On the day that the Declaration of Independence was signed, George Washington bought a broom. Actually we know a lot more about what he spent during the war because he refused to accept a salary. All he wanted, he said, was to be reimbursed for his expenses. A meticulous record keeper, Washington noted all, ranging from that first broom to the mutton he preferred for dinner to the cost of Martha’s visits.
His expense account was published in 1833. A Treasury Department document, it was called “Accounts, G. Washington with the United States, Commencing June 1775, and ending June 1783, Comprehending a Space of 8 Years,” The grand total for his personal account was $449,251.61 In today’s dollars, maybe $4 million or so?
Referring to Martha’s trips to his camps, Washington wrote the following. I’ve circled, “to my winter quarters & back…”
Where are we going? To a top ten list from George Washington’s wartime expense account.
Top Ten Personal Expenses
Out of more than 80 pages of entries that the Library of Congress has online, I’ve included just ten examples that conveyed the personal side of the General’s wartime life.
- Household Expenses Valley Forge Winter of 1777-1778: $2,000
- Telescope from France: $1274
- A light Phaeton (a “chariot”):$1,430 and a riding mare: $1248
- Decorating house in Cambridge with “Bedstead & Curtains, Mattrass, Blankets…”: $546
- Damascus Cloth (probably table linen): $62.00
- 20 lbs. of tea: $468
- Household expenses (Nov. 21,1780-Sept.6,1781 including food like “pidgeons,” veal, eggs, “hurtleberries”, cork cask, 400 limes, Madeira wines: $20,800.
- French cook (recurring): $58.50
- Mrs. Washington’s traveling expenses: $27,665.30
- Interest charges for what Washington laid out: $7,488.
I have not included examples of war related expenses like paying for a spy ($2600) or a broadside to be distributed before an attack on Canadian troops ($156).
Our Bottom Line: George Washington’s Birthday
While George Washington became the first president of the United States on March 4,1789, he took his oath of office On April 30th.
In addition to winning the war, as President George Washington established an economic foundation. Yes, he had Alexander Hamilton. But still, through his leadership we funded the war debt, established public credit and a flow of much needed tax revenue, created the First National Bank, stimulated manufacturing to complement agriculture, created a patent system and coinage capability, and initiated the beginnings of a transportation infrastructure.
Happy President’s Day!