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‘WHAT IF …?’

by on May 04, 2013 10:49 AM

According to author William Betts, it was probably a miracle that George Washington survived 67 years.

After all, the first president lived at a time when much of humankind was ravaged by diseases that could not be prevented or controlled. Washington suffered many bouts of life-threatening illnesses including smallpox, tuberculosis, typhoid fever and malaria. Many in his large family died as children, teens and young adults.

He survived dangerous expeditions through uncharted wilderness and had near-death experiences in risky river crossings in small boats and on a raft on the Allegheny River in the dead of winter.

And, of course, during his military career, there were run-ins with hostile Native Americans and Redcoats.

“I heard the bullets whistle … I had four bullets through my coat,” Washington said of one firefight in which two horses were shot out from underneath him.

“Washington, as a young man, thumbed his nose at the Grim Reaper,” Betts wrote in his introduction to “The Nine Lives of George Washington.”

And Betts poses an interesting historical speculation: “What if …” What if Washington had not survived all those close calls? What would have become of the revolution, the emerging new nation, the constitution he guided to adoption?

Betts is a retired Indiana University of Pennsylvania English professor who now divides his time between Indiana and Florida. “The Nine Lives of George Washington,” his 14th book, includes 35 illustrations and what Betts describes as “copious” notes.

The new book will be available at The Book Nook, in downtown Indiana, and from and from the publisher, iUniverse, at

— Randy Wells

Randy Wells has been a reporter and staff writer at The Indiana Gazette since 1988. His regular assignments include coverage of the Indiana County commissioners, Indiana Borough council and the Marion Center Area School District. His email address is
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