Mount Vernon – Alexandria, Virginia
Next stop of our Presidential Homes Tour is that of General George Washington, who many feel is one of the greatest men in our nation’s history. Known as the Father of our Country, George Washington can trace his roots back to his great-grandfather who immigrated to Virginia from England. Although we don’t know much about his ancestors, we do know a little about his father Augustine. George’s father was ambitious and owned land and slaves, grew tobacco and built mills. George is the eldest of his father and 2nd wife Mary’s six children. In 1735 they moved up the Potomac River to Little Hunting Creek plantation, later renamed Mount Vernon. But for most of his youth, George lived opposite Fredericksburg at Ferry Farm. We don’t know much about his childhood and there are many stories out there, but what is known is that his father died when he was just 11 years old and he became the ward of his older half-brother, Lawrence. Lawrence and his wife, Anne Fairfax had inherited Little Hunting Creek plantation. George was tutored under her direction and was taught the finer aspects of colonial life. By the time he was 16, he has mastered the skills of surveying and spent time with a surveyor’s team plotting land in Virginia’s west territory. The following year, Lord Fairfax helped George with an appointment as an official surveyor of Culpepper County.
After the death of his beloved brother, Lawrence in 1752 and subsequent death of Sara, Lawrence’s only heir two months later, George became the heir of one of the Virginia’s largest and well-known estates, Mount Vernon. He was only 20 years old. His love of farming would carry on throughout his life and he would gradually increase the size of Mount Vernon to 8,000 acres. Today his Estate and Gardens has been restored and now there is a wonderful educational center and museum. Take the time to really visit Mount Vernon. It is well worth a full day or even a 2-day visit if you want to see everything.
As with many of our great nation’s historical sites, come prepared to walk a lot. There is much to see and bring a camera with a large memory card! The entrance and admission gate is beautiful and is only the walkway into a gorgeous estate that will warrant a lot of picture taking!
You’ll first walk come up on the Educational Center. This is a new complex that has been built in recent years. When I was last there with my dad about 15 years ago, it was not there. Needless to say, it’s impressive! And for you shoppers, there is a fabulous gift shop as well.
If you’ve never toured the General’s home, it’s a must-see. There are times when the lines are just absolutely long, but walking the grounds first may help and then tour the mansion after your walk. We loved taking a moment on the porch facing the Potomac River.
Sitting there in the rocking chairs and taking in the views and the sun is just absolutely relaxing! I sat there thinking about what the Washington’s did while they lived here. Imagining all the people milling around, the sounds and smells from the kitchen…..
General Washington was quite the farmer as it was his passion and he possessed a talent not seen in many. He stunned everyone in the 1760s by trading out his cash crop of tobacco for wheat. He experimented with livestock and breeding, crop rotations and invented the 16-sided treading barn. Just down the road from the plantation, he also opened a grist mill and distillery. (Which we did visit as well – pictures will be at the end!)
In 1775, when war broke out between the American Colonies and Britain, Washington was unanimously elected as Commander in Chief of the Continental Army. This was during a time when the British occupied Boston, the battles at Lexington and Concord were already fought and the Americans were outnumbered 10 to 1. The lack of funding, supplies, arms and training was nearly overwhelming. It was in 1776 when he had his infamous Christmas night Delaware Crossing and his men won the Battle of Trenton, New Jersey. After the end of the Revolutionary War in 1781, it was in 1783 that Washington resigned his commission at a time when many thought that instead is letting go of his power he should have used it in his favor. Washington, instead, chose to go home to his farm, Mount Vernon thinking that his days of public service were over.
There’s an upper garden that was first a fruit and nut garden, but a couple of years after Washington came home from the War, it was transformed into a pleasure garden in 1785. This garden sits nearby the the old Slave Quarters.
As you can see, the Lower Garden is still kept neatly manicured….The “Lower” garden across from the Upper Garden is known as the kitchen garden. This is the garden that is behind the stables where there is plenty of sun and ample supply of manure!
This walled-in garden is a good example of a formal English garden which apparently pleased Martha Washington.
Some of the furry friends in residence here at the Estate:
Nearby the gardens, you’ll find the stables. Here you’ll see the Washington’s carriage. It is impressive, to say the least!
Isn’t this impressive? We felt it was the Cadillac of carriages!
We walked around the grounds some more and then walked down to see the tomb of President and Mrs. Washington. I was impressed with how respectful most people were here, unlike some of the other places we have been to in our Nation’s Capital.
George Washington was elected in 1789 as our first President. And subsequently served two terms. His first term was dominated in shaping the role of the president and appointed the first presidential cabinet and designated the new site for our Nation’s capital.
He also oversaw the processes that Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton was putting into place for solid financial grounding of our country.
In 1797, Washington retired and returned home to his beloved Mount Vernon. No amount of persuading could convince him to accept a third term as president. He wanted to be home on his farm. Two years later, after being caught in a snow and sleet storm while riding across the farm, he became very ill and later died on December 14th.
While Washington did own slaves, he inherited the first of them at the age of 11 following the death of his father. After he married Martha, the number of slaves more than doubled and when he later was preparing his will, the census showed that more than 316 slaves lived on the grounds and were employed in various areas. Washington made provisions in his will to free all of his slaves, however, because the “dower” slaves that Martha brought into the marriage belonged to the Curtis estate, he could not legally free them. This was bittersweet for them as many of them had intermarried. However, George Washington tried to set an example for others by setting them free. He was the only Founding Father to free his slaves.
Moving down the road 3 miles from the estate, you’ll find the Grist Mill and Distillery that the entrepreneur Washington built. It is still in operation today. Enjoy the photos!
On to our next stop! See you again, soon!