Saturday, October 27, 2012

George Washington ... "Cards & other Play"

As a general, George Washington forbade gambling among his men, calling it “the child of avarice, the brother of iniquity and the father of mischief.” But in his private life, before being appointed head of the Continental Army, he enjoyed betting on “Cards & other Play” – the title he gave to a page of the extensive records he kept, in his own handwriting, of all types of financial transactions he made during his life.  Those entries in his so-called Ledger B note how much he won, how much he lost, and where he played from 1772 to early 1775.

During those years, he recorded playing 64 times, coming out ahead – financially speaking – 28 times and behind 36 times.  His biggest one-day (or perhaps one-night) losses were 6.5 pounds on two dates, March 28, 1772 and April 6, 1772, when he played at Williamsburg, Virginia. The most he earned came on October 7, when he played at Annapolis, Virginia and earned a whopping 13.7 pounds.

During this period, before the American Revolution, Washington was a well-known Virginia planter and landowner, apparently enjoying the good life. He represented Fairfax County in the Virginia House of Burgesses, which met in Williamsburg. As the Burgesses took steps toward criticizing the British Crown, Virginia’s Royal Governor dissolved the organization in 1774. In response to this and other grievances, American patriots held their First Continental Congress, which met in September and October of 1774. Washington was one of the representatives from Virginia, and recorded “Cards & other Play” items in his ledger only twice after that point, and never after he was appointed commander of the patriots’ Continental Army by the Second Continental Congress in 1775. But it's hard to believe that he gave it up for good!

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