George Washington Slept Here

Hiking yesterday in the Shenandoah Valley I discovered that I was on part of “Morgans Road”, which is a road George Washington had built into the hills to allow his army to retreat from the British in case things got really bad. “George Washington Planned To Sleep Here If Things Got Really Bad”. That was enough at the time of the bicentennial (1976) to put up another George Washington marker.

This includes a longish list of Washington sites I’ve run across, including a couple with family connections.

Figure 1: “George Washington Planned To Sleep Here” by George Jones is licenced under CC SA 4.0

Figure 1: “George Washington Planned To Sleep Here” by George Jones is licenced under CC SA 4.0

I’ve lived in northern Virgina for almost 20 years. 250 years later, there is still a mythos, and in some cases still oral tradition about George Washington everywhere you go from his home at Mount Vernon to Bunker Hill in Boston. Some of the most visible reminders (aside from Washington, DC and the Washington Monument) are all the “George Washington [did X] Here” signs.

The myth may be larger than life. The story about young George Washington saying “I can not tell a lie” when he cut down is father’s cherry tree is probably a fabrication. But there was a core of truth, a real man behind the legends that inspired those who knew him and the generations that followed.

Living in northern Virginia, you can hardly step outside without running into some “George Washington [did X] Here” memorial. Here is a top-of-the-head list of things I’ve run into in the past few years:

Neavil’s Ordinary
Neavil’s Ordinary (inn) is a few miles from my house. George Washington (and George Fairfax of Fairfax County fame) spent a night there on they way to survey land in the Shenandoah Valley.
Washington, VA
Washington himself surveyed and laid out the town of Washington “The First of them All” Virginia, the county seat of Rappahannock County.
A farm in New Jersey
Backpacking on the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey I spent a night camped behind the barn of a family that has owned the land since the revolution. They have an oral tradition that Washington came through and spent a night in the old farm house.
Winchester, VA
There is a “Washington’s Headquarters” site in Winchester, VA.
Longfellow House, Cambridge, MA
Then there is the house in Cambridge, MA (across the green from Harvard) that served as Washington’s headquarters during the siege of Boston and later as the home of the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. This one starts to get personal, as I am a cousin of some sort to Longfellow. We both go back to John Alden on the Mayflower. See Longfellow’s “The Courtship of Miles Standish”.
Fort Enochs/Fort Capon
This one is very personal. Turns out Washington commissioned my Great,Great,Great,Great,Great grandfather Lt. Colonel Henry Enochs to build a fort on his land during the French and Indian war. Of course, Washington did the land survey.

In the 20 years we’s spent living in Virginia driving back to Ohio regularly, we developed a route that goes through Bloomery, West Virginia which winds up cutting right past the sight of the fort (now unmarked on a bluff in a field). It is next to an old one-lane bridge. We did this before we knew of the fort or the family connection. I guess my ancestral lands were calling me home. In reality, much of my family kept moving west to Ohio, where Washington owned land. They were among the first settlers of Marietta, Ohio, the first town in the Northwest Territory and the seat of … Washingotn county.

Bacon Fort
Two weeks ago, on the way home from another hike I came across a marker for “Bacon Fort”, another “Ordinary” and former frontier fort at which Washington stopped.
Mount Vernon
And then there is Washington’s home of Mt. Vernon where he and wife Martha are buried. It is a private foundation and admission is free to people named “George” on his birthday. There is a harpsichord in the house that at least one 12 year old keyboard prodigy was allowed to play a few years back. This Mount Vernon is not to be confused with the town of Mount Vernon, Ohio which my high school played in football.
Culpepper, VA
A young Washington live in Culpeppr, VA a little south of where I live and joined the Masonic lodge there. Nice men from the Masons can be found at his grave from time to time honoring their brother and (a few years back) handing out coins to children with Washington’s image.
The National Road/Braddock’s Road
Then there was the time Washington and Braddock went to what is now Pittsburgh to try to dislodge the french at Fort Duquesne. Braddock wound up dead, buried under the road and Washington wound up hastily building Fort Necessity and signing surrender documents in French that he did not understand. And the French and Indian wars were off and running…
Other Washington sites
Over the years I’ve been to other sites associated with Washington: Valley Forge, The crossing of the Delaware, Independence Hall (Philadelphia ) New York, Yorktown.

The man got around Colonial America (see The George Washington Day By Day project)

To be fair there is, of course, another side to the “Settlement” story some of which is told by John Ruth in his book This Very Ground, This Crooked Affair. After seven generations, Ruth’s family can no longer afford to live on land they got directly from William Penn near Philadelphia. Penn, was “granted” all of Pennsylvania by the King of England despite the fact that there were already many people living there who had been there thousands of years…

But that said, man or myth, Washington was an inspiring character. He had flaws (don’t we all?).

I can not tell a lie. I think the take-home for me is to figure out what praiseworthy qualities Washington (or his myth) embodied and to at least try to add those qualities to my own life.

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