My heart was racing as if I were still a school boy. It’s hard to imagine while driving through a typical suburban subdivision and then suddenly there’s the sign — Mt Vernon is 1 mile ahead!!
My mind conjures a series of memories: chopping down the cherry tree, father of our country, wooden teeth and military leader.
Walking onto the grounds one is immediately struck by the serenity of Mount Vernon. The house — truly a mansion appears framed by large oak and ash trees. From a distance the white stone looks amazing. It is not until we get beside the house that we learn it is made of Virginia pine. The white stone appearance is an illusion created by painting the wood white quickly followed by tossing of sand against the walls. Once the paint dries the house has a faux stone look — feels like it too.
Peering past the house one sees the Potomoc River gracefully sweeping behind the estate. Looking up and down the river there is no activity to be seen. In Washington’s time the herring and sturgeon were so plentiful that one could almost walk across the river on the backs of the fish; and dipping a net into the water for a few minutes could easily capture hundreds of fish. This is river view from the mansion — Maryland lies across the way.
The Washington’s played host to hundreds of visitors annually — the nine bedrooms were in constant use. The custom at the time was to take in any caller whether they be famous or not. Certainly, many of the leaders of the revolution were guests at Mount Vernon. One of the most famous was the Marquis de Lafayette. He was responsible for giving Washington a most unusual gift–the key to the Bastille which he acquired when the prison was destroyed by the Parisian mobs during the French Revolution. The key still hangs in the foyer of the mansion.
Washington proudly considered himself to be a farmer. He put considerable effort into self sufficiency as he nurtured his plantation into a major money making operation. Eventually he became one of the wealthiest men in the country thanks to the bounty produced at Mount Vernon.
He had orchards, vegetable gardens, lifestock and he even made his own whiskey.
Washington invented a new means of milling grain for the production of whiskey–a circular barn in-which horses would walk on layers of grain spread on the floor until the kernels were loosened and dropped to the bins below. The grain would be taken to his distillery…largest in the country at that time and turned into whiskey that was sold throughout the United States.
Mount Vernon was a plantation and as such slaves were used to work the land. Like many of our forefathers Washington recognized that slavery was an evil that had to eventually be eliminated. However, in life Washington lacked the courage to free them; freedom came upon his death per his last will and testament. One fascinating fact is that he freed Martha’s slaves as well. However, under Virginia law this was illegal and so her slaves were re-captured and kept at Mount Vernon until her death when she finally set them free.
Both George and Martha Washington are buried in a crypt located on the property per his will. It is a humble ending for such a significant person — no surprise to those who knew him.
It is still amazing to consider that at the end of the Revolutionary War Washington, who was at the apex of his power surrendered control to Congress and the people.. Many called for him to be named king and at the time he could have easily become a king since he controlled the army. Instead Washington resigned his commission and went back to Mount Vernon. For this we should all be eternally grateful because his unselfish actions set the tone for the eventual establishment of our current governmental structure; thus ensuring that the transfer of power would be a bloodless political action completed peaceably through an electoral process held every four years.
Looking back over 221 years it is hard not to be grateful for the leaders who we now refer to as our forefathers and especially to celebrate George Washington who truly was a giant among the giants at that time.
A visit to Mount Vernon would not have felt complete without eating a meal based on colonial cuisine that was typically served by Martha Washington.
We shared a mug of peanut soup as a luncheon starter. This tasted like warm liquid peanut butter and it had a bit of a crunch since whole peanuts were mixed into the liquid. My wife feasted on salmon corn cakes with root vegetables and rice. I thoroughly enjoyed a cassoulet of white beans, sausage and duck leg under garlic breadcrumbs. And for dessert we shared homemade bread pudding. Everything was based on original Mount Vernon recipes.