Harriot’s Happily Ever After

As we saw in this blog post, Harriot Washington lost both of her parents by the time she was five years old.  Her childhood was spent shuffling from one relative’s household to another.  Finally, she came into the care of her uncle George Washington, who along with aunt Betty Washington Lewis, provided stability and support throughout Harriot’s teenage years.  She lived with Betty for many years at Kenmore.  By the age of 19, Harriot had matured into respectable young woman. Marriage was at hand.

Spring time in the gardens at Kenmore Plantation

Kenmore in Spring

On April 1, 1796, Washington received a letter from Andrew Parks of Fredericksburg.  Andrew had asked Harriot to marry him.  Harriot referred him to Washington for his consent and had told Andrew that she would not marry him unless her uncle approved. Andrew wrote a letter promoting himself, with details on his life in town as a mercantile businessman.  He frankly revealed that his fortune did not “exceed three thousand pounds.”  He believed that he was a hard enough worker to make up for his lack of current money and that he had hopes of improving his situation. He mentioned relations in Baltimore and offered to provide a complete accounting of these family connections, if Washington desired.

Washington replied on April 7.  He noted the proposal was a “serious one” that deserved “serious consideration” and that he would take time to ponder it.  He warned Andrew that, while Harriot had “very little fortune of her own,” fortunes were not the only factors to consider when contemplating marriage.  Harriot’s guardian desired to see her happy and believed only a “gentleman of respectable connexions, and of good dispositions,” who made money, instead of spending it, and who could “support her in the way she has always lived” was an acceptable match.

Portrait of George Washington (1795) by Gilbert Stuart

Portrait of George Washington (1795) by Gilbert Stuart. Credit: Public Domain / Metropolitan Museum of Art

Of course, Betty also contacted Washington to inform him of Andrew’s proposal.  Her letter seems not to have survived but his response, also dated April 7, basically requested more information about Andrew.  Harriot’s uncle acknowledged that “having very little fortune herself,” Harriot had “no right to expect a great one in the man she marry‘s; but if he has not a competency to support her in the way she has lived, in the circle of her friends, she will not find the matrimonial state so comfortable as she may have expected when a family is looking up to her & but scanty means to support it.”  Though a great one was beyond possibility, he still believed Harriot ought to “expect one whose connexions are respectable, & whose relations she could have no objection to associate with.”  What really troubled Washington was “How far this is, or is not the case with Mr Parks.”  He worried,  “I know not for neither his own letter, or yours give any acct of his family nor whether he is a native or a foreigner—& we have his own word only for his possessing any property at all altho’ he estimates his fortune at £3000. A precarious dependance this when applied to a man in Trade.”

Although he had no desire to impede the marriage, Washington indeed was anxious for information, which he immediately endeavored to collect.  Secretary of War James McHenry wrote Thomas McElderry, Andrew’s brother-in-law and business partner, on behalf of the president.  McElderry replied that, after the death of Andrew’s father, he had made Andrew his partner, allowing his brother-in-law to be well set up in business. McElderry also reported that Andrew was a hard worker, gentlemen, and generally well-liked in the community.  McElderry judged him “much more promising than many of the Virginia Gentlemen with their large landed Estate and Negroes.”  One wonders how helpful this final statement might have been in convincing Washington – the first among Virginia’s landed and slaveholding gentlemen – of Andrew’s good connections!

Betty also made inquiries about Andrew and notified Washington that she had “heard nothing to his disadvantage” and that “he is respected by all his acquaintance.”  She revealed that Andrew was “A Constant Visitor here and I believe Harriots Affections are plac’d intirely on him.”  Indeed, Harriot, in Betty’s opinion, was sick with “anxiety for fear of offending and not gaining your consent.”  Betty then admonished her brother that his “long Silence has given her much uneasiness.”

George Lewis, Betty’s son, examined Andrew’s background and concluded the match, at least at the moment, “to be madness in the extreme.”  He suggested waiting until Washington returned to Mount Vernon after his presidency ended, so that he could attend the matter personally and better investigation of Andrew could be made.  Still, he believed Andrew “a young Man of good talents” and noted that none of his initial inquiries revealed major problems.

Betty again wrote George about the matter on July 5, 1796.  She told George that Lawrence Lewis, another of her sons, had made inquiries and seemed “well pleased” while Harriot’s own brother told Betty that he thought the marriage would be a “very happy one.”  Ultimately, Betty herself concluded that Andrew bore “the Best caracter of any young Person that I know” and that Harriot was “Old Enougf now to make choice for her self.”  It was high time she was married and that is exactly what happened.  On July 16, 1796, Harriot Washington, aged 20, married Andrew Parks.

The day after her wedding, Harriot wrote to her uncle, hoping he was “not offend’d at my Union.”  She expressed, with some finality, that “my heart will ever with the liveliest gratitude most gratefully acknowledge and remember your’s & Aunt Washington’s great goodness and attention to me.”[1]

“Far from being displeased at the event,” Uncle Washington responded, “I offer you my congratulations thereon; and sincerely wish it may prove the source of continual happiness to you.”  Washington closed the letter with an invitation for his niece and her new husband to visit Mount Vernon whenever Andrew’s business might allow it.

Harriot replied with this joyful letter:

Fredericksburg Sepber 9th 1796

I need not repeat to my dear & Honord Uncle, the infinite pleasure I experienced on reading his kind, & affectionate letter… Mr. Parks and myself return our most grateful thank’s, to you and Aunt Washington for your congratulations and also polite invitation, to visit you which no circumstance whatever could afford us more satisfaction…

My love to Aunt Washington & Nelly Custis. I am my dear & Honord Uncle Your ever affectionate Neice

Harriot Parks

The newlyweds visited Mount Vernon from September 4 to September 8, 1798.

Zac Cunningham
Manager of Educational Programs

[1] Miriam Anne Bourne, First Family: George Washington and His Intimate Relations, New York: W.W. Norton, 1982, 154-5.

The Marriage of Mary Ball and Augustine Washington

March 6, 2017 was the 286th wedding anniversary of Augustine and Mary Ball Washington, George Washington’s amazing parents.  In addition to calling to mind how grateful we are for their role in raising the boy who would become our courageous General and first president, this anniversary also provides us with an opportunity to discuss the circumstances of Augustine and Mary’s marriage, their family, and their eventful lives here in Stafford and Spotsylvania Counties.

It was not Augustine Washington’s first time to the altar. His earlier marriage to Jane Butler in 1715 produced four children. Jane was likely 16 when she gave birth to their first son, Butler, who died in infancy. Butler was followed by Lawrence (b. 1718), Augustine Jr. (b. 1719 or 1720), and Jane (b. 1722). Their mother tragically passed away in 1729 just shy of her thirtieth birthday. This left young Lawrence (about 11 years old), Augustine Jr. (around ten), and Jane (about seven) without a mother. Their devoted father immediately began a judicious search for a proper wife for himself, a nurturing mother for his children, and an experienced household manager.

He discovered such a gem in the Northern Neck’s attractive and highly eligible maiden, Mary Ball. Mary’s family had thrived in the Virginia Colony’s tidewater region for generations. Mary gained valuable experience managing property from her mother, Mary Johnson Ball who oversaw the family’s substantial resources after the death of Mary’s father Joseph Ball when Mary was only three years old. Mary’s mother again wed, and was soon widowed with additional resources to manage, thanks to the generosity of her devoted husband. When Mary was only 13, her mother passed away, and Mary joined the household of her older, half-sister Elizabeth Johnson. Thereafter, childbirth and childrearing became second nature to Mary who, as a loving aunt, gained valuable experience helping to nurture her sister’s children and perfecting the lessons in household management first learned under her mother’s tutelage.

When it came to matrimony, anxious parents typically steered their children toward appropriate choices, especially among established and propertied clans as the Washington and Ball families. But death had robbed both Augustine and Mary of their respective parents and their wisdom. Some claim that Colonel George Eskridge, a prominent Northern Neck Lawyer and family friend, helped bring this destined pair together. While a parent’s concerns provided some guidance for young lovers, it was only one of several considerations for eager suitors. Ideally, the opportunity for social advancement, acquiring property (both land and enslaved labor), financial security, and – of course – affection were also carefully weighed.

Mistress Mary Ball rang all of these “bells:” She was experienced with children. She had been tutored in plantation management and household skills by her experienced mother. Mary Ball’s generous and enviable dowry had accumulated to include 1000 acres of Virginia land, enslaved laborers, horses, cattle, and sundry personal belongings. Notably, the majority of her acreage bordered Augustine Washington’s iron mine in Accokeek, just one of Mary’s assets that Augustine found irresistible.

On March 6, 1731, the pair joined. Mary was about 23 and her new husband Augustine was 37. Of Augustine’s three living children from his first marriage, Lawrence, Augustine Jr., and Jane, it was Jane who remained a daily part of their Westmoreland Plantation home. Mary continued the household training that young Jane started learning from her own mother. Lawrence and Augustine Jr. continued their education at the Appleby Grammar school in England where their father had attended school.

Before their first wedding anniversary, Mary and Augustine welcomed their first son, George, into the world. He was born on February 11, 1731 (Old Style) in Westmoreland County. In all, their happy marriage produced six children: George (1732), Betty (1733), Samuel (1734), John Augustine (1736), Charles (1738), and Mildred (1740). All but little Mildred survived to adulthood.

Just twelve years after their wedding, Augustine Washington passed away around the age of 48. Mary remained a widow throughout her long life, focused upon raising their children, and later playing an active and cherished role in the rearing and education of her grandchildren. Mary moved into the town of Fredericksburg in the spring of 1772, within easy walking distance of her daughter Betty’s household, headed by Fielding Lewis and known today as Kenmore. She was remembered fondly by her grandchildren and, at her request, was buried near Meditation Rock in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

Laura Galke, Archaeologist
Site Director/Small Finds Analyst

Harriot Washington’s “Hard Knock Life”

With one sister and three brothers, George Washington was uncle to numerous nieces and nephews.  One niece was Harriot Washington was born sometime in 1776 to his brother Samuel and Samuel’s fourth wife Ann Steptoe.  Harriot was orphaned by the time she was five years old, when her mother died in 1777 and her father in 1781.  Harriot’s younger years were a hard life of shuffling between relatives’ households.  She gained stability with her aunt Betty Lewis at Kenmore, where she spent her teenage years.  Both George and Betty were constantly concerned about her financial well-being and development into a respectable woman of the gentry class.[1]

HARRIOT AT MOUNT VERNON, Late 1780s-1792

mount-vernon

Mount Vernon. Credit: Wikipedia/Martin Falbisoner

After her parents’ deaths and living in the care of her mother’s relatives for four or five years, Harriot came to live with uncle George at Mount Vernon because, as Washington noted to nephew George Augustine Washington, he knew of “no resource that Harriot has for Supplies but from me.”

When George and Martha departed Mount Vernon for New York City and his presidency, however, Martha’s niece Fanny became Harriot’s de facto guardian.  Washington lamented to Tobias Lear that Fanny was “little fitted” to the task of caring for her, however.  The new president seemed perplexed by Harriot “who is almost grown” but “is not quite a Woman” and wondered, with some exasperation, about what to do with her.  He judged that, while she was by no means too old to attend boarding school, any such school would have to “enforce good rules” since Harriot was “prone to idleness” and had been “under no control.”

Several letters between Harriot and her uncle survive.  The first in the record was written on April 2, 1790.  Harriot was 14-years-old and living at Mount Vernon while Washington was in New York. Harriot 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.

Harriot wrote a brief letter on October 24, 1791 with short comments about the dreadful weather and an illness plaguing Lund Washington. Harriot mentioned that she had waited until the last minute to write the letter before it had to be sent. This seeming laziness displeased Washington and, worried about his niece’s idle behavior, he took the opportunity to provide a lengthy letter of advice beyond admonishing her to not wait until the last moment to begin a task.  He warned Harriot of the…

“delicacy and danger of that period, to which you are now arrived under peculiar circumstances—You are just entering into the state of womanhood without the watchful eye of a Mother to admonish, or the protecting aid of a Father to advise and defend you; you may not be sensible that you are at this moment about to be stamped with that character which will adhere to you through life.”

Washington assured Harriot that her cousins at Mount Vernon were “well qualified to give you advice” and he hoped that she was “disposed to receive it.”  If she was “disobliging—self willed and untowardly,” however, her cousins would not “engage themselves in unpleasant disputes” but would likely leave her to descend into poor character.  Washington encouraged her to “Think then to what dangers a giddy girl of 15 or 16 must be exposed in circumstances like these—To be under but little or no controul may be pleasing to a mind that does not reflect, but this pleasure cannot be of long duration.”  Washington seemed to express concern about those with whom she was associating and that from them she “can derive nothing that is good.”  This warning might have also been a general caution against keeping poor company.  Regardless, he wanted her to “aid to your Cousin in the domestic concerns of the family.”

Harriot replied, “I was very sensible, of your kindness in giving me such good advice, and shall try to profit, by it as much as I can, I know very well, the obligations I am under, to you and I am very thankful for your care and attention to me.”  She duly promised to assist more with the household duties.  On May 28, 1782, Harriot requested a guitar again and this time, Washington bought her one for $17.

HARRIOT AT KENMORE, 1792-1795

Betty Washington Lewis

Portrait of Betty Washington Lewis by John Wollaston, c. 1755.

In the fall of 1792, Washington determined it was necessary for Harriot to go live with his sister Betty Washington Lewis in Fredericksburg.  He and Martha were to return to the new national capital of Philadelphia while Fanny and her ill husband were leaving for New Kent County.  No one was left at Mount Vernon to care for Harriot.

Betty raised no objections to taking in Harriot “if she comes well cloath’d or Provided to get them, that she may appear tolerable.” She wanted to forestall any chance that the young lady “was prevented frequently from appearing in publick.”  Betty reminded George of the Lewis family’s deep financial difficulties and that her grandchildren were living with her too.

Washington assured his sister that Harriot would arrive “very well provided with every thing proper for a girl in her situation.”  He judged Harriot as having “sense enough, but no disposition to industry nor to be careful of her Cloaths.”  He hoped Betty’s example and guidance would end the 16-year-old’s habit of always wearing her best things while also leaving clothing lying all over her room. Fanny had been too lenient with her, Washington suggested, but Betty’s firm hand could still yet “make a fine woman.”

Not long after getting settled in Fredericksburg, however, Harriot requested money from Washington for a dress or dress material so that she could attend the town’s ball celebrating the president’s birthday.  She apologized for again troubling Washington and assured him that any money sent would be kept by Betty.  Harriot promised to “properly care for the new dress.

At the end of January 1793, Betty confirmed receiving money sent by Washington for Harriot.  She noted that living in town was “unfortunate” for Harriot “for many [of her] things that could be wore to the last string in a [country] Place, will not do here, where we see so much Company.”  Betty took the opportunity to praise Harriot as well, noting that she “Payes the strictest regard to the advice I give her and really she is very Ingenious in makeing her Clothes and altering them to the best advantage.”

Time and a few other letters about money passed back and forth until September 1793 when Betty sent a letter to her bother asking when he might send for Harriot so that she could again live at Mount Vernon.  Betty revealed that, while she knew “of none that I would sooner have to live with me,” her own dire financial situation was not conducive to Harriot staying.  Betty expressed dismay over the small amount of her income and the small number of servants she had. To compound matters, she now only owned two horses, which kept her from visiting over any lengthy distance.  All the while, Harriot and two grandchildren lived with her.

Washington perhaps agreed that the time had come for Harriot’s return to his household.  It seems he told Betty that if Philadelphia’s yellow fever epidemic continued, Martha would spend the winter of 1793-94 away from danger at Mount Vernon.  If this were the case, he would send for Harriot and she could stay with Martha.  This plan, however, was not implemented.  Instead, Harriot spent part of the winter of 1793-94 with a relative in Culpeper.

As Kenmore, life for Harriot seemed to settle into something of a routine.  Her letters reveal a growing maturity and an understanding of her situation.  Money was still an ever present matter but one gets the impression that her requests were for real needs.  In 1794, requests for cash went to Washington on May 25, and June 27.  A letter of thanks from Harriot to him is dated July 10.  One further request for money came on January 4, 1795.

Betty and Harriot left Kenmore to live at Millbrook in November 1795.  Harriot turned 19-years-old that year and the focus of her relationship with both her aunt and uncle shifted from an orphan girl who had lived a “hard knock life” to a eligible and mature young woman with a respectable suitor and marriage on the horizon.

To be continued….

Zac Cunningham
Manager of Educational Programs

[1] ; Frank E. Grizzard, Jr., “Washington, Samuel, (1734-1781),” George! A Guide to All Things Washington, Charlottesville, VA: Mariner Publishing, 2005, 337-338; Note accompanying “To George Washington from Harriot Washington, 2 April 1790,” Founders Online, National Archives, http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/05-05-02-0199;  “Samuel Washington,” Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samuel_Washington, [accessed September 8, 2014].

Photos: Washington Memorabilia

 

washingtons-birthday-sign

A poster from the late 1800s announcing that no business will be conducted on Washington’s Birthday, which was then celebrated on his actual birth date of February 22. Credit: Library of Congress

Happy Birthday, George!! Two-hundred and eighty five years ago today on February 22, 1732, George Washington was born.  Americans have commemorating his birth and his life for centuries, since he rose to prominence as the commanding general of the Continental Army and the nation’s very first president. For centuries, his likeness has been added to plates, glasses, and bottles, carved in stone, etched on coins, used in advertisements, and printed on clothing to create unique memorabilia celebrating the man who was eulogized as “First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen.”

The 1932 celebration of Washington’s 200th birthday especially led to increased demand for Washington memorabilia.  The George Washington Foundation has a small collection of both this bicentennial and a few commemorative objects from even earlier. To mark George’s birthday in 2017, Lives & Legacies shares photographs of this memorabilia!

 

Five Notable Americans Named George Washington

Parents, perhaps hoping to spur their offspring to similar greatness, have named their children George Washington ever since the most famous George Washington rose to prominence as commander of the Continental Army and the nation’s first president.  Few other George Washingtons ultimately achieved the original’s stature, although a few perhaps came close.  As we mark George Washington’s birth this month (Come to our Washington’s Birthday celebration at Ferry Farm this Saturday!), we share the compelling stories of five notable Americans named George Washington.

georgevanderbiltii

George Washington Vanderbilt II Credit: Wikipedia/Biltmore Co.

George Washington Vanderbilt II was born in 1862 into New York’s wealthy Vanderbilt family. At the age of 27, he began buying vast tracts of land near Asheville, North Carolina. He loved the mountains and wanted to build a grand home among the Blue Ridge.  Working with architect Richard Morris Hunt, Vanderbilt planned the house and oversaw construction of the $3,000,000 mansion.  He named the home and estate “Biltmore.”  Vanderbilt used his vast acreage to help to pioneer scientific forestry and began a forestry school on his estate.  His first superintendent of forests was Gifford Pinchot, who became the first chief of the U.S. Forest Service. Vanderbilt died in 1914 in Washington, DC.[1]

biltmoreestate

The Biltmore Estate near Asheville, North Carolina. Credit: Wikipedia

 

gwferris

George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. Credit: Wikipedia

George Washington Gale Ferris, Jr. was born in Galesberg, Illinois in 1859.  He studied engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York.  He worked for a series of railroad and mining companies in West Virginia before focusing on bridge-building and structural steel construction. He started G.W.G. Ferris & Company in Pittsburgh and helped build bridges across the Ohio River in that city as well as in Wheeling and Cincinnati. For the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893, he designed the Ferris Wheel.  “Rising 250 feet above the Midway, carrying thirty-six cars, each with a capacity of some forty passengers, revolving under perfect control, and stable against the strongest winds from Lake Michigan, it excited general attention.”  He died in Pittsburgh in 1896.[2]

ferriswheel

The Ferris Wheel at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Credit: Wikipedia/New York Times

georgewashingtondelong

Lieutenant Commander George W. DeLong, USN Credit: US Naval History and Heritage Command

George Washington De Long was born in New York City in 1844. An American naval officer, he organized and commanded an attempt to reach the North Pole via the Bering Strait.  His expedition left San Francisco aboard the Jeanette, a coal-burning steamer also equipped with sails, on July 8, 1879.  The Jeanette became trapped in the ice for 22 months before being crushed and forcing the crew to abandon ship.  The crew took to three lifeboats. One was lost, one made it to shore but all of its crew died of starvation and exhaustion, and one made it to shore where its crew was rescued.  De Long did not survive, dying in Siberia on October 30, 1881. Three years later, debris from the Jeanette was found nearly 3,000 miles away off Greenland’s coast, proving the polar ice was in motion.[3]

ussjeannette

The U.S.S. Jeanette in 1878. Credit: US Naval History and Heritage Command

georgewashingtoncrile

Dr. George Washington Crile in The World’s Work, 1914. Credit: Wikipedia

George Washington Crile was born in Ohio in 1864. He received his M.D. from what is known today as Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.  He was a leading pioneer in surgical medicine during the first half of the 20th century.  He dedicated much of his wide-ranging and groundbreaking career to studying the impact of shock on patients undergoing surgery and to developing pioneering ways to treat and combat that shock. He advocated for monitoring blood pressure during surgery and, most importantly, recognized the most effective way to stave off shock was through blood transfusions during operations.  He is credited with performing the first direct blood transfusion.  Surgical shock’s worst outcome was death so Crile developed resuscitation methods and, in the process, discovered the brain could be deprived of oxygen for only a very few minutes before resuscitation become impossible.  In 1921, he and several colleagues founded the Cleveland Clinic, considered one of the world’s foremost medical centers. Furthermore, a pressure suit he developed to prevent surgical shock was adapted to prevent blackout in pilots during World War II.  He died in Cleveland in January 1943.[4]

georgewashingtoncarver

George Washington Carver Credit: Wikipedia/Tuskegee University Archives

George Washington Carver was born a slave in Missouri in the early 1860s.  He attended a series of schools in Kansas and Missouri and graduated from Minneapolis High School in Minneapolis, Kansas.  He was rejected from one college because of his race but became the first black student at Iowa State Agricultural College, where he received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees.  In 1896, Booker T. Washington hired Carver to chair the agricultural department at the Tuskegee Institute, where he remained for half-a-century.  As a agricultural scientist, Carver created methods to revive soil exhausted from planting only cotton year after year. These methods centered on rotating cotton with sweet potatoes, peanuts, soybeans, and cowpeas, which restored nitrogen in the soil and provided income for farmers as well.  He trained farmers to grow these alternative crops and distributed recipes using these crops to the public to spur demand.  His efforts to promote the peanut especially sparked the public’s imagination.  He died on January 5, 1942 in Tuskegee, Alabama.[5]

Zac Cunningham
Manager of Educational Programs

[1] “George Washington Vanderbilt.” Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936. Biography in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/BT2310001556/BIC1?u=crrl&xid=3822e021. Accessed 9 Feb. 2017.

[2] “George Washington Gale Ferris.” Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1936. Biography in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/BT2310013691/BIC1?u=crrl&xid=3144ffeb. Accessed 9 Feb. 2017.

[3] “George Washington De Long.” Explorers & Discoverers of the World, Gale, 1993. Biography in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/K1614000095/BIC1?u=crrl&xid=e0125245. Accessed 9 Feb. 2017.

[4] “George Washington Crile.” Dictionary of American Biography, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1973. Biography in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/BT2310015367/BIC1?u=crrl&xid=8dcc7fd9. Accessed 10 Feb. 2017.

[5] “George Washington Carver.” Contemporary Black Biography, vol. 4, Gale, 1993. Biography in Context, link.galegroup.com/apps/doc/K1606000443/BIC1?u=crrl&xid=3bdf1f8b. Accessed 10 Feb. 2017.

Meet the Lewis Family: John and Fielding Jr.

Fielding Lewis was married twice.  He and Catharine Washington, his first wife, had three children: John, Frances and Warner.  Both Warner and Frances died leaving John as the sole heir from this first marriage.  After Catharine’s death, Fielding married Betty Washington, and not quite a year later Fielding Lewis Jr. was born in 1751.  Although just 4 years younger than his half-brother John, by rights at that time, Fielding Jr. could have supplanted his older brother as Fielding Sr.’s primary heir.  No personal accounts or letters tell us what Fielding Sr. thought about his two eldest sons’ status as heirs to his estate but his actions in the years after their births are telling.

 

In 1775, Fielding Lewis commissioned five portraits by American artist Charles Willson Peale, for his newly completed home at Kenmore.  Only two have been located and they are of Fielding’s two eldest sons.  Peale scholars feel fairly certain that the works were painted as companion portraits, intended to hang side by side with the poses of the two sitters meant to complement one another.  Perhaps Fielding was making a visual statement that his two eldest sons were on equal footing and that neither took precedence.  Indeed, in his final will and testament, Fielding provides for both sons equally, giving his Spotsylvania lands to John and his Frederick County lands to Fielding Jr.  On the surface, it might appear that the two brothers had an amicable relationship, not marred by the usual 18th century family in-fighting over inheritance.  Well, that appearance might not tell the whole story.  The half-brothers couldn’t have been more different.

As early as 1769, Fielding Sr. worried about Fielding Jr’s management of his finances.  The 18-year-old had recently married Nancy Alexander, the daughter of a prominent household in Alexandria, Virginia.  Nancy apparently came to the marriage with a sizeable fortune and Fielding Jr. immediately set about spending it.  In September, both Fieldings wrote to George Washington, to ask his assistance with the Alexander money.  Fielding Jr. wrote his uncle, “Inclos’d you have an Order on Mr. Robart [sic] Alexander for the Balance remaining…of my Wifes Fortune which I shall be Oblig’d to you to receive for me, and purchase Slaves to the amount thereof…” His letter is enclosed in one written by his father, in which we learn a little more about Fielding Jr.’s request to his uncle.

fielding-lewis-sr-1750s-by-john-wollaston

Fielding Lewis, Sr. (c. 1750s) by John Wollaston

Fielding Sr. revealed that Mr. Alexander was concerned at the rate with which Fielding Jr. was spending the money, and has asked Fielding Sr. to take the remainder and use it for something that would help the couple in the long run.  Fielding Sr. went on to say, “I am allmost [sic] certain that he will in a year or Two spend every Shillg as I cannot perceive the least amendment since his Marriage, nor has he the least regard to any advice I give him.” This statement seems to indicate that Fielding Jr.’s spendthrift ways existed prior to marriage and worsened with the influx of his wife’s money.

Unfortunately, Fielding’s prediction would prove true.  Over the next decade, Fielding Sr. paid his son’s debts time and again, while Fielding Jr. continued to make significant purchases on credit.  Eventually, Fielding Sr.’s burden would be passed to John Lewis.

Fielding Lewis passed away in 1781.  John Lewis remained in the Fredericksburg area, acting as executor of his father’s estate, and seeing to its myriad debts and complicated business transactions.  He oversaw operations on the lands left to him, and assisted his step-mother, Betty Lewis, in maintaining Kenmore, which would become his upon her death.  He wrote on several occasions of tight finance, and frustrations with his father’s estate but managed to hold it all together.

His brother Fielding (who dropped the “junior” from his signature following his father’s death), was not managing so well.  He, his wife, and their three children were living on the Frederick County property that he inherited.  His debts were so severe that, by 1784, he was in debtors’ prison and again turned to his famous uncle for help.  In order to bolster his case for being worthy of Washington’s assistance, he sent a collection of letters from his father prior to his death that outlined his plan to save his son from the debt of his “youthfull Folley [sic].”  Fielding wrote, “Since which it has pleased God to take him out of this transetorey [sic] life, before he had Completed his Intention, tharefore [sic] I have taken the Freedom and liberty, of beging you to Assist me…for what Evor Sum or Sums you will be Able to lend me…as Nothing I think in this life So disagreeable as to be drag’ed About by the Sherrifs [sic]…Which Situation I am in at present…”

george-washington-c-1779-by-charles-willson-peale

George Washington (c. 1779) by Charles Willson Peale

Washington gently rebuffed his wayward nephew, replying that he had his own debts and there was little money to spare.  He made a pointed statement at the end of his short letter, perhaps indicating that he didn’t fully believe Fielding was the victim of his own youthful folly. He wrote, “There was a great space between…when you were called upon by your Father for a specific list of your Debts and his death: How happened it, that in all that time you did not comply with his request?” Indeed, receipts in our archives show that Fielding commissioned a new carriage to be made for him in August of 1784, just one month before he was sent to prison.  He would not pay for the carriage until a suit was filed against him two years later.[1]

As Fielding was seeking help from his uncle, John was planning one of many trips to “the Westward” as he called it – the Western frontier, and Kentucky in particular.  His first expedition to the Kentucky territory was on behalf of his father, before the Revolution, when Fielding Sr. was considering a land purchase there.  Apparently, John fell in love with the country, and returned many times in the coming years, making several land purchases of his own.  His uncle George asked him to act as his agent on several of these trips, to assess the state of Washington’s own property near Pittsburgh.

While Washington was placing increasing trust in John, he had apparently lost faith in Fielding Jr.  By 1786, Fielding had been released from prison but had lost all of his inherited land in Frederick County.  He and his family were living on a lot in Fauquier County and were attempting to build a house.  Once again, Fielding asked for assistance.  Washington’s response was not as gentle this time, replying, “Altho’ your disrespectful conduct towards me, in coming into this country & spending weeks therein without ever coming near me, entitles you to very little notice or favor from me; yet I consent that you may get timber from off my Land in Fauquier County to build a house on your Lott…”  Despite his sharp words, he still agreed to help.

Fielding’s improved situation was short-lived.  His wife Nancy died in 1788.  Fielding remarried to Elizabeth Dade, who apparently did not bring a fortune to the union, and so the 1790s would be a rough decade for Fielding.  He was returned to debtor’s prison in 1790, and found that there was no one in a financial situation to save him, with the exception of his brother John.  John, however, was not willing to give him money outright.  Instead, he required that Fielding mortgage everything – slaves, housewares, livestock – in exchange for £1200.[2]  One senses the family losing patience with Fielding.

In 1792, Fielding was again incarcerated for debt, and this time there was no home for his wife and children, who went to live with Betty Lewis at Kenmore.  Betty wrote to her brother George about the situation, “I am sorry it will not be in my Power to advance any, haveing at this time three of my Grandchildren to support, and god knows from every Account but I may expect as many more shortly, Fielding is so distrest that his Children would go naked if it was not for the assistance I give him…”

After this disastrous turn of events, Fielding’s whereabouts for the rest of his life become murky.  He never again owns property, and most likely stayed with various family members, including John.  His children remained with Betty at Kenmore.  There may have been little contact between Fielding and his children, as indicated in a letter written to him by his brother George informing him of Betty’s death in 1797. George wrote, “You will no doubt be anxious to know what is to be done with poor little Nancy (Fielding’s daughter), she is in good health, and at present with sister Carter…”[3] It is unknown where Fielding was when George sent him this letter.

After Betty’s death, John moved quickly to sell Kenmore.  Although it would take several years, he did eventually save enough money to move his family to his land in Kentucky, where he spent the rest of his life.  Perhaps the family obligations and strain of his father’s estate made Kentucky a more appealing home than Fredericksburg.  While Fielding Lewis Sr. wanted very much for his two eldest sons to be seen and treated as equals, their lives played out in very different ways, and that’s the real story behind the portraits.

[1] Fielding Lewis Jr. to Richard Simcock, 15 January 1786.  The George Washington Foundation Manuscript Collection.

[2] Indenture Between Fielding Lewis Jr. and John Lewis, 20 March 1790. The George Washington Foundation Manuscript Collection.

[9] George Lewis to Fielding Lewis Jr., 31 March 1797. The George Washington Foundation Manuscript Collection.

Ten Well-Known Visitors to Historic Kenmore

Since its transformation into a historic site, Kenmore has drawn its share of prominent and recognizable visitors including a vice president, a congressman, and numerous First Ladies of the United States. Indeed, the ladies of the Kenmore Association, who worked to save, restore, and operate the historic home during the 20th century, made it a point to reach out to First Ladies and, in turn, several of those First Ladies visited the auspicious brick home of Patriot merchant Fielding Lewis and wife Betty Washington Lewis, sister of George Washington.  For that matter, even during the days that Fielding and Betty lived in the home during the late 1700s, important figures in colonial Virginia and of the Patriot cause occasionally came to Kenmore.  Here is a list of “Ten Well-Known Visitors to Historic Kenmore.”

10. Louise du Pont Crowninshield (1877-1958)

Louise du Pont Crowninshield surrounded by other members of the Kenmore Association.

Louise du Pont Crowninshield surrounded by other members of the Kenmore Association.

Louise du Pont Crowninshield was president and chairman of the board of trustees of the Kenmore Association from 1940 to 1954.  An active historic preservationist, she was also a founding trustee of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.  Mrs. Crowninshield was born into the prominent Du Pont family and grew up at Winterthur, the family estate in Delaware. The home is now a museum and holds some of most important collections of Americana in the United States.  She helped save and restore Kenmore and visited many times during her term as president.

sol-bloom-portrait

Sol Bloom in 1923. Credit: Library of Congress / Wikipedia

9. Sol Bloom (1870-1949)
Sol Bloom was an entertainer, music publisher, and congressman from New York.  He was the biggest producer of sheet music in the U.S. before taking up politics.  Bloom was associate director of the United States George Washington Bicentennial Commission and came to Kenmore for a luncheon with Emily White Fleming and the Kenmore Association.  In 1936, Bloom made a $10,000 bet with Walter “Big Train” Johnson, former Washington Senator’s star pitcher, that Johnson could not throw a silver dollar across the Rappahannock River as legend said George Washington had done.  Bloom lost but refused pay the money.

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Elizabeth Monroe, unknown date and artist. Public domain. Credit: John Vanderlyn / Wikipedia

8. Elizabeth Monroe (1768-1830)
Elizabeth Kortright Monroe was First Lady of the United States from 1817 to 1825.  Elizabeth was born in New York City and married James Monroe in 1786.  She spent time in France and Britain during her husband’s ambassadorship and was even invited to be part of the American delegation that attended Napoleon Bonaparte’s coronation.  Mrs. Monroe actually lived at Kenmore shortly after her marriage to James.  Her husband left town on business and, since they had not yet set up a home in Fredericksburg, she stayed with Betty Lewis until James returned.

 

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Edith Wilson. Credit: Library of Congress / Wikipedia

7. Edith Wilson (1872-1961)
Edith Bolling Wilson was the second wife of President Woodrow Wilson and served as First Lady of the United States from 1915 to 1921.  Some historians argue that Mrs. Wilson became the de facto president after her husband’s stroke in 1919. She did, it seems, act as the only conduit to and from the president and decided which matters important enough to bring to her husband’s attention while relaying his decisions to those who needed to know.  Long after her time in the White House, Mrs. Wilson came to Kenmore for a luncheon in October 1946.

6. Elizabeth Virginia “Bess” Truman (1885-1982)

bess-truman

Bess Truman in front of the fireplace in Kenmore’s dining room with Robert Porterfield, founder of the Barter Theatre, and an unidentified woman.

Elizabeth Virginia “Bess” Truman was First Lady of the United States from 1945 to 1953.  Elizabeth Wallace was born in Independence, Missouri and had known Harry Truman, her future husband, since they were children.  They married in 1919.  Mrs. Truman detested the lack of privacy and disliked the social and political scene of Washington, D.C.  She was relieved to move back to Missouri.  Mrs. Truman visited Kenmore multiple times and was pictured in front of the mantel in the Dining Room with Robert Porterfield, founder of Barter Theatre, the State Theatre of Virginia, in Abingdon.

5. Lou Hoover (1874-1944)

Lou Henry Hoover was First Lady of the United States from 1929 to 1933.  Lou Henry was born in Iowa in 1874 and married Herbert Hoover in 1899.  She majored in Geology at Stanford University, was fluent in Chinese and Latin, assisted in the Belgian relief during WWI, and worked a great deal with the Girl Scouts of America.  Mrs. Hoover, as First Lady, toured Kenmore in September 1930.

4. Colonel Sanders (1890-1980)

Colonel Harland David Sanders founded the restaurant chain Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) in 1930.  Sanders was born in Indiana in 1890 and, after a number of jobs, he started selling fried chicken at a roadside restaurant in Corbin, Kentucky during the Great Depression.  The restaurant, Kentucky Fried Chicken, was a success and, in 1952, he started franchising across the country.  In 1964, Sanders sold the company and used his stock holdings to create several charitable organizations.  He promote these organizations as well as KFC by touring the country dressed as the Colonel.  He came to Kenmore and took a tour in the summer of 1977.

calvin-coolidge

Calvin Coolidge (left) enjoys gingerbread at Kenmore.

3. Calvin Coolidge (1872-1933)
Calvin Coolidge was born in Vermont in 1872.  After college, he became a lawyer and went into politics becoming the governor of Massachusetts from 1919 to 1921.  He was the 29th vice president under Warren Harding and the 30th President of the United States from 1923 to 1929.  Vice President Coolidge came to Kenmore in July 1922 to launch a fundraising campaign aimed at raising money to purchase the house and make it a historic site. He enjoyed some gingerbread during his visit.

 

eleanor-roosevelt-portrait

Eleanor Roosevelt in 1932. Credit: Library of Congress / Wikipedia.

2. Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)
Eleanor Roosevelt was First Lady of New York from 1929 to 1933 and First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945.  She was born in New York City to the socially prominent Roosevelt and Livingston families and married Franklin D. Roosevelt in March 1905.  After her time in the White House, she chaired the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in the late 1940s and early 1950s and John F. Kennedy’s Presidential Commission on the Status of Women.  When she was First Lady of New York, Mrs. Roosevelt visited Kenmore on several occasions with various groups who came from the New York state capital of Albany.

1. George Washington (1731-1799)

houdons-george-washington

Bust of George Washington (c. 1786) by Jean-Antoine Houdon and based on a life mask of Washington. Public domain. Credit: Dallas Museum of Art / Wikipedia.

George Washington was the first President of the United States (1789-1797) and the older brother of Betty Washington Lewis.  Construction of Kenmore was complete late in 1775. George would not stay in the house until 1784.  Including this 1784 visit, Washington stayed at Kenmore at different times during the years 1785, 1787, 1788, and 1791.  The final visits in April and June 1791 were the only times he stayed at Kenmore while serving as president.[1]

Heather Baldus
Collections Manager

[1] Paula Felder, Fielding Lewis and the Washington Family: A Chronicle of 18th Century Fredericksburg. The American History Company, 1998: 216.