Shooting blanks: George Washington fathered a country but not kids

Shooting blanks: George Washington fathered a country but not kids

(BPT) – George Washington is the ‘father of our country’ yet, ironically, he didn’t have any children of his own. If you are like many others, you’ve probably wondered why he didn’t leave any children as his legacy.

As author Steve Yoch described in his book ‘Becoming George Washington,’ at 19, Washington traveled to Barbados with his brother who was dying of tuberculosis in search of a cure. The trip was a failure. Not only did his brother’s condition continue to deteriorate, but Washington contracted smallpox.

Although he survived – and only half of those with the disease were so lucky – it was not without long-term ramifications. He showed the telltale signs of the disease: pockmarks on his forehead and nose and a prolonged fever that likely made him sterile.

A dedicated stepfather

At 27, Washington married Martha Custis, a widow who had already given birth to two young healthy children – Jacky and Patsy. Thus, Washington’s lack of offspring can’t be attributed to Martha. Washington was a loving stepfather to the young children he’d inherited with his marriage. Unfortunately, both children met early, tragic ends.

Patsy died in his arms in an epileptic fit before the Revolution. The day after her death, Washington wrote to his brother-in-law, ‘It is an easier matter to concede than to describe the distress of this family, especially that of the unhappy parent of our dear Patsy Custis, when I inform you that yesterday removed the sweet, innocent girl into a more happy and peaceful abode than any she has met in the afflicted path she hitherto has trod.’

Jacky was a dandy – a man who valued style and sophistication – and did not fight in the war. With Martha’s encouragement, Washington brought Jacky with him to the siege at Yorktown that ended the war. Jacky, who was inexperienced in unsanitary camp life, promptly caught cholera and died at age 26.

Alone after tragic deaths

By the time the Revolution ended, the ‘father of our country’ was father to no one. In a draft of Washington’s first inaugural address, he wrote: ‘Divine providence hath not seen fit that my blood should be transmitted, or my name perpetuated by the enduring, though sometimes seducing, channel of immediate offspring. I have no child for whom I could wish to make a provision – no family to build in greatness upon my country’s ruins.’

As Yoch noted, ‘This may have been a fortunate happenstance, as many called for him to be America’s new king. His lack of children allowed him to truly act in the country’s best interests and sealed his legacy as ‘first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

To learn more about George Washington, including his trip to Barbados, visit Here you can also access Yoch’s newest book, ‘Becoming Benedict Arnold,’ which explores the complex first-person experience of the infamous American traitor.


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