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Did George Washington really throw a silver dollar across the Potomac River?

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Did George Washington really throw a silver dollar across the Potomac River?



First, a bit of history about our first President, this won‘t take long, so take the time to read these interesting facts.


George Washington was born in Westmoreland County, Va. on February 22, 1732 into a Virginia planters family. Growing up here, he learned the morals, manners, and body of knowledge requisite for an 18th century Virginia gentleman.


In 1748, Lord Thomas Fairfax hired George at 16 years of age to survey his lands lying west of the Blue Ridge of Shenandoah. Commissioned a lieutenant colonel in 1754, George fought in the first skirmishes of what grew into the French and Indian War. The next year, as an aide to Gen. Edward Braddock, Lt.George Washington saw action and escaped injury. During subsequent battles, four bullets had ripped through his coat and two of his horses were shot from underneath him.


From about 1759 to the outbreak of the American Revolution, Washington managed his inherited lands in and around Mount Vernon and also served in the Virginia House of Burgesses.


When the Second Continental Congress assembled in Philadelphia in May of 1775, Washington, who was one of the Virginia delegates, was quickly elected Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. On July 3, 1775, at Cambridge, Massachusetts, he took command of his ill-trained troops and set out on a war that was to last for six grueling years. After many bitter battles and with the aid of French allies, George forced the surrender of Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781.


Washington soon realized that this Nation under its Articles of Confederation was not functioning as planned, so he became a prime mover in the steps leading to the Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia in 1787. When the new Constitution was ratified, the Electoral College unanimously elected Washington as it's first President. George served as that President from April 30, 1789, until the end of his second term on March 4, 1797


By 1793 and much to Washington’s disappointment, two parties were developing at the very close of his first term. Wearied of politics and feeling a bit old, George retired at the end of his second term in 1797.


Washington enjoyed less than three years of retirement at Mount Vernon, dieing at age 67 from a throat infection on December 14, 1799.


Washington did have a final set of instructions: “I am just going; Have me decently buried; and do not let my body be put into the vault in less than three days after I am dead”. At the dying Presidents bedside, long term friend and secretary Tobias Lear stood speechless. “Do you understand?” Washington demanded. Lear responded he would do as Washington asked. Then Washington, seemingly content, said. “Tis well”.


Those were the great man’s last words.



Now, back to the question at hand?


Did George Washington really throw a silver dollar across the Potomac River?


Being quite capable of doing a feat of significant strength, George Washington was a large and powerful man. He stood 6 feet, 2 inches tall and in later life weighed more than 200 pounds. He wore large shoes (size 13), and stood with an erect military bearing. His face was long with high cheekbones, and he had a large, straight nose, a firm chin, and blue eyes beneath heavy brows.


But alas, his famous coin toss is apparently not the whole truth. This popular myth is often told to illustrate his strength, but the river was not the Potomac (about a mile wide) nor was it the Delaware. Looking at his childhood homestead, perhaps it was the Rappahannock River near Fredericksburg, Virginia. According to myth, Washington threw a piece of slate, about the size and shape of a dollar, not a actual silver dollar. This account took place according to Martha Washington's grandson, George Washington Parke Custis. While the story has never been verified, historians concede that the feat is a possibility. At the site of the Washington family homestead, the Rappahannock measures only 250 feet across, an impressive but not impossible throwing distance.


Moreover, there were no US silver dollars available when Washington was a young man.


The first US Silver dollar wasn’t minted until 1794 five years before Washington’s death.

Diameter: ±39-40 millimeters 1.535 to 1.574 inches

Metal content:

Silver - 90% Copper - 10%

Weight: ±416 grains (±27.0 grams



If it was any coin at all, it may have been a Sanish 8 Reales. The Spanish Milled Dollar was minted on a coin press from 1732-1826 where-as the term "milled" refers to the fact that the coin blanks (planchets) were made on a milling machine and were of consistent weight and size of 27.1 grams and 1.65 inches in diameter, slightly larger than the US dollar.




Note: What was George Washington’s middle name?


1794 silver dollar “Coin Facts”




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Not to mention the fact that a dollar was a very large sum in those days, and although Washington was wealthy I doubt he would have just thrown a dollar away like that. If you take the slate and "skip" it across the river, I'm sure it is very possible (and ultra-cool in the eyes of youngsters). Or, with the right aerodynamics, throw the slate frisbee-style, and it can go a long ways, no superhuman strength required.

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Another interesting post. I do not believe that George was given or had a middle name.


As far as throwing the coin across the river, I am a Texas transplant (proud of it) here to Virginia and live in Stafford. Not knowing this area, I was amazed to find out how far across the Potomoc River is and he most certainly did not that successful toss. Your reference to the Rhappahonock in Fredericksburg is much more likely.



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Additional discovery information while doing a bit of reserach on George Washington's middle name. Seems I was on the right track with the 8 Reales! :grin:


Mason Locke Weems who is an American printer and author, is best known as the source of some of the apocryphal stories about George Washington.

foot note to article:


The story of throwing a Spanish dollar (or a stone that size) 270 ft (90 m) across the Rappahannock River near the Washington plantation at Ferry Farm does not seem to occur in Weems' biography, but is instead attributed to Washington's step-grandson George Washington Parke Custis. The alleged feat was recapitulated in 1936 by the renowned professional baseball pitcher Walter Johnson.[1]


"The Big Train", was an American right-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball between 1907 and 1927

Played for Washington Nationals (later Washington Senators, which is the now Minnesota Twins).



page 133 in the April 1936 issue of Spink & Sons Numismatic Circular:


Coin Thrown 270 Feet.

George Washington Feat Emulated

Virginian Town Wins a Bet.

From Our Correspondent Fredericksburg.

Virginia, Sunday.


Thousands of excited citizens crowded the muddy banks of the Rappahannock River here yesterday afternoon to see whether Mr. Walter Johnson, the famous baseball player and the hero of every American schoolboy, could emulate the feat accredited to George Washington of throwing a silver dollar 300 feet across the river. American school books relate the story of Washington's pitching feat side by side with the famous cherry tree anecdote. Washington's 204th birthday was nationally celebrated yesterday. Mr. Solomon Bloom, who represents New York in Congress, conceived the idea, presumably for publicity reasons, of betting 20 to 1 that the throw could not be repeated. Dozens of State Officials and scores of reporters and cameramen stood knee-deep in thick ooze on the river banks while Mr. Johnson, removing his coat, warmed himself by a few preliminary throws. Then, taking a specially minted dollar, he tossed it with ease across the 270 feet of turbulent water. An excited crowd of souvenir hunters fought desperately to obtain possession of the trophy. The scene was broadcast throughout the country to millions of interested listeners."


(add'l info uncovered)


"On February 22, Walter arrived in Fredericksburg to be greeted by a crowd of 8,000, a large group of reporters, and a CBS Radio news crew who would be broadcasting the event live. He made two preliminary throws across the Rappahannock, the first with a washer that fell just short and the second with a coin that just did make it. Now before the newsreel cameras, Johnson made the official toss with a silver dollar minted in 1779. The coin smoothly sailed over the freezing waters to land on the other side having cleared an estimated 317 feet."


The first U.S dollar coin is dated 1794. If 1779 is indeed the correct year, perhaps it was a Spanish coin.


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This is really interesting, because I was under the assumption that George did not have a middle name!


I was wondering if the geneology chart carried his Father's first name to indicate a direct off-spring?


Further discussion and research maybe warranted, just look what I dug up looking for more info. (above this post)


You guys dig stuff up all the time...get to work! :grin:

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No, but I stayed in a Holiday Inn last night. Does that count?


Sorry, it has to be an "Express" Holiday Inn :makepoint:

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When I was a teenager I tried to throw a half dollar across the Delaware River in Milford, PA. I had a decent arm-fastball clocked at about 80- but could only manage to reach about 3/4 across the river.

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My Dad caught for Walter Johnson in 1927. He had a tryout as a catcher with the Nationals. Johnson was the pitcher assigned to test the rookie. My Dad said Johnson threw five pitches - he caught three and never saw the other two. His major league baseball career began and ended that day, but he was always happy to have gotten the chance. Later he and Johnson’s son worked together and our families occasionally socialized.

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  • Member: Seasoned Veteran

Politicians have been throwing away our money ever since. :(

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My Dad caught for Walter Johnson in 1927. He had a tryout as a catcher with the Nationals. Johnson was the pitcher assigned to test the rookie. My Dad said Johnson threw five pitches - he caught three and never saw the other two. His major league baseball career began and ended that day, but he was always happy to have gotten the chance. Later he and Johnson’s son worked together and our families occasionally socialized.


Roger, that's a neat story to tie in with this topic. As the story goes, Walter Johnson threw the equivalent to Nolan Ryan's 100 mph fastballs (technology did not exsist yet to measure pitchers speeds) but after seeing the first pitch, the rookies would ask the older players, "How do you hit against this guy?" Their reply was, "When you see Walter wind up, swing!"

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Thanks. It was the story I usually got when I’d ask Dad about the war and building the Burma Road – he switched subjects quickly to something more pleasant.

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Neat story, Roger. I had a cousin who pitched one summer for the Red Sox in AA league baseball after High School. He later went to Harvard instead of playing baseball but never regreted the experience with the Sox.

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Right before WWII a friend of mine's Dad also pitched in double AA League. One Saturday afternoon, his son and I were watching a modern game on TV along with his Dad. During the game, the catcher caught an errant pitch, stood up and stopped the game mid-stride. The catcher walked to the pitchers mound where they started to confer. The third baseman soon joined them on the mound and it looked like a conference. Moments later the catcher flipped the ball back to the pitcher and the game resumed.


Knowing this same thing probably happened to his Dad while he was pitching in AA asked his dad, "Say Dad, what do they usually talk about when the catcher goes to the mound like that?"


His Dad calmly replied, "Usually about nothing, it's just to calm the pitcher down and to get him back into a rhythm."


Son, "What did the catcher tell you to calm you down?"


Dad‘s reply, "One time he asked me if I'd seen the good looking gal in the second row down along the third base line?"


Son, “Did it work?”


Dad, “Struck the batter out, retired the inning and he was right, that was a good looking gal!”


WWII interupted his career as did many other players.


He said he was paid a sum of $37.50 per week, 7 games per week with some double headers! The double headers were played at parks that were lighted.



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