Written by Staff Writer at CNN, Claire Inwood.
According to a new biography of George Washington by historian and biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin , the greatest injustice of the founding father's life was not for starving to death on a mountaintop but for escaping "slave sells" at a young age.
"Gin Lane," he says, during a group discussion of plantation life in 18th-century Virginia.
This surprising anecdote comes from "George Washington, The Grand Comforter," by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Credit: Delgado
To speak and learn at age 14, Washington had to give a young lady his address (much to the outrage of his slave owner in nearby Front Royal), giving the young man the name Gin Lane. But gin is not what Washington's pal Chester Aiken (aka Captain William Merriman) wanted: "Darryl snort Scotch, captain stop me, shoot me, ye hard drunk drinker," Merriman said.
Washington's question was: What's gin? What's drink? Why did alcohol add fuel to fire? So Washington spent the rest of his life guessing, hiding bottles from the tax collectors or tossing them into the mountains. That's where people believed he had died in 1769.
Doris Kearns Goodwin. Credit: Delgado, Inc./Corbis via Getty Images
Washington's British captors insisted he drink to stay alive. The story of that is told in "Dashing: The Making of George Washington," his brother's book in tribute to the founding father. "His affection and fealty soon gave way to the basic necessity of survival. He, therefore, toed the line, making meager use of the awful special diet and losing himself in the world and the knowledge of his fellow men," the elder Washington wrote.
To his captors, the British knew the difference between gin and absinthe, confirming Washington's allegiance as a key ally of Louis XVI in 1785, when he helped negotiate the peace between France and England. Because Washington had failed his captain: He never had absinthe in his life.
Most famous of all: "He got the poorest diet of any commander in the history of our service, he got the, lack of good frugality on his side of the table," said Lt. Col. Roger Williams (who, in 1814, expelled George Washington from the Virginia colony after William Smith's revolt), before explaining to Jefferson Davis why Washington deserves all the blame for the Civil War.
"Dashing" later explained to a reporter why George had died before the worst of the Civil War, he had drunk too much gin.
Franklin D. Roosevelt and George Washington in 1936. Credit: Staumberg (CC) © History/Archive Photos/UIG via Getty Images
Washington and his contemporaries knew of alcoholic vice, known as "a terrible bulge in the jowls." A member of the Continental Congress, a moose hunter and a clam-digger, Washington drank as much as 1,200 gallons of ale a year, damaging his teeth by the late 17th century. The underground tipple, the "American rascal" drink, was known by some as his "rascal caper."
He'd also make his troops consume excessive amounts of mustard, creamed mustard and salted peanuts. Their morale was tattered from endless mud, fights, romances and war crimes.
Doris Kearns Goodwin. Credit: Courtesy Melville House Press
Washington liked to use chemical lacquer paint to make portraits look old but modern researchers think it was actually an excuse to impregnate the surface with THC oil from marijuana. He made fiery hot cider from the fermented remains, hallucinating later that he was touching the burning charcoal.
But he was humble and anxious. "He suffered enormous pains in the art of modern image making, because he badly had not seen reality," writes John Rawls, in his book "The Moral Compass"