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Mount Vernon

the home of George Washington

Located along the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia, about 15 miles south of Washington, D.C., Mount Vernon sits on land acquired by George Washington's great-grandfather, John Washington, in 1674. The property passed to his son Lawrence in 1677, and to Lawrence's daughter Mildred in 1698. In 1726, Mildred leased the estate to her brother Augustine (George Washington's father), who subsequently bought the property.

left: main entrance to Mount Vernon
right: river side of main home

main entrance to Mount Vernon river side of main home

Augustine Washington, who called the estate the Little Hunting Creek Plantation, built the main section of the present home in the 1730's. His eldest son, Lawrence, moved into the home in 1739, and it was he who renamed the estate Mount Vernon, in honor of Admiral Edward Vernon, his former commander in the British Navy. George Washington inherited a share of the estate from his half-brother in 1752, and became its sole owner in 1761.

George Washington began expanding the original main house in 1754, and continued the expansion for the next 45 years. Despite having no architectural training, he personally designed and supervised every addition. He also bought adjoining land, and by his death the estate covered about 8,000 acres.

map of George Washington's Mount Vernon
map of George Washington's Mount Vernon

From 1759 until the Revolutionary War, Washington, who at the time aspired to become a prominent agriculturist, operated the estate as five separate farms. He took a scientific approach to farming and kept extensive and meticulous records of both labor and results. By 1766 he had replaced tobacco with wheat, corn, and other grains, as well as hemp and flax, cotton, silk, and about 60 other crops. Further income was derived from a gristmill, which produced cornmeal and flour for export and also ground neighbors' grain, a distillery, looms, and a blacksmith shop. Washington also practiced the selective breeding of sheep in an effort to produce better quality wool. Virtually everything Washington and his family needed was grown or produced on the estate, and its surpluses provided him with much needed cash income.

Martha Washington managed the day-to-day operations of Mount Vernon while her husband served in the Revolutionary War. Washington returned to Mount Vernon in 1785, and spent the next three years making repairs and improving the landscaping. His hopes of spending the rest of his life at Mount Vernon were put on hold, however, after he was elected as the nation's first President, and it is estimated that during his two terms as President Washington only spent 434 days in residence at Mount Vernon. After his presidency, Washington tended to repairs to the buildings, socializing, and gardening. He died at Mount Vernon on December 14, 1799, after having spent the previous day riding around the estate in a freezing rain, and is interred in a family vault on the estate.

Washington's tomb
Washington's tomb

Washington's nephew Bushrod Washington, who inherited the mansion and four thousand acres after the death of Martha Washington, was an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court and his duties often kept him away from Mount Vernon. He died in 1829, bequeathing the mansion and twelve hundred acres to his nephew John Augustine Washington, who survived him by only three years. In 1830, his widow conveyed the estate to their son, John Augustine Washington, Jr., who became the last member of the Washington Family to own the estate. John Augustine offered to sell the estate to both the United States and Virginia governments, but both declined. By 1853 the estate was in a serious state of decline, prompting Ann Pamela Cunningham to form the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association for the express purpose of preserving what she believed to be an important part of the nation's heritage. The Association subsequently purchased 200 acres of the estate, including the main house and most of the outbuildings, for $200,000 in 1858, and began operating the estate as a tourist attraction in 1860; another 300 acres has since been acquired.

The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association continues to maintain and operate Mount Vernon today, without the need for federal support, and visitors now have access to most of the main house and outbuildings, as well as the tomb of George and Martha Washington. The official website of Mount Vernon is http://www.mountvernon.org/.

SEE ALSO
Revolutionary War
Martha Washington

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The Robinson Library >> American History >> United States: General History and Description >> Revolution to the Civil War, 1775/1783-1861 >> Constitutional Period, 1789-1809 >> George Washington's Administration, 1789-1797 >> George Washington

This page was last updated on April 21, 2017.