George Washington Was Whiskey Maker

Tuesday, June 27th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MOUNT VERNON, Va. (AP) — They probably did not tell you this in history class: The nation's first president made whiskey.

George Washington's distillery produced 11,000 gallons of whiskey between 1798 and 1799, fetching the then-hefty sum of $7,500 for the retired general.

What is believed to be one of Washington's copper stills will in coming years be on display here, thanks to a partnership announced Monday with the Smithsonian Institution.

The tarnished still and a portrait of Washington by English painter James Sharples are among many items that will be removed from Smithsonian warehouses and shown at Mount Vernon under the agreement.

``The people's properties are being returned to the people,'' said Sen. John Warner, R-Va.

The partnership is part of the Smithsonian's initiative to get historic items out of mothballs and before the public. A majority of the institution's 141 million objects are in storage in Maryland, said Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small.

Objects such as the still are important because they give a complete picture of the lives of historic figures, Small said. The still, he joked, presents Washington ``in a more relaxed mood.''

Historians are fairly certain but not positive that the still, built in England in 1787, was owned by Washington. Most of Washington's belongings were sold following his death in 1799.

Regardless of its ownership, the still has a curious story of its own: It was confiscated in the 1940s from a moonshiner in Fairfax County, and police turned it over to the Smithsonian when they discovered it may have been Washington's.

Mount Vernon plans to use the still to create replicas that will be part of a recreation of Washington's distillery.