Monday, September 19, 2011

Washington's last fear ...

Doctors, family members, and slaves witnessed George Washington's final hours and death at 67 in December 1799. Sickened with an infection in his throat, causing a part of it to swell so much that breathing became impossible, Washington's final deathbed words were "Tis well" as he took his own pulse before taking his last breath.

But before that final observation, he spoke more stridently to an assistant:  "I am just going. Have me decently buried, and do not let my body be put into the vault in less than two days after I am dead ... Do you understand me?"  That directive, relayed to us today by historian Joseph J. Ellis in his 2004 book, His Excellency: George Washington, exposes a particular fear of the first president.

"Washington believed that several apparently dead people, perhaps including Jesus, had really been buried alive, a fate he wished to avoid," writes Ellis.

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