George Washington died in the master bedroom at Mount Vernon on December 14, 1799. The previous day he had gone on a horseback tour of his estate in freezing rain. Returning to his Mount Vernon soaked to the skin, he originally complained of a sore throat. During the night, however, the sore throat turned into a restriction of his throat that increasingly prevented him from breathing. His personal physician tried bleeding him several times to save his life, to no avail. He died in the master bedroom of Mount Vernon the following day with his closest companions at Mount Vernon by his bedside.
Saturday, May 23, 2009
George Washington was initially buried in the original family burial vault at Mount Vernon. Before his death, however, he had specified that a new brick burial vault be built to replace the crumbling original family vault. George Washington's body was moved to this new burial vault in 1831 after construction on it was completed.
When the U.S. Capitol was designed, a tomb underneath the rotunda was created with the intention that it be the burying place of George Washington. It was only because George Washington specified in his will that he instead be buried at the family burial vault at Mount Vernon that he is not buried under the U.S. Capitol.
Friday, May 22, 2009
The first biography of George Washington was written by Mason Locke Weems, also known as Parson Weems. He had served as the clergyman for Truro Parish chuch which George Washington attended before Weems went on to become a bookseller. While criticized for being fanciful in the stories he wrote about George Washington, including the story of Washington chopping down the cherry tree, Weem's biography of Washington is nevertheless important in helping us to understand the reverence in which George Washington was held by the country after his death.
The first authoritative biography of Washington was written In 1805-1807 By Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall
To write his 5 volume biography of George Washington, John Marshall had been given all of Washington's personal and public papers by Bushrod Washington, another U.S. Supreme Court justice who was the nephew of George Washington and had inherited the papers. John Marshall had previously fought in the American Revolution under George Washington. After the Revolution ended, he became the leading lawyer in Virginia and was eventually appointed both Secretary of State and Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court by John Adams, both positions which he briefly held jointly. As Secretary of State, John Marshall administered the presidential oath of office to newly elected President Thomas Jefferson, a distant cousin of John Marshall's. Despite being cousins, Marshall and Jefferson became hated rivals, with John Marshall being the principal spokeman of the Federalists and preserver of the traditions of George Washington and with Thomas Jefferson being the leader of the newly-formed opposition Democrat-Republican Party and an opponent of many of the policies of the Federalists. Ironically, despite Jefferson's opposition to a strong federal government, Jefferson ended up signing the Louisiana Purchase which doubled the size of the United States. Meanwhile, the political philosophy of George Washington lived on through John Marshall, who was our longest serving Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and who is credited with establishing the judiciary as the third principal branch of our govenment with his decision in Marbury v. Madison which stated that only the U.S. Supreme Court had the power to decision what laws were constitutional (i.e. judicial review).
Another author to write one of the first biographies of Washington was Aaron Bancroft who authored the "Life of George Washington" in 1807
Aaron Bancroft was an American clergyman who was a minuteman who fought at the battles of Lexington & Concord and at Bunker Hill. His son, George Bancroft, became a noted American historian, U.S. Secretary of the Navy, and ambassador to Great Britain. Like John Marshall, Aaron Bancroft wrote his biography to perpetuate the values and ideals of George Washington. He wrote his biography of George Washington after first writing an eulogy of George Washington upon Washington's death.
David Ramsay, M.D. was twice elected as a delegate to the Continental Congress. In 1789, he became one of the first historians of the American Revolution, publishing his two volume "History of the American Revolution." In 1807, he then published his biography of George Washington. David Ramsay was the son-in-law of John Witherspoon, a signer of the Declaration of Independence and delegate to the Continental Congress. John Witherspoon was one of the most important philosophers behind the American Revolution, having come from Scotland and been influenced by the writers of the Scottish Enlightment. In fact, Witherspoon was a descendant of John Knox, the founder of the Scottish Presbyterian Church. As President of the College of New Jersey (later renamed Princeton University), John Witherspoon was to have an important influence on many others, included both James Madison and Aaron Burr who were students who studied under him at Princeton. David Ramsay was also the son-in-law of Henry Laurens, and thus was related to South Carolina Governor Charles Pinckney. Finally, he was the brother of Congressman Nathaniel Ramsay, who was the brother-in-law of the famous painter Charles Willson Peale who had served on Washington's staff during the American Revolution and who went on to become along with Gilbert Stuart and John Trumbull one of the three primary painters of portraits of George Washington.
In 1834-37, Jared Sparks, the President of Harvard University who succeeded Edward Everett in this post, wrote a 12 volume biography of George Washington that included the writings of Washington. He then followed this was another biography of Washington in 1839. The latter is significant not only for its writings, but also for the many beautiful prints of Washington included in it.
Today, the author Washington Irving is perhaps best remembered for his short story "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." During his life, however, Irving was best known as a biographer of George Washington and various other famous individuals. His "Life of Washington" has gone through numerous printings after it first came out in 1855-59 and is still available in bookstores. Like the biography of Washington written by Jared Sparks, one reason for the popularity of Irving's biography of Washington was because of the numerous prints of Washington included in the volumes.
In 1860, Benson Lossing joined the list of authors who published popular biographies of George Washington. To write his biography, he interviewed and drew extensively upon the remembrances of George Washington Parke Custis, the adopted grandson that George Washington raised as his own son, and thus perhaps knew George Washington more intimately than anyone else. In this regard, above is a photograph of George Washington Parke Custis. Meanwhile, Benson Lossing became the most published American historian of his day, writing a pictorial field guide to the American Revolution where he interviewed many of the survivors (such as the wife of Alexander Hamilton) and inspected almost every known significant document and artifact from the American Revolution known to be available at his time. It is unfortunately that the practice of footnotes had yet to be developed, since Lossing provides detailed information about many aspects of the American Revolution, Mount Vernon, and George Washington whose source has since been forgotten. Yet one has to assume that Lossing had sources for his statements since so much of his writings have since been confirmed by the research of other historians and the discovery of original documents. Benson Lossing was a prolific writer who also wrote field guides to the War of 1812 and the Civil War, writing perhaps the first illustrated history of both wars. His first book, which was biographic sketches of the signers of the Declaration of Independence, was published in 1848. His next book, which was a field guide to the American Revolution, was published in 1850-52. Prioring to his writing a biography of Washington in 1860, he authored a book entitled "Mount Vernon and Its Associations" in 1859, which is still a classic about the history of George Washington's home. In 1870, he wrote another book on Washington entitled "Washington and the American Republic." And in 1873 he wrote his "Our Country: A Household History of the United States for All Readers, From the Discovery of America to the Present" - a book that helped to bring a history of the U.S. into all homes for the young and old alike.