Myth Trivia: George Washington, Spices and Abbreviations

Fun factoids on George Washington's Mount Vernon estate, the spicy nature of pepper, and why "Mrs." has an "R."

George Washington's Mount Vernon, as seen from the Potomac River. (Via Wikipedia)

CHARLOTTE, N.C., Nov. 4, 2015 – The reason George Washington was the “Father of our Country” is simple: he slept in more places than anyone else. With that in mind, this edition of trivia is about our first president plus a couple of other items to spice things up.

1 – George Washington Slept Here: President Washington’s home on the banks of the Potomac River may have been the safest place for soldiers to be during the American Civil War. That’s because both Union and Confederate troops were welcomed at Mount Vernon, provided they left their weapons behind and hid their uniforms from view.

Oddly enough, only 50 years after Washington’s death, in the early 1850s, Mount Vernon was in complete disrepair. Had it not been for a female passenger taking a steamer up the river, the house might not even exist today.

In those days, it was customary for the captain to ring the bell when his boat passed in front of Mount Vernon. Noticing the dilapidated state of the house, Louisa Bird Cunningham coaxed her daughter Ann into establishing a project to save the house.

Thus the nation’s oldest historic preservations society, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, was formed in the years just prior to the Civil War. Among the regulations was that the house would remain open to both sides during the war.

By 1858, the association had raised enough money for the down payment, and by 1866 they paid off the $200,000 cost. Difficult as it might be to believe today, fundraising was regarded as a scandalous occupation for women in the mid-1800s so the ladies wrote anonymous letters and persuaded friends to write to newspapers to raise the money.

Throughout the early part of the century, many Americans came to Mount Vernon to pay their respects. However, given the site was such a powerful symbol of American unity, when war broke out, everyone who visited was expected to maintain their neutrality while on the grounds.

In that sense, you might say that Mount Vernon actually became the first “Washington Monument.”

2 – Spicing things up with pepper: The question is whether pepper is a spice or an herb. Since pepper has been called the “king of the spices,” we will clear this up at the outset.

Herbs generally refer to leaves of plants used for seasoning. Spices, on the other hand, describe seasonings from the fruit of the plant. In this case, at least, the answer is simple: pepper is a spice.

But that would be too simple. Though pepper is far and away the most used spice in the world, it has a long history, including being a preservative and even being used as currency.

Like grapes, peppercorns grow in clusters and all come from the same vine. Green peppercorns are picked when they are young. After picking, they are dehydrated, resulting in a mild flavor.

White peppercorns are actually black peppercorns that have been soaked to remove the outer casing. As a result, white peppercorns have a slightly fermented taste and aroma resulting from the soaking process. They also have more intense flavor.

The best little known fact however, is that, when pepper is ground it loses flavor very quickly. Therefore, in order to obtain peak flavor, pepper should be ground as you need it, which explains why fine dining restaurants servers grind pepper for you at the table.

3 – Why is there an “R” in “Mrs.”: If the word stands for missus, why do we put a letter “R” in the abbreviation. It’s really not that complicated. Originally, Mrs. was a shortened form of the word mistress, which was the feminine counterpart for the male term, master.

As with many derivations of words over time, there were several spellings for both forms such as maistresse/maistre and maystres/mayster.

Actually the word mistress was a more general term for a woman who was in charge of something such as “the mistress of the house.” A governess, by the way, was a mistress who took care of the children as well as the house.

By the end of the 18th century the “R” was left out formal word and the more familiar term became missis. By that time, the word mistress had taken on the meaning of the more familiar definition today, which refers to a paramour.

But the abbreviation for Mrs. remained with its “R” intact thanks to its earlier derivation.

Thus ends “R” lessons for today.


Bob Taylor has been traveling the world for more than 30 years as a writer and award-winning television producer focusing on international events, people and cultures around the globe.

Taylor is founder of the Magellan Travel Club (

Read more of What in the World and Bob Taylor at Communities Digital News

Follow Bob on Twitter @MrPeabod

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Bob Taylor
Bob Taylor has been travel writer for more than three decades. Following a career as an award winning sports producer/anchor, Taylor’s media production business produced marketing presentations for Switzerland Tourism, Rail Europe, the Finnish Tourist Board, Japan Railways Group, the Swedish Travel & Tourism Council and the Swiss Travel System among others. He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club ( and his goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.