Joan of the Fort LeBeouf Museum

Because the Fort LeBoeuf Museum is only open Thursdays, Saturdays, and Sundays, I decided to make the almost three hour drive this morning (8/3/17).  It was definitely an experience I’m glad to have had, though I wouldn’t drive that far for it again.

One of my favorite military costumes

I pulled up to the Museum to be greeted my two teen boys (7th graders, I would discover.)  When I asked if they worked there (because they had greeted me immediately), they informed me that they were part of the historical society there.  I was truly thrilled to see these young men at work.  They were composed, well-spoken, polite, and actually knew a few things about the museum.  While they are still learning, (They told me a uniform was original–it had machine stitching on it–not from the 1700’s…) but overall, they were able to point out some cool things in the museum, and we discussed many of them.  Their favorite was a model of how pelts were pressed into packs.  It is, however, a very small museum, though free–which is a perk.  Still, they did have a number of cool replica uniforms, which will be very helpful as I write.

Washington’s trail

Another cool thing was the map of where Washington traveled, going from Williamsburg to Fort LeBoeuf to deliver the letter telling the French to leave.  (Again, this is 450 miles one way!  On boat, foot, or horseback!)  When the distance for me was trying, I can’t imagine the trip they took–in December, no less.

The couple who founded the museum were incredibly kind and helpful.  Joan took me behind the museum to show me where the fort had been and demonstrate why they had chosen this spot.  It seems even at this time, there was an understanding of the importance of the high ground.  This fort rested on a bluff overlooking French Creek (a river), which would have been a strategic spot on the waterways, which were the super highways of the day.

Washington Statue in a British uniform

Additionally, across the street from the museum is the only statue of Washington wearing a British uniform.

Still, at the end, I felt a bit like Washington when he had to this fort to deliver Governor Dinwiddie’s letter telling the French to leave the area because they were on British lands.  I had gone a far distance without much to show for it (but, at least I didn’t get shot at on my way out of town like he did–for that, I am grateful.)

So, this concludes my study of Washington for this trip.  I’ve traveled almost 6,000 miles, met a number of amazing people, and learned so much more than I knew before.  I’m incredibly grateful to the Individual Artists Grant for allowing me this opportunity!

 

Outer view of Fort Ligonier

Having visited Fort Necessity yesterday, I was almost blown away when I visited Fort Ligonier today (8/2/17).  The expanse of the fort absolutely blew me away.  But the fort itself is not all that is impressive at Fort Ligonier.

When I first entered the Museum, I was honestly disappointed–the museum covers the 7 Years’ War (The International Conflict which the French Indian War contributed to) starting with the War of Austrian Succession for back story.  I have gotten to the place of such a specific focus that I was especially looking for new information on that section.  Once I got past the “This wasn’t what I was expecting” feelings, I started to actually look at the exhibits.  I was completely blown away by the artifacts they have.  They host a case dedicated to each country involved in the 7 Years’ War, complete with uniforms, weapons, and a host of other artifacts.  How a museum in Pennsylvania acquired such amazing artifacts from Asia, Africa, and all over Europe and the colonies, I’ll never know, but the collection is one of the finest I’ve seen.

Display area

Additionally, they currently have a rare collection of Washington artifacts (with more exhibits promised to come).  The current collection includes his dueling pistols (given to him by the Marquis de Lafayette) and his handwritten remarks (originals) about the French Indian War.   It also has a gallery of art about the French Indian War and the original parlor of St. Clair.  I’m excited to see all the changes they bring.

Fort Ligonier also offers a variety of activities for kids.  Today was cannonball club–children got in Free.  And on the first Friday of the month in the summer months, everyone is free (Friendly Fire Fridays).  I chose to pay to come today to a.) miss the crowd and b.) not have to hike around in the rain (predicted for Friday). But, this definitely seems to be a place that offers a ton of activities for kids (The lobby has children’s writings and projects about the fort on display!)

Supplies

Outside the museum, the fort is incredibly impressive.  This was the last fort along Forbes road as he was preparing to assault Fort Duquesne (and pick up the pieces after Braddock’s miserable defeat.)  Still, the amount of buildings was incredible!  There were barracks, officers quarters, quarter masters, hospital areas, a cellar for gunpowder complete with a ladder you have to climb down to get in–all designed from two original maps of the fort telling precisely what went where.  There’s also an additional officers’ quarters not on the map, but the archaeological evidence indicates both the foundation and the use of the building.

Officers’ quarters

My favorite part of the fort was the officers quarters where Washington stayed with two other officers.  In it, there is a sign which tells of an incident I had read described by another soldier in a first hand account.  Washington was bringing his men to support some Virginians under attack.  Because it was dusk, the troops they were going to reinforce fired on them, and Washington’s men fired back.

Washington’s dueling pistols

Washington rode down the middle of the two groups, pushing guns aside, and yelling at the men not to fire.  In the first hand account I heard, it stated that the man was terrified because Washington was right in the middle of the two armies when the volley rang out.  But, when the smoke cleared, George was still standing (riding, actually), though he later writes that the encounter had placed his life “in as much jeopardy as it had ever been before or since.”  But, that’s not the only time a bullet would miss Washington.  (I later learned that after he had delivered Governor Dinwiddie’s letter demanding the French leave and been rejected, as Washington was walking the 450 miles back to Williamsburg, one of his Indian guides who had been turned by the French at Ft. LeBoeuf took a shot at him, narrowly missing him.  Washington and Christopher Gist chased him, but he got away.)

Braddock Battlefield History Center–sharing a building with a gymnastics club

I left Fort Ligonier to head to the Braddock Battlefield History Center.  I had learned from another website that there were very few reminders of the battle I wanted to cover, but this museum was one.  It’s open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays from 12-4 or by appointment.  Interesting hours, but the man who started it 20 years ago is a wealth of information and worth any drive!

Area surrounding Washington Statue

The area itself made me sad.  It reminded me of Gary, back home in Indiana–an area once thriving and cultural because of the steel mills and now boarded up and passed over.  I understand why the museum creator Robert T. Messner wanted to build a museum on the forgotten battlefield where so much history took place.

The Museum offers an hour video, which seems like a lot, but is so informative, it’s absolutely worth it.  Then, the Mr. Messner sat with me for another hour and explained the entire background of the battle.  His Museum also includes over 250 artifacts and 50 paintings or works of art (including ones he doesn’t like for their inaccuracies, but he is committed to displaying the art about the battle–even the bad art.)   He also focuses on the role the Native Americans played in this battle, which by casualties inflicted was the second most important Native American battle–The defeat of St. Claire (of my Fort Ligonier visit fame) being number 1 and Custer’s Last Stand being a less noteworthy 10.  He pointed out that when the French Commander was shot in one of the early volleys of the battle, it threw the French into a state of confusion but released the Native Americans from any responsibility to leadership, so they were free to fight the battle the way they wanted–with disastrous effect.

Statue at the site of the Battle of Monongahela

They flanked Braddock’s line and poured into them, specifically targeting officers and drummer boys.  Casualties among the army are around 70%, while casualties among the officers are around 90%.  That Washington made it out alive is miraculous!

Mr. Messner defends Braddock, however, despite the fact that he disregarded and alienated Native tribes and ignored Washington’s advice that a huge group of red coats was a giant target.  Washington had fought Indians before.  Braddock had not.  But, Messner points out that the British made battle plans expecting the land in America to be the same as it was in Britain.  So, when they say, “March from here to here,” they’re not considering that he has to fell trees and actually build a road to go over the Appalachians!  Add to that the fact that his troops consist of every other regiment’s cast offs (Seriously, would you send him your best soldiers?), and to get any money for his engagements, he has to go through the Pennsylvania Assembly instead of the crown–an Assembly made up largely of Quakers who don’t believe in fighting in the first place.  I see his points.

Additionally, he points out (as will Washington) the cruelty of timing.  Most of the Indian tribes were from Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ontario–it took them a while to get there and they weren’t going to stay forever.  The fact that Braddock had taken a month to train his men instead of marching straight to Ft. Duquesne means he met the Indians who had arrived two weeks previously.  Had he trained longer, the Indians would have left–as they did at Fort Necessity facilitating the parlay.  Brutal timing.

Painting of Benjamin Franklin and Braddock

Three other things stood out from my discussion with Mr. Messner.  First, he has a painting which shows Benjamin Franklin talking to General Braddock (The original hangs in the library down the street from the Museum.)   Apparently, Benjamin Franklin tried to warn Braddock not to fight in lines and that the Native Americans would decimate them.  But, Braddock scoffs and says essentially that maybe they could defeat the Colonials, but they held no threat to the British Army.  How wrong he was!  This understanding that the British had no idea how to fight on American soil planted the seeds that they could possibly be overcome when we decide to take them on ourselves.

The second thing that stood out was he mentioned that Monongahela was Washington’s last major engagement before he is named commander-in-chief 20 years later.  That’s when it struck me–he wore his uniform to the Continental Congress 20 Years Later!  The uniform he wore as a 20 year old, still fit him as a 40 year old!  (Though Messner points out he looks a bit chubby in the painting…)  Still, how many people can fit into clothes they wore 20 years ago.

The final point of interest at the museum is another of what I call “Histories Mysteries.”  In a box buried shallowly on the battlefield is found rings, coins, and a medal from Russian Empress Anna Ivanovna.   The speculation is that the box belonged to a surgeon and the contents were things taken from bodies.  But, why a Russian medal from an incredibly unpopular Russian leader?  Definitely a mystery!

All in all, it was a fascinating day and two places I definitely recommend!

 

 

 

 

Fort Necessity

I was excited to head to Fort Necessity today (8/1/17) because this is where it all began:  The French Indian War which gave rise to the American Revolution.  So much of Washington is tied up in this area–his worst defeat, his biggest betrayal, his deepest humiliation, and the loss of a surrogate father figure.  Standing on the ground here, I felt, would give me the greatest insight for my book.  It is a truly incredible place.

I hadn’t realized that Washington and his men had spent almost two months clearing land for a road to attack Fort Duquesne.  One thing that has always stood out to me in this area is just how many trees there are–everywhere.  I can’t imagine trying to carve a path through them, much less fighting in them.  When he happened upon the Great Meadows, it must have seemed an oasis in the desert.  He termed it, “A charming field for an engagement.”  For a man who desperately wanted a British commission and who had been trained in the shoulder to shoulder British style of fighting, this spot was perfect.  Still, he hadn’t intended it for military service, but merely a supply station for troops attacking Fort Duquesne.

Another view of the fort

That all changed when three days later, Washington’s ally Tanacharison (the Half King) informed Washington there were French in the area (about 7 miles away).  His actions later make me wonder if this was a set-up, and he was simply using Washington.   Washington and 40 men set out to the Half King’s camp.  When they arrive, his scouts lead them to a ravine where the French are encamped.  From this point, two different versions of the story come into place.  Like typical siblings, both the French and the British claim the other one started it.  The French claim the British surprised them, and they fired back.  The British claim the French saw them approaching and fired first, with the British return fire being self defense.  Whatever actually happened, at the end of the day, the French commander Joseph Coulon de Villiers (Sieur de Jumonville) and 9 others were killed, one wounded, 21 prisoners, and one man who escaped to carry the news to Fort Duquesne.  British casualties were one killed, two wounded.  This would lead me to believe the British fired first, though they did have the high ground, so the disparity in casualties could come from that.  The interesting thing is that Coulon de Villiers was actually only wounded and was possibly trying to surrender–until the Half King got ahold of him–literally.  With a tomahawk.

Diorama of the Fort

When British Colonel Fry falls off his horse and dies of his injuries two days later, Washington is promoted to Colonel.  With the weight of leadership on his shoulders and the expectation of French retaliation from Fort Duqesne, Washington begins to try to make the area a fort, while still trying to do work on the road.  He has men guard those working on the road, but even with reinforcements still only has about 400 men.  His Indian allies meet with him, but when they realize Washington’s supplies haven’t come through as promised, and he has barely enough provisions for his men, they decide the British are a lost cause and refuse to fight.  Thus, Washington will face the 700 approaching Frenchmen and Indians with no allies.  I’m sure this was a huge betrayal by those he thought would stand with him–especially the man who was actually to blame for the incident.  But, it’s about to get a whole lot worse.

Artillery demonstration

It’s a horrible, rainy day on July 3, making fighting sporadic, as both sides are dealing with wet gunpowder, and Washington’s men are standing in trenches, which are slowly filling up.  The commander of the French Army is none other than the Louis, brother of Joseph Coulon de Villiers.  But, Providence will both save Washington and humiliate him.  The Indians with the French prefer the element of surprise and the spoils of war.  Seeing that there is neither at this time, they tell Louis Coulon De Villiers that they will leave in the morning.  He has a choice to make.

He requests a truce to parlay, offering Washington the chance to surrender.  But, when the terms are sent to Washington, they are smudged because of the rain.  Washington’s normal translator had been killed, and the man who was translating was Dutch, but could understand most of what was said.  Most being the key word.  He informs Washington that the terms are generous, allowing Washington and his men to leave with honors of war, taking their baggage and weapons (but no swivel guns–like little cannons) and return immediately to Virginia.  They had to leave two men as hostages (who would volunteer, then provide valuable intelligence as spies.)  Unfortunately, the translator left out the part where, by signing, Washington is admitting to the assassination of Joseph Coulon de Villiers, whom the French claim was acting as an ambassador, in the same role as Washington himself–though papers in his effects give the possibility he was spying as well (as the British would claim).  This report makes it all over Europe and the colonies, and Washington is humiliated.  Though Governor Dinwiddie doesn’t blame Washington when he reaches Virginia, he will disband the Virginia regiments into garrison companies, and will offer Washington the demoted rank of Captain.  When Washington is unable to negotiate a higher rank, he will leave military service less than three months after the Fort Necessity debacle and return to Mount Vernon.

Braddock’s memorial

But, Washington doesn’t get too comfortable in the quiet life as a farmer.  When General Braddock is named Commander in chief of the British forces and arrives in America with two Irish regiments, Washington sends him a note of congratulations–a great way to get noticed.  Because of the way British commissions worked, Washington would be subordinate to even his British inferiors, so he makes the decision to accept the offer to join as Braddock’s Aide de Camp–a volunteer position in which he only answered to Braddock, and he could pave the way to a commissioned rank.

I can’t imagine what he must have felt when his path led him back to Fort Necessity, where the bones of his men were still visible against the landscape (the French had burned Fort Necessity to the ground.)  But, he had another chance to assault Fort Duquesne.  Unfortunately, it would be another devastating loss.

View of Braddock’s original burial site (right) and monument (left)

Braddock has mostly heeded Washington’s advice on the advance.  He has men scouting and protecting the flanks and rear as the army crosses the Monongahela River.  When he doesn’t get ambushed, however, Braddock assumes the French are holed up in the fort and pulls the scouts in, lining his men up, unfurling the banners, and striking up the band.  There’s not a chance the French can miss their arrival.  Unfortunately.  Unbeknownst to him, the French know Braddock’s coming and had made the decision to surprise attack–they just didn’t make it to the river in time.  The two armies slam into each other.  And though the British have over twice the numbers, the French and Indians are fighting ambush style, hitting the flanks from the treeline, and the British lines literally collapse into each other, forming a mass of red coated men–a horribly easy target.  Washington and Braddock, both on horseback, are trying to return order to the situation.  Both have horses shot from under them.  Both have bullet holes in their clothing.  Both are unhit–until Braddock is struck with a bullet to the shoulder which passes into his chest.  Washington is able to get him into a wagon and off the field, then assemble the men and cover the retreat.

The original spot where Braddock was buried.

Unfortunately, Braddock, who had been a sort of father figure to 24 year old George who had lost his own father at 11, would die three days later.  Washington himself will preside over the burial, choosing to bury him in the road he had built where soldiers will march over his grave, obscuring the site from those who would seek to desecrate the body.  He will remain there until 1804 when men repairing this section of the road will stumble upon the remains and move them to the hill.

Ironically, this site of so much pain will be bought by Washington who visited after the war.  For the surveyor, it is indeed a beautiful piece of land, but I can’t imagine being able to see past all the memories he would have had.  But, knowing that he also revisited Valley Forge, I believe Washington didn’t shy away from the hard places.  Perhaps that’s another thing that makes him great.

 

 

 

 

 

Winter Quarters at Valley Forge

I started out my morning (7/15/17) with a quick trip through Valley Forge.  I have wanted to visit here for a while, and I intentionally chose a hotel in the vicinity so I could visit.  Because of the rain the past two days, I waited til this morning so I could get good pictures for use in class power points.

One of the things I was immediately struck with is how great a role Washington played in his men’s morale.  Trying to understand him for writing a book makes me focus more on his personal character than just the events.  We all have learned in school about the conditions at Valley Forge–freezing, disease, lack of clothing and supplies–but think about who had to keep those men willing to endure those things.  George Washington.  Additionally, I’d never looked at the fact that he brought Baron von Steuben in as a morale booster.  But, when you read von Steuben’s military experience, that had to give the men some hope and a reason to continue to press on.  Private Joseph Plumb Martin may had summed it up best when he stated, “We had engaged in the defense of our injured country and were willing, nay we were determined to persevere.”

The lay of the land

Another side of the war we don’t normally consider is its affect on the townspeople living there.  A picture display in one of the cabins explains that soldiers took down farmer’s fences to use the wood for construction.  They also demanded livestock of the people for food, and the encampment made such a mess of things, the townspeople couldn’t even plant crops after the army had left, the fields were so deep in mud and trampled from drilling.  I’m sure that made for two hard winters for the people who lived here–both while the army was here and after they’d left.  Apparently, George Washington visited later after fields were able to be plowed and planted, and–a farmer at heart–was pleased to see the agriculture up and running again.

While I’m sure there was much more I didn’t have a chance to explore–especially the reenactment areas–I needed to head to the Old Barracks.

The Old Barracks Museum

The Old Barracks is a fascinating Museum and the only remaining one of its kind.  It contains both original and reconstructed portions.  They do tours every hour, and it is well worth the price of admission!

Our tour guide, David, gave an amazing tour lasting over an hour (I had to leave to get to Gettysburg).  He started by explaining the reasons behind the creation of the barracks.  There had been a movement in parliament to expand the British empire. As a result, England sent 20,000 soldiers–the single largest investment of soldiers–to the colonies to help secure the lands to the west.  Problems arose because the British army had to be treated differently than the colonial militia.  Usually militias served 9-12 months as needed in a crisis (often going home for the winter when they disbanded to be formed again as needed.) But, British soldiers needed to be housed, as they obviously weren’t going home for the winter. Later, in order to handle this situation, Britain passed the first quartering act:  The Mutiny Act of 1765.  Under this law, British soldiers had to occupy barracks, then public houses (taverns). If none of those were available, then they moved to private homes or rented warehouses.

The Tour begins

During the French Indian War, New Jersey didn’t have anything to accommodate troops. The Population was only 1,000, and 250 British soldiers were sent. With no places to put them, they had to be quartered in homes.  Contrary to popular belief, you did have right to refuse to house soldiers, but you got paid for quartering troops, so many people accepted the offer.  However, the citizens of New Jersey began to complain that they were not paid as much as they were owed.

Additionally, though the British sent the largest number of troops they ever had, they were not winning the French Indian War. One by one, states stop raising armies to support the cause.  Then, in 1758, William Pitt became Prime Minister in Britain, instituting many new policies. First, he fired the old commander and instead of demanding things from the colonies, he started formally requesting what he desired.  He also made the colonists a deal:  He offered $100,000 lbs in gold specie–as much as you spend for the crown, you’ll get a portion of that back in specie. Since specie was hard to get in the colonies, this spurred many colonies to help out the crown.  New Jersey voted to erect 5 barracks to house soldiers. This is the only one still standing. Within two years of William Pitt’s leadership, France surrendered.

Soldiers’ quarters

The rooms in the barracks are 15 feet square, designed to house 12 men.  Men were divided in 6 man mess groups which shared camp (mess) equipment. The barracks was designed to house 300 soldiers. When a tent is 7 feet square at base, this is a real improvement–especially when the building usually only occupied 200-250 men.

The winter quarters were designed to conserve the soldiers’ health. Drilling usually started back up again in March. So, in the winter months, soldiers really didn’t have much responsibility  other than once a month guard duty.

External of officers’ quarters

David also gave insight into the lives of officers.  He reminded us that Officers had to be gentlemen. Because of that, most soldiers never aspired to leadership. Basically, commissions recognized individuals already in place in society. Otherwise, you had to purchase commissions (which cost about 4 years’ salary). Additionally, because officers were gentlemen, they were expected to pay for themselves–uniforms, the trip over, etc.
Initially, Benjamin Franklin turned down a commission because he was still a printer (gentleman didn’t work with hands). Later when he sold his business, he accepted the title of Colonel. While attached to the barracks, the Officers’ house was tacked onto end of building (no doubt the idea of 300 leaderless men left to their own devices was the motivation for this.)  While guests were illegal for enlisted men, the officers’ quarters were designed to bring visitors in. The Officers’ house was designed for 12 officers, though there likely was only 8-10.

Prussian Blue

Inside the quarters also gives insight.  The Spanish Brown paint used in the office area is the cheapest paint available, and corner fireplaces were more practical but less elegant.  On the opposite side of the house, the long room is painted in Prussian Blue–the most expensive paint. This room was used for entertaining. When you understand that a Captain could draw 7 times what a soldier’s ration was–and they had the option to get the equivalent cash price, most took the cash, then bought their own food.  Understanding this context of both officers and soldiers helped me understand Washington’s role, and the fact that he had no possibility of becoming an officer under the British standards.  In fact, he even resigned his commission in the French-Indian War and served as an aid because a non-ranking officer (Washington) could not hold leadership over a commissioned officer.

David concluded the tour with information on George Washington’s role in the American Revolution and the uses of the barracks after the war.  But, I needed to head to Gettysburg and towards home.  This concludes leg one of the Washington grant studies.  Stay tuned for the Western Pennsylvania installments!

 

The Culpepper Library

I spent today (7/10/17) at two different libraries, again looking for primary source information on Washington.  I started out at the Culpepper Library, which I was surprised to find located in a shopping center!  But despite its unusual appearances, I received a lot of helpful information.  First, the librarian pointed me to another library I will have to check out tomorrow (it was an hour and a half away…), but she also helped me find a few accounts I hadn’t seen before.

View of Ferry Farm

First, I was interested to read an account of Ferry Farm and discover the house looks very different from the way they’re reconstructing it, so I’m sending the information I found over to them.  I’m sure they have done extensive research, it was just interesting to me.  Additionally, I found out that in the trial of the two indentured servants who had stolen George’s clothes while he was swimming, it was, in fact, two Women!  You have to wonder what they were thinking.  Apparently, from the records I’d found, one of them gave evidence that it was the other’s fault, and that girl got 15 lashes on a bare back.  Still, I think it’s hilarious and wonder how old these two ladies actually were.

I also found some anecdotes from others who knew George as a young man.  One described the fact that George could outrun anyone in the county, though another kid in town who was an excellent runner liked to boast he could “bring George to a tie.  But, I believe he was mistaken;  for I have seen them run together many a time; and George always beat him easy enough. ” Another man talked about how fine a rider George was, and how good a judge of horses.  A final man mentioned that strength ran in the Washington family, as his dad’s gun was so heavy that “not one man in fifty could fire it without a rest.”  He mentions Washington throwing rocks over the Rappahannock (determined to be 115 yards in length–or over a whole football field), so I’m sure this is what gave rise to the Silver dollar over the Potomac myth.  Definitely fascinating reading, though.

Washington’s letter–this original is an amazing part of the special collection at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville

From there, I made my way to the Special Collections building at the University of Virginia.  I checked out a box of Washington’s papers.  What an amazing privilege to hold Washington’s own description of the ambush in the French Indian War.  His writing is incredibly small (Picture left shows an eraser for comparison), and there was no transcript, but I got to read his description of the engagement I wanted.  Here’s what he said:

“When we came to this place we were attacked (very unexpectedly, I must own) by about 300 French and Indians….(After accounting their number and that they had 60 killed and wounded officers, including his General who would die three days later)…I had four bullets through my coat and two horses shot under me.  It is supposed we left 300 or more dead in the field.”

Another interesting passage to me was a letter he wrote to a close friend during the American Revolution.  He writes very candidly since this letter is being hand delivered and not going through any post riders.  His purpose is:

“to make you sensible of the real situation of our affairs, and that it is with difficulty, (if I may use the expression) that I can by every means in my favor keep the life and soul of this army together–in short, when they (Congress) are at a distance, they think it is but to say “(unreadable)” and everything is done–as in other words done (unreadable) without considering or seeming to have any conception of the difficulties and perplexities attending those who are to carry these resolves into effect.”  (Mar. 2, 1777 to Robert Morris)

It resonated because I could clearly understand how our current military men must feel when D.C. is making decisions that they have to carry out, having no real concept of what conditions are like or what it costs those men.  A good perspective.

The Statue slated for removal

I ended the day driving by the statue of Robert E. Lee in Emancipation Park (formerly Lee Park) voted to be removed.  It had come to my attention on Twitter that there had been a march protesting the removal of the statue, so I wanted to go see it before it was gone.  I had posted on Facebook about the statue and had a lengthy conversation about how these men are perceived and whether or not there should be statues to them.  Having family in the South and knowing the character of these men, I love that they’re honored.  But, to some of my African American friends, they represent a system of slavery that led to unspeakable horrors for their ancestors.  I was again reminded of the need for good honest dialogue in order to mend the wounds that still run deep!

 

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!

The Governor’s Palace

I began my study of George Washington at my favorite Colonial Williamsburg.  When I received my grant on Robert Bolling, I spent a great deal of time in the John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, aided by the wonderful people there, so I knew they would be a good place to start today (7/7/17).

I was pleased to find on the Colonial Williamsburg schedule that Lady Washington would be speaking today.  We had fallen in love with the “original” Martha Washington (who started the reenactment program at Colonial Williamsburg and now plays Lady Washington at Mount Vernon.)  And while I know the reenactors at Williamsburg are just that, I also know they spend an extensive time studying the original before taking on the role.  Since I wanted to get a feel for Washington’s personality, I figured the best place to start was with those who “knew him best.”

Lady Washington’s presentation was mostly concerning the role of women in the war, but more specifically her duty to her husband.  When they had married, George had promised her he wouldn’t be involved in battle again.  But, when he is selected by the Continental Congress to hold the position, he feels duty bound to accept.  Martha, also has an amazing sense of duty which will compel her to the winter camps to be with her husband.  Ironically, she receives the final persuasion to go from reading in the newspaper that she is a Tory, estranged from her husband, and not supportive of the cause.  Obviously, this makes her aware of the role she plays in the new nation’s formation.  So, for the next several years, she will spend the winters with her husband in camp, where many of the men will view her as a mother and caretaker to them all.  It definitely gave the audience a lot to think about in regards to our current soldiers and their families.

Lady Washington

After seeing Lady Washington, I wandered around a bit and stumbled upon an auction in progress.  This is a newer addition to Williamsburg and one of the changes I actually like. Daily during the summer and on Saturdays the rest of the year, Colonial Williamsburg conducts a public auction (not requiring an admission pass).  During the auction, bids start usually at half price on items available in gift shops and a few special items unique to the auction.  It was an incredible experience!  It’s also the only auction I’ve seen where the auctioneer will occasionally give you items for less than you were willing to pay.  I had bid up to $10 on a hatpin, and he dropped the bid back to $5!  Definitely a fun addition.

After the auction, I decided to buckle down for the heat of the day, and made my way to John D. Rockefeller Jr. Library, where I received my second surprise.  There was a sign on the window that due to the cuts, the library would no longer be open to the public, except by appointment–which I didn’t have.  Another loss from lack of funding.  Thankfully, however, one of the librarians saw me gaping and let me in.  Those who were there were willing to work with me, and I spent the next four hours pouring over Washington’s papers.  One of the managers was also able to email the man who plays Washington, as an artist on the palace green informed me he had been required to do a year of reading before being allowed to play Washington (You see what I mean about these guys knowing their stuff.)  I haven’t heard back from him yet, but I’m excited for the process.

The Auction

There were several cool things I discovered while doing research on the young George Washington. I started with his diary entries as a 15 year old!  These were mostly about his surveying activities and discussions of hard times he had with lodgings (sleeping on scant hay with vermin infested blankets.)  But, he also included a passage about seeing an Indian war dance.  I copied down his description for use in my book.

“They clear a large circle and make a great fire in the middle, then seat themselves around it.  The speaker makes a grand speech telling them in what manner they are to dance.  After he has finished, the best dancer jumps up as one awakened from sleep, runs and jumps around the ring in a most comical manner.  He is followed by the rest.  Then begins their musicians to play a pot half of water with deer skin stretched over it as tight as it can and a gourd with some shot in it to rattle and a piece of horse tail to make it look fine.”

Knowing how much Washington would deal with the Native Americans in the future, I found it interesting to read these early impressions.  Reading Washington’s own thoughts really gave me a sense of his voice.  I especially loved his dealings in the French-Indian War.  Two things particularly stood out. First, Washington even at this time was honing his spy skills.  He evaluated land for its potential defensability. He also used time in the French forts to scout their resources.  His level of observation (telling how many cannons and which types, the number of men, and areas of the fort that were vulnerable) give indication of the strategist he would become.  It also helped me understand the information he requested of the Culpepper ring.

The Capitol Building

The second thing that interested me was his dealings with the Native Americans and the propaganda each side used.  The French seemed to try to bribe the Indians with goods (mostly weapons or alcohol.)  The British, however, protest that they’re fighting this war to preserve the Indians lands, and they offer their protection to the tribes’ old, women, and children.  Another interesting thing I noticed (and Washington seems to take exception to) is the fact that the French call the Indians “children” and the Indians refer to them as “fathers.”  The British (or at least George Washington on their behalf) calls the Indians both brother and friend.  In one letter, he even signs his own Indian name Conotocarious.  Ironically, the name (which Washington inherited from his Great Grandfather John Washington) means “Town Taker” or “Devourer of Villages.”  In light of our later treatment of Native people, I find that extremely interesting and would love to find the back story.  Even more interesting is the fact that when Washington refers to himself by his Indian name, he has just signed his letter “Your friend and brother.”  Just a fascinating dance, these interactions between cultures!

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Escaping a Rainy day at Charlton’s

After studying for the better part of four hours, I decided to head over to Charlton’s Coffee House.  As always, there was amazing chocolate and fun information on the house, and on this particular day, it provided a nice place to wait out the short shower of pouring rain.

I concluded my day by heading over to the William and Mary Campus Library.  The Special Collections researchers had already headed home for the day, but the librarian was able to point me in the direction of Ferry Farm, Washington’s boyhood home.  I was surprised this hadn’t come up in my research–I just had information on his birthplace and assumed he went from there to Mount Vernon.  But, Ferry Farm is on my way (ish) from the birthplace to Culpepper, so I’ll head there on Sunday.  So much to see and do!