George Washington, Distiller

  • There is a fascinating What if ... article by Michael Bechloss about George Washington and his distillery at Mount Vernon (The New York Times, 12-Feb-2016). Following his presidency in 1797, Washington found himself in need of money, despite an 8,000 acre plantation and labor by hundreds of enslaved African-Americans. His plantation manager suggested starting a distillery, which in 1799 produced nearly 11,000 gallons and achieved a profit of about $7,500 (about $142,000 today). What might have become one of the great businesses of the early republic — it was already the largest distillery in America — was cut short when Washington died in December 1799.
JDN | 15-Jan-2017

Washington’s refusal to accept a salary for his services was emblematic of his somewhat ostentatious public virtue. He did open a public expense account, however, and some have claimed that he made money from it by overcharging Congress. In fact, the £150 per month that he requested for expenses was not just for him, but also for his entourage, which sometimes swelled to a crowd. His account books, which still exist, list charges for things like ferry fares, innkeepers’ fees, candlesticks, saddle repair, meat, fruit, mounds of cabbages and beets, and (admittedly) oceans of grog, liquor, and wine. Washington even charged Congress for fifteen shillings Cash paid a beggar by the General’s order. But although he was not averse to placing his headquarters in the occasional mansion, he otherwise made do with precious few luxuries.

Edward G. Lengel
General George Washington: A Military Life (2005)