Sunday, February 9, 2014

Places: Birthplace of an Icon

The Man from  Pope?

Okay - I made a really bad pun linking His Excellency to His Elvisness.  George Washington was actually born on a small tobacco plantation near Pope's Creek, Virginia. Not exactly Hope, AK. Since this is his birth month I thought I'd do a few short blogs to fill some of the blanks on his early days.

The reconstructed house today
Washington's great-grandfather settled the plantation in 1657 at the original site on Bridges Creek but the family later acquired more land on nearby Popes Creek.  That is where the first section of the house in which George Washington was born was built. The house was erected before 1718 but  his father later enlarged it. This was a familiar pattern for home dwellers in 18th century America. The home was again enlarged and by the mid -1770s had grown into a ten-room house, known as "Wakefield". The original house was destroyed by fire and flood on Christmas Day, 1779, and never rebuilt. But some thirty-two graves of Washington family members contained in cemetery plot. These include Washington's half-brother,his  father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.

Life on the Farm

Tobacco plantations required hard
labor by slaves to prosper
Was NOT kinda laid back. To keep a plantation from the debtors hard work by all was the norm. All meaning the slaves, of course.  Washington's father cultivated tobacco on his several plantations, which was labor intensive, involving the work of enslaved Africans and African Americans. By the time George Washington was born, the population of the Virginia colony was 50 percent black, most of whom were enslaved. An estimated "20 or so" slaves worked on the small tobacco farm at Popes Creek, during the time that Washington lived there.

How did they get there?

Well, by boat silly. In 1657, an English merchant ship sailed up the Potomac River, anchored in Mattox Creek, and took on a cargo of tobacco. With her new load, the ship ran aground on a shoal and sank. During the delay, a young officer, John Washington, His Excellency's great-grandfather became friends with a local planter, Colonel Nathaniel Pope. He became smitten with Pope's daughter Anne.  So instead of leaving when the ship was ready to set sail John Washington stayed behind and married Anne. This marks the beginning the Washington family  in America.  Colonel Pope gave the newly wed Washingtons a sweet wedding gift - 700 acres  on Mattox Creek four miles to the east.  John Washington eventually expanded his land holdings to 10,000 acres.  In 1664, he moved his family to a property on Bridges Creek.  John's son Lawrence was born in 1659. He inherited the most of his father’s estate.  Lawrence had a son named Augustine in 1694. Augustine inherited some property from his father but acquired more on his own. His holdings eventually included a sprawling plantation on Pope’s Creek.  Somewhere along the way he acquired an iron furnace near Fredericksburg.

Moving on Up

Before it was Mount Vernon
The Potomac, that is. The Popes Creek property had a small house that Augustine expanded into a middle-sized  manor house.  It was here that George Washington, the first son of his second marriage, was born on February 22, 1732.
Young George lived there until 1735, when  his father moved the family further north to a plantation called Little Hunting Creek. Later, Little Hunting Creek would  be given a new name: Mount Vernon.

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