Our children were less than impressed with spending Christmas day away from their presents watching a re-enactment of George Washington’s historic crossing of the Delaware River. So, we decided to impress upon them the importance of George Washington in the history of the USA.
Despite some feeble protests from the children, we set out to visit Mount Vernon, George Washington’s 500 acre plantation on the Potomac in Northern Virginia just outside of Washington D.C.. Mount Vernon is one of the most visited estates in the United States and is run by a private charity.
The outside of the house is made of wood with a sand mixture plastered on to make it look like stucco. In the front hall of the mansion, there is the original key to The Bastille, gifted by the Marquis de Lafayette to Washington. Having being expanded piecemeal, the house is a bit of a rabbit warren. The architecture and furnishings are either original or replicated to look like they would have during Washington’s tenure.
The estate has sweeping lawns down to the Potomac. The views are magnificent. The fishing during Washington’s time was extensive and annually took in about 1.3 million herring. Needless to say, Washington’s slaves ate a lot of salted fish.
Every Christmas, a camel is brought to the estate because Washington had done so in his time for the entertainment of his step-grandchildren.
The Mount Vernon tour starts with a short video at the Orientation Center which helps you get your bearings. It was somewhat disconcerting, however, to see a young George making the moves on young Martha. Some things you don’t want to think about a Founding Father doing.
After the tour of the mansion and grounds, you can move onto the Museum and Education Center which is really well done. There are a lot of interactive exhibits which the children enjoyed (despite themselves). In addition, there is a play area for the under 8’s which is really creative. Children can solve puzzles, play in a Mount Vernon dollhouse, dress up in colonial clothes etc.
So here are 10 things you probably didn’t know about George Washington:
- Young George’s education was cut short after his father died when George was 11. George did not get sent off to English boarding school like his older brothers.
- George was really good at mathematics and also a voracious reader. Rumors exist that his desire to improve himself stemmed from a torch he carried for a married woman (a member of his sister-in-law’s family).
- As a younger son, George only inherited a small farm. George’s father had originally left Mount Vernon to his brother, Lawrence. Upon Lawrence’s death, his will passed the estate onto George.
- George survived a bout of smallpox but it probably left him sterile. On the plus side, he became immune to further attacks of smallpox.
- By all accounts, George and Martha had a fairly intense relationship. She joined him every winter when fighting ceased for the 8 years of the American Revolution. Check out his campaign bed which could be disassembled and carried around with the army.
- He enlarged Mount Vernon with Martha’s money. Martha’s first husband was much older and passed away a few years into their marriage without a will. She became the executor of his properties for their 2 children without additional male oversight (an anomaly at the time).
- George met Martha when she was in her mid-twenties, wealthy and a prize in the marriage sweepstakes. They married after a few months of courtship. She wore a gold gown and silk yellow and purple lace shoes. You could say she was a bit of a fashionista.
- He only had 1 original tooth when he was elected first President of the United States. He was diligent about brushing his teeth but tooth decay had set about in his early twenties.
- He had several sets of false teeth. He clenched his jaws to keep the teeth in his mouth because they were on a spring mechanism. He’d look pretty silly with his mouth flopping open! My children were completely fascinated with his dentures.
- In his will, his slaves would be freed after the death of Martha Washington. Martha wasn’t entirely sure if she could trust her slaves not to hasten her death and so freed them while she was still alive.
The Mount Vernon experience is wonderful for making history come alive. The Washingtons are presented as real people with interests, habits and foibles. If you are in Washington, D.C., I highly recommend a visit to Mount Vernon to learn about Colonial America and the Washingtons.