George Washington

 

John Washington, George's great grandfather, reached colonial shores in 1657, settling in Virginia. While little definite information exists on George's ancestors before his father, rumors abound. What is known is that by the time George was born to Augustine and Mary Washington on February 22, 1732, the family had found the lower rung of Virginia's ruling class. He was the eldest child of Augustine's second marriage; there were two sons from the first. Farming and land speculation had brought the family moderate prosperity. However, when George was eleven years old, his family was dealt a terrible setback. Augustine became mortally ill after surveying his lands during a long ride in bad weather. Ironically, the same circumstances killed George almost seven decades later.

George Washington's birthplace was located on Pope's Creek, just off the Potomac River. He lived there for only three years. Washington's father, Augustine, purchased the land in 1718 and built the house in 1726. Washington's half brother, Augustine Jr., inherited the property after his father's death in 1743. The original dwelling was a U-shaped timber-frame house, which burned on Christmas Day 1779. The presently standing Memorial House, erected in 1930-1931, is a Colonial Revival style version of a medium-size planter's house. Originally known as Pope's Creek, the property was renamed Wakefield about 1770 by Washington's half-nephew, William Augustine Washington.

Boyhood Home, Ferry Farm, Fredericksburg, Virginia George Washington's Ferry Farm has been a place of pilgrimage for the American people for more than two hundred years. Ebenezer Hazard, one of the first historians of the new United States, described visiting "the hill where Washington grew up" when he passed through Fredericksburg in 1777, only one year after the Declaration of Independence.

In 1790 a delegation of Creek Indian chiefs on their way to negotiate a treaty with President Washington stopped to visit the scene of his early life at Ferry Farm and to call on his sister, Betty Lewis, at Kenmore. Parson Weems, author of The Life of Washington (1800), who passed Ferry Farm countless times, described the Washington house as a low frame building, painted dark red. Washington's friend, General Hugh Mercer bought it in 1774 but never lived there as he had intended. He was killed at the Battle of Princeton in 1777, and his widow preferred to remain in Fredericksburg.

The Washington house was leased to a series of tenants. It may have been standing as late as 1833, when the artist John Gadsby Chapman painted "Fredericksburg from the Old Mansion of the Washington Family." Chapman also may have sketched the house itself. The sketch has not been found, but it may have been the source for a painting, "The Boyhood of Washington" (1844) by Henry Inman, and for an engraving by Benson Lossing published in his Pictorial Field Book of the American Revolution (1850-52).

The Inman and Lossing views both show a simple, story-and-a-half house. The building described by Parson Weems and sketched by Chapman was gone by the time of the Civil War. Documentary references tell of a house torn/burned down around 1820. Union soldiers occupied Ferry Farm during the battles of Fredericksburg, some writing home that they were camped on the old Washington farm. One soldier reported that the Washington house had been torn down for fuel. He may have mistaken a later building for the Washington house. Certainly it did not survive the battles of Fredericksburg. A new house was built at Ferry Farm after the war, and another in 1914. Interest in preserving Ferry Farm as a memorial to George Washington grew with the approach of the 1932 bicentennial of Washington's birth.

The National Park Service considered undertaking the preservation and restoration of Ferry Farm, but decided to focus its efforts on Washington's birthplace at Pope's Creek, on the Potomac River. In the late 1980s the Warren family, private owners of the Farm, donated the acreage surrounding the Washington home site to a George Washington Boyhood Home Foundation in conjunction with the Stafford County government. Members of that foundation and the Stafford Supervisors and County Administrator devoted much time and effort toward finding a positive future for Ferry Farm. Controversy surrounding commercial development of part of the original farm, in 1996, resulted in transfer of the donated acreage to the Kenmore Association (now known as George Washington's Frederiksburg Foundation) who also purchased for $2.2 million the part of the farm planned for commercial development. Thus, Ferry Farm has been saved for future generations due to the care and concern of many individuals, organizations, and governmental entities.

Home, Mount Vernon, Virginia Mount Vernon was home to George Washington for over 45 years. Here he made his life with his wife Martha, returned from war, retired from public life, practiced pioneering farming methods, and left an indelible stamp of his personality and private tastes. Today, over 1 million people a year visit the estate to find the essence of the man known as the "Father of His Country." The estate, then known as Little Hunting Creek Plantation, was originally granted to Washington's great grandfather John Washington in 1674. It eventually passed to Washington's older half-brother, Lawrence, who renamed the property, Mount Vernon, after his commanding officer, Edward Vernon of the British navy. George Washington inherited the property upon the death of his brother Lawrence's widow in 1761. Over the years, he enlarged the mansion and built up the property from 2,000 acres to nearly 8,000 acres comprising five working farms. He designed the outbuildings and created a landscape that reflects creativity, beauty and functionality in a harmonious setting. When Washington inherited the estate, the house consisted of four rooms and the central passage on the first floor and three bedrooms on the second.

The long process of enlarging and improving the house began in the years before his marriage, when Washington raised the Mansion from one and a half stories to two and a half stories and extensively redecorated the interior. In 1759, he married a young widow, Martha Dandridge Custis, who came to live at Mount Vernon with her two small children. The north and south wings of the home were begun just before the start of the Revolutionary War, and the last room of the house, the Large Dining Room, was not completed until after the war's end. The house is constructed of pine but is rusticated, an exterior decorative treatment that gives the appearance of stone. Washington himself designed the stunning two-story piazza overlooking the Potomac River and the Maryland shoreline. Here family and guests would gather in warm weather and enjoy the breeze off the river. Washington also added the cupola and, after the war, the beautiful "dove of peace" weathervane.

Washington also rebuilt the outbuildings, lanes and gardens in an effort to create the seat of a country gentleman. The grounds around the Mansion reflect both his practical and aesthetic sides. From the north to the south are situated the dependencies where the work of the plantation took place. Along the east-west axis are the gardens and pleasure grounds where Washington, his family, and guests enjoyed leisurely strolls along the serpentine walkways, formal gardens and hanging woods. The work area, although located almost adjacent to the home, was designed so as not to intrude upon the scenic beauty of sweeping lawns. Today the home has been restored to its appearance in 1799, the last year of George Washington's life. After the White House, it is the most visited historic home in America. It's tranquil beauty and elegant, yet functional, settings reflect the character of the man who was instrumental in establishing independence for a new nation and for guiding that evolving country through the first turbulent years of union. We invite you to explore his home and discover the remarkable man who will perhaps forever be known as 'first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen.' The Deshler-Morris House was built in 1772 by merchant David Deshler, and a mere five years later it was in the middle of the raging Battle of Germantown. British General Sir William Howe occupied the house after the Battle. In 1793, the Yellow Fever epidemic swept through the capital of Philadelphia, and people from all over the city sought refuge in the country. President George Washington and his cabinet escaped the Fever in Germantown.

Washington lived and conducted business from the Deshler-Morris house. At the time it was the Franks House, as it had passed to its second owner, Colonel Isaac Franks. During November 1793, Washington lived in the house and met with his cabinet: Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Edmund Randolph and Henry Knox. Much official and important business went on in the so-called "Germantown White House." Colonel Franks and the President had some disagreements about the rent and costs along the way. Franks charged Washington $131.56, which included Franks traveling costs to and from Bethlehem, the cost of furniture and bedding for his own family, the loss of a flatiron, one fork, four plates, three ducks, four fowl, a bushel of potatoes, and one hundred bushels of hay. Despite these extra costs, Washington returned to the house the next summer with his family to escape the oppressive summer heat. Later the house was sold to Elliston and John Perot, and in 1834 to Elliston's son-in-law, Samuel B. Morris. Inside the house there is a portrait of the earlier Samuel Morris, signed by Washington. The Morris family lived in the house for over one hundred years before donating it to the National Park Service in 1948.

In his will, Washington directed that he be buried on his beloved Mount Vernon estate. He also selected a site for a new brick tomb to replace the original family vault, which was deteriorating. When the tomb was completed in 1831, Washington's body was moved there from the old vault, with the remains of his wife, Martha, and other family members. The old tomb has been restored.

The official dedication of the Washington Monument occurred on the day before George Washington's birthday in 1885. Part of the celebration went into the night and ended with the first display of fireworks to occur on the grounds. However, it was not until October 1888, forty years after the laying of the cornerstone, that the public was officially allowed to ascend the monument. In that three-year period between the dedication ceremonies and the admission of the general public, work was still being done on the interior. The stairwell was finished in that time frame, allowing visitors access to the observation deck on the 500-foot level. In the year 1887, about 27,000 people had climbed the 898 (now 896) steps to the top. The elevator platform, used in the construction of the obelisk, was converted to a passenger car, complete with seat and ornate walls, and took about 10 to 12 minutes to ascend and descend from the top. To protect the structure from electrical storms, lightning rods were installed on the exterior, and a lighting system was incorporated within the stairwell. When all of the work was concluded, the cost of the project came to a grand total of $1,187,710. Congress then shifted control of the monument and its staffing to the War Department, with the Washington National Monument Society acting as advisers. On October 9, 1888, the Washington Monument was officially opened to the general public.