Where George Washington and His Siblings Were Raised – Fredericksburg VA


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Published: May 23rd 2019
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Many Spectacular Homes Are Obstructed by TreesMany Spectacular Homes Are Obstructed by TreesMany Spectacular Homes Are Obstructed by Trees

On the Trolley Tour of Downtown Fredericksburg VA
The drive on Wednesday, May 1, 2019 from Charlottesville KOA in Charlottesville VA to R & D Family Campground in Milford VA was short, even by Uncle Larry’s standards – 110 miles, especially when compared to the six driving days it took to navigate the 1221 miles to Charlottesville from Apache Junction AZ. R & D Family Campground is 27 miles south of Fredericksburg, the target in my crosshairs. My first order of business on Thursday May 2, 2019 was a stop at the Fredericksburg Visitor Center where I got a few helpful hints and purchased my ticket for the Trolley Tour of Fredericksburg. The familiarization tour wasn’t the best nor the worst I have encountered, but it provided a perspective on the distance and the terrain between attractions. Marathoner I am not, and I forfeited my mountain goat horns some time back! The trolley driver did stop to point out a few cannon balls still embedded in the brick walls of a couple of structures and pointed out most of the attractions on my “to do” list so I had an idea of which were walkable (and from where) and which were not. Mission accomplished!

Since I had to move my truck after the trolley tour, I decided to tackle an attraction that was beyond walking distance and not near any others on my list. The George Washington Foundation operates two properties in Fredericksburg – Historic Kenmore Plantation ($12.00) and Ferry Farm ($9.00). A Combination Ticket ($19.00) is offered. Kenmore, very walkable in town, found its way to my “if there is time” list, and there just wasn’t enough time; however, it was built by George Washington's sister, Betty Washington Lewis, and her husband, Fielding Lewis. Reportedly, it is a beautiful, Georgian-style, brick mansion that reflects the pre-Revolutionary War wealth and status of one Fredericksburg merchant. It is now on my “if I return” list. Ferry Farm, on the other hand, was on my “must see” list from the beginning. George Washington was 6 years old in 1738 when his family moved to what the Washington family called the Home Farm. It later became known as Ferry Farm because of the ferry across the Rappahannock River from the farm to the town of Fredericksburg. The Washington family did not own or operate the ferry but used it frequently to get to and from town.

Upon entry, the visitor is offered the use of a
Architecturally Correct?  Perhaps, but the Story Is Much More ImportantArchitecturally Correct?  Perhaps, but the Story Is Much More ImportantArchitecturally Correct? Perhaps, but the Story Is Much More Important

George Washington’s Ferry Farm - Fredericksburg VA
tablet computer (a driver’s license is held as collateral) to use on the self-guided tour of the grounds. It was warm in the direct sunlight, so I found a well shaded bench and went through the tour waypoints on the tablet without lifting a cheek. Yes, I have seen many garden plots and vacant land where “XXX used to be located” over the years and gained more from keeping the tablet screen in the shade where I actually could see the nicely-done presentation. As I finished the tablet presentation, the docent guiding the tour approached. Timing is everything. We waited on the house porch for a few moments for a couple of stragglers and began the tour. Make no mistake, this is not the building where the “Father of Our Country” played as a youngster. It is new construction (as can be seen in the photographs) and has not been treated so as to appear old; but the reproduction house and meager furnishings have been constructed using authentic construction techniques of the day. That might be more important to the artisan or architect than it is to me. I knew going in that this was a reproduction home and not the real deal; however, I didn’t expect it to have a “new car smell.” The story was well-told and informative. THAT is worth the price of admission. Hmmm, now just where was that infamous cherry tree?

Washington Heritage Museums, as in George Washington, operates four (well, sorta, kinda) museums in the historic downtown area of Fredericksburg. Three are open regularly while St. James House is open to the general public two weeks a year. The Multisite Admission ticket is essentially a buy two, get one free pass with St. James House being an additional fee when open. I opted for the Multisite Admission as I thought all were appealing for various reasons. I made my first stop on Saturday, May 4, 2019 the Hugh Mercer Apothecary Shop, “a museum of medicine, pharmacy, and military and political affairs.” His link to George Washington was that he treated our first President’s mother, Mary Washington. Well, okay. Dr. Mercer left his Fredericksburg practice of fifteen years to join the Revolutionary army and died as a Brigadier General at the Battle of Princeton. With the medical background that I have, I found the excellent in-period presentation a plethora of information about the understanding and treatment
Rising Sun Tavern – Travel in the Day Was Onerous at BestRising Sun Tavern – Travel in the Day Was Onerous at BestRising Sun Tavern – Travel in the Day Was Onerous at Best

An Attraction to Attraction Stroll in Downtown Fredericksburg VA
of disease in the day. Questions were warmly received, and photography was allowed after the tour.

My next stop, Rising Sun Tavern, was built around 1760 as a home for the family of George Washington’s youngest brother, Charles. In 1792, the building was purchased by the Wallace family who operated it as a tavern for 35 years. Taverns were much different in the day and served as a stopover for travelers. Beds were shared by guests, and some inns boasted “no more than five to a bed.” The experience would startle today's traveler. Make no mistake, this attraction is properly named as there is virtually no information provided about brother Charles; however, the insight provided by the costumed tour guide into the hardships of the travelling public in the day was fascinating.

My final stop of the three Washington Heritage Museums properties was the Mary Washington House. Born Mary Ball in 1708, she was the second wife of Augustine Washington and the mother of George and five other children. George Washington purchased the house in 1772, and moved his mother from Ferry Farm, less than a mile as the pigeon flies. Here, within walking distance of her daughter
Mary Washington House – Quite a Remarkable and Confident LadyMary Washington House – Quite a Remarkable and Confident LadyMary Washington House – Quite a Remarkable and Confident Lady

An Attraction to Attraction Stroll in Downtown Fredericksburg VA
Betty’s home at Kenmore, she spent her last seventeen years. Prior to being sworn into office, the President-elect came to this dwelling to receive his ailing mother's blessing before attending his inauguration on April 30, 1789. After a lengthy affliction with breast cancer (there was no battle with cancer in the day), Mary Ball Washington died on August 25, 1789 at the age of 80. Interestingly, the house was slated to be disassembled for travel to the 1893 Chicago Columbian Exposition and reassembled there for display; however, the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, later Preservation Virginia, purchased the house and saved it from certain destruction. The house was opened to the public in 1903 and underwent extensive restoration in 1931. My hats off to numerous (mostly) women’s groups throughout America (and probably the world) for spearheading dozens of preservation drives! All three Washington Heritage Museums are worthy of your time and expenditure even though photography is prohibited in two of the three.

After a stop for a late lunch, I made my way to my final destination for the day, the James Monroe Law Office Museum. Monroe, the fifth President of the United States, began studying law at the age of 16, became active
This Very Nice Arm Chair …This Very Nice Arm Chair …This Very Nice Arm Chair …

James Monroe Law Office Museum - Fredericksburg VA
in government at the age of 24 and remained active in public life until shortly before his death at age 73. He served in the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, served as a delegate in the Continental Congress and was a delegate to the Virginia Ratifying Convention. In that capacity, he opposed ratification of the Constitution as there was no Bill of Rights. In 1790, he won election to the Senate but left to serve as President George Washington's ambassador to France. Monroe won election as Governor of Virginia in 1799 and strongly supported Thomas Jefferson's candidacy in the 1800 presidential election. As President Jefferson's special envoy, Monroe helped negotiate the Louisiana Purchase. In April 1811, he joined President James Madison's administration as Secretary of State. During the later stages of the War of 1812, Monroe simultaneously served as Madison's Secretary of State and Secretary of War. As President, Monroe signed the Missouri Compromise, which admitted Missouri as a slave state and banned slavery from territories north of the parallel 36°30′ north. In 1823, he announced the United States' would oppose European intervention in the affairs of any of the countries in the Americas that had recently gained
… Is Intricately Adorned… Is Intricately Adorned… Is Intricately Adorned

James Monroe Law Office Museum - Fredericksburg VA
independence vis-à-vis the Monroe Doctrine – a landmark in American foreign policy. Monroe was a member of the American Colonization Society, which supported the colonization of Africa by freed slaves, and Liberia's capital of Monrovia is named in his honor. Monroe died on July 4, 1831 – the third of the first five Presidents to die on Independence Day. Jefferson and John Adams, the second President, both died on July 4, 1826, and Monroe died exactly five years later.

Although the building housing the museum recently has been found to be “too young” to have been his actual law office, his law office once stood on the property where the museum now stands. In 1927, Monroe’s great-granddaughter learned about the planned demolition of what was thought at the time to have been his law office. She bought the property and opened the James Monroe Museum containing her extensive collection of Monroe objects, books, and documents. Her son added to the collection, built a large addition to the original museum in 1948 and donated the complex to the State of Virginia. Over the years, other Monroe descendants have donated many other family heirlooms. What helps this attraction stand out is
Time to Hit the Road, I Have a Naggin’ Feelin’ That Somethin’ Bad Is About to HappenTime to Hit the Road, I Have a Naggin’ Feelin’ That Somethin’ Bad Is About to HappenTime to Hit the Road, I Have a Naggin’ Feelin’ That Somethin’ Bad Is About to Happen

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park - Fredericksburg VA
that everything on display in the museum belonged to the Monroe family. No reproductions or replacement pieces are included, and no guessing is required. The on-site archive contains over 10,000 documents, and the library holds more than 3,000 volumes of rare and historic books, some once part of James Monroe’s personal library. What can be learned at the museum can be learned on the Internet, and there is no tour guide to tell the story, but the artifacts are unique and interesting. Worthwhile, if there is time.

My final Fredericksburg stop came on Monday, May 6, 2019 at the Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania County Battlefields Memorial National Military Park in Fredericksburg. Yup, that’s the official name, the longest of any unit in the entire National Park Service (NPS) system. More commonly referred to as Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park (still a longer-than-most name), it is the amalgamation of four Civil War battlefields – Fredericksburg (December 11-15, 1862), Chancellorsville (May 1-3, 1863), Wilderness (May 5-7, 1864) and Spotsylvania (May 8-21, 1864). NPS calls it “America's battleground, where the Civil War roared to its bloody climax.” Between December 1862 and May 1864 more than 15,000 men were killed and more than 85,000 were wounded – a total of more
Everybody Is Standing, and I Don’t See Any Ducks!Everybody Is Standing, and I Don’t See Any Ducks!Everybody Is Standing, and I Don’t See Any Ducks!

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park - Fredericksburg VA
than 105,000 killed, wounded or missing. Most of the killed, to this day, remain buried in graves marked only with a plot number and the number of corpses interred. Indeed, in 1866 and 1867, the Federal government reburied 15,126 Union dead from the four battlefields in the National Cemetery on Marye's Heights. Unfortunately, I only managed to visit the Fredericksburg Visitor Center and Battlefield.

The Battle of Fredericksburg was waged between the Union Army of the Potomac under Major General Ambrose Burnside and the Confederate Army of Northern Virginia under General Robert E. Lee. Burnside's plan was to cross the Rappahannock River at Fredericksburg in mid-November (yes, from the general area of George Washington’s Ferry Farm visited earlier) and race to the Confederate capital of Richmond before Lee's army could stop him. Bureaucratic delays prevented Burnside from receiving the necessary pontoon bridges in time, and Lee moved his army to block the crossings and fortified his defensive positions. The Confederates controlled the high ground at Prospect Hill south of town and at Marye's Heights to the west. In town, Lee’s troops took advantage of a stone wall along Sunken Road, directly in front of the defensive position at Marye's
This Diorama Helps the Visitor Understand the Destruction in the CityThis Diorama Helps the Visitor Understand the Destruction in the CityThis Diorama Helps the Visitor Understand the Destruction in the City

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park - Fredericksburg VA
Heights. As the combatants prepared, thousands of civilian refugees were forced into the countryside taking only what they could carry.

By the time the Union army was finally able to begin building its bridges across the Rappahannock River on December 11, 1862, it faced intense cannon fire from the high ground and sniper fire from the buildings in Fredericksburg. One placard in the visitor center notes that “… more than 150 guns fired on Fredericksburg. As many as 100 shells per minute burst over town.” Two days of violent combat within the city followed (December 11-12, 1862). Multiple frontal assaults toward the entrenched Confederate defenders on the ridge at Marye's Heights were repulsed on December 13. From a placard the thoughts of James R. Hagood, 1st South Carolina, “When night descended upon the bloody battlefield nearly 500 dead soldiers lay upon an area of two acres in front of our lines. Three or four times as many wounded howled in the darkness. A dismal concert for assistance which could not be rendered, ….” That’s about 1 ½ football fields (a football field is 1.32 acres). Another placard relates, “Appalled that Burnside had left his dead behind when he retreated,
Sunken Road and the Stone Wall – Marye's Heights Is to the Left and Fredericksburg Is to the RightSunken Road and the Stone Wall – Marye's Heights Is to the Left and Fredericksburg Is to the RightSunken Road and the Stone Wall – Marye's Heights Is to the Left and Fredericksburg Is to the Right

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park - Fredericksburg VA
Lee had (Confederate Lt. Gen. James) Longstreet propose a truce so a Union burial detail could inter the dead. It took two days to bury all the bodies.” On December 15 Burnside withdrew his army. Union casualties were more than twice as heavy as those suffered by the Confederates, and the Battle of Fredericksburg is remembered as one of the most one-sided battles of the war. The NPS web site contends, “No place more vividly reflects the War's tragic cost in all its forms. A town bombarded and looted. Farms large and small ruined. Refugees by the thousands forced into the countryside. More than 85,000 men wounded; 15,000 killed – most in graves unknown.” The Battle of Fredericksburg marked the beginning of an 18-month, 4-battle ordeal that became a daily struggle for mere survival for area residents.

I had a phenomenal time in Fredericksburg. There is no way that I could do the community justice in a single week – unless I totally ignored my Mr. Domestic responsibilities. The four Civil War battlefields would take at least two days, and I didn’t visit any attractions in nearby communities nor did I manage a nice, leisurely, scenic drive. The downtown area is alive with shops and eateries, and history abounds. Fredericksburg has found its place near the top of my revisit list. Also, briefly, in my research I happened upon the George Washington Birthplace National Monument and the James Monroe Birthplace both near Colonial Beach VA. According to multiple sources in Fredericksburg, the acreage has been preserved and plans are in the offing for reproductions to be built; however, nothing has been finalized at this time. Now, if I had had time for one of those nice, leisurely, scenic drives ….


Additional photos below
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On the Trolley Tour of Downtown Fredericksburg VA
Information About Many of the Furnishings Came from the Records of the Tax ManInformation About Many of the Furnishings Came from the Records of the Tax Man
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George Washington’s Ferry Farm - Fredericksburg VA
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George Washington’s Ferry Farm - Fredericksburg VA
Throughout the City, Historical Placards Recognize Locations and EventsThroughout the City, Historical Placards Recognize Locations and Events
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An Attraction to Attraction Stroll in Downtown Fredericksburg VA
Madison’s Personal Life and Career Are Conveyed in Nicely Done DisplaysMadison’s Personal Life and Career Are Conveyed in Nicely Done Displays
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James Monroe Law Office Museum - Fredericksburg VA
Nicely Done Placards Help Explain the Battle – Here, the Stone Wall to the Left and Sunken Road to the RightNicely Done Placards Help Explain the Battle – Here, the Stone Wall to the Left and Sunken Road to the Right
Nicely Done Placards Help Explain the Battle – Here, the Stone Wall to the Left and Sunken Road to the Right

Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park - Fredericksburg VA


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