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Archive for the ‘Martha Washington’ Category

February 13, 2013

Encyclopedia Entry: The Courtship of George and Martha



The Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington is a new digital history project that allows users to interact and explore primary source materials and objects from the Mount Vernon collection. Entries focus on the totality of Washington’s life and experiences, while also covering the Mount Vernon Estate, its history, and preservation. The encyclopedia includes entries written by Mount Vernon staff and experts, as well as a team of more than thirty outside scholars of history and related fields. Periodically, encyclopedia entries will be highlighted on this blog.

With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it seems only appropriate to use today’s featured encyclopedia entry as an excuse to look at the roots of the relationship between George and Martha Washington. The Digital Encyclopedia’s entry on the couple’s courtship notes that the Washingtons’ “wedding came at the end of a rather tumultuous eighteen months” for the former Martha Dandridge Custis. Having lost her first husband in July of 1757, Martha inherited a 17,500 acre estate as well as sole parenting responsibility for her two children. In the spring of 1758, Martha met a young army officer named George Washington at the home of a shared acquaintance.

Find out more about the courtship of George and Martha Washington by reading the full encyclopedia entry.

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

Continue reading Encyclopedia Entry: The Courtship of George and Martha »

Category: Classroom Connections, Digital Encyclopedia, George Washington, Martha Washington

December 27, 2012

Object Spotlight, Party Edition: Drinking Punch with the Washingtons


Christmas was an especially busy and festive time in the Mount Vernon household. George and Martha Washington welcomed dozens of visitors into their home in December, serving elaborate dinners and a variety of cheerful libations to celebrate the season.

One staple of eighteenth-century social gatherings was punch, a drink commonly made from a mixture of spirits, lemon or lime juice, sugar, nutmeg, and other spices. Typical recipes used rum or arrack, a raw liquor imported from Batavia. Punch was not usually served at formal dinners, but rather in more casual settings between or after meals, enlivening conversations in the parlor and surely fueling many heated games of cards.

The preparation and drinking of punch had a specific set of equipment associated with it. The beverage was typically served in large decorated vessels such as the one pictured above, which is made of Chinese export porcelain and adorned with an eye-catching “tobacco-leaf” pattern, characterized by colorful oversized leaves, bouquets, and pink peonies. Probably dating from between 1750 and 1757, this punch bowl was likely brought to Mount Vernon by Martha Washington from her first marriage with Daniel Parke Custis. Lest anyone worry that a Mount Vernon guest went thirsty, fear not–this enormous vessel held five gallons of punch!

Making punch also required a strainer, which neatly removed remnants of spices and fruit pulp from the potent mixture. This delicate silver strainer was probably ordered from England by Martha Washington’s son, John Parke Custis, when he married Eleanor Calvert in 1774.

A silver ladle and small glass cups with round handles completed the accoutrements associated with punch consumption. A scene with all of these items can be seen in Mount Vernon’s traveling exhibition, Discover the Real George Washington: New Views from Mount Vernon, which is currently on view at the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis.

So as you enjoy a festive cocktail over the holiday season, remember that you are carrying on a great Mount Vernon tradition!

Jessie MacLeod, Assistant Curator

Punch Bowl: Bequest of Ella Mackubin, 1956 [W-1452]

Strainer: Gift of Mary Lee Bowman and Robert E. Lee IV, 1981 [W-2527]

Ladle: Gift of Richard Hayward, 2002 [2002.008]

Punch Glasses: Gift of the Estate of Mary Hurt Irby, 1999 [M-4124, M-4125, M-4126]

Category: George Washington, Martha Washington, Mount Vernon, Object Spotlight

July 26, 2012

What’s New At The Dig: Martha Washington


We had a fun discovery in the archaeological laboratory this week. While washing artifacts from our laundry yard excavations, our field and lab tech Laura Tancredi, noticed writing on one of the recently recovered ceramics. On closer inspection, she identified the ceramic as a piece of Chinese porcelain with the letters “ode.” Opening our study collection cabinet she found a box containing fragments of Martha Washington’s States China and discovered that the “ode” sherd mended with a fragment found during the 1988 excavations of the laundry yard. Our “ode” was actually “Rhode” as in Rhode Island!

George and Martha Washington owned many different sets of dishes during their life at Mount Vernon and one of the most recognizable is the States China pattern. In 1796, Martha Washington received a monogrammed tea service as a gift from Andrea van Braam Houckgeest, the Director of Canton operations for the Dutch East India Company. The manifest of the Lady Louisa, the ship that carried the tea set from Canton to Philadelphia lists “A box of china for Lady Washington.”

Van Braam designed the porcelain for Mrs. Washington using motifs which illustrate his belief in the young United States. Martha Washington’s initials are in the center surrounded by a chain with the names of the 15 states in the country at that time, including little Rhode Island. Representing strength in unity, this idea is also echoed in the Latin motto seen on the red ribbon in the center of the vessels. The rim of each object contains a blue serpent grasping its tail creating a circle that symbolizes eternity.

Martha Washington was living in Philadelphia serving as first lady when Van Braam presented her with this unique gift. It was used in the presidential household and then traveled to Mount Vernon in 1797 when George Washington completed his second term in office. In her will Martha left this “tea service” to her grandson, George Washington Parke Custis (Washy). These two fragments from the laundry yard, found more than 20 years apart, are from a saucer and provide evidence that at least one of the original 45 pieces broke and was discarded into the laundry yard, before Washy inherited it and moved the porcelain to his own home.

Category: Archaeology at Mount Vernon: Digging History, Martha Washington

February 17, 2012

Newest Exhibit Debuts: Hoecakes & Hospitality


Anyone who comes to Mount Vernon can pass through the Mansion’s large and small dining room and out into the kitchen. Tables are set and seasonal faux food is placed about. But beginning Feb. 18, Mount Vernon’s newest temporary exhibit, Hoecakes & Hospitality: Cooking With Martha Washington, gives visitors a fuller picture as to the culinary habits of those living on the estate in the 18th century.

Visitors are greeted by scents of cinnamon, coffee, herbs and warm bread as they take in more than 125 objects associated with the Washingtons and food. Highlights include the Washingtons’ dinner bell, a heart-shaped waffle iron, a vente-sized Chinese porcelain mug, a coffee mill, a three-foot olive jar, presidential dinner invitations and other kitchen items. The exhibit touches on everyone from Martha Washington to the slaves who prepared the Washingtons’ meals. Visitors can also take away recipe cards for some of Martha Washington’s most famous dishes, such as her ragoo of asparagus and great cake.

Hoecakes and Hospitality is included as part of admission to the estate; the exhibit will be on display in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum through mid-August, 2013.

Category: Martha Washington

September 15, 2010

Mount Vernon Hits Small Screen on C-SPAN 3


Mount Vernon conservators Katherine Ridgway and Anne Kingery talk about objects that belonged to Martha Washington, such as an ivory fan and seat cushion, in an upcomming C-SPAN 3 show.

It’s not every weekend that you can catch Mount Vernon on television. In a rare, behind-the-scenes show, C-SPAN 3 will showcase the estate’s conservation lab in a 30 minute feature set to appear multiple times this weekend. For a preview, click here.

In the words of C-SPAN 3, the show goes inside “Mount Vernon’s Conservation Lab to hear from conservators who study and preserve the belongings of George and Martha Washington. Featured in [the] program are Martha’s ivory fan, a needlepoint shell cushion from a set she worked on for over 36 years, and red silk fragments from one of her own dresses. Conservators at George Washington’s estate discuss how they authenticate and preserve historic artifacts.’

The show is set to air Sept. 18 at 3 p.m. and Sept. 19 at 2 a.m., 8 a.m., 7 p.m. and 10 p.m. EST and features Mount Vernon conservators Katherine Ridgway and Anne Kingery.

The episode is only one in a series shot at Mount Vernon this summer. The following weekend Mount Vernon’s collections storage will be the topic of the series’s second show. Check back for more details.

Update: For the full episode, click here.

Category: George Washington, George Washington in Popular Culture, Martha Washington


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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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