Tag Archive | George Washington

All the Presidents’ Homes–Part 2

 

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 HunGeorge Washingtonting 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.

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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!

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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.

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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. 

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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…..

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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.

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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.

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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!

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This walled-in garden is a good example of a formal English garden which apparently pleased Martha Washington.

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Some of the furry friends in residence here at the Estate:

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Nearby the gardens, you’ll find the stables. Here you’ll see the Washington’s carriage.  It is impressive, to say the least!

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Isn’t this impressive? We felt it was the Cadillac of carriages!

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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.

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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. 

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He also oversaw the processes that Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton was putting into place for solid financial grounding of our country.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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On to our next stop! See you again, soon!

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The Generals of Lexington, VA

Continuing our day in Lexington, Virginia, our next stop was Washington and Lee University. Nestled in the hills of Lexington, this beautiful campus sits atop the hill next to the Virginia Military Institute’s campus.

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Despite the overcast skies and looming storms, this was a beautiful campus to walk around. It was founded in 1749 and was first named Augusta Academy and went through a move and several name changes, but when native son General George Washington stepped in to help save this all male school in 1796 with its first endowment, it was later renamed Washington College out of gratitude for his generosity.  By then, the College was in its present-day location of Lexington.

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This private, liberal arts school sits between the Blue Ridge and Allegheny Mountains and is the 9th oldest school of higher learning in our nation.  Virginia’s other native son, General Robert E. Lee became President of the College in 1865 and worried that his leadership in the Confederacy could bring hostility towards the school.  He said that “it was the duty of every citizen in the present condition of the Country, to do all in his power to aid in the restoration of peace and harmony.”  Following Lee’s death in 1879, the Board of Trustees voted to change the name of the college to Washington and Lee University. It wasn’t until 1972 when women were first admitted to its Law School and undergraduate women were admitted in 1985.

Lee Chapel is where General Lee and his beloved horse, Traveller are buried.  We were disappointed that photography is not allowed inside the chapel or the museum, but did enjoy the small collection that is there.  If you know in advance that you will be there, you can request express written permission from the University, but there are severe restrictions and limited allowances for use of the photos.

When you walk into the chapel’s foyer, you have an entrance on either side. Rows of white pews lining both sides, the middle and the surrounding balcony up above seats 500. It is still used today for the University’s most important events, such as concerts, lectures and other activities.  Just whispering to each other, my husband and I could tell that the acoustics are absolutely wonderful in this Chapel. (One cannot walk into this Chapel and not whisper! It just isn’t right to speak loudly in there!) General Lee’s favorite pew is marked with a plaque and shows that the General enjoyed sitting right up front!

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At the front of the chapel behind the wooden stage, nestles the monument of a reclining General Lee, without his sword at the request of his beloved wife. You may think that he is interred at this very spot, but he is not.  You have to take the narrow, winding stairs downstairs to the crypt where General Lee and several of his family members are buried. Also downstairs is a small museum and gift shop. Traveller’s grave is just outside the door as you exit.

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Our last stop was for another Confederacy General, who happens to be one of my husband’s favorite civil war historical figures. He is General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. A professor at Virginia Military Institute (VMI), he is also buried here in Lexington.  Set right on the main street, leading into town, the wrought iron fence points the way to the tomb of Stonewall Jackson.

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Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, Confederate General, is one of the most well-known officers of the Confederacy after General Robert E. Lee. He was considered to be one of the best tactical commanders in the history of our great nation.  He was a graduate of West Point and from there served in the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848. It was during that time he first met Robert E. Lee.  It was at Bull’s Run that General Jackson earned his nickname, “Stonewall”. Crumbling under heavy Union assault, the Confederate lines were lucky to have General Jackson’s brigade there to provide crucial reinforcements stoically demonstrating the discipline that he had instilled in his men. Brig. General Elliott Bee, Jr. inspired his men to re-group by shouting out that there Jackson stood like a “stone wall” and to rally behind the Virginians.  Despite the controversy that followed the intent of the statement, General Jackson was forevermore known as “Stonewall” Jackson.

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We were able to take a few more photos of this serene corner of Lexington.  We didn’t walk all around the cemetery as there was a service in session.  It is a beautiful place for so many who have been laid to rest here.

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Thank you, Lexington for such a nice afternoon filled with so much history!