During his lifetime, Indiana Territorial Governor Thomas Posey made no claim to being the son of George Washington. In his autobiography, he summarized the circumstances of his birth by simply writing, “He was born of respectable parentage near the Potomack in Virginia in the year 1750, 9th of July”.
It was not until well after Posey’s death that such claims first surfaced in print.
In 1871, the Cincinnati Daily Commercial published an article about the hanging of Posey’s portrait in the Indiana statehouse. The reporter remarked on the striking resemblance between Posey and Washington, and went on to repeat a story that cited no sources or authorities: a married couple named Posey were tenants on Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. After the husband died in 1754, there were reports that George Washington repeatedly visited the widow’s home. The alleged liaison occurred prior to Washington’s marriage in 1759, and supposedly produced Thomas Posey.
Some 30 years later, in 1905, the allegedly “real” story emerged: the 17 year-old Washington had been betrothed to his first love, Elizabeth Lloyd; an encounter between the two produced an infant son, and Elizabeth died before Washington could marry her. The boy was later raised by a widow named Posey.
Although there was a longstanding folklore tradition linking Washington and Posey in both Indiana and Illinois (where Posey died)—including talk of letters written to Posey by Washington with the salutation, “My dear Son”—there has never been any direct evidence of a biological connection between the two men, both of whom were considered extremely handsome and dashing in their time.
These stories were not meant to sully the first President’s reputation; rather, their longevity can be attributed to “the fact that Posey’s character and achievements were everything that might have been expected of an actual son of Washington”. In fact, the consensus among historians, scholars, and genealogists is that Posey was not Washington’s son—but there is no real proof of that, either—only circumstantial evidence.
A Moment of Indiana History is a production of WFIU Public Radio in partnership with the Indiana Public Broadcasting Stations. Research support comes from Indiana Magazine of History, published by the Indiana University Department of History.
Source Article: John Thornton Posey, “Governor Thomas Posey: The Son of George Washington?” Indiana Magazine of History 86, no. 1 (Mar. 1990): 28-49.