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

[Of those opposed to slavery,] George Washington belonged, with Mason and Jefferson, in the hardest category — disapproving owners. Theirs was the most difficult position to maintain, psychologically and rhetorically. It would not be maintained over the next sixty years, as southern antislavery rhetoric withered. Practically and politically, disapproving owners were in the hardest position from which to achieve their goals. How do you weaken an institution in which you and all your neighbors are enmeshed? Washington did enough, finally, to free his own slaves, which was more than many owners in his position did. Jefferson never freed all his, nor did any of the other slave-owning presidents.

Richard Brookhiser
Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington (1996)