It was purely by accident that the Washington family became established in a new world. The ship on which John Washington was first mate was wrecked in 1658 off the coast of Virginia.
John decided to remain in the new world. He married several times. Women were not permitted to own assets; often given to them as a dowry upon marriage. John inherited property from each wife when she died. By 1677, John, who arrived in America almost penniless, by virtue of his many marriages was well on his way to becoming a part of the landed gentry. In no way could he be considered in a class with the Byrds, who owned 15,000 acres, or the Carters, who owned more than that, or the Beverleys, who owned 37,000 acres. The majority of the farmers in Virginia owned only 150 acres of land.
The English custom of the eldest son inheriting all of his father’s estate was also followed. Lawrence Washington, George’s half-brother, was the eldest son and eventually inherited Mt. Vernon. After the death of Lawrence’s wife and daughter, George Washington inherited his estate as was stated in Lawrence’s will.
Long years ago, a friend who had been a Canadian told me she and her future husband left Canada to be married in the United States because the old French laws (a wife’s assets belonged to her husband) were still in place. I was astonished.
The Jewett family came in 1630 from England to Massachusetts. Originally Juet (French) came to England with William The Conqueror. An old will found in England states Jewett left his property to his wife, upon her death to be divided among remaining children and their issue. This was certainly unusual.
My families also did not follow the English law of progenitor (the eldest son gets it all). I guess a new land has a sense of fairness. Land grants in New England were not extensive. The land could no longer be divided. It could not support their large families. Men moved on west to hack farms out of the extensive forests.
Wealthy American heiresses wanted to marry titled Englishmen. The father stipulated she was to have her own money set aside and her husband could not touch it. It was beneath a titled man to engage in commerce. They could (and did) gamble away fortunes, but to “work” for a living was socially unacceptable. Younger sons came to America to seek their fortunes. Some tried cattle ranching in the west. Some were successful; others were not!
Why are Confederate flags still prominently still displayed in the South? Eight of my Edmondson Southern ancestors fought, were wounded and some died in the deciding battle of the Revolution — The Battle of King’s Mountain. They fought to preserve the Union. During the Civil War, my great grandmother left her home in Virginia and lived with her northern husband in Philadelphia. She could not dishonor her Edmondson grandmother’s family, who fought to preserve the Union. I was named for that grandmother.
George Washington, a Virginian, had advanced ideas about slavery. Thomas Jefferson owned many slaves and sent his 4 percent formula to Washington as an investment strategy for the future. Jefferson figured he could make 4 percent profits every year on the birth of a black child. He sent this to Washington, who freed his slaves precisely because slavery had made human beings into money like “cattle in the market” and this disgusted him. Martha Washington freed all her slaves in 1801.
Washington began raising wheat about 1738. Tobacco and cotton wore out the land and required many slaves. Wheat farming changed the relationship of slavery. George Washington diversified his crops and rotated them to build up the soil. He devised a way for horses (not slave labor) to thresh grain. Horses walked around the barn on a track; seeds from the thresh dropped between “cracks” made in the barn floor. In his greenhouse, he and his gardeners cultivated plants not native to Virginia. He also began a distillery.
Today, Washington’s library is private, unlike the 13 modern presidential libraries operated by the National Archives and Records Administration. Support our first and greatest president’s home and library. They receive no government funding. For more information, contact the Mount Vernon Ladies Association at 800-429-1520. Honor is due to our first president of the United States of America.
I used many reference books, but I wish to thank Rosie and Dave Olmstead for the wonderful book about George Washington.