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The hair of George Washington may have been found at a New York college


© 2018 Trustees of Union College | Fair Use

J-P Mauro - published on 02/15/18

The small lock of grey hair was stashed between the pages of an 18th century almanac.

A valuable piece of American history was discovered in the library at Union College, in Schenectady, New York. During a survey of some of the oldest books and records in the college’s collection, six strands of fine gray hair were found between the fragile pages of a book called Gaines Universal Register or American and British Kalendar for the Year 1793.

During the examination of the small leatherbound book by catalogue and metadata librarian John Myers, a small yellowed envelope was found with the inscription “Washington’s hair, L.S.S. & (scratched out) GBS from James A. Hamilton given him by his mother, Aug. 10, 1871.” This almanac is believed to have belonged to Philip J. Schuyler, the son of Gen. Philip Schuyler, a close friend of Washington’s who served under America’s first president during the revolution. Philip was also the father-in-law to Alexander Hamilton.

The close connection between the Washingtons and the Schuylers has led experts to believe that this is a lock of hair from one of the United States’ most pivotal founding fathers. During the 18th century the practice of gifting a lock of hair as a token of friendship and affection was quite common.

India Spartz, the head of the college’s special collections and archives, was excited by the find, stating:

“This is a very significant treasure. It’s a tremendous testament to history and our connection to some of the most important historical figures.”

Further evidence that this is the hair of George Washington comes from our historical records. We know that Washington did not wear a wig, so his hair would have been much longer than the hair of those who did. Men who wore wigs would usually keep their real hair very short. The color of the hair is another indicator, Fox News explains:

“His hair was originally reddish-brown and he powdered it regularly to achieve the fashionable white color. By the time of his presidency, however, the reddish-brown had faded to the gray-white color seen in Union’s strands,” the school said.

The location of the discovery is also telling. Philip Schuyler was one of the founders of Union College and much of their family’s belongings have found their way into the college’s collection.

While it is impossible to test the DNA of these strands, since we don’t have a sample of Washington’s DNA for reference, experts hope that the handwriting on the envelope can be matched with other examples from the Schuyler family. If they do, we may be able to more accurately trace its origins.

Even without a DNA test, experts believe that this is an authentic find. The College intends to put the lock of hair on display when the test have been completed.

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