Fact check: George Washington's hefty bar tab, days before Constitution's signing, is real

·4 min read

The claim: A bill shows a hefty bar tab for an extravagant 1787 party attended by George Washington

Many Americans think of George Washington as a strategic general and strong political leader. A post on social media claims the first president also knew how to party.

“The bar tab of a 1787 farewell party for George Washington was left intact and legible," a Jan. 19 Facebook post reads. "According to the bill, the Founding Fathers drank 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of Claret, 8 bottles of Whiskey, 22 bottles of Porter, 8 bottles of Hard Cider, 12 of Beer and seven bowls of Alcoholic Punch. There were only 55 attendees.”

The Facebook post received more than 2,400 likes and 1,900 shares in a day. Another post with the claim on Facebook received more than 16,000 shares.

A binge-drinking Founding Father may sound far-fetched, but the claim is true. Records and historians indicate the tab – from a party that took place days before the signing of the Constitution – was real.

USA TODAY reached out to the Facebook user who shared the post for comment.

Washington’s rowdy farewell party

The bender described in the Facebook post took place in September 1787, near the end of the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia.

On Sept. 15, after a long day of constitutional framing, Washington headed a few blocks down from Philadelphia’s Independence Hall to the Founding Fathers' go-to gathering spot, City Tavern. He met up with the Light Horse of Philadelphia, a volunteer cavalry corps that crossed the Delaware River with Washington, inspiring an iconic Revolutionary War painting

"The City Tavern was the place to go, practically every day," Gordon Lloyd, a professor emeritus at Pepperdine University, told USA TODAY.

Lloyd discovered a summary of Washington's tavern bill that night while digging through Independence Hall documents. According to the bill, the soon-to-be first president and 54 other guests did indeed order 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of Claret, 8 bottles of whiskey, 8 bottles of cider, 12 bottles of beer and seven “large bowls” of punch.

That would be about two bottles of wine, several shots and a few cups of punch and beer for every guest.

George Washington's night out:

Washington Document by Ella Lee on Scribd

The Washington Post reported the night’s tab to be estimated at about 89 pounds, four shillings and two pence – the rough equivalent of $15,400 today.

In addition to the drinks, the tab included dinner for all 55 guests, fees for broken glasses and meals and drinks for musicians and “servants.”

But the party might not have been all that much fun for Washington, according to Alexis Coe, historian and author of the Washington biography "You Never Forget Your First."

"Washington really did not want to be there," Coe said of the Constitutional Convention. "He was happy to provide the stable unifying presence that the founders and framers needed in order to sign the Constitution ... but he was exhausted, he was without his wife – who he really liked to be with – and he knew there was no way she would join him."

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The future president likely didn't let the party get out of control, either.

"He was famously self-controlled," Coe said. "If anyone had gotten out of hand, if anyone had done more than break a few glasses or made excessive toasts, he would have put them in place."

Our rating: True

Based on our research, we rate TRUE the claim that a bill shows a hefty bar tab for an extravagant 1787 party attended by George Washington. Records and historians indicate the tab, estimated to be thousands of dollars today, was real. The party took place Sept. 15, 1787, at City Tavern in Philadelphia.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: George Washington's expensive bar tab is real