Tuesday, March 1, 2011
March Theme Day - Favorite Part of Town
Theme Day always seems to creep up on me! This month's theme is "Favorite Part of Town" and since I didn't even think about it being theme day till this morning I am going to pick my favorite part of town from our DC trip last weekend. My favorite part of our trip was Mt Vernon. On Monday, they celebrated George Washington's birthday and offered free admission to anyone attending! We were told by one of the park workers that on an average day in the winter, they get about 1000 guests, on an average day in the summer, about 7000 and on that particular day we went, they were expecting 15,000!
Meet George Washington
Rare Facts & Curious Truths About Our First President
Boyhood Experience and Training
His father, Augustine, died when he was eleven; George Washington then lived with his mother, Mary, at Ferry Farm in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and visited his half-brother, Lawrence, at Mount Vernon.
His father's death ended plans to send Washington to England to be educated like his older brothers, a lack that he felt later in life. Washington insisted that Martha's children receive an excellent education; however, he disapproved of foreign schooling, believing it weakened the passion of Americans for freedom. As a boy, his favorite subject was math.
He learned social graces such as good conversation, correct table manners, and proper entertaining from his mother, his half-brother and sister-in-law, Lawrence and Ann, and their neighbors, the Fairfaxes, who lived at Belvoir. His social skills helped him to be at ease with superiors and to be considered for advancement.
He was a hard worker even as a youth: he began a journal at age 16 and through practice he developed excellent handwriting. He learned surveying on the job and started his own business, as a surveyor, at age 17.
He was physically active and strong. Thomas Jefferson described him as 'the best horseman of his age.' Washington also loved fox hunting from horseback. His physical stamina helped him on expeditions to the frontier and as a leader in the military.
Leadership and Management Skills
As commander of Virginia's militia in the French and Indian War (1755-58), Washington learned how to organize an army of about 1,000 men. Although he made mistakes, he learned a great deal, particularly about recruiting and training men and supplying them with food, clothing, guns and ammunition. Others praised his 'method and exactness' in overseeing the details of military operations.
Washington successfully ran and built up his Mount Vernon plantation into a large business. He divided the plantation into five farms, each of which had a separate overseer who was responsible for that farm, and also managed an active fishery where fish were caught, salted and shipped throughout the colonies and overseas. His farm shops, blacksmith and flour milling in particular, provided services to farmers in the locale. An extended community of slaves and servants that numbered about 315 people at its peak, lived and worked on Mount Vernon plantation.
Washington applied the managerial skills he used in running his farms to organize and lead the Revolutionary Army, which numbered about 10,000 men, and later set up the new federal government as first president.
Washington inspired confidence through his fairness and consideration. He promoted military officers and government officials on the basis of merit, not friendship or social standing. By 1788, he had promoted African American slaves to top positions as overseers of his five farms.
He was very disciplined, placing his principles and civic responsibilities before his own needs, and brought forth the same qualities in others.
Washington stayed with the Continental Army almost every day of the eight-year Revolutionary War, visiting his home only 10 days between 1775 and 1783.
After first quelling plans for a military take-over of the country by his officers in Newburgh, N.Y., he voluntarily resigned as Commander in Chief in 1783 after the Revolution had ended.
Washington voluntarily resigned from the presidency after two terms in 1797.
Over six feet tall, athletically built, and red haired in his youth, he was also charming, persuasive, and dignified. Washington spoke very little during legislative meetings in the Virginia House of Burgesses, during the Continental Congress, and at the Constitutional Convention, but influenced others by being present at or hosting dinners and social meetings where political solutions were discussed. Abigail Adams, wife of the second president, John Adams (who was a rival of Washington's), commented that Washington '...has so happy a faculty of appearing to accommodate and yet carrying his point, that, if he was not really one of the best-intentioned men in the world, he might be a very dangerous one.'
Mount Vernon Life
Washington greatly expanded his Mount Vernon plantation. He increased the acreage from 2,100 to 8,000, rebuilt the simple farmhouse he inherited into a 2-1/2 story, 20-room Mansion, and designed and built all 12 outbuildings.
Washington chose to aband tobacco farming around 1765, ending his economic dependence on English agents to sell his tobacco and giving Mount Vernon greater autonomy and self-sufficiency. His main crop became wheat, but he experimented with over 60 field crops. Fish from the Potomac was also an important source of food and cash.
Increasingly conscious of the injustice of slavery, his will freed the 122 slaves that were in his posession at the time of his death. He trained slaves as gardeners, shoemakers, carpenters and weavers to help prepare them for their freedom.
Creative and persistent in solving problems, Washington overcame the poor soil at Mount Vernon by starting an innovative plan of crop rotation (switching crop type every year) and mulching, which made his farmland able to sustain its yields. He also introduced the mule to America in a successful effort to find an animal better suited to farm work than the horse.
Philosophy and Politics
Washington's political views were shaped more by practical experiences than by political theory, yet he possessed an ambitious vision for America. Before the Revolution, he supported the non-importation resolutions of 1769-1771 as much as a means of fostering economic self-sufficiency in America as a way of retaliating against the British.
He was resolute in his views about what was right and wrong and acted upon them. The British actions after the Boston Tea Party (closing the port of Boston and cancelling the charter of Massachusetts) convinced him that the British were being oppressive and not just misguided. Once convinced, he believed opposition to be a civic and moral duty and denounced British rule as evidence of '...the most despotic system of tyranny that was ever practiced in a free government.'
He was practical enough to realize as early as 1769 that American protests could easily lead to armed conflicts with the British. Rather than shrink from this, he began to prepare for it by helping train local militia.
Washington's vision of a unified nation was similarly based on experience and insight. He knew the problems of a weak national government from trying to supply and pay the Revolutionary Army, and the problems that conflicting state laws caused from his attempts to trade across state borders. He was unusually well-traveled within America (but left America only once, at age 19, on a trip to Barbados), and recognized the nation's potential for expansion on the frontier and for industrial development along the seaboard. As a result, he supported a strong national government, leading to his presiding over the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787. As president, he supported a central banking system to improve the nation's monetary system and international credit and insisted on a neutral foreign policy, opposing an alliance with France during its wars with England, which cost him personal popularity.
Washington disapproved of political parties as being potentially divisive of people and inappropriate for a president.
How do we know so much about George Washington?
Washington wrote thousands of letters explaining his beliefs and positions; he kept daily diaries and journals with records of his activities; and he maintained written accounts of all his expenditures. These documents provide unusual insight into his thoughts and feelings and a unique window into life during the 18th century, the operation of a plantation, and conditions during the wars in which he served. To read Washington's letters, visit The Papers of George Washington Digital Edition.
For more information on Mt Vernon
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