February 18, 1983

William Cobbett, Benjamin Rush, and the Death of General Washington

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Medicine, Emory University School of Medicine and Piedmont Hospital (Dr Davies); the English as a Second Language Program, Georgia State University (Ms Davies), Atlanta.

JAMA. 1983;249(7):912-915. doi:10.1001/jama.1983.03330310042024

GEORGE Washington's death on Dec 14, 1799, ended a tumultuous century in the history of the United States.

With a finality that equaled the signing of the Declaration of Independence or Cornwallis' surrender at Yorktown, the church bells tolling Washington's death rang out the order of things as they had been for almost two centuries.

Washington's Last Illness  Although large and robust, Washington had numerous illnesses during his life, including bouts with smallpox and pneumonia, recurrent diarrhea, a large thigh abscess, and many dental problems.1 His final illness was mercifully short. After riding about his plantation in the freezing rain on Thursday, Dec 12, he contracted an upper respiratory tract infection with hoarseness developing on the following day. On Friday he went outdoors for a short time and in the evening read the newspapers aloud to his wife. Sometime between 2 and 3 AM on Saturday, the 14th, he awakened