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George Washington and the Eclipse

George Washington was fascinated by the natural world that surrounded him, whether that meant preparing for an eclipse during the Revolutionary War, dutifully recording the weather at Mount Vernon, marveling over exotic animals, or observing natural phenomenon throughout his life.

The Eclipse, a Revolutionary Phenomenon

Perhaps no natural phenomenon captivated 18th-century society more than the eclipse. Almanacs of the period frequently charted days when citizens could expect a sudden darkening of the heavens, and this celestial phenomenon continued to be documented and observed by Americans even while the Revolutionary War raged across the countryside.

On January 8, 1777, just days after his stunning victories over the British at Trenton and Princeton, George Washington stopped to pen a strange letter of thanks. Instead of praising battlefield heroics, Washington acknowledged the Pennsylvania Council of Safety for notice they provided of an impending eclipse. In a letter dated January 5, 1777, Thomas Wharton warned the General that "according to Astronomical Calculations, on Thursday next between the hours of 9 and 11 in the forenoon, a great Eclipse of the Sun will be visible here, perhaps it may not be amiss on this occasion to guard against a superstitious fear in the Army which might take place should the Men be unexpectedly surprised with this appearance." In his response to the council, Washington agreed that "this event, without a previous knowledge of it, might affect the minds of the Soldiery, and be attended with some bad consequences."

More than a year later, on June 24, 1778, a total solar eclipse was recorded as being visible by combatants from the Carolinas to New England. Thomas Jefferson noted this event in his letters from Monticello, but was "much disappointed in Virginia generally on the day of the great eclipse, which proved to be cloudy."

Although George Washington does not mention the event, troops in his army took notice as preparations were made in the days leading up to the Battle of Monmouth. Revolutionary War veteran Joseph Plumb Martin remembered that "the day we were drafted the sun was eclipsed; had this happened upon such an occasion in 'olden time,' it would have been considered ominous either of good or bad fortune, but we took no notice of it."

"3d. Ground hard frozen. Morning clear & pleasant with but little wind and that from the South.... The Northern lights or aurora Borealis was seen last evening but not in a very conspicuous degree." -George Washington, March 3, 1780

Voyage to Barbados

In 1751, when George Washington was just 19 years old, he accompanied his older half-brother Lawrence Washington on a trip to the Carribean island of Barbados. Washington brought this interesting piece of staghorn coral back as a souvenir of his voyage.  

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The Christmas Camel

In December 1787, George Washington recorded paying 18 shillings to bring a camel to Mount Vernon from neighboring Alexandria, Virginia.   This was not the first exotic animal that Washington encountered. Click the link below to learn more.  

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Washington's Mastodon Tooth

George Washington was the proud owner of a grinder, or large tooth, collected near the Ohio River in Big Bone Lick, Kentucky.

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Where the Buffalo Roam

Buffalo were a common sight during George Washington's many trips to the frontier. They even became a common sight at Mount Vernon!

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