Accession Number: 1999.8
Item: Hair sample of George Washington with Letter
What we believe to be George Washington's hair was sent out to The Department of Environmental Sciences in
and the FBI laboratories in 1999 to undergo various tests to determine the genetics of its former “owner”. Unfortunately, there was not enough hair to come to a positive conclusion and although more tests could have been done it would have put the hair sample at risk. The decision was made to preserve the remaining strands. But the tests done on the hair sample did reveal some other useful information. It provided us with the diet of the owner which included wheat, beans, corn, meat, and a small amount of fish, a diet similar to that of a modern man. Charlottesville, Virginia
The next question surrounding the mysterious sample of hair was whether or not it was indeed given to Alexander Hamilton, and why. Throughout time the observation of mourning a lost loved one has been practiced differently. Starting in the late 16th century people began to memorialize their deceased friends and family members through the wearing of mourning rings. This practice evolved into the creation of other mourning jewelry constructed out of the lately departed’s hair. The hair then would be constructed into bracelets or placed into broaches, rings and other fashionable pieces of jewelry to memorialize and act as a souvenir of the deceased to remind the living the importance of life. The practice became so popular among the wealthy during the colonial era that people would write into their last wills who would receive a mourning ring or sample of their hair upon their death.
Although hair was also exchanged by young lovers during courtship as personal mementos it was more often used in ritual mourning, the practice reaching its height during the Victorian Era. The end of the practice introduced a new era of mourning. The stoic response including, near indifference to the deceased with the wearing of bright colors in stark contrast to the mandatory wearing of black and mourning jewelry which would help delineate those in mourning and garner the proper respect.
While it is possible that the hair sample was given to Alexander Hamilton upon George Washington's death as a personal reminder of
patronage of the young man, there is no evidence of such a bequeath in the former President's Will. Even though Washington's Washington dedicated a section of his last testament to the creation and distribution of mourning rings to selected family members there is no mention of . Hamilton Hamilton served as aide-de-camp for Washington during the Revolutionary War and then Secretary of the Treasurer in cabinet but their relationship was strictly professional. Washington pursued a friendship with Hamilton but the latter made it perfectly clear in his correspondences with others that he never returned the friendship only seeing Washington as a beneficial mentor for his own career, even having a falling out from the General over what many consider a petty fight. Regardless of the schism, Washington's Hamilton assisted in the writing of his farewell address from his office as President and both remained close in their alliance as part of the new Federalist political party. Upon the General's death Washington Hamilton wrote a letter to Mrs. sending his condolences. Notwithstanding the inconclusive answers to; whether or not the snippet was George Washington's hair and if he actually bequeathed it to Alexander Hamilton, common mourning practices at the time as well as Hamilton and Washington's close political relationship, suggests that it is indeed possible that Washington gave Hamilton the pieces of hair and that it came to Wilton through the suggested line of people. Washington
"1784: Death Comes to
" Fall Exhibiition 2008, 2009, 2010. Exhibition Notes. Wilton
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. Wilton House Museum
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. Wilton House Museum
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