It was George Washington’s last day. The great man had fallen ill just 24 hours earlier on December 13, 1799, with what at first appeared to be nothing more than a cold and sore throat. But a bevy of doctors struggled to halt the increasing severity of his symptoms, which grew to include breathing difficulties. And when Washington’s death came soon afterwards, the still-young nation that the former president had once led was plunged in mourning. What was truly surprising, though, was the reaction of his old enemy, the British, to the news.

Washington’s decline had started on December 12 after he had toured his estate, Mount Vernon, in driving sleet. Soaked to the skin, he then went back to his mansion where guests awaited him. And ever the attentive host, Washington sat down to dinner with his visitors rather than choosing to change out of his cold and sodden garments.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT