The “Sword” and the “Bulwark”
of the American Revolution
President Washington and Robert Morris, the national treasurer during the last years of the war, made a compact to live into the nineteenth century. Morris carried out his bargain; Washington did not.
As if crossing into the next century somehow loomed as an insurmountable hurdle, Washington grew haunted by the prospect of death as 1799 proceeded. Reflections on health, and death, crept into his correspondence with increasing frequency. One night that summer he dreamt that he and Martha were sitting together when an angel appeared and whispered in her ear. Martha immediately turned pale and vanished. The next morning Washington told her of the dream and explained that he interpreted it as a warning of his imminent death. Washington was so disturbed by the dream that “he could not shake it off, ” Martha subsequently recollected. She thought it was the nightmare that had led him, perhaps on that very day, to prepare the new will that provided for the emancipation of his slaves. 1
Washington remained in excellent health until December 13, when he awakened with a sore throat. Unconcerned, he spent some time that day outdoors in a swirling snow and bitter temperatures marking trees for pruning. He fell asleep that night expecting to be better in the morning. Instead, he awakened about 3:00 AM desperately ill, likely suffering from a streptococcus infection. His life strength had vanished during the five hours that he had slept, as pulmonary edema and distension in his throat diminished his capacity to breathe. Physicians were summoned, but their ministrations,