My Date with a Founding Figure

The staff at the George Washington Foundation posited the idea of what it would be like to go on a date with a Founding Figure. We use the term “Founding Figure,” because a couple of dates are with the ladies of the American Revolutionary period and not just the “fathers.”  Although, fun fact, the term “Founding Father” was supposedly coined by then-Senator (later President) Warren Harding in 1916. A founding figure is a person who was instrumental during the Revolution, the creation of the Republic, and the early years of said Republic.

While some traditional figures have been classified as “lesser-known” or the “last of,” we have chosen those who are pretty well known (and if not, should be!). Each date is set in the 21st century but is tailored to that person’s 18th and 19th-century interests. The following paragraphs are fictional, sadly, but contain threads of facts.

Phillis Wheatley

Phillis Wheatley. Credit: Wikipedia

My dream date with Phillis Wheatley would involve a lot of active listening on my part. I would ask her whether she remembers her time as a child in West Africa before she was enslaved and brought to the British North American Colonies. We both are familiar with Boston, so we’d talk a lot about our favorite places around that city while having tea at Hyperion in downtown Fredericksburg.

Phillis was a great fan of General George Washington and famously wrote him a poem which resulted in George inviting her to his headquarters in Cambridge, Massachusetts, so I would offer her a tour of Ferry Farm and show her some of the artifacts we have that relate to the Washington family’s time here. From Ferry Farm, we would head to D.C. to check out the museums. I think Phillis would be interested in how history has progressed.

Over dinner, we would talk about the Revolutionary War, a cause she adamantly supported. At the end of the evening, we would go to a late-night café and sip coffee during a poetry open mic night. Phillis would take the stage and wow everyone with her amazing talent. 

For those interested in learning more about Phillis, take a look at the Poetry Foundation’s information on her and her work by clicking here

-Mara Kaktins, Archeology Lab Supervisor

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A day-long date with Alexander Hamilton in Fredericksburg, VA would start early. First, we would head out in search of some lively morning debate at a local coffee shop. Alex is well known for his oratory and debate skills; I would enjoy listening to him engage with local folks in discussing the politics and page one issues printed in our morning newspaper. The conversation might also veer into the topic of the newspaper industry itself as Alex was a founder of the New-York Evening Post in 1801, now called the New York Post.

After breakfast, we would take a walk following the Trail to Freedom, a Civil War-era tour that retraces the routes of freedom-seeking enslaved men, women, and children through the City of Fredericksburg and the County of Stafford. Alex opposed slavery and vocally supported abolitionist causes. He would be very interested in learning the story of John Washington, enslaved for 24 years in Fredericksburg before escaping to freedom during the Civil War.

As a side note, we would definitely avoid going past the James Monroe Museum and Memorial Library (too bad, since it’s a great museum!). Monroe and Hamilton had a serious falling out over the public disclosure of Hamilton’s affair with Maria Reynolds and accusations of financial malfeasance. Hamilton and Monroe nearly ended up as a duel over the situation!

Lunch is at one of two Jamaican-themed restaurants in town in honor of his Caribbean roots. Over the meal, we would discuss our afternoon plans to tour the Civil War battlegrounds in and around the city. I’d be interested to hear his views on military history and tactics. Hamilton loved all things military and even resigned as Washington’s aide-de-camp to take an active role in the Revolutionary fight.

The day ends with dinner and good conversation at the Rising Sun Tavern. This local landmark is a suitable replacement for the George Weedon Tavern, once a popular gathering spot for patriots in Fredericksburg during the Revolutionary War. Located at the northwest corner of Caroline and William Streets, the tavern unfortunately burned down in 1807. Many important American patriots met here during the War to discuss politics and design policies. The tavern was the setting of the Peace Ball on November 11, 1781, following the defeat of Cornwallis at Yorktown. Weedon hosted many important dignitaries at this event, including George Washington himself and the Marquis de Lafayette. Alex and I would spend a pleasant evening convening with the ghosts of his compatriots of the Revolutionary War.

-Judy Jobrack, Archeologist, Co-Field Director

George Wythe

George Wythe. Credit: Wikipedia

On my date with George Wythe, a lesser-known Founding Figure, we would spend an afternoon strolling along Duke of Gloucester Street in Colonial Williamsburg. For those of you who might not know George, he was a prominent lawyer and Williamsburg local. He taught law at the College of William & Mary (in fact, he’s considered America’s first law professor!), so perhaps we would start our day with a leisurely walk around campus and a tour of the Wren Building.

Next, we’d stop in the aptly named Wythe Candy & Gourmet Shop (I’d probably need to explain the modern sales tax to him, though…) to buy a snack before wandering down to the capitol building. Since he was a member of the House of Burgesses and a signer of the Declaration of Independence, we might debate colonial politics while we tour the building and as we continue our walk along the Palace Green. (Maybe I could convince him to toss a Frisbee on the lawn?)

On our drive home from the ‘Burg, we’d queue up a true-crime podcast for the road. Wythe himself had quite the connection to true crime. The events surrounding his death, namely, a suspected poisoning, caused quite the scandal in 1806. I probably shouldn’t bring that up during our date, though.

-Ann Waters, Manager of Interpretation & Visitor Services

Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson. Credit: Wikipedia

A date with Thomas Jefferson, the 3rd President of the United States, would be an all-day affair. How could we possibly browse bookstores and discuss literature in only a few hours? A good date must start with coffee. After stopping in Agora (in Fredericksburg, VA) and skimming their used book collection, I would insist on bringing Tom to Riverby Books. Since he was an avid reader, we would likely spend most of the day browsing their shelves. I imagine we would gather a large number of books to peruse.

The rest of our day-date would be spent reading at the window seat in Riverby and discussing the novels we’ve found. We would leave the bookstore with a few tote bags of books and continue our conversation as we strolled down Caroline Street. The day would end with me gifting Tom a copy of Pride and Prejudice, and I doubt the author of the Declaration of Independence has that on his shelves. Though I wonder, do you think he’d appreciate a Kindle?

-Gillian Both, University of Mary Washington Fleming-Smith Scholar 2021-22

Abigail Adams

Abigail Adams. Credit: Wikipedia

My date would be with Abigail Adams, but I’m hoping I get to call her “Abby.” We would probably go for tea in downtown Fredericksburg. In her letters to John during his absence on crucial government business, she often wrote about the rights of women in the new nation. One aspect of women’s rights that seems to be most important to her was the ability of women to own property and make their own money. With this in mind, I would suggest the woman-owned Freedom Society tea room for our date. Over tea, we would discuss the political progress of women’s rights since the 18th century.

After tea, since she was also an avid reader, I’m sure she would be happy to visit Riverby bookstore where she could explore the many books unavailable to her in the 18th and 19th centuries, and then I would be happy to hear her opinions on those books, and what she thinks of 21st century Fredericksburg. 

-Mason Shultz, Assistant Lab Archaeologist

George Washington

George Washington. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

A date with George Washington, Stafford’s boy who grew up to be the 1st President of the United States, would be an evening affair of dinner, dancing, and conversation, of the most respectful sort. Dinner would be a restaurant in downtown Fredericksburg, maybe Sammy T’s? After dinner, considering the incivility of modern-day clubs, George and I would attend a prom—as overly enthusiastic chaperones.

We would revel in bopping our heads to the D.J. while remaining a respectful 6 feet apart. Furthermore, George would take this date as an opportunity to educate the youth. He would separate students who were not dancing with the purest intentions and would read them excerpts from Rules of Civility, which, while entertaining, would also probably get us removed from future chaperone lists.

After the prom, George would make sure that I arrived safely home. While I would certainly find George to be charming and honorable, I will forever remember the students’ groans that reverberated off the gymnasium’s walls.

-Kaylie Schunk, School & Youth Programs Coordinator

James Monroe

James Monroe. Credit: Wikipedia

Fredericksburg is the perfect setting for a date with James Monroe. Did you know? He actually had a law office in town, and his descendants turned it into a museum in the 1920s! While it would be interesting to take him to his own museum, I think we’d leave that for a second date.

First, we would peruse newspapers for yard and garage sales. I can see us at Agora, on the back patio, sipping coffee, James with the newspapers opened, and me on my smartphone, plotting the location of the sales. James was quite the thrifty furniture finder in his day. One time, while President, he purchased furniture from the Russian ambassador who was having a sale of his things before moving back to Russia.

After a successful morning of thrifting, we would relax over lunch at La Petite Auberge. I would ask James to tell me all about his time in France as the ambassador during George Washington’s administration. The fact that he sent his wife on a diplomatic mission during the French Revolution is something I really want to hear more about. Additionally, I also want to know more about his trips to England and Spain. Being a diplomat to many places during the late 1790s and early 1800s must have been thrilling!

-Amy N. Durbin, Director of Education

Marquis de Lafayette

Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Montier a.k.a Marquis de Lafayette. Credit: Wikipedia

Oh, la la! What comes to mind when you think of Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier? Êtes-vous confus? He’s better known by his title, Marquis de Lafayette! Our daylong date would begin mid-morning, as the Marquis would have arrived late the night before. The last time he was in the United States was 1824 so, it’s been a minute. He’s currently on the U.S. leg of his college speaking tour.

As a person who grew up in a small town in France, traveled overseas, fought for liberty here, and also in his own country, was arrested during his home country’s Revolution, survived, sought to end slavery, and to keep the ideals of the American Revolution alive, the University jumped at the chance to have him encourage the graduating students. So, after his fiery speech to get the students ready to live their dreams, I’d present him with some donuts from Paul’s, and we’d grab some coffee from Hyperion. Taking our treats down to the waterfront, we would spend the afternoon discussing his views on the right and wrong of humankind.

In the early evening, we’d walk through Hurkamp Park, taking in the sounds of a local band. He probably wouldn’t care to dance as he wasn’t the most graceful dancer, but it’s 2022, dance moves are whatever a person wants them to be, right? After the park, we would end the day over dinner from Juan More Taco. I think he would like how much the restaurant gives back to the community.

-Amy N. Durbin, Director of Education

And so, we ask you, what do a poet, an accountant, a professor, an architect, an advocate, a surveyor, a diplomat, and an idealist have in common? They all paved the way for others to also grow up and to make their mark on the world. What they accomplished, be it good, not-so-good, or even unknown to many, can still be educational. What founding figure would you date?

-GWF Archeology & Education Staff