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Archive for January, 2012

January 31, 2012

Know Your Founding Fathers: Gouverneur Morris


Today is the birthday of Gouverneur Morris, born in 1752. Besides being notable for his somewhat awesome first name, he’s also memorable for being a close friend of George Washington and one of his biggest supporters in Congress.

This statesman was originally from New York where he was born to a wealthy family on its estate, Morrisania, in what is today in the Bronx. From 1778 to 1779 Morris sat in the Continental Congress where he signed the Articles of Confederation and was one of the youngest and smartest members. Defeated for reelection, he moved to Pennsylvania where he practiced law and eventually re-entered public life as the principal assistant to the U.S. superintendent of finance.

At the Constitutional Convention he spoke more than any other delegates, giving 173 speeches. Additionally, he drafted the U.S. Constitution. Throughout his life Morris remained pro national government and pro aristocracy. From 1790 to 1791 he lived in London, working out diplomatic kinks between the United States and England, and then served as Thomas Jefferson’s replacement as minister to France for two years. He served in the Senate from 1800 to 1803 and finally married at age 57 after a lifetime of dalliances that he sometimes recorded in his journal. Morris would die at his family estate in 1816 at age 64.

Category: Uncategorized

January 26, 2012

Round Up: 5 MV Things Best Done in January


January is one of the chilliest times of the year, which also means that here at Mount Vernon, it’s one of the most overlooked by visitors, who neither stop by for vacation nor pop by for neighborly visits during this coldest of months. It also means January is ideal for having the estate to yourself. Discover the five best reasons to get to Mount Vernon before February and the busy Presidents Day season begins.

1) Visit the estate without disruption: Attendance in January usually hovers around 20,000 to 25,000 visitors, which means there are six or seven times fewer bustling people than during busy months such as May. Lines are shorter and the estate’s sweeping panoramas are that much more stranger-free for your picture-taking purposes.

2) Scouting-oriented children get in free: All Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts and Camp Fire members wearing their uniform or official pen get into the estate for free through February 17 — not a bad treat after a long season of cookie sales. They can also complete activities toward patches and pins.

3) It’s a romantic time of year chez Washington: George and Martha, the happy colonial couple, were married on January 6; it was a day referred to back then as Twelfth Night, which marked the end of the Christmas season. For current-day Americans, Christmas is long gone by January 6, but not the Washingtons’ anniversary.

4) Hot cider abounds: The Mount Vernon Inn is a place filled with the adjective delicious. Add hot cider to the menu and you’ve got yourself a warm treat to enjoy beside one of the inn’s several fireplaces.

5) There’s always snow here: Even if it’s not snowing much outdoors this winter, it snows every day in our Revolutionary War Theater, where film-watchers have an immersive experience when real “snow” falls on the audience as Washington crosses the Delaware.

Category: George Washington

January 24, 2012

A Special Guy for a Special Edition of TIME


He’s not quite person of the year, but he does get his own TIME special edition. If the longer tomes dedicated to the nation’s first president aren’t on your reading list (think: His Excellency: George Washington, Washington: A Life and Washington: The Indispensable Man, just to name a few of the best), then pick up a copy of this biography-in-miniature, which has been spotted everywhere from Target to grocery store check-out stands.

Historian Joseph Ellis (author of His Excellency) wrote the intro, and Mount Vernon assisted with the edition, though we weren’t contributors. TIME has created special editions about various historic figures throughout the magazine’s history. This one comes just in the nick of, well, time, for Washington’s 280th birthday next month.

Category: George Washington in Popular Culture

January 20, 2012

Object Spotlight: Nelly’s Coral Necklace


In 1751, during his one and only voyage off the North American continent, George Washington accompanied his brother Lawrence to Barbados. While there, he picked up a piece of white coral that he held on to as a memento for the rest of his life.

In another Washington-coral encounter, it appears the General gave a red coral necklace to Nelly Custis (Martha Washington’s granddaughter, whom the Washingtons took in as an adopted daughter). Was Washington a fan of this sightly creature from the sea? Hard to say, but it looks like it.

One thing that we can be sure of is that Washington liked to give gifts. Upon returning home from the Revolutionary War in December of 1783, for example, he purchased various “sundries” for his family including a locket, three small pocket books, three thimbles, three sashes, a dress cap, a hat, a handkerchief, children’s books, a whirligig, a fiddle, a gun and some quadrille boxes.

It’s unknown when Washington gave Custis the necklace, which is thought to date from sometime between 1775 and 1800. Made of coral, ribbon and string, the necklace has two strands, one with small beads and another with irregular, tubular pieces of coral.

The necklace is not currently on display, but it and the envelope that contained it, which explains the piece’s early provenance, can be seen above. The message on the envelope reads “Worn by / Nellie Custis / & presented to her / by Gen Washington / Inherited from my Aunt Martha Custis Williams / George L Upshur.”

Assistant Curator Alison Bliss contributed to this report.

Object Spotlight is a regular feature that highlights household belongings used by the Washingtons. Check out Mount Vernon’s eMuseum to explore more Washington belongings.

Gift of Lylee Krech, Kara B. Seymour, Lyttleton B. P. Gould, III and Cyndie Gould, 2010. [2010.012.001/A-B]

Category: Object Spotlight

January 18, 2012

The Washingtons: Not Cat People


Mount Vernon is not known to have been a particularly feline-friendly place. The absence of any mention of pet cats chez Washington may not have had so much to do with an aversion to hairballs as it did the family’s plethora of pet dogs and birds. Fido and feathered friends were more of the General and his wife’s style: Terriers, lapdogs, hunting hounds, plus a cockatoo, peacock and green parrot were only a few of the nonhuman inhabitants who called the Mansion and its grounds home. There were no doubt barn cats that kept the rodent population down as well as cats who belonged to slaves, the feline bones of which have been found in the layers of earth that constituted the cellar of a slave cabin. While the General may have seemed to have had nine lives throughout his battle-prone life, he likely didn’t have any cats.

Information courtesy of Mount Vernon historian Mary Thompson.
Photo compilation by Becca Milfeld; Cat photo courtesy of Flickr creative commons/dustin.askins.

Category: Mount Vernon Animals


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Portraits in Schools

Kids holding George Washington Portrait

Mount Vernon recently invited K-12 schools nationwide to request framed portraits of George Washington to display in a respectful, prominent place.

The response was overwhelming: thousands of schools submitted letters! Along with the portrait, schools received curriculum materials to help explore our first president’s contributions.

Where has George Washington gone back to school? Click here to see!

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