The Last Will of George Washington
On the night of his death, Washington reviewed two versions of his will. Martha kept his final choice safe, while she burned the rejected version.
Between ten and eleven at night on December 14, 1799, George Washington passed away. He was surrounded by people who were close to him including his wife, Martha Washington, who sat at the foot of the bed, his physician and good friend, Dr. James Craik, and Tobias Lear, his personal secretary.
On December 12, Washington was out on horseback supervising farm activities and it began to snow. Upon returning home, he did not change out of his wet clothes and went straight to dinner. By the next morning, Washington had a sore throat. His conditioned worsened and late in the evening on December 14, 1799, George Washington died of quinsy.
The last conversations George Washington had was with his secretary, Tobias Lear, concerned his burial arrangements. "Have me decently buried; and do not let my body be put into the vault in less than three days after I am dead." Fears of being buried too soon were common in the 18th century. Although Tobias Lear reportedly bowed affirmatively, Washington wanted to be certain: "Do you understand?" Upon received verbal confirmation that his last wishes would be honored, Washington spoke his final words: "Tis well."
A few months before his death, Washington wrote two wills. Then on the eve of his death, Washington asked his wife to bring him both versions. After reviewing them, Washington had one thrown in the fire.
Four ministers spoke at George Washington's funeral, each with their own connection to Washington. The ministers who spoke at Washington's funeral were: Reverend Mr. Thomas Davis, Reverend Dr. James Muir, Reverend Mr. William Moffatt (Maffatt), and Reverend Mr. Walter Dulany Addison.
In his will, George Washington left directions to emancipate all of the enslaved people that he owned after the death of Martha Washington. Of the 317 slaves at Mount Vernon in 1799, 123 individuals were owned by Washington. Martha Washington decided not to wait until her death. She signed a deed of manumission for Washington’s enslaved people and they were freed on January 1, 1801.
George Washington’s will stated that a new tomb be built to replace the existing tomb at Mount Vernon and that he and Martha Washington be buried within.
Come visit the final resting place of George and Martha Washington. Both the Old and New Tombs can be seen during your visit to Mount Vernon.