George Washington's Mount Vernon: At Home in Revolutionary America

George Washington's Mount Vernon: At Home in Revolutionary America

George Washington's Mount Vernon: At Home in Revolutionary America

George Washington's Mount Vernon: At Home in Revolutionary America

Synopsis

George Washington's Mount Vernon brings together--for the first time--the details of Washington's 45-year endeavor to build and perfect Mount Vernon. In doing so it introduces us to a Washington few of his contemporaries knew, and one little noticed by historians since. Here we meet the planter/patriot who also genuinely loved building, a man passionately human in his desire to impress on his physical surroundings the stamp of his character and personal beliefs. As chief architect and planner of the countless changes made at Mount Vernon over the years, Washington began by imitating accepted models of fashionable taste, but as time passed he increasingly followed his own ideas. Hence, architecturally, as the authors show, Mount Vernon blends the orthodox and the innovative in surprising ways, just as the new American nation would. Equally interesting is the light the book sheds on the process of building at Mount Vernon, and on the people--slave and free--who did the work. Washington was a demanding master, and in their determination to preserve their own independence his workers often clashed with him. Yet, as the Dalzells argue, that experience played a vital role in shaping his hopes for the future of American society--hope that embraced in full measure the promise of the revolution in which he had led his fellow citizens. George Washington's Mount Vernon thus compellingly combines the two sides of Washington's life--the public and the private--and uses the combination to enrich our understanding of both. Gracefully written, with more than 80 photographs, maps, and engravings, the book tells a fascinating story with memorable insight.

Excerpt

Several months before the Battle of Yorktown, with military affairs already near full boil, George Washington received a singularly distressing piece of news from home. Believing that Mount Vernon was about to be burned to the ground by the British, its manager, Lund Washington, a distant relative, had gone on board the enemy warship anchored in the Potomac opposite the house. On receiving assurances that no hostile act was planned against Washington's property, he returned to shore and arranged to send -- as he reported afterward to Washington -- "sheep, hogs, and an abundant supply of other articles" out to the ship "as a present."

Embarrassingly enough, word of the incident also reached Washington from his dashing young friend and protégé, the marquis de Lafayette, who was moving south with a detachment of troops to oppose British forces in the area. the response came quickly. An angry letter went off to Lund with a copy and covering note to My dear Marquis." "It would have been a less painful circumstance to me, to have heard, that in consequence of your non-compliance with their request, they had burnt my House, and laid the Plantation in ruins," fumed Washington to Lund, adding: "You ought to have considered yourself as my representative, and should have reflected on the bad example of communicating with the Enemy, and making a voluntary offer of refreshments to them with a view to prevent a conflagration."

These were strong words, and no doubt Washington meant them, though the letter reads more than a little as if it were written for wider circulation -- and for Lafayette's eyes in particular. Perhaps Lund sensed this; even so, it would have been hard not to feel stung by his kinsman's outburst. Among other things, the house he hoped to save from burning was so important to Washington that despite the enormous difficulties involved, it had been under almost constant renovation since the beginning of the Revolution. More than once Lund had questioned the wisdom of spending so much time and money rebuilding a place that might at any moment be destroyed, but Washington insisted that the work continue.

In his covering note to Lafayette, Washington did make one comment that helps put . . .

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