“‘Tis well,” were George Washington’s final words before dying at Mount Vernon on Dec. 14, 1799, according to a new book by Washington scholar Peter Henriques.

I was casting about for something to write this week, knowing it would be written before the election but not appear until after election day.

I wanted something inspirational but knew there was no universal result that would please everyone. So, I decided to go back, way back, to where it all began. 

Henriques book, “First and Always, A New Portrait of George Washington” is a collection of essays and lectures that explore seldom-reported aspects of the life of the great man without whom none of what we have today would be possible.

Over the years, I’ve learned that the more I read about Washington, the more inspired I am, even when stories put him in a not-so-good light.

Slavery, for example. 

When Washington died, 317 slaves worked at Mount Vernon, a plantation which had become the equivalent of a small village with manufacturing, distilling, farming, hospitality and shipping operations. Slaves comprised roughly 90 percent of the residents. 

Washington opposed breaking up slave families and provided some of his human chattel with freedoms not common to the era. He paid for fruits and vegetables grown in slaves’ own gardens and allowed a few to travel on their own and carry weapons. 

Washington was the only founding father to free his slaves, although he did not do it until after his death. 

Still, he was far from perfect. He was known to track down runaways, including slaves who did so legally under a Pennsylvania law that allowed slaves to claim freedom if they remained in the state for more than six months. 

Henriques discredits several myths about Washington, including his having fathered a son, Wes Ford, with a slave named Venus who belonged to Washington’s brother John. Ford may have carried Washington blood, Henriques wrote, but it wasn’t from George, who was at war and nowhere near his brother’s plantation at the time Wes was conceived. 

Nor did young Washington chop down a cherry tree or other stories invented by early biographer Parson Mason Weems. 

Washington’s wooden teeth are another myth, although he did have dentures comprised of animal and human teeth, at least one of which he paid a slave to donate. 

Washington’s father was often away and died when George was 11, leaving his mother, Mary Ball Washington, to raise him. Henriques describes the many conflicts between mother and son in a chapter titled “Complicated, Very Complicated,” where he notes that biographer Ron Chernow claimed George was “the antitheses of his mother.” If she was “crude and illiterate, he would improve himself through books. If she was self-centered, he would be self-sacrificing,” Chernow wrote.

Two attributes that Henriques attributes to Mary Washington were George’s love of horses and his fondness of fashion. 

Despite Mary’s reputation for slipshod habits, Henriques wrote that recent research has shown she was a “lifelong connoisseurship of fabrics.” 

She apparently passed that on to George, whose meticulous interest in clothing is evident throughout his life. At the Continental Congress of 1775, Washington’s appearance in a military uniform of his own design prompted John Adams to recommend him as commander in chief of the fledgling Continental Army. 

Washington’s final words, “’Tis well,” have been interpreted by some as a commentary on the American experiment, but Henriques contends they were spoken in an entirely different context. 

Like many of that era, Washington was “fearful of being buried alive” and wanted to make sure he was not buried until he was dead for at least two days. When an aide “acknowledged that he understood,” Henriques wrote, Washington responded, “’Tis well.”