- 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 gallonsand
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.
George Washington, Distiller
As students of Voltaire, Diderot, and Rousseau are always reminding us, the
age of reason was really an age of sentiment. In this too, Washington was a man of his age. When he established the first general decoration in the American Army, the Purple Heart, it was not (as it became in the twentieth century) an award available to all soldiers wounded in the line of duty. Only privates and noncomissioned officers could win the original
Badge of Military Merit, a cloth-shaped heart sewn over the man’s actual heart, which allowed him to
pass all guards and sentinels which officers are permitted to do. The symbol was not of heart’s blood shed, but of virtue proceeding from the heart. Limiting the award to nonofficers was meant to indicate that great virtue can be shown regardless of rank — that in Washington’s words,
the road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus open to all.