Mount Vernon, The Birthplace and Residence of George Washington, 1853
Mount Vernon, The Birthplace and Residence of George Washington from Gleason's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, 1853.
John Washington and Nicholas Spencer received a five thousand acre tract of land from land owned by Thomas Colepeper. John's son Lawrence inherited his father's share following John's death, in 1677. He agreed to divide the land with Nicholas Spencer's heirs in 1690, with Spencer taking the larger portion, along the Dogue Creek, and Washington taking the the northern section, along the Little Hunting Creek. The property passed to Lawrence's daughter Mildred, in 1698, who sold the Potomac River estate to her brother Augustine in 1726. Augustine arranged the estate for his eldest son, Lawrence, in 1738, and moved back to Fredericksburg at the end of the following year. However, Augustine had legal control over the land while Lawrence served in the British Army during the War of Jenkin's Ear (1739-1743). He had a modest farmhouse built, in 1741-42, overlooking the Potomac River. When Lawrence died, in 1752, a life estate was set up for his widow Anne, with his younger half-brother George receiving the remaining interest.
George Washington (1732-1799) had already been living there and was most likely managing the plantation when his brother died. Anne soon remarried and moved off the property. When Lawrence's son died in 1754, George began leasing the estate from his sister-in-law. When she died in 1761, George became the owner of Mount Vernon, which had been named such by his brother after British Admiral Edward Vernon. He expanded and rebuilt the house twice, doubling its size with each campaign. The first was begun, in 1757, and the second shortly before the start of the American Revolution. George expanded the acreage of the property by buying up neighboring plots of land. In 1766, he ceased growing tobacco in favor of other crops such as wheat and other grains. Washington also had a grist mill and distillery on the property to further expand Mount Vernon's exports. He also had the grounds landscaped adding several gardens to the property. After his death, in 1799, Mount Vernon passed to relatives who did not have the means of maintaining the estate and by the late 1840s was in danger of falling into a state of disrepair.
In 1853 Louise Dalton Bird Cunningham saw the poor condition of the mansion and wrote her daughter Ann proposing they do something to save it. She also wrote to a South Carolina newspaper calling on the women of America to rescue George Washington's home. The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association was thus founded, with women from each of the existing thirty states acting as Vice-Regents, making it the first national women's organization in the country. A massive fundraising campaign was organized with the plan being to raise the money so that Virginia could purchase Mount Vernon and the Association would handle its care. However, the bill approving the purchase failed to pass. John Augustine Washington, Jr. therefore agreed to sell it directly to the Association, since he insisted Mount Vernon be preserved as a historic site. The agreement was that Washington would sell the mansion, outbuildings, and two hundred acres of land to the Association for two hundred thousand dollars. The Ladies Association took possession on February 22, 1860, and still operates and maintains the property today. Mount Vernon receives no federal or state financial aid relying instead on revenue from admission, sales and donations.
Frederick Gleason (1817-1896) was a publisher from Germany stationed in Boston, Massachusetts. He established Gleason's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion, in 1851. The illustrated periodical was considered an innovation in American publishing. In 1853 the Pictorial absorbed the Illustrated News, which was based in New York. Gleason was bought out, in 1855, by Maturin Murray Ballou, at which point the magazine became known as Ballou's Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion.
- Naomi Bean