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Archive for the ‘George Washington’ Category

July 24, 2013

What’s in a Name?

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The birth of His Royal Highness The Prince of Cambridge is officially announced at Buckingham Palace on July 22, 2013 (Image The Washington Post)

The birth of His Royal Highness The Prince of Cambridge is officially announced at Buckingham Palace on July 22, 2013 (Image The Washington Post)

The birth of His Royal Highness The Prince of Cambridge, born on July 22nd, has left the world on pins and needles waiting for the announcement of the baby’s name. It is believed the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will choose a traditional name for their son, and high on the list of possibilities is a favorite here at Mount Vernon: George.

Six monarchs named George have ruled England; the first taking the throne in 1714. Perhaps best known in the annals of American History is George III, the King of Great Britain at the time of the American Revolution who was steadfast in his opposition to American Independence.

Though the Constitution is clear that titles of nobility cannot be bestowed on an American citizen holding office by either the United States government or any foreign government (Article 1, Section 9, Clause 8) without the consent of Congress, it did not clearly define a title for the leader of the country. John Adams put forth “His highness, the President of the United States of America, and Protector of the Rights of the Same” as a title, while a joint Congressional Committee ultimately decided upon “His High Mightiness, the President of the United States and Protector of their Liberties.” Many felt these titles were far too monarchical for the new nation founded on democratic principles, and at the urging of James Madison and the House of Representatives, Washington took the title “Mr. President.”

The Constitutional ban on titles of nobility did not stop Americans from properly honoring the father of their country, however. The Marquis de Lafayette, Washington’s own step-son and John Quincy Adams are among the men who chose to honor Washington by naming their sons “George Washington” after this great man.

George Washington Parke Custis, George Washington de Lafayette, George Washington Adams

George Washington Parke Custis, George Washington de Lafayette, George Washington Adams

If indeed HRH The Prince of Cambridge is named George, it is doubtful the inspiration of the name will stem from George Washington, but we can always hope. Until the announcement is made, we will be sitting on tenterhooks with the rest of world, and secretly hoping for a boy named George.

By George an Update!
Huzzah! Today, Their Royal Highnesses The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge announced the name of their son: George Alexander Louis. Welcome to the world George.
Continue reading What’s in a Name? »

Category: Classroom Connections, George Washington

April 3, 2013

George Washington’s Personality

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Given his importance to American history and his prominent place within American popular culture, the true nature of George Washington’s personality has become somewhat difficult to measure. Through the numerous personal writings and other papers written by Washington, it becomes possible to glimpse aspects of both his public and private personalities.

Today’s featured entry from the Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington attempts to identify Washington’s most prominent personality traits. Meredith Eliassen, Reference Specialist in Special Collections at San Francisco State University’s J. Paul Leonard Library, explains that Washington’s public persona was largely created through the belief that “external appearance should reflect inner merit.” As a result, though Washington “could be excitable and demonstrated impatience during early [military] campaigns,” he “learned to channel strong passions through carefully cultivated deportment.”

In addition, Eliassen points out that at an early age Washington identified qualities that would define his personality; qualities that often ran opposite to those associated with the British upper class. As a result, Washington was able to “create a unique public persona for himself within a new, burgeoning America,” that was, in many ways, reflected in the formation of a new, American political elite.

To find out more about Washington’s personality, visit the Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington.

Adam D. Shprintzen, Ph.D.
Editor, Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington

Category: Digital Encyclopedia, George Washington

April 2, 2013

“I can’t tell a lie… you know I can’t tell a lie”

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Original Image Credit: Grant Wood (1891-1942), Parson Weems' Fable, 1939, oil on canvas, Amon Carter Museum of Art, Fort Worth, Texas.

Original Image Credit: Grant Wood (1891-1942), Parson Weems’ Fable, 1939, oil on canvas, Amon Carter Museum of Art, Fort Worth, Texas.

In The Life of Washington, Mason Locke Weems places a great deal of value on honesty in his story of six-year old George Washington confession after chopping down his father’s favorite cherry tree. Weems writes, “‘I can’t tell a lie, Pa; you know I can’t tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet.’ –Run to my arms, you dearest boy, cried his father in transports, run to my arms; glad am I, George, that you killed my tree; for you have paid me for it a thousand fold. Such an act of heroism in my son, is more worth than a thousand trees, though blossomed with silver, and their fruits of purest gold.”

Weems claimed to have talked to people who knew Washington during his youth, gathering stories which would not have been written down otherwise. His book was published in 1800, one year after Washington’s death, and at that time, it was not common for writers to footnote or cite their sources. While historians have found references for some of the claims Weems made in his book, there is no documented evidence that the youthful George Washington committed this crime. The parson’s reputation of not letting the truth get in the way of a good story lives on 200 years later as students across the country are still told this story, and many continue to believe it to be true throughout their adult life.

You can read more about Parson Weems in the George Washington Digital Encyclopedia.

Danie Schallom
Coordinator of Education Outreach and Leadership Programs
Education and Leadership Department

Continue reading “I can’t tell a lie… you know I can’t tell a lie” »

Category: Classroom Connections, George Washington, George Washington in Popular Culture

March 20, 2013

Encyclopedia Entry: Pilgrimages to Washington’s Tomb

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Tomb of Washington, August 4, 1817, artist believed to be Rubens Peale.

Tomb of Washington, August 4, 1817, artist believed to be Rubens Peale.

“Pilgrims from across the country converged on Mount Vernon during the early nineteenth century intent on feeling the aura of America’s first national hero,” explains Matthew Costello, doctoral candidate in History at Marquette University. In today’s featured encyclopedia entry on pilgrimages to Washington’s tomb, Costello points out that the pilgrims visited the tomb “to pay their respects through prayer, reflection, and moments of silence. Many pilgrims, overwhelmed with emotion, wept in the presence of Washington’s remains.”

However, while the tomb frequently elicited outpourings of emotion from visitors, it also became the subject of public outcry. Costello notes that, “The tomb…became a site of controversy, as the poor appearance of the vault prompted pilgrims to lobby government representatives for proper monument construction.”

A new tomb, constructed under the supervision of Lawrence Lewis and George Washington Parke Custis, was completed in 1831 and the bodies of George and Martha Washington were transferred from the old tomb, along with other members of their family.

Pilgrimages to Washington’s tomb continue to the present and participation in the wreath laying at Washington’s tomb is a highlight for many visitors to Mount Vernon.

Read more about pilgrimages to the tomb during the nineteenth century and individuals’ reflections on the experience by visiting the Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington.

Adam D. Shprintzen, Ph.D.
Editor, Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington

Continue reading Encyclopedia Entry: Pilgrimages to Washington’s Tomb »

Category: Classroom Connections, Digital Encyclopedia, George Washington, Mount Vernon

March 14, 2013

Object Spotlight: How many times did George Washington sit for his portrait?

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George Washington may be the most recognizable figure in American history. You’ve probably seen many different portraits of him–in fact, there are hundreds! But what you may not know is Washington didn’t pose for each portrait himself. So, how many times did Washington sit for an artist to take his likeness?

Portrait sittings were not always recorded, so we can’t be certain, but after combing through diaries, letters, and other documentary evidence, historian David Meschutt found that Washington posed at least 32 times for 19 different artists between 1772 and 1798. As the numbers suggest, Washington sometimes sat for the same artist multiple times.

He was portrayed by these 19 artists in a variety of forms, including oil paintings, drawings, pastels, watercolor miniatures, and clay sculpture. Among the most recognizable artists Washington sat for were Jean-Antoine Houdon, Edward Savage, John Trumbull, and Gilbert Stuart.

Artists often made copies of their own work, and of the works of others, which accounts for the numerous Washington portraits that exist. Gilbert Stuart alone made as many as 75 copies of his famous “Athenaeum” portrait (better known as the portrait featured on the $1 bill).

One of Stuart's many copies of his Athenaeum portrait, which Washington posed for in 1796.

One of Stuart’s many copies of his Athenaeum portrait, which Washington posed for in 1796.

Despite his prominent status as General of the Continental Army and First President of the United States, Washington did not enjoy having his portrait taken. On May 21, 1772, a day after he sat for Charles Willson Peale, Washington wrote to his friend Jonathan Boucher:

Inclination having yielded to Importunity, I am now, contrary to all expectation under the hands of Mr Peale; but in so grave–so sullen a Mood–and now and then under the influence of Morpheus, when some critical strokes are making, that I fancy the skill of this Gentleman’s Pencil, will be put to it, in describing to the World what manner of Man I am.

Morpheus is the Greek god of dreams–and it seems Washington was on the verge of falling asleep during his portrait sitting!

Jessie MacLeod
Assistant Curator
Department of Historic Preservation and Collections

For more details on Washington’s life portraits, see David Meschutt, “Life Portraits of George Washington,” in Barbara J. Mitnick, ed., George Washington: American Symbol (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1999), pp. 25-37.

Continue reading Object Spotlight: How many times did George Washington sit for his portrait? »

Category: Classroom Connections, George Washington, Object Spotlight, Washington Portraits

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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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