By George, it’s George Washington

On July 4, 1776, the Continental Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence and for Virginia patriot George Washington, the decision for independence came as welcomed news.

At the invitation of The Friends of the Claremont Library, the newly appointed Commander-In-Chief spoke eloquently to a captivated audience as he recounted his historical significance to those gathered in the library’s meeting room on June 26.

As General of the Continental Army, he needed to lead his men, 20,000 untrained soldiers, against Great Britain and now the fight was not merely in defense of their colonies but for the birth of a new nation.

“The year we declared our independence, we nearly lost it,” explained General Washington. “I took command of our army in New York City; The British Army and Navy sailed into New York Harbor and attacked us in Brooklyn and defeated us in the battle of Long Island. We were forced to evacuate Fort Lee and we retreated across New Jersey, across the Delaware River into Pennsylvania and by now it was late December 1776. Every battle we had fought that year, we had lost.”

Bringing George Washington and his experiences to life at the library was living history actor, Peter Small. Donning a white wig and dressed in the attire of the period, Mr. Small remained in character for close to an hour as he separated fact from myth about the life and achievements of George Washington.

A former history teacher in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., Mr. Small originally developed his historical impersonations for his classes and has performed nationally for a wide range of audiences, including the Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Richard Nixon and Herbert Hoover Presidential Libraries. Although some may consider him an actor, Mr. Small considers himself an educator who enjoys sharing what he knows about our nation’s founding father and times of which he lived in.

“I’m telling the story of the founding of the United States,” explains Mr. Small, “When people say to me, ‘I learned something new,’ that’s what I enjoy hearing. That means I’m doing my job.”

Visitors to the Claremont Library learned a great deal about our country’s first president.

George Washington is the only President of the United States to have been unanimously elected to the office, receiving all of the Electoral College votes, not once, but twice.

He was the first to sign the Constitution, founded the United States Navy, established the nation’s official currency, created the State Department and established the Supreme Court.

George Washington was the only US President who did not occupy the White House, which was not completed until after his death. In his will, he arranged to free those slaves belonging to him after the passing of his wife, Martha. He is the only slave owning president to free all of his slaves.

He did not wear a wig, which was customary at the time, but chose instead to grow his hair long, powder it and wear it in a ponytail.

He had no children of his own and contracted small pox while on a trip to Barbados, which is thought to perhaps have made him infertile.

While it is true that Mr. Washington did suffer from dental problems all of his adult life, his teeth were not made of wood. They were constructed of materials including bone, hippopotamus ivory, human teeth, brass screws, lead, and gold metal wire.

And although he was requested to serve a third term as president in 1797, George Washington made the decision to spend his final years as a private citizen.

He died two years later at the age of 67 and was laid to rest at his Mt. Vernon home.

As we celebrate our independence, it’s important to look back and recognize the sacrifices made in order to insure our nation’s civil liberties and freedoms.

Thanks to educators like Peter Small, we are able to get a brief glimpse into the lives and history of our Founding Fathers who made it all possible.

Oh, and just so the residents of the City of Trees can rest easy, George Washington never really did chop down that cherry tree.

—Angela Bailey


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