George Washington was a famously powerful athlete.

Washington and Gist Crossing the Allegheny River, possibly by Daniel Huntington, mid 19th century. (MVLA)

One story from 1773 adds to the legend of Washington's physical prowess. American artist Charles Willson Peale recalled that there were several visitors at Mount Vernon competing to see how far they could throw an iron bar across the lawn. Suddenly, Washington appeared and, smiling, held out his hand.

He requested to be shown the pegs that marked the bounds of our efforts; then, smiling, and without putting off his coat, held out his hand for the missile. No sooner … did the heavy iron bar feel the grasp of his mighty hand than it lost the power of gravitation, and whizzed through the air, striking the ground far, very far, beyond our utmost limits. We were indeed amazed, as we stood around, all stripped to the buff, with shirt sleeves rolled up, and having thought ourselves very clever fellows, while the colonel, on retiring, pleasantly observed, ‘When you beat my pitch, young gentlemen, I’ll try again.’

Did He Toss a Silver Dollar Across the Potomac?

The Potomac River is over a mile wide at Mount Vernon, and even George Washington did not have the arm to fling a silver dollar that far.

Moreover, there were no silver dollars when Washington was a young man! The first silver dollar coin was minted in 1794.

However, his step-grandson, George Washington Parke Custis, recounts a story in which the General hurls a piece of slate across the Rappahannock River in Fredericksburg, Virginia. This would have been a more plausible feat, as the Rappahannock is much narrower than the Potomac.

Explore other Washington Myths


Washington the Athlete

Learn more about Washington as an all-around athlete.

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