Yanks for the Memories; Presidential History Features Stories of Slavery and Bravery, AIDAN McGURRAN Discovers

Article excerpt

Byline: AIDAN McGURRAN

IF Barack Obama had the same approval ratings as founding father George Washington his would-be Republican opponents might as well pack their bags and head for home now.

Americans may not agree about much but you would be hard-pressed to find many that fail to regard George as a heroic figure of almost mythical proportions.

Which is why Mount Vernon - the impressive home of the United States' first president - is one of the country's most popular historic sites.

So beware, the number off tourists visiting the mansion - about 10 miles from Alexandria - is impressive but is nothing compared to the rampaging hordes of school kids on a whistle-stop tour of their history.

And while his compatriots may, generally, regard their first president through the misty eyes of sentimentality, the custodians of Mount Vernon do not shy away from the more troublesome aspects of their nation's early history.

They don't come any more problematic than slavery. The large numbers of visitors hoofing their way through Mount Vernon mean it can be somewhat boisterous but one teenage black girl stood silently in front of a TV screen as a host of historians - several of them African Americans - tried to put a historical perspective on the fact Washington owned slaves.

Some of her more excitable classmates tried to pull her away to the scene of something more deserving of a girl's attention. But she was having none of it.

And, if you share her enthusiasm, the case in a nutshell for the defence is Washington opposed slavery and left instructions for his slaves to be freed - but he made no provision to free those belonging to his wife. But whatever the rights or wrongs, the guides on the tour of Mount Vernon tackle the matter head on - parts of the slaves' quarters have been preserved and are duly pointed out.

My tour around Virginia and Maryland belittles the ignorant view that America, as a relatively young nation, is lacking in history or historical preservation.

Nothing could be further from the truth. My presidential tour could just as easily have centred on the Civil War or the struggle for civil rights.

Next stop is Fredericksburg, a small, pretty city steeped in the history of both the revolutionary period and the Civil War. For me, it offers the opportunity to sample a slightly different US accommodation experience - The Schooler House B&B.

And don't be put off by any bed and breakfast associations. …