Fact: Washington never had wooden teeth and it has never been confirmed that he chopped down a cherry tree, either.
The first time I visited Mount Vernon was during my 10th grade American Studies trip to Washington D.C. We were there to see the inauguration of President Obama for his second term. As I have stated in previous blog posts, I have realized that I do not remember the details of my trips to Washington like I thought. I remembered the grounds, all of the gardens, and the famous Key to Bastille hanging in the hallway. But, I forgot its beauty and the historical significance of Washington’s way of life. I do not remember going through the museums and seeing unusual artifacts such as Washington’s dentures. I was excited to have the opportunity to visit Mount Vernon again.
Our boat took off from the National Harbor, and the scenery was amazing. The temperature was just right, and the breeze kept it even cooler.
The guides on the boat had a lot of fun giving their history lesson while cracking jokes. The most interesting thing I learned was when John Smith sailed down the river, he wrote in his journal that the water was clear enough to see right to the bottom, and that cobblestones that lined the bed of the river. He also wrote about the sea monsters that swam among them. The guide said that this account was actually true. The water in the Potomac River was clear enough to see right to the bottom because large oysters heavily lined the bed. These oysters were a lot bigger than what we encounter today, so describing them as cobblestones would have been a good guess. The water was so clear because the oysters would eat the phytoplankton and spit out clean water. The sea monsters would have been eels and water snakes. Due to the Oyster Wars in the late 1800s, the beds were basically left dry, which severely altered the river’s ecosystem. Today, the Potomac looks green, and you certainly cannot see the bottom of the river. However, this does not mean the river is dirty or polluted. The green color comes from the phytoplankton, and it means the river is in a healthy condition. In fact, the Potomac River is one of the cleanest in the nation.
While at Mount Vernon, we walked the grounds, visited the tomb, and toured the house. As I was waiting in line, and man dressed in period clothing approached a group of us and asked where we were from. I answered Arizona (obviously) and the others answered that they were from nearby states. Then, a man asked, “Is this what they would have worn during that time?” The man in period clothing answered, “I do not know what you speak of, sir. As I am wearing clothing that is quite usual.” The actor was the “grandson” of Washington, and guests had to be sure to talk to him as if we were in his present time. All around the grounds were people in period dress. Some were in the blacksmith house creating actual metal works, and some were on the farm spinning yarn. We even saw Martha Washington giving her unscripted account of any question she was asked.
The tour of the house was fun and seeing the bed on which Washington died was a bit eerie, but still cool. When looking around the storage houses, smoke rooms, and assistant quarters, we found Washington’s own little garden. There is where he would study plants and observe them to see if they would do well in large crops. I never knew that Washington was passionate about agriculture.
The other major area of interest for me was the slave quarters and the museum exhibit that gave accounts to the slaves that lived on the property. My take-away from the museum was the paradox between Washington was trying to free the people of the colonies from the tyranny of British rule, while enslaving others. The film at the end of the museum featured the direct descendants of the slaves, and their outlook on the matter was rather positive. Their goal is to ensure that people realize the role that the slaves played, and how their role enabled Washington to be the leader he was. Throughout the exhibit, there were many suggestions that Washington was not keen to the idea of slavery, and respected those who opposed the idea. Yet, he made no effort towards advancing African Americans. It is an interesting topic to contemplate, and something that I would like to study further.
On Friday, Brigette, Alex, and I went to Matt’s house for dinner. It was a wonderful evening full of good food. It was great to have a home cooked meal surrounded by great people. During our discussions, I came to find that not being everyone’s friend is fine. It may be hard to accept, but it is life.
Thanks to Suzette for planning such a fun trip! And, thank you to Matt for a wonderful dinner!