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 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