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.

Meet the Lewis Family: Lawrence Lewis

Lawrence Lewis

Lawrence Lewis was born on April 4, 1767, the ninth child of Fielding and Betty Lewis and nephew of George Washington.  His birth was noted by Fielding in the Lewis family bible,

“Our Ninth a Son named Lawrence born the 4th of April 1767.  Mr. Chas Washington & Mr. Francis Thornton Godfather & Mrs. Mary Dick Godmother”[1]

Just as the American Revolution started, Lawrence moved into Kenmore with his parents and siblings when he was eight years old.  Sadly, the move to the new house began a devastating chapter for the family that saw the loss of their financial security and, ultimately, of their patriarch.  Lawrence witnessed the toll that financing and supporting the War for Independence exacted on his father.  For the Patriot cause, Fielding provided much needed supplies to the army, bought and built ships for the navy, and funded a musket factory with his own money.  After all these sacrifices, Fielding died in 1781 when Lawrence was fourteen.

Fielding bequeathed his ninth child “one thousand acres of land in the County of Frederick [this land was near Bath, Virginia, which is now Berkeley Springs, West Vriginia] on which my overseer Butler now lives as surveyed by Mr. Berry with the one sixth part of all my negroes.”

Instead of going west, however, Lawrence struck out east.  By 1790, the twenty-three year old was living in Essex County and awaiting the birth of his first child with his wife Susannah Edmonton.  Sadly, Susannah and the child died in labor.  After this devastating death, Lawrence disappears from the historic records until four years later.

In 1794, Lawrence volunteered for military service and served as aide-de-camp to General Daniel Morgan in western Pennsylvania during the Whiskey Rebellion. [2]  This rebellion was led by western farmers in response to the tax on all domestically-produced distilled spirits.  This was the first time the newly formed government, under the leadership of Lawrence’s Uncle Washington, who was now President of the United States, imposed a tax on a domestic product.  A destructive uprising was avoided and the tax was eventually repealed under Thomas Jefferson but the event led to the formation of America’s first political parties. [3][4][5]

WhiskeyRebellion

President George Washington reviews troops near Fort Cumberland, Maryland, before their march to suppress the Whiskey Rebellion in western Pennsylvania. Unknown, attributed to Frederick Kemmelmeyer – Metropolitan Museum of Art. Public domain.

After Washington retired from the presidency, he began looking for a personal secretary and offered the position to Lawrence.

“I require some person (fit & Proper) to ease me of the trouble of entertaining company…and for a little time only, to come, an hour in the day, now and then, devoted to the recording of some Papers which time would not allow me to complete before I left Philadelphia.”[6]

Lawrence became part of the Washington household at Mount Vernon assisting his uncle with his entertaining, correspondence, and day-to-day activities. Also residing at Mount Vernon was Eleanor “Nelly” Parke Custis, the granddaughter of Martha.  Eleanor and her brother George had been informally adopted by the Washingtons after the death of their father. Two years after arriving at his uncle’s house, Lawrence and Eleanor married on February 22, 1799.

Obviously fond of his nephew and step-granddaughter, Washington enjoyed having them near Mount Vernon.  Shortly before his death, he offered Lawrence and Nelly a large tract of land.  Washington made it known that he wanted them to start enjoying the property immediately and not wait for his death.

“But, as it has been understood from expressions occasionally dropped from your wife, that it is the wish of you both to settle in the neighborhood…I shall inform you, that in the will which I have by me …that part of my Mount Vernon tract…is bequeathed to you and her jointly, if you incline to build on it.”[7]

Sadly, George died a few months after he made the offer of land to the couple and never got to enjoy his nephew’s family living so near.

Lawrence and Eleanor started building their home, now known as Woodlawn, in 1800. The house was completed five years later and designed by William Thornton, the same architect who designed the U.S. Capitol.  Owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in Alexandria, Virginia, you can visit Woodlawn as well as the 20th century Pope-Leighey House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.  The two houses provide a great juxtaposition between a classical Federal house of straight lines and proportion and a modern Usonian home that exudes simplicity and nature.[8]  Lawrence and Nelly raised their eight children and lived peacefully at Woodlawn until 1830.

Woodlawn. Photo Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation – Gordon Beall Photography

PLH

Pope-Leighey House. Photo Courtesy of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

Lawrence Lewis died on November 20, 1839 at the age of 72 and was buried close to George and Martha in the vault at Mount Vernon.  His wife Eleanor passed away in 1852 and was placed next to her husband and much loved adopted grandparents.

Heather Baldus
Collections Manager

[1] Felder, Paula. “Fielding Lewis and the Washington Family”, The American History Company, Fredericksburg, 1998, pg 73

[2] http://www.mountvernon.org/research-collections/digital-encyclopedia/article/lawrence-lewis/

[3] Holt, Wythe. “The Whiskey Rebellion of 1794: A Democratic Working-Class Insurrection”.

[4] http://historynewsnetwork.org/article/27341

[5] http://www.mountvernon.org/research-collections/digital-encyclopedia/article/whiskey-rebellion/

[6] “From George Washington to Lawrence Lewis, 4 August 1797,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/06-01-02-0245 [last update: 2015-03-20]). Source: The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, vol. 1, 4 March 1797 – 30 December 1797, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1998, pp. 288–289.

[7] “From George Washington to Lawrence Lewis, 20 September 1799,” Founders Online, National Archives (http://founders.archives.gov/documents/Washington/06-04-02-0263-0001 [last update: 2015-03-20]). Source: The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series, vol. 4, 20 April 1799 – 13 December 1799, ed. W. W. Abbot. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1999, pp. 311–315.

[8] http://www.woodlawnpopeleighey.org/pope-leighey-house