Honoring George

George Washington painted by Charles Wilson Peale in 1772
George Washington painted by Charles Wilson Peale in 1772

Today is President’s Day which is kind of a conglomeration of  Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthday, both of which occur relatively close to each other during the second month of the year. This holiday always brings opportunity for presidential antidotes. This year is no exception and thanks to a recent gaffe committed by one of the rising “Tea Party” political stars, slavery is in the news today, especially in the way it relates to the founding fathers.

Many of the Founding Fathers owned slaves including George Washington, who owned slaves, but also willed that they be given their freedom after both he and his wife had passed away. In fact this was a mildly popular sentiment that was common at the end of the Revolutionary War. Unfortunately, the beginning of the 19th century saw an increase in the slave traffic from Africa. This created much strife in the USA, a fact of life, which did not get resolved into the Civil War.

In years gone by, I use to enjoy railing against our first president, not so much because he owned slaves, but because the site of our nation’s capitol was named for the first general of the War for Independence and might have possibly been built on land that he once owned.

However, a quick bit of research, proved that this was not quite the case.  Though close to the present day District of Columbia, Mt. Vernon never included the land along the Potomac that is now the nation’s seat. Nonetheless, Washington did choose the sight for the new capitol, based on excursions he had once made along the Potomac in the years prior to the war. And the site was chosen because our first president considered to be one of the most beautiful locales in the original thirteen.

From this brief bit of research came another fascinating tidbit about Washington’s life. And that was his ideas on religious tolerance and separation of  church and state, a new concept that ranked very high in George’s attitude. Thanks to modern-day historians we know that Washington attended many different services, including Episcopalian, Quaker and Roman Catholic. When George was at home he did not attend church every Sunday, but often spent the Lord’s day writing letters, conducting business or fox hunting. When he did attend church at home he went to the local Anglican church, where he used to sit with the other Virginia gentry as was the custom of the day. Though once the war ended, George would always sit with the commoners and never did return to his respected place among the privileged.

And finally, it is fairly common knowledge that our first president definitely enjoyed his spirits.  Mount Vernon annually produced a large amount of whiskey, which was sold and traded throughout the region. In fact so much was produced that today the old plantation site is now part of the American Whiskey Trail.

Life of George Washington - The Farmer, lithograph by  Junius Brutus Stearns, 1853
Life of George Washington - The Farmer, lithograph by Junius Brutus Stearns, 1853

A Night In Old New Orleans
A Night In Old New Orleans
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