and Martha had just been recovering from a cold and so he won't let her get up to go call for one of their enslaved workers to send for the doctor and so they wait until caroline who's an enslaved housekeeper comes in early in the morning to light the fire and at that point she goes for one of for tobias lear who then stands for one of the doctors I think craig is the first one they call and so yeah Washington is a huge believer in bleedings and so before doctor arrives he he convinces I think his leader who's in there with him at the time that like you know go ahead and go ahead and cut me like let's let's get working on getting me better and it doesn't do anything and so then doctor shows up and you know continues to check on Washington they take even more blood from him two more doctors are eventually called throughout the like two-ish days and you know he continues to worsen and it's it's an absurd percent of blood they end up pulling from him I don't remember what it was off the top of my head but like they were bleeding him like crazy and so it's it's you know he's got an infection in his throat and he's basically slowly suffocating so what did I miss you know that was that yeah the they you bleed them several times yeah at one point the blood starts to turn very thick which is a sign that you know he's lost too much blood and he's not replacing what he has fast enough but then he you know one point says you know that's enough and one of the remarkable parts of the story is he actually in my one of my professors used to tell a story like he essentially takes control of his own dying he starts to feel his pulse aware that he's gonna go and so he sort of wants to he wants to be in control of that and then eventually he expires not before he asked was it Martha to go get yeah two copies of the will one which was older had that destroyed and made sure that the more recent will which I think he had done in july of 99 was there and so you know putting his affairs in order literally at the last minute because he knew yeah he knew that was up so another interesting thing about Washington's death is that and and this goes to one of my favorite authors edgar allan poe who wrote a story called the premature burial which you can kind of get the gist of what the story is from that I won't give away the twist at the end but this idea of being buried alive was a real fear for Washington wasn't it yes it definitely was and so he has I think it's written into the will but he's definitely conveyed that he wants them to wait three days beforehand yeah and he's he's just very concerned there's you know that he's he's not actually dead or you know and it's it's clearly a a life fear you know it's not something that in that moment he just suddenly gets worried about so yeah and I don't know where it comes from I mean it's not you know uncommon in the 18th century to not know for sure if someone's dead or not but yeah I mean we don't have any records of like family members you know not actually being dead when they stick them in a coffin yeah yeah well I think he says it too when he's dying he says have me decently buried and don't put me in the vault for like three days or something well then there's another part of the Washington death story that I find interesting which is that he called for the emancipation of his slaves upon Martha's passing but then I've also heard that she actually emancipated those enslaved people before she died is that true yes so yeah so Washington writes in his will that upon Martha's death all of the people he owns are to be set free and so this like Washington's will becomes common knowledge so like the enslaved population at Mount Vernon is aware that this is gonna happen and so Martha becomes very concerned for her life like she writes in a couple of letters that you know like there's a fire that starts in one of the barns and there are a couple other things happening that she starts to get concerned that like possibly someone is going to try and kill her so that everyone can be freed sooner and so she's definitely very concerned we don't know for sure if any of the events leading up to this are you know actually intended to scare her but she's very worried and so she does set everyone free it's january 1st of 1801 so just over a year after Washington dies and so there are over 300 enslaved people like at Mount Vernon but this only applies to about half of them because the other half are not owned by Washington but are owned by the estate of Martha Washington's first husband so legally unless they had purchased each individual person from the estate Martha and George couldn't do anything to free these individual people so Martha has control to use them during her life but she can't do anything that will financially negatively impact the estate and so when she dies the enslaved people that were under her control are like immediately passed to her four grandchildren so we see that on like Washington's death and then Martha's death those two big moments you know really divide the enslaved community that had been together for decades and had intermarried and so you have families that are forcibly split apart children are all property of whoever their mother is property of so if you know if a Washington enslaved person had married someone who was owned by the custis estate then you know parents can be separated and then the children are all going to go legally with whoever the mother is owned by but then when the grandchildren split up the estate they're not necessarily keeping families together again and so by the end of 1802 we see that the community here has been divided onto four different like they're owned by four different people now or they've been set free and that's at the point of Martha's yes and the only exception to all of this is in Washington's will immediately upon his death william lee received his freedom and william lee is the enslaved man who's with him throughout the war and gets injured after the war but is you know with Washington for his entire career basically so he's freed immediately upon Washington's death so what happened to Mount Vernon after Washington's death and after Martha's death because I understand James Anderson actually worked at the distillery for a little while longer in his farm manager so when Washington dies he decides where all of his land property is going to go and so that becomes to be divided up but the exception is the the acreage that Mount Vernon is situated on and that while Martha's alive she still gets to reside here and live on it but then it gets passed to one of George Washington's nephews because while Martha has children from her first marriage George never has any children so it goes to one of his nephews and it goes to bushrad and so he eventually comes and lives here and is it's Jim the first Washington descendant who owns it is the supreme court justice right yeah bushfire Washington who would associate justice the supreme court so he's here but not always here because he has other important things to do and he already has like land that he's living and running when the Washingtons die so after Martha dies bushrod takes possession of the property and I think the distillery is still up and running for it's like less than a decade or it's not an extensive amount of time and then I think it catches fire and you know at that point distilling is no longer happening on the estate so it just faded away yeah yeah and so eventually the state of virginia ends up owning it and did it's either the state or fairfax county I don't remember which ends up owning the property and does archaeology work and finds the like remains of the distillery and gristmill and then eventually the Mount Vernon ladies association buys it from the government and then like we had the both of them reconstructed so what was left of it was it just a foundation yes okay yes and there are photos somewhere of digs that happened out there so yeah they find the foundations of both buildings and the recreation of it was that from drawings or how did they figure that out I know that the so because we have the footprints they had a general idea of it I don't know with either of well and then so with the mill we know at the mill like there's an oliver evans mill system inside it and there are definitely drawings of what that system looks like in place but with the distillery I don't know if we had any Mount Vernon specific like drawings or
If you want to visit Mount Vernon and the distillery head to mountvernon.org and there you will find a link to Washington's Library and if you're a history geek like me, check out Dr. Jim Ambuskes podcast called Conversations at the Washington Library.
Also, remember I post all of my travels on instagram.com and facebook.com/whiskeylore and now twitter.com/whiskeylore
Thanks for listening and if you enjoyed this episode remember to share it with a friend. I'm your host Drew Hannush.