Virginia has long held the nickname of “the mother of presidents,” and surely its most famous native son was the first president, George Washington. His birthplace in Westmoreland County, now a national monument, can be visited today and often features living history performers demonstrating what life was like in the times he knew. George Washington’s Virginia, by John R.
In traditional biographies of the Washingtons, the subject of slavery rarely comes up, or, if it does, it is given a paragraph or perhaps a chapter to explain the “peculiar institution” as it related to the first First Family. There is nothing like a personal story—a slave’s personal and true story—to get a deeper perspective. In Erica Armstrong Dunbar’s Never Caught: The Washingtons’ Relentless Pursuit of Their Runaway Slave Ona Judge, that is exactly what we have.
The Washington Monument’s starkly simple design and imposing presence on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., both belies the complex machinations that led to its construction and embodies the singularity of George Washington, in whose honor it was erected.
The year 2002 celebrated the 250th anniversary of the foundation of "George Washington's Mother Lodge." According to the authors of The History of Freemasonry in Virginia, "Fredericksburg Lodge No. 4 stands out as one of the brightest Lodges in the early history of Freemasonry in Virginia." Since 1752 it has maintained a continuous Masonic presence in Fredericksburg. Many of the town's prominent citizens have been members, and many of its prominent buildings have Masonic cornerstones.
"Fredericksburg; may it increase and its commerce flourish." --Toast by George Washington, 1784
Fredericksburg-area residents and visitors have the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of Washington and Lincoln. Both presidents were entertained lavishly across the river at Chatham estate, but under very different circumstances.
To Washington, this small town of Fredericksburg was his childhood home, populated by many friends and relatives. His sojourns here are noted in his diary with a pleasant familiarity. Lincoln's view of Fredericksburg could hardly be of greater contrast, for Fredericksburg was a Union-occupied town, and although the president was certainly welcomed by his own men, he was not welcomed by Confederate townspeople. In the chill of that December, Fredericksburg would become the site of one of the Union's worst defeats.
What was it like to live long ago when Virginia belonged to England? When there were no cars, no computers, few hospitals and no free public schools?
Without cars, trains or airplanes, people traveled by boat, horseback or on foot by "shank's mare". The reason so many colonial towns were located next to rivers is that often the roads were terrible seas of mud. It was so much easier to travel on the rivers!
Ferry Farm is best known as the childhood home of George Washington, though it has a history that predates the Washington occupancy.
The Founding Foodies, by Dave DeWitt, is an easy-going chat on matters historic and gastronomic in the Old Dominion and beyond. DeWitt dismisses some food writers’ contentions that colonial food was poor stuff. Having attended Mr. Jefferson’s university and being thus familiar with the third president’s many accomplishments, he knew that this common opinion was surely an overgeneralization. Jefferson, as well as Washington and Franklin, were trend-setters—learned men who easily absorbed and promulgated cultured styles of fashion, philosophy, architecture, and, yes, food, derived European trends, especially their French allies.
Besides these Founding Fathers’ culinary preferences, DeWitt also looks at curious historical periods of Virginia history where food, or lack of same, played a noteworthy role. At Jamestown, the horrors of spoiled ships’ rations and the colonists’ inexperience with hunting and fishing made them very dependent on the native tribes’ shared knowledge. They did learn to hunt and fish which was well since the supply ship was delayed, nearly resulting in John Smith being hanged. Desperate to turn a profit in the days before tobacco, the settlers took up fishing on a grand scale—thousands of pounds of salted cod to England and dried fish to Spain.
One of Fredericksburg's leading citizens was either a patriot or a traitor, depending on whether you favored coats of Tory red or Revolutionary blue.
With steaming cups in hand, today's Fredericksburg area coffee shops continue a tradition which dates back three centuries to the founding of the town.
Walk in gentlemen, rest at your ease,
Pay for what you call for, and call for what you please.
This verse hung over the doorway of The Coffee House in old Fredericksburg. Located in the first Market House/Town Hall on Caroline Street near William, it was here that 18th- and 19th-century Fredericksburgers sipped their favorite brew and pondered questions from the political to the classical.