The Badassery of George Washington

This Independence Day I took some time to reflect on America as it was nearly 250 years ago. In just the span of three lifetimes, we’ve transformed from a small nation of expat rebels in the throws of revolution, to arguably the most powerful nation on earth. I’ve read a number of biographies on our founding fathers and one particular figure that stood out to me today was George Washington. I know, real original right? However, the reason he stood out to me was the stark difference of my perception of the man before vs. after reading his life story. He went from a stiff, wigged, wood-teethed figure on the dollar bill to a long haired (he never actually wore a wig), muscular, badass. Yes, George Washington was indeed a badass. Read on learn about some of Washington’s best badassery qualities.

Built For Battle

Standing at 6’2” and weighing in at nearly 200 lbs, Washington was a beast of a man, especially in his youth. He was said to require custom made gloves to accommodate his large hands and sported size 13 boots.

In David McCullough’s work 1776 he writes “Stories were told of extraordinary feats of strength — how, for example, Washington had thrown a stone from the bed of a stream to the top of Virginia’s famous Natural Bridge, a height of 215 feet. The Philadelphia artist Charles Wilson Peale, who had been a guest at Mount Vernon in 1772, while painting Washington’s portrait, described how he and several other young men were on the lawn throwing an iron bar for sport, when Washington appeared and, without bothering to remove his coat, took a turn, throwing it ‘far, very far beyond our utmost limit.”

It was no doubt these stories that spawned the myth (yes it was a myth, the river was a mile wide) of Washington hurling a silver dollar across the Potomac River. Nevertheless, his physique was impressive and it helped gain the respect of his men, as well as the ladies.

Built For… Dance?

Not many know it, but Washington was well known for his graceful and accomplished dancing abilities, as well as his majestic presence and movement in general. Captain George Mercer noted in his 1760 description of Washington “His movements and gestures are graceful, his walk majestic, and he is a splendid horseman.” But don’t take it from me and Mercer, Washington was the bell of the ball often (especially as his fame grew), here are a few testaments to his Excellency’s moves:

“His Excellency (George Washington) and Mrs. Greene (wife of Nathaniel Greene) danced upwards of three hours without once sitting down.”
 — General Nathanael Greene to Colonel Jeremiah Wadsworth, Middle Brook, New Jersey, March 19, 1779.

“The General danced every set, that all the ladies might have the pleasure of dancing with him, or as it has since been handsomely expressed, get a touch of him.” 
— James Tilton to Gunning Bedford Jr., Annapolis, Maryland, December 25, 1783.

Daaamn George. Damn.

A Master Equestrian

There are some fantastic portraits of Washington mounted on a white steed ready for battle, and by all accounts its where he felt most comfortable. Even one of his biggest critics Thomas Jefferson stated after his passing that he was “the best horseman of his age, and the most graceful figure that could be seen on horseback,”.

In David Hakett Fischer’s Washington’s Crossing he writes:

“George Washington rode up and down the column urging his men forward. Suddenly the general’s horse slipped and started to fall on a steep and icy slope. “While passing a Slanting Slippery bank,” Lieutenant Bostwick remembered, “his excellency’s horse[‘s] hind feet both slip’d from under him.” The animal began to go down. Elisha Bostwick watched in fascination as Washington locked his fingers in the animal’s mane and hauled up its heavy head by brute force. He shifted its balance backward just enough to allow the horse to regain its hind footing on the treacherous road. Bostwick wrote that the general “seiz’d his horses Mane and the Horse recovered.” It was an extraordinary feat of strength, skill and timing; and another reason why his soldiers stood in awe of this man.”


Washington was a fearless commander in chief. Unlike most of today’s politicians, who consider a big risk not wearing sunblock on the golf course, Washington quite literally risked life and limb to fight for his country. Not only did he fight along side his men, he quite literally would lead the charge, rising up on his horse and charging forward even as bullets whizzed past. In 1775, at the Battle of Monongahela he reportedly survived the battle with four bullet holes in his coat from close calls, and two dead horses, shot out right from beneath him. Talk about close calls.

So the next time you see G.W. on a one dollar bill, don’t think of wooden teeth and cherry trees. Think badass.


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