George Washington's alleged deathbed conversion to Catholicism?

This past week I heard from two separate priests that George Washington, the Revolutionary War general and first US President who is called the “Father of Our Country”, purportedly called for a Catholic priest as he lay dying and that a Jesuit came and converted him to Catholicism on his deathbed. Since I had never heard of this before, and the priests in question, while good and holy men, have been known to say some incorrect or just a wee bit biased things about historical figures, I looked this up myself.

Apparently there is a story supported by some historical sources that Washington called for a priest on his deathbed and someone fetched a Jesuit from their mission in Maryland right across the river from Washington’s home at Mount Vernon, who proceeded to hear Washington’s confession and conditionally baptize him into the Roman Catholic Church. Some say the Jesuit was Fr. Leonard Neale, the first bishop ordained in US, who became Archbishop of Baltimore and President of Georgetown. However, a Catholic historian of the late 1800s, Martin I.J. Griffin, concluded that the story was probably not true. Many other historical sources on Washington say he didn’t practice much religion, describe him as either a very lukewarm Anglican or a Deist, and say he did not call for any sort of priest or minister when dying. He had four Protestant ministers officiate his funeral, but of course, in those days Catholicism was not well regarded in Virginia, so any sort of deathbed conversion would have been kept quiet, and Washington’s family would not have been calling up the Jesuits to send a priest over from Maryland (where Catholics were more tolerated) for the funeral.

I’m curious as to whether there are any other historians, as in reputable scholars and biographers, who’ve looked at this since Griffin and what they had to say. According to these priests, this is mentioned in some bios of Washington. Someone named Janice Connell has written a whole book on Washington’s spiritual life which contains this story, but it seems to be a self-published work and while it’s apparently an Amazon bestseller, I don’t think I would call it a reliable scholarly source.

As a sidenote, one of the priests also mentioned that George Washington allegedly saw a vision of Mother Mary at Valley Forge. Since this is an unapproved private revelation, I will not post more about it here, except to note that it is indeed listed in the MIracleHunter.com list of “Traditionally Approved” apparitions for the 1700s, if anyone wants to go read more about it there.

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There doesn’t seem to be much historical evidence that that happened. I also looked it up and most historical sources claimed it was not true while the only sources I saw proclaiming his conversion were Catholic blogs. It’s possible, but it does not seem to be founded on much historical evidence and it may just be a myth. Who knows though

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Thanks. I was hoping someone (perhaps a history scholar) had some historical reference works rather than just “Catholic blogs”, which aren’t reliable sources for this type of subject. It seems established that the story appeared in a number of US newspapers throughout the 1800s, so it’s not some recent invention, and one would think there would be historians other than one guy addressing it.

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Washington was a master Freemason
According to multiple Popes, and an exorcist I personally spoke to on the matter, they deliberately set themselves up as enemies of the Church.
Considering they curse descendants who convert to the Church, it’s hard to imagine he did this…
Of course, maybe he said, “I’m about to die, who cares if I betray Freemasonry?”
Let’s hope he did that!

Yeah, all the stuff about Washington’s alleged bad habits throughout his life doesn’t really say much to me on the topic of what he might have done on his deathbed. A lot of big sinners repent in their final days or hours.

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The following article doesn’t address the deathbed conversion question, but it describes Washington’s faith in more detail.

An excerpt:
"Throughout his life, Washington appealed to “an all-powerful Providence” to protect and guide him and the nation, especially in times of crisis. Throughout the War for Independence, he asked for and acknowledged God’s providential guidance and assistance hundreds of times. He told Reverend William Gordon in 1776 that no one had “a more perfect Reliance on the alwise, and powerful dispensations of the Supreme Being than I have nor thinks his aid more necessary.” “The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous” in the war, the general asserted in 1778, that anyone who did not thank God and “acknowledge his obligations” to him was “worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked.” After the war ended, Washington declared, “I attribute all glory to that Supreme Being,” who had caused the several forces that contributed to America’s triumph to harmonize perfectly together. No people “had more reason to acknowledge a divine interposition in their affairs,” he wrote in 1792, than those of the United States.”

“Scholars and ordinary Americans will continue to debate the precise nature of Washington’s faith, but clearly it became deeper as a result of his trying and sometimes traumatic experiences as commander in chief of the Continental Army and the nation’s first president, and it significantly affected his understanding of and his actions in both positions”.

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I came across that claim awhile back (on the internet :flushed:), but the retelling of the vision sounded more like Columbia than Mary.

I have heard this before, and it is one of those things I’d like to believe is true, but in the end, there’s no way to know. I don’t think it’s anything that secular historians are going to advocate for, and the Freemasons definitely wouldn’t want anyone to believe it.

Incidentally, I might qualify as a Catholic historian, two degrees, BA and MA, and just today, in homeschool we had a rousing discussion about the Byzantine emperor Justinian and how the Nika riots in the chariot stadium echoed today’s events in this country. I’m not sure how many homeschool history classes could weave Donald Trump, NASCAR, and Bubba Wallace’s rude treatment at the Bristol Motor Speedway into a narrative of Byzantine history. When I assured my son that drivers are rarely seriously hurt in crashes, he brought up Dale Earnhardt. We’re in the South, what can I say? :checkered_flag:

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Well, it’s like Abraham Lincon said . . .
:crazy_face: :scream: :rofl:

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is there some evidence of a mission being “right across the river” from Mount Vernon at the time?

The Potomac is pretty wide through there. Unless there was a ferry close by, it would have been a logistical challenge. I’d think it’s plausible, if there was a way to get across the river, otherwise, it’s a pretty good ride by horse or carriage to go around town.

It’s a good story, but only if there are a few more facts to support it as far as the priest goes.

https://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/44374155.pdf

Thanks, but this is a paper by the Catholic historian Martin I.J. Griffin who, as I already explained in my first post, concluded it didn’t happen. While this is interesting to read, I’m looking for additional scholarly perspectives and sources, including some that are more recent as Griffin’s work is from the early 1900s.

Yeah, there was a mission station at Piscataway, MD (recorded as being there in 1798; Washington died in 1799) which is almost directly across. It would make the most sense for someone to have traveled there.

Some stories have the messenger going down to Port Tobacco, MD which is further south and a much longer haul, so that seems dubious to me. Someone could have also gone up to Georgetown about 16 miles north of Mount Vernon by land, where there were also Jesuits, and still have it be less distance than Port Tobacco.

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Sadly I doubt this is anything more than wishful thinking. His family background was Anglican (I was baptised an Anglican in the Church of st Dunstan’s in the West in London which has a tomb of some of his relatives displaying the family coat-of-arms which bears a resemblance to the US flag). I don’t believe the stories that he used to make the sign of the cross. No Anglican would do so before the time of the Tractarian movement some decades after his death.

As an ex mason myself I can testify that most masons pay little attention to so called masonic doctrine and when push comes to shove consider themselves to be members of the denomination they were born to. This was always true as you can see from 18th century memoirs - even reprobates like Casanova joined lodges because it was trendy but died solidly Catholic. However one does meet masons who take it all very seriously and it seems that Washington was one of these.

Do any sources for this story present facts re where or with whom it originates?

American historian Benson John Lossing (February 12, 1813 – June 3, 1891) , known for his books on the American Revolution, the Civil War, and over half a dozen biographies on George Washington, writes:

"There was no clergymen of any kind at Mt. Vernon during Washington’s last illness, or at his death."

– The American Catholic Historical Researches
Vol. 17, No. 3 (JULY, 1900), pp. 123-129

I believe Griffin quoted Lossing in that journal article: “Did Washington Die a Catholic?”

I don’t know about the death bed conversion but I do know that George Washington made the first donation to St Mary’s [now a Basilica] in Alexandria VA - the first Catholic Church in the Commonwealth of Virginia [which of course then included West Virginia]. That Church was further south of its current location and closer to the Catholic Cemetery. This donation was made even as Virginia was extremely hostile to the Catholic Church and the Catholic citizens of Virginia.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/social-issues/washington-region-to-get-its-second-catholic-basilica--st-mary-in-alexandria/2018/01/14/881dd186-f960-11e7-8f66-2df0b94bb98a_story.html

Yes, there’s no question he was friendlier to and more supportive of the Catholics than a great many people in Virginia at that time.

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I started this thread partly in hopes some scholars of history would provide more sources, beyond the one Griffin source.

Part of my problem with Griffin is he seems to rely heavily on the fact that Washington publicly espoused Protestantism and also did some things during his life that a good Catholic man doesn’t do. However, neither of those things have much bearing on whether Washington was attended by a priest in his last hours.

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I’ll look into this and get back to you. Very interesting!

Yes, I’ve read multiple versions of it. It’s generally regarded as fake or unverifiable. I personally believe that it happened and Washington seldom spoke of it.

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I daresay that freezing and starving while in charge of a bunch of soldiers who were all freezing and starving worse than you and expecting you to do something about it would tend to bring on a vision, if anything would.

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