George Washington's Hair Tucked Away in 18th Century Library Book

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February 14, 2018

Secreted between the pages of an almanac on the shelf of a New York college library for nearly the life of the country have been six strands of hair from the head of George Washington.

Officials at Schenectady's Union College made the announcement recently, after completing a recent inventory. The leather-bound book, Gaines Universal Register or American and British Kalendar for the Year 1793, once belonged to Philip J. Schuyler, whose father, also named Philip, was a general serving under Washington during the Revolutionary War. Gen. Philip Schuyler, one of the founders of Union College, had three other children: Angelica, Margarita, and Elizabeth, the wife of Alexander Hamilton.

Washington's hair, in a book

Also within the pages of the almanac were several handwritten notes from Schuyler; one of those notes was in an envelope on which was inscribed the words "Washington's hair." Accompanying the envelope were the strands of hair, which are white. Washington had reddish-brown hair as a young man but had white hair in his later years.

The inscription on the envelope concludes with the words "L.S.S. & GBS from James A. Hamilton given him by his mother Aug. 10, 1871." According to officials from Albany's Schuyler Mansion, James Hamilton, Alexander's third son, gave the hair to his granddaughters, Louisa Lee Schuyler and Georgina Schuyler and it is the granddaughters' initials that are on the envelope.

Union College said that they intended to put on a public display of the hair but included no timeline.

Keeping or giving as gifts locks of hair was a practice not uncommon in earlier centuries. Washington's hair has turned up in other places as well:

  • A locket with some of Washington's (reddish-brown) hair is on display at Washington's home, Mount Vernon; Martha Washington cut the hair from her husband's head and gave it to Elizabeth Wolcott, the wife of Secretary of the Treasury Oliver Wolcott.
  • On display at the Massachusetts Historical Society is a locket containing Washington's hair given by Dr. John Collins Warren to Simon Greenleaf. Warren was a surgeon who performed the first public demosntrationg of surgical anesthesia; he studied medicine alongside his father, John Warren, a surgeon in the Continental Army and the founder of Harvard Medical School. Greenleaf was a prominent lawyer and one of the prime developers of Harvard Law School.

Strands of Washington's hair can be found in many other places around the country.

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