Agreeable Amusements: Music & Dancing in the Life of George Washington

On September 10, 1748, sixteen-year-old George Washington paid 3 shillings, 9 pence to a “musick master for my entrance.” Young Washington recorded these sparse details in Ledger Book Zero, a personal account ledger listing credits and debits with family, friends, and business associates between 1747 and 1750. This, as far as we can tell, is the first reference to music in the life of George Washington. By no means, would it be the last. Music was an important part of Washington’s life, just as it is with many of us today.

Ledger Book Zero, young George Washington’s personal account book, shows payment to a “musick master for my entrance.”

What was teenage age George paying for when he paid the “musick master for . . . entrance”?  Well, the lack of details makes it impossible to say with certainty.  The most obvious possibility is that he was paying for music lessons.  However, letters written by George himself and a friend indicate that Washington had little to no musical talent. Francis Hopkinson, a colleague during the war, composed a series of songs for harpsichord or piano and dedicated them to Washington. In a letter to George dated December 1, 1788, Hopkins explained his dedication even though George could “neither play Musick nor sing Songs.”  In a reply on February 5, 1789, Washington agreed, writing “I can neither sing one of the songs, nor raise a single note on any instrument.” Despite a professed musical inability, it is still possible young George was paying for music lessons in 1748. Often, you might pursue lessons only to discover that you do not have the aptitude.

Regardless, while apparently not musical himself, music surrounded Washington. As Mount Vernon research historian Mary V. Thompson notes, “Washington was the head of a household where his wife, her two children, and her four grandchildren (two of whom were raised by the Washingtons) all studied music.” In particular, granddaughter Eleanor (Nelly) Parke Custis became fairly skilled at the harpsichord, despite an apparent reluctance to learn. In the summer of 1798, a visiting Polish nobleman enthusiastically claimed that Nelly “plays the harpsichord, sings, draws better than any woman in America or even in Europe.”

Another Washington family member with an interest in music was George’s niece Harriot Washington, daughter of Samuel. The first letter in the record between Harriot and her guardian and uncle George was written on April 2, 1790.  Harriot was 14-years-old and living at Mount Vernon while President Washington was in New York. The niece asked her uncle to send her a guitar since she wanted to take lessons for “all the young Ladyes are a learning musick.”  Harriot was confident “that five or six lessons would be sufficient for any body to learn.”  The records consulted reveal no response from Washington. Eventually, Harriot would come to Historic Kenmore to live with her aunt Betty Washington Lewis. She again asked uncle George for a guitar in May of 1792. About a month later, he paid $17 for one. Harriot’s capabilities with the instrument are unknown.

Besides family, another major source of music in Washington’s life was the Continental Army. Music was crucial to 18th century militaries. Fifes and drums issued commands during battle and put a spring in the step during weary marches. Much like the army’s initially amateur soldiers, its fifers and drummers (who were often boys serving with their soldier-fathers) took time to practice and professionalize.

On June 4, 1777, General Washington issued a set of orders. One order dealt with the army’s music, which the General bluntly lamented was “very bad.” He ordered “that the drum and fife Majors exert themselves to improve it, or they will be reduced, and their extraordinary pay taken from them: Stated hours to be assigned, for all the drums and fifes, of each regiment, to attend them, and practice.” Washington concluded, “Nothing is more agreeable, and ornamental, than good music; every officer, for the credit of his corps, should take care to provide it.”

A notable musical moment in the army’s history was the birthday serenade for General Washington on February 22, 1778 at Valley Forge. The musicians of Proctor’s Artillery played outside the General’s headquarters. Washington’s expense account lists a payment of 1 pound, 5 shillings to Proctor’s band. Joseph Lee Boyle, longtime historian at Valley Forge, explains that “Colonel Proctor commanded an artillery regiment, and this was one of the few, perhaps the only, unit to have musicians besides fifers and drummers. In 1779 ten ‘musicians’ are listed in the band, but not what instruments they played.” Mount Vernon scholars note that this was “the first public recognition of [Washington’s] birthday.”

We’ve seen that music was definitely a part of Washington’s life but it was played by others mostly. George could not play an instrument nor sing. He may have paid for music lessons only to discover his inability. Another reasonable theory, however, is that he paid the “musick master for my entrance” to dancing lessons. Later in life, Washington uses similar phrasing – “Mr McKay entrance to Dancing” – to record a payment of 10 shillings for lessons for stepson John Parke Custis.

Dancing was the leisure time obsession of most Virginians but especially those in the wealthy gentry. For the upper class, explains Amy Stallings, “ being a skilled dancer was an indication of good breeding” and allowed one to “put one’s gentility, accomplishment, beauty, and economic means on display in hopes of impressing—or, in some cases, intimidating—”others. As Philip G. Smucker adds, “Dexterity on the dance floor maintained social status.”

Maintaining social status and the appearance of good breeding skyrocketed in importance to George and the Washington family after the death of father Augustine in 1743. His death created financial hardship and jeopardized the family’s social standing. Without a father, George’s life changed radically. Assisted and supported by both mother Mary and half-brother Lawrence, George was forced to acquire the refined skills and customs of the upper class in Fredericksburg instead of in England while at boarding school.

One of those skills was dancing and the mystery “musick master” perhaps taught teenage George that skill.  Over the course of the 18th century, as Stallings notes, “a market developed for professional instructors, or dance masters, who were expected to know the latest dances from Europe.”  Virginia’s urban centers with their greater populations and high number of visitors “often boasted multiple dancing schools . . . Dancing masters operated in at least Yorktown, Williamsburg, and Hampton by 1739.” Traveling dance instructors served Virginia’s far-flung rural population. These masters usually “taught the sexes separately, at different hours or different days of the week.”

If Washington was schooled in dancing by the “musick master,” he probably learned the era’s popular minuets, allemandes, and hornpipes. These fancy dances typically began any ball and were the best opportunities to show off one’s dancing abilities and good breeding. The minuet was the most important. As Stallings explains, “A man’s prowess at the minuet—an especially complicated dance, requiring excellent balance and coordination with one’s partner—could buoy his social position, whereas a poor minuet might leave him out of favor.”

A fanciful early 20th century painting by Jean Leon Gerome Ferris titled “The Victory Ball, 1781.” While Washington was a life-long and avid dancer, it is unlikely he attended any such “victory ball” or “peace ball” traditionally said to have taken place in Fredericksburg after the British defeat at Yorktown.

Whether he was paying for dancing lessons in 1748 or not, young Washington learned to dance in some fashion, discovering both an extraordinary natural talent and life-long passion for it.  Numerous contemporaries recorded instances of Washington dancing and praised his abilities.

“His Excellency . . .  and Mrs. Greene . . . danced upwards of three hours without once sitting down.” – General Nathanael Greene to Colonel Jeremiah Wadsworth, Middle Brook, New Jersey, March 19, 1779.

“His Excellency General Washington was unusually cheerful. He attended the ball in the evening, and with a dignified and graceful air, having Mrs. Knox for his partner, carried down a dance of twenty couples in the arbor on the green grass.” – General Nathanael Greene to Joseph Reed, Morristown, New Jersey, Tuesday, February 29, 1780.

“The General danced every set, that all the ladies might have the pleasure of dancing with him, or as it has since been handsomely expressed, get a touch of him.” – James Tilton to Gunning Bedford Jr., Annapolis, Maryland, December 25, 1783.

“He . . . attended the ball of the 22nd of February; opened it by dancing a minuet with some lady, and then danced cotillions and country dances; was very gallant, and always attached himself, by his attentions, to some one or more of the most beautiful and attractive ladies at the balls.” – Judge Francis T. Brooke (1784).

And finally a word on his dancing from George Washington himself, written on November 12, 1799, just a month prior to his death and turning down an invitation from to a grand function in Alexandria. He wrote,

Gentlemen

Mrs Washington and myself have been honoured with your polite invitation to the Assemblies in Alexandria, this Winter; and thank you for this mark of your attention. But alas! our dancing days are no more; we wish, however, all those whose relish for so agreeable, & innocent an amusement [emphasis added], all the pleasure the Season will afford them. and I am Gentlemen Your Most Obedient and Obliged Humble Servant

Go: Washington

George saw music and dancing both as “agreeable.” From the mostly taciturn Washington, this is high praise indeed.

Join us on Saturday, April 10 for The Arts at Kenmore: Music on the Lawn and hear 18th century music group Colonial Faire performs music from all walks of colonial society – the music of the taverns, the manor houses, on the streets and on the battlefields. The evening’s opening act will include a short talk exploring the importance of music to George Washington and a theater scene depicting Washington’s first dancing lesson. For more information and tickets, visit kenmore.org/events.

Zac Cunningham
Manager of Educational Programs

Five International Influences on George Washington’s Early Life

An Essay of a New and Compact Map, Containing the Known Parts of the Terrestrial Globe by Jacques-Nicolas Bellin was published in 1750 when George Washington was 18-years-old. Credit: Wikipedia.

Ferry Farm was a unique place to live in the mid-1700s. Situated where farm, frontier, city, river, and road converged on the edge of English empire, young George Washington, his family, and the farm’s enslaved community found their daily lives governed by Britain’s global economy and imperial culture.  Ferry Farm, nearby Fredericksburg, and the colonies more broadly were international places made up of a host of different European, African, and Native American ethnicities and nationalities in the 18th century.  Accordingly, we present a list of “Five International Influences on George Washington’s Youth.” This is by no means an exhaustive list but each influence helped shape young Washington into a man capable of commanding the Continental Army and serving as the new nation’s first president.

1) The Rappahannock River

The Rappahannock River as viewed from a window in the Washington house replica at Ferry Farm.
Voyages of British ships in the last half of the 18th century. Created by Geographer James Cheshire, PhD, on his Spatial.ly blog and used with permission.

Young George could look from a window in the family home at Ferry Farm down the bluff to the Rappahannock River. He saw ocean-going, sailing vessels being loaded and unloaded at the wharves and warehouses of Fredericksburg. These vessels were part of a global trade network, which we’ve written about here and here, that stretched to Europe, Africa, the Caribbean, India and China. These vessels were not large but traveled the world nonetheless.  They took the corn, wheat, and timber of places like Ferry Farm to Europe or the Caribbean and returned with Westerwald mugs from Germany, tea from India, porcelain from China, and enslaved laborers from Africa. The sailors on these ships probably represented numerous ethnicities and nations. One easily can imagine young George, so prone to a thirst for adventure, finding any excuse he could to visit the docks and ships down on the river and, by doing so, traveling the world without leaving the Rappahannock.

2) Westerwald stoneware

Those ships carried numerous manufactured goods from all over the world to Ferry Farm. Westerwald ceramics were one such import. Produced in the Westerwald region of what is now Germany beginning in the 1500s, archaeologists have excavated numerous bits of decorated stoneware tankards, jugs, and other drinking vessels used in the 1700s at Ferry Farm.  Several of these excavated vessels sported the initials ‘G.R.’, meaning Georgius Rex, the Latin for King George. The three British kings of the 18th century were all named George and came from the House of Hanover, a German royal family placed on the British throne in 1714. A gentleman sporting a ‘G.R.’ on his Westerwald tankard or jug advertised his loyalty to the Crown with every draught of ale. The presence of these initialed drinking vessels at Ferry Farm show that, until the Revolution, Washington, like most Americans, viewed himself as a loyal subject of the British Crown (ironically worn by a German head).

G.R. medallion on a Westerwald jug fragment.
A nearly complete Westerwald drinking vessel in the collection at Historic Kenmore.

3) Venetian glass

The vast majority of ceramics in the Washington household came from England. The same can be said about the family’s table glass, but the fanciest glassware owned by the Washington family actually came from Venice, Italy.  Found by our archaeologists, this piece of a pincered and buttressed handle is likely part of an elaborate hand-blown Venetian piece, made of finely crafted colorless soda lime glass with a barely visible bead of opaque glass running through the center.  A Venetian glass goblet such as this was a show piece displayed prominently within the house to emphasize that, despite their colonial location, the Washington family strived to maintain a level of European refinement appropriate to their gentry status.

Archaeologists excavated this small fragment of Venetian glass at Ferry Farm.
Wine goblet made in the 16th century in Venice, Italy. Credit: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

4) Barbados

In 1751, George Washington made his only trip off the North American continent, traveling with his half-brother Lawrence to Barbados. Visiting the island’s fortifications and meeting members of its military garrison fed George’s growing desire for a military career. As Jack Warren concludes, “After returning to Virginia, he dedicated himself to advancement in the military more completely than any of his Virginia contemporaries. And unlike most of the prominent colonial militia officers of the 1750s, he sought a commission in the regular British military establishment – an ambition that was probably prompted, and undoubtedly stimulated, by his experience in Barbados.”

Needham’s Point, Barbados. Credit: Reinhard Link.

5) The Frontier

Military service eventually took George into the frontier wilderness of the vast Ohio country. Tasked by Governor Dinwiddie with delivering a demand to the French to leave lands claimed by Virginia and the British Crown, young Major George Washington embarked on a thousand-mile, ten-week trek to and from Fort LeBoeuf on Lake Erie. He was accompanied by the Dutchman Jacob Van Braam, who served as his French interpreter, and by Tanacharison, known as Half-King, as well as other men from Native American nations. Along the way, he met several French officers and soldiers. Although confined to North America, this trip in late 1753 and early 1754 was, in reality, a foreign trip that exposed Washington to different peoples and cultures. It provided vital diplomatic, military, and intelligence gathering experience to the future Continental Army commander and first president. Washington, notes Paul Royster, “practiced diplomacy to keep the Native leaders allied to the English cause; he interviewed French deserters and reported on the extent of French military posts between New Orleans and the Great Lakes; he reconnoitered the Forks of the Ohio with an eye to the proper site for building a fort; and he inspected and reported on the construction of the new French forts and made estimates of their strength . . . .”

Portrait of George Washington, 1772 by Charles Willson Peale. Credit: National Portrait Gallery
The Ohio region from Cumberland to Fort LeBoeuf through which Washington journeyed, overlayed onto the famed map in Thomas Jefferson’s Notes on the State of Virginia (1787). Credit: Paul Royster / University of Nebraska.

Conclusion

Although a fourth generation American, George Washington grew up in a time and place – 18th century Ferry Farm and British North America — where international economic and cultural influences on his life were quite numerous. Through the five international influences we’ve briefly examined, we’ve seen how these influences helped Washington maintain his gentry status, which ultimately set him on a path to military and political greatness.

Zac Cunningham
Manager of Educational Programs

Mara Kaktins, Archaeologist
Ceramics & Glass Specialist

Little George’s Grand Tour of Europe [Photos]

A staff member who works at George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore vacationed in England, Austria, and Hungary last September and October.  Little George accompanied her and enjoyed seeing new sites and delving into the history of Europe.  As the real George Washington left the shores of North America only once to accompany his ailing brother Lawrence to Barbados, this was a chance for Little George to experience an abbreviated version of the traditional Grand Tour of Europe popular in the 18th century.

The first stop was London, where George’s Revolutionary War nemesis King George III once lived, and where Little George already spent some time last summer.  On this return trip for Little George, we saw the usual sites, such as the Tower of London, Parliament, and Big Ben (which was covered in scaffolding), but also mixed in a little ancient history, iconic pubbing, and English football.

01

Little George outside the Stanhope Arms.

Upon arrival, we immediately had to have the nation’s favorite dish, some traditional Fish and Chips! The Stanhope Arms, a pub built in 1853, used to have a private jazz club upstairs and was visited often by the author during her college junior year abroad (1979-1980).

At Chelsea Football Club’s home field of Stamford Bridge, we watched Liverpool Football Club win the match from the nosebleed section of the stadium. Look closely and you can see Little George participating in the opening ceremonies!

02

Stamford Bridge, home field of Chelsea Football Club.

On a river cruise we passed beneath the iconic Tower Bridge over the River Thames. Built between 1886 and 1894 in the Gothic style, the bridge stills opens to river traffic.  Little George is waiting in line to enter the exhibition inside the Tower.

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Tower Bridge over the River Thames.

Mudlarking along the Thames’s foreshore can reveal centuries of history hidden among the cobbles on the riverbank. Fragments of medieval and modern pottery, glass and ceramic bottles, tobacco pipe stems, buckles and buttons are all mixed in with 1st century roman roofing tiles, prehistoric tools, World War II shrapnel and spent shells from the Blitz. Little George was very helpful in spying things as he was so close to the ground! During our search of the shore, we found what may have been a Roman roofing tile (below right) from when the Romans ruled Britain between 43 and 410 AD.

0405

06

Chocolate with Mozart’s image is in every confectioner’s window in Salzburg.

After London, we headed for the Continent to begin our Grand Tour-inspired travels.  Our first European stop was Salzburg, Austria, the birth place of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, a classical pianist and composer who lived from 1756 to 1791.  Mozart and other contemporaries, such as Haydn, were extremely popular and well-known during their lifetimes, and copies of their compositions were present in Washington’s personal musical collection.  Mozart and Washington would never meet, but one can imagine George and his family enjoying Mozart’s music after hosting a dinner party.

A side trip to Festung Hohenwerfen, a medieval castle where the popular 1968 World War II film “Where Eagles Dare” was filmed, included a fascinating falconry exhibition.  We watched as a falcon was released, flew around in a huge arc over the castle valley, and then swooped back to the handler, just missing our heads. Little George would have been easy prey for these hunters so, although always fascinated by anything to do with hunting, he kept his distance.

09

A falconer holds aloft a falcon as he prepares to demonstrate how to hunt small prey using the birds.

08 (Wikipedia)

Castle Hohenwerfen, where the war movie “Where Eagles Dare”, starring Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton, was filmed in 1968. Credit: Memorator / Wikipedia

After walking the streets and alleys of Salzburg’s old city and crossing the river to stroll through the world famous Mirabell Gardens and Palace, we retired for a late afternoon respite in a local beer hall, the Augustiner Brau. This brewery has been serving beer since 1621 and is Austria’s largest.  We sat in one of several halls inside the brewery and tried our best to have a conversation with a local using high school German and an English-German dictionary.  During the 18th century, whether in the colonies or Europe, beer was drunk daily since water was looked upon as unsafe, which it often was.  As a child, George Washington drank “small beer,” which contained almost no alcohol. In later times, Washington built a whiskey distillery at Mount Vernon. In 1799, his distillery produced almost 11,000 gallons of whiskey.

10

Augustiner Brau beer hall in Salzburg.

11

Little George enjoying a big mug of beer.

In Halstatt, Austria, we enjoyed walking this picturesque town, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and visiting the famous bronze-age salt mine and graveyard in the mountains above the village. The unique preservative qualities of salt and sealed caves allowed the preservation of two thousand-year-old leather goods, such as the sandals pictured below. In contrast, acidic soil conditions at Ferry Farm and Kenmore do not allow the preservation of 200-year-old leather items.

The 19th century excavation of the Halstatt’s bronze-age cemetery and its thousands of funerary goods led to the designation of the epoch from the 8th to the 5th century BC as the “Halstatt Culture.”

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Halstatt, Austria, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

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4th Century BC leather shoe found in the salt mines

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Bronze Age Grave goods

 

Of the many sites we visited at our next stop in Vienna, Austria’s capital, our time spent at the world famous Spanish Riding School was perhaps the highlight of Little George’s trip.  Here at the Winter Riding School located in the Hofburg Palace, we watched the famed Lipizzaners and their riders perform their morning exercises to classical Viennese waltzes.  George Washington himself was an excellent horseman and would have appreciated the dedication these riders demonstrated towards learning their lessons.

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Little George enjoying the Lipizzaners at the Hofburg Palace.

On a side trip to Melk Abbey, a Benedictine abbey in the town of Melk overlooking the Danube River, Little George had the pleasure of meeting up with a contemporary of his, Empress Maria Theresa, a member of the Hapsburg dynasty and Queen of Austria and Hungary. Maria Theresa reigned from 1740 to 1780. They had much to talk about, as she was the first and only female Hapsburg ruler, and George was the first American president.

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Little George and Maria Theresa having a private chat at Melk Abbey.

Melk Abbey is noted for its extensive library containing hundreds of medieval manuscripts. George himself did not have the classical education in an English school that his older half-brothers had, but he spent his life reading as much as he could and enjoyed amassing a library of his own at Mount Vernon.

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The library at Melk Abbey.

After a short stay in Sopron, Hungary, our last stop was Budapest, the capital of Hungary.  We spent five days here, exploring and learning about the ancient and modern history of the city, walking around the castle on top of the hill, taking road trips outside the city to visit more castles, and taste testing the new fall Hungarian wines.

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St. Gellert Thermal Bath and Swimming Pools.

One of the last things we did in Budapest was visit the famous St. Gellert Thermal Bath and Swimming Pools.  It is a natural hot spring spa housed in a beautiful building with additional outdoor pools and relaxing spa treatments.  George Washington was certainly no stranger to the healing powers of hot springs, as he visited and enjoyed the warm springs in present-day Berkeley Springs, WV, and eventually purchased property in the town, which in his day was called Bath.

Then it was time to head back home.  Little George had a wonderful time exploring the archaeology and history of our host cities, meeting contemporary persons of fame, relaxing in the spas, cafes, pubs, and restaurants, and trying new foods.

Judy Jobrack
Archaeology Lab Assistant and Co-Field Director

Little George Goes Back to Pittsburgh [Photos]

A staff member who works at George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore recently visited Pittsburgh.  Little George accompanied her and visited places related in some fashion to George Washington’s life in the 1700s, the world he lived at that time , or his long legacy as a historic figure national and internationally.  Here is a collection of photos documenting Little George’s travels!

First, on the road to Pittsburgh, Little George stopped a place that does not hold fond memories for him. The battle of Fort Necessity took place in 1754. Washington and a group of Virginia Militiamen were sent to the area to meet with Ensign Joseph Coulon de Jumonville, the leader of the French detachment of troops nearby. While there are not clear descriptions of what happened, there was clearly some miscommunication and Jumonville was killed. Within a few months, the French retaliated, attacking Colonial and British forces in this clearing known as Great Meadows. Washington had built Fort Necessity but the design, a circular fort surrounded by tree-lined high ground, led to a swift defeat.

Fort Necessity

A replica of Fort Necessity

A year after the disaster at Fort Necessity, George joined yet another expedition to “the Forks of the Ohio”, this time under the command of renowned British General Edward Braddock. During the march towards modern day Pittsburgh, the British were ambushed and after a three hour bloodbath, Braddock was carried from the field with fatal wounds. A few days later, Braddock was buried about a mile from the old site of Fort Necessity. Several years later, Braddock’s remains were moved to a nearby knoll. Little George decided to stop and pay respects to a man he admired, saying “…Thus died a man, whose good and bad qualities were intimately blended. He was brave even to a fault and in regular Service would have done honor to his profession. His attachments were warm, his enmities were strong, and having no disguise about him, both appeared in full force.”

Braddock 1

Original burial site of General Braddock.

Braddock 2

Current site of General Braddock’s grave.

After a few stops that tugged at Little George’s heartstrings, we decided to continue on into the city. Little George was looking a bit famished so I decided to take him to a place he hadn’t seen on his last trip to Pittsburgh. Little George thought Primanti Brothers was top notch!

Pirmanti

Pirmanti Brothers sandwich shop

Next, Little George thought a trip to the top of Mount Washington would make for a great view of the city. As he began to prepare for a hearty trek up the mountain, I drove us to another modern development. Little George decided that the Duquesne Incline would have been handy in the 1750s!

Duquense Incline

The Duquense Incline up Mount Washington

As we got to the top of Mount Washington, we walked along, admiring the city and came to a spot where the people of Pittsburgh had memorialized George Washington and Guyasuta, a leader of the Seneca people who met and traveled with George Washington in 1753 but ultimately sided with the French during the French and Indian War. Later, he would take the side of the British during the American Revolution thus, making the two men constantly at odds with each other.

George Washington and Guyasuta

Statue of Guyasuta and Washington

Looking down over the confluence of the Alleghany and the Monongahela brought back a lot of memories for Little George. Even with the new buildings and bridges, he recalled his march to Fort Duquesne. However, he did seem very interested in this “football” that modern Americans seem to like so much. After I explained it a bit, he didn’t think he could pick a single team to root for, but thought the field of play here was in a beautiful location.

Three Rivers

Downtown Pittsburgh and the confluence of the Allegheny and, Monongahela Rivers, whose meeting forms the Ohio.

Heinz Field

A view of Heinz Field, home of the Pittsburgh Steelers

After admiring the view from above, I took George down to the site of where Fort Duquesne once stood. He recalled the assault on Fort Duquesne. The battle was fierce, and despite the French victory, they withdrew from the area due to the fact that the British force was more than ten times the size of the French force. Thus, the British rebuilt the remains of Fort Duquesne and reinforced it, calling it Fort Pitt, in honor of the English Prime Minister at the time.

Fort Duquense

Site of Fort Duquense, later renamed Fort Pitt

While down by the water, I convinced Little George to also take a picture next to the River. He was a little nervous getting too close to the Allegheny River and I asked him why. He explained that in 1753, when travelling through the area, he attempted a crossing. At the time, the water was very cold with large chunks of ice flowing through it. George fell into the water and nearly froze to death overnight while waiting on a small island for the river to freeze and he could finally cross safely the next morning.  I told him not to worry as the river wasn’t that cold just yet.

Allegheny

The Allegheny River

Wigle's

Visiting the Wigle Whiskey Distillery

After all the talks of battles and falling in icy rivers, I decided we should warm up a bit. I remembered just down the river was a spot where Little George might also like to reminisce. During his Presidency, George Washington enacted a whiskey tax that led to the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania. During this time, he sent representatives to attempt to collect the taxes, and even led organized troops to march against the insurrection. However, the rebels were no match and they folded. Only two of them were convicted of treason: John Mitchell and Philip Wigle. The men were sentenced to hang, but Washington later pardoned the men. In 2011, Wigle Whiskey was reopened to keep Philp Wigle’s legacy alive. Little George enjoyed the visit, noting that he too owned a whiskey distillery at the end of his life. He bragged only slightly to the folks at Wigle about producing 11,000 gallons in 1799. At the time, it was one of the largest distilleries in the country.

Little George Visits Point Pleasant [Photos]

Location of Point Pleasant

Location of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Credit: Google Maps.

Two staff members who work at George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore recently traveled to Point Pleasant, West Virginia and Gallipolis, Ohio, two small cities situated across from each other on the Ohio River.  Little George went along and visited a few places related in some fashion to George Washington and his era.  Here is a collection of photos documenting Little George’s travels!

Kanawha Ohio confluence

Aerial view of the confluence of the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers showing the locations of Point Pleasant, West Virginia and Gallipolis, Ohio. Credit: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Digital Visual Library

Ohio River

Ohio River

Ohio River at Point Pleasant.

As we’ve written here, Washington’s first job as a surveyor allowed him to buy thousands of acres of land and grow his wealth. Much of this land was located in modern-day West Virginia along the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers. Some of this land was in modern Mason County, where Point Pleasant is the county seat.  He did not own the land where the town itself is situated but he did visit the spot in 1770.  He and other former Virginia militia officers were scouting out lands to be in the bounty promised to them for fighting in The French and Indian War.

Statues of Andrew Lewis & Cornstalk

Cornstalk & Lewis

Statues of Cornstalk (left) and Andrew Lewis (right) in Point Pleasant.

Born in Ireland in 1720, Andrew Lewis immigrated to the Britain’s North American colonies around 1732, settling in the Shenandoah Valley.  He surveyed with Washington and, in The French and Indian War, fought with him at Fort Necessity and Fort Duquesne.  After the war, Lewis helped negotiate the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, in which the Iroquois relinquished all claims to land east and south of the Ohio.  The Delaware, Seneca-Cayuga, and Shawnee in the Ohio country, however, made no such concession and, when settlers moved into their territory, they violently opposed the invasion.  In the resulting conflict called Dunmore’s War, Lewis commanded the army of Virginia militia that defeated the Shawnee and Mingo at the Battle of Point Pleasant on October 10, 1774

“There is a tradition that the Battle of Point Pleasant was the first battle of the Revolutionary War,” writes historian Philip Sturm.  This is not the case although the battle certainly had ramifications on the War for Independence.  The battle “pacified the Ohio Valley for more than two years. Failure to defeat the Ohio tribes would have meant fighting a two-front war during the critical early stages of the Revolution before the Saratoga victory, October 17, 1777, and the resulting French alliance. Such a two-front war might have brought defeat to the infant independence movement.”

Cornstalk was the leader of the Shawnee during their resistance to encroaching English settlement during Dunmore’s War and ultimately at the Battle of Point Pleasant itself. After the battle, he negotiated a peace, which was then upended by the Revolutionary War.  The British invited the Shawnee to join them against the rebelling colonists.  Cornstalk, however, traveled back to Point Pleasant in an attempt to warn Virginians of renewed hostilities.  Suspicious of him, soldiers held Cornstalk hostage at Fort Randolph.

Replica of Fort Randolph

Fort Randolph replica

Replica of Fort Randolph at Krodel Park, a city park in Point Pleasant.

Located at the confluence of the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers, Fort Randolph was built in 1776 to guard English settlements in western Virginia.  It was named for the president of the Second Continental Congress, Virginian Peyton Randolph.  Cornstalk’s imprisonment at the fort led to several murders.  His son coming to rescue him attacked two Virginian hunters, killing one. As reprisal, soldiers at the fort killed Cornstalk and two other Shawnee.  Cornstalk was buried at the fort and his grave now sits in Tu-Endie-Wei State Park where the Kanawha and Ohio meet.

Mothman Statue

Mothman 2

Mothman Statue on 4th Street in Point Pleasant.

In the 20th century, people in the Point Pleasant area began seeing the Mothman, “a large, winged creature with glowing red eyes . . . usually in or near a vast, abandoned [World War II] munitions facility” dubbed locally as simply “the TNT plant.”  Alleged encounters begin in November 1966 and persisted for a year, totaling two dozen sightings.  Along with Mothman sightings came increased reports of phones, radios, telephones, and cars failing to work as well as UFO appearances.  How in the world are these sightings, be they of a real creature or a case of mass hysteria, related to George Washington or his time? According to “one popular theory, the Mothman’s advent and the subsequent Silver Bridge disaster [when the bridge crossing the Ohio at Point Pleasant collapsed into the river on December 15, 1967, killing 46 people] were linked” to a supposed two-centuries-old curse stemming from Cornstalk’s execution in 1777.

Gallipolis, Ohio

Gallipolis, Ohio

Little George at the annual “Gallipolis in Lights” holiday lights and fireworks display in Gallipolis City Park.

Meaning the “city of the Gauls,” Gallipolis, Ohio, across the river from Point Pleasant, was settled in 1790 by around 500 French immigrants fleeing the French Revolution.  In 1825, Lafayette visited the town as part of his grand tour of the United States.  “As the last surviving Major General of the Revolutionary War, Lafayette was invited by U.S. president James Monroe and Congress to visit the 24-state Union for what would become his Farewell Tour in the United States of America.” George Washington and Lafayette were exceptionally close and their relationship is often described a one of a father and his adoptive son.

 

 

Happy Holidays from Little George

Little George Goes to London [Photos]

A staff member who works at George Washington’s Ferry Farm and Historic Kenmore recently vacationed in London.  Little George accompanied her and visited places related in some fashion to George Washington and his era as well as the city’s most popular tourist sites.  Here is a collection of photos documenting Little George’s travels!

GW on Blackheath

GW at Greenwich

Little George stayed with a friend in Blackheath, straddling the Boroughs of Greenwich and Lewisham.  Blackheath is famed for its heath, or large field, while nearby Greenwich Park boasts impressive views of London.

GW on Thames

Little George views the Thames River at Greenwich.

GW at Cutty Shark

Little George relaxes at the Cutty Sark, an old pub in Greenwich built in the early 1800s on the spot of an even older pub that catered to sailors.

GW at Hatfield 1

GW at old Hatfield

Little George visits old Hatfield House (above top), which was the home of Elizabeth I before she became Queen in 1558.  The “new” Hatfield House (above bottom), a Jacobean house built around 1611, is the seat of the Cecil Family, the Marquises of Salisbury.

GW and St. Pauls

Little George near Saint Paul’s Cathedral. The site of a church since CE 640, the current cathedral was built by Sir Christopher Wren after the Great Fire of London in 1666 destroyed the previous church.

GW at Old Royal Navy College

Little George at Old Royal Navy College, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, established in 1692 as the Royal Hospital for Seamen at Greenwich. Then, in 1873, it became a training site for the Royal Naval.  George himself nearly joined the Royal Navy as we’ve written about here.

GW at Pillars of Hercules

Little George outside the Pillars of Hercules pub in Soho, which we’ve actually written about on the blog.

GW at British Museum

Anti-colonial propaganda British Museum

Little George toured the British Museum, founded in 1753, and saw an ceramic bowl decorated with an anti-colonial propaganda.  Personal objects often carried or were endowed with political symbolism. Read about the 18th century political significance of ceramics, cuff links, and pipes.

GW at BF house

Little George at the door to Benjamin Franklin House, where Franklin, the colonies’ representative before the Crown, lived and worked for sixteen years from 1757 to 1775.

GW Buckingham Palace

Little George outside Buckingham Palace, built by the Duke of Buckingham and acquired by King George III in 1761.  It is the main official residence of the present-day British monarch.

GW and dentures

At the Museum of London, Little George looks at a nice pair of 18th century dentures that he probably wished he could have had instead of his painful dentures of cows, donkey, and human teeth encased in lead.  Read about George’s infamous teeth troubles here.

GW with Tarleton Painting

Little George with Tarleton, The Butcher.  Tarleton was a colonel in command of the British Legion, a contingent of Loyalist cavalry and light infantry. At the Battle of Waxhaws in South Carolina on May 29, 1780, Tarleton’s force ignored the white surrender flag of some Virginia Continentals led by Colonel Abraham Buford and killed 133 soldiers, severely wounded 150 others, and captured 203, earning his infamous nickname.  Tarleton also undertook some raids into Virginia and, for a time, it was feared he might come as far north as Fredericksburg or Mount Vernon to abduct George’s mother Mary, his sister Betty, or even his wife Martha.

Cornwallis Pub

Little George at The Marquis Cornwallis, a pub in Bloomsbury, London.  Charles Cornwallis was a general in the British Army during the American Revolution whose surrender to George Washington in 1781 ended the Siege of Yorktown and ultimately the war in America.

GW at Westminster Abbey

Little George at the famed Westminster Abbey, coronation and burial site of numerous English and British kings and queens.

GW with GW at National Gallery.png

Little George stands next to a statue of himself outside The National Gallery.  The Commonwealth of Virginia gave the statue to Great Britain and Ireland and it was erected in 1921 on a square of American soil.  It is based on Jean Antoine Houdon’s marble statue in the rotunda of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond.

GW on Tube

Little George rides the London Underground, which first opened in 1863, only 64 years after George Washington’s death. While the Tube was not around in his time, Little George approved of it as a great way to get around the city.