Washington’s Birthplace

After church at Crosswalk this morning (7/9/17), I set out from Williamsburg to take in two spots from Washington’s youth:  his birthplace, where he lived through age three, and his boyhood home, where he lived until he was a young teenager.  Both were incredible to see.

When I arrived at the birthplace, I learned that it had been the intention of George’s father Augustine to secure farms for all of his sons, not just the first one as was traditional.  He had the Pope’s Creek plantation first, then acquired Mount Vernon, and finally Ferry Farm.  Because of these acquisitions, George only lived at the Pope’s Creek Plantation until he was three, but often returned often during his youth. The house was in the family until 1779 when it burned in a fire on Christmas Day.

The reconstructed house–where they thought it stood.

While there is an outline of original house, the house on the property was built for the 200th anniversary of George Washington’s birthday.  They built it on the spot they assumed was the original, but later archaeology confirmed a different location.

Our house tour was given by the lively Chris Kennedy, who told Washington’s whole story in rhymed verse–very fascinating information and delivery.  Kennedy stated that the stories about Washington (like the Cherry tree incident) were not meant to be taken for real events, but rather served as moral examples to the character children should acquire.  Chris said that the point of the Cherry tree story is to teach children (and grown ups as well) to admit when they’ve made a mistake.

Washington’s view out to the Potomac River

Chris also shared a bit of the Washington family history.  Washington’s dad’s first wife Jane died, leaving 3 kids.  Augustine’s second wife Mary gave birth to five more, of which George was the oldest.  As I mentioned, Augustine Washington was actively working to acquire farms for each of his sons, but when he died, all of George’s prospects changed. Now, he couldn’t go to England to study (a fact that would hinder his advancement in the British Army).  Additionally, Mary pulled George out of school at the age of 11 to help her run the Ferry Farm (she decided not to remarry–her property would be affected.  Additionally, with her older step sons (both in their 20’s) running Mount Vernon and Pope’s Creek, she felt she and George could manage Ferry Farm–George’s inheritance.)  George wanted to be in the British Navy, but his mom wrote letters so they wouldn’t take him (I’m curious to find what these say!)  Instead, she reluctantly sent George to his half brothers’ farms to learn.

The cradle came from the Washingtons, so it could have been George’s.

It is at his brothers that George does his first survey:  his brother’s turnip garden. His brother introduces him to Lord Fairfax, the richest man in Virginia and Lawrence’s father-in-law, who will hire him on as a surveyor.  George had always imagined he’d be a British officer and played with toy soldiers as a boy, but because of his lack of education, he was looked down on, even when he was able to join the militia.  George worked first as a farmer, then as a surveyor. Because of this, he knew much of the land, a fact that would advance him in battle later.

The bridge (reconstructed) over Pope’s Creek

Another tragedy struck when Lawrence died.  His widow inherited Mount Vernon. (George was next in line after her.)   George asks her to rent it to him, and she does. Shortly after, George receives a commission in the British army. His job?  Take letters to Ft. Duquesne.  Along the way, the French ambushed the company and an unarmed French nobleman was shot. Washington took prisoners so he’d have a chance to explain the situation (at Ft. Necessity.)  But, George still became the fall guy. (Apparently, he signed a confession he couldn’t understand because his translator had died–a good lesson in not signing something without reading it!)

Washington’s parents’ coats of arms

Later, General Braddock was advised by George to fight behind trees. Braddock ignores George’s advice and gets caught in an ambush where he and other officers are killed. The virtually leaderless soldiers flee to the woods. Washington is able to lead them out by a trail he knew as a boy. George himself had bullet holes in shoulder and hat. He did, however, learn that the British only want to hear what they want to hear instead of how to best protect their men.  That knowledge will help him with the attack on Trenton in the American Revolution.

Entrance to Ferry Farm

From Washington’s birthplace, I headed out to Ferry Farm.  I was surprised to enter this formerly 600 acre plantation by means of a dirt and gravel road. I knew that Augustine Washington had owned an iron works 6 miles down the road, which was probably the reason he chose this spot–that and it was near Fredericksburg, which was a bustling tobacco port. But, Ferry Farm was to be George’s property.  I found out when I went in the main building that George’s mom finally sold this property and moved to Fredericksburg in 1772. She sold it to Mercers, who rented it out. Later, a soldier in Civil War wrote a letter home in which he stated they had torn down Washington’s house for firewood. After that, Youth For Christ bought the property for a boy’s home. In 1996, the Kenmore foundation (Washington’s sister’s home) purchased it. Finally, in 2008 archaeologists found foundation of the house, and they are currently rebuilding on original site.

The Visitor Center

At the visitor center, I received an ipad to take a tour around the grounds.  There is a series of 10 flags which mark various points on the property.  At each point, you can listen to historical information as well as hear from the archaeologists.  Here are a few of the nuggets I gleaned along the way:

1.  When George moved here from Mount Vernon, he left a plantation for urban life–the city is obviously very different from the country.

2.  George’s first survey was of brother’s turnip patch. When Lord Fairfax enlisted him as a surveyor, this gave George a substantial salary.  Additionally, surveyors got to see the land first for claiming.

3.  Some slaves came with the property, some the Washington’s already had, and some came from Africa. One of the beads found on the property marked a chief.  I was reminded of the story of Cinque on the Amistad.  I wonder what his story was.

 

4.  Archaeology tells a lot about the family.  Since all of the estates were separated when Augustine died, Mary, who is 35 at the time and has 5 children, is left in charge of all the plantations. One thing archaeologists found is a punch bowl that Mary had mended–this shows that while they were comfortably situated, Mary is still being frugal.

 

5.  Being at the crossroads of trade, George undoubtedly conversed with people coming and going, which would improve his gentlemanly standing.  Also, from his surveyors wages, he paid for his own dancing and fencing lessons and to go to the theatre–which I think is both cool and hilarious.  He also learns cards and billiards, joins the masons, and is taught tea table manners. He learned gentlemanly behavior both at Ferry Farm and from Lawrence and the Fairfaxes.

6.  Archaeologists found over 115 wig curlers on Ferry Farm.  (George didn’t wear a wig–he liked his own hair better….)

The Rappahannock–this is the river Washington threw things across, though stones, not silver dollars

7.  Two court cases draw very public scrutiny of the family.  First, in there’s a trial in which one slave kills another–there wasn’t much information on that.  The other court case concerns George swimming in the Rappahannock and 2 indentured servants steal his clothes (I also think this one is hilarious!)

Construction and archaeology

Though it was unfinished, I’m glad I made a stop here, and will enjoy seeing the progress they’ve made the next time I come!

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