History would have been much different if George Washington was born a 90-pound weakling. As it was, he was an abnormally large man, especially for the American Colonies. At 6’2″ and weighing more than 200 pounds, he was literally and figuratively a giant of a man. This might be why nine diseases, Indian snipers, and British cannon shot all failed to take the big man down.
It’s not just that the man was fearless in battle (even though he really was). Washington suffered from a number of otherwise debilitating, painful ailments and diseases throughout his life that would have taken a lesser man down — but not the man who founded the most powerful country ever to grace the Earth.
He should have died at the Battle of the Monongahela
Near what we today call Pittsburgh,a British force under General Edward Braddock was soundly defeated by a force of French Canadians and Indians during the French and Indian War. Braddock died of wounds sustained in the fighting, but Washington survived despite having two horses shot out from under him. When all was said and done, he also found four musket-ball holes in his coat.
He had dysentery the whole time
During much of the French and Indian War, Washington reported bouts of dysentery, an infection that causes (among other things) persistent diarrhea. He suffered from this while dodging bullets at the Monongahela River. The discomfort from it actually made him sit taller on his horse.
He trotted 30 yards from enemy lines
During the 1777 Battle of Princeton, Washington rode on his horse as bullets fired from British rifles 30 yards away whizzed around him. When troops worried about their leader getting shot, he simply said, “parade with me my fine fellows, we will have them soon!”
Trenton was cold as hell.
Crossing the Delaware was actually much more dangerous than the stories would have you believe. Giant chunks of ice were in the dark water that night and each threatened to overturn the longboats. Washington set out with three boats to make the crossing, and only his made it. Falling into the water likely meant a slow, freezing death for any Continental, even if they managed to get out of it.
Two Continental soldiers who survived the crossing stopped to rest by the side of the road and were frozen by morning.
He had six of the most lethal diseases of his time.
Normally, if you’re reading about someone in the 1700s contracting tuberculosis, dysentery, pneumonia, malaria, smallpox, or diphtheria, it’s because that’s how they died. Not only did Washington survive all of these conditions, he knew how to inoculate his army against smallpox, claiming the British tried using as an early form of biological warfare. It was the first mass military inoculation in history — and it worked.
In the end, Washington was felled by what modern doctors think was a case of epiglottitis, an acute bacterial inflammation of the little flap at the base of the tongue that covers the trachea.
Like the Rebel Alliance finding an exhaust port in the Death Star plans, life found a way to take down one of history’s greatest. It took 67 years and a whole lot of trial and error.