George Washington: life and legacy
These fascinating books shed light on lesser known chapters in the life and legacy of George Washington. The Virginia native, born on February 22, 1732, never lived in the White House. However, there are several sites in the area with which he is associated that are well worth reading about and visiting.
Young Washington: How Wilderness and War Forged America’s Founding Father, by Peter Stark, 528 pages, Ecco paperback, 2019
Author and outdoorsman Peter Stark brings to life the world of the mid-18th century — the stratification of Virginia colonial society, the role of Native American tribes, and the nature of military campaigns.
Young Washington focuses on his formative experiences from his early 20s until his marriage to the widow Martha Custis at age 27.
Follow Washington’s failures, defeats, rashness and poor judgment under difficult and life-threatening circumstances. Marvel at his sangfroid under fire and how he compensated for his lack of formal education.
Explore how he tempered his strong emotions and learned to collaborate with the British hierarchy and colonial allies in the course of pursuing a life of honor, fortune and fame in the British colony of Virginia.
George Washington Birthplace National Monument in Colonial Beach, Virginia, 70 miles from D.C., depicts the landscape and culture of Washington’s family farm and includes a replica of his boyhood home. Details at nps.gov/gewa.
Fort Necessity National Battlefield in Farmington, Pennsylvania, is a scenic 180-mile drive from D.C. Admission is free, and the battlefield is open year-round. Learn more at nps.gov/fone.
In the Hurricane’s Eye: The Genius of George Washington and the Victory at Yorktown, by Nathaniel Philbrick, 384 pages, Penguin Books paperback, 2019
In this well researched book, Nathaniel Philbrick, a prolific author of popular works on early American, Colonial and maritime history, describes unheralded victories on the final path to American independence.
In the Hurricane’s Eye examines not only the clash at Yorktown, but the last years of the Revolutionary War as well as the personalities and fighting styles of the opposing military leaders.
The Battle of the Chesapeake made victory at Yorktown achievable. Read about Washington’s setbacks and frustrations trying to direct and persuade the French, a major power, to cooperate and coordinate with him.
In 1781, hurricanes in the Caribbean brought the French fleet to the more tranquil Atlantic shores to join the fight. The key role of Spanish diplomat Francisco Saavedra in supplying the French fleet is hardly remembered today.
Learn about the nature of seamanship and the tactics of naval warfare in the 18th century. Readers will find the detailed narrative and accompanying 12 maps and battle diagrams enlightening.
The Yorktown Battlefield is 165 miles from D.C. Details at nps.gov/york.
The Property of the Nation: George Washington’s Tomb, Mount Vernon, and the Memory of the First President, by Matthew R. Costello, 352 pages, University Press of Kansas hardcover, 2019
In 1797, our nation’s first president retired to Mount Vernon, Virginia, the estate he had leased from his widowed sister-in-law in 1754.
After eight years at the nation’s helm in New York and Philadelphia, Washington resumed a quiet life as a gentleman farmer for the remaining two years of his life. While his remains were moved within Mount Vernon to a larger crypt, his body was never re-interred in the nation’s capital as some had advocated.
The Property of the Nation tells the story of how Washington was memorialized following his death in 1799. Washington’s life was re-interpreted by biographers and molded by future generations. The estate itself eventually passed from Martha’s descendants to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.
The exponential growth of commerce and the increasing democratization of the nation reshaped the manner in which Washington’s life was commemorated by biographers, political leaders, descendants and Virginians, including enslaved people.
Mount Vernon became a place of pilgrimage for Americans and — most inspiring — foreign statesmen espousing democratic ideals. Today, one million visitors are welcomed there annually.
Matthew R. Costello, senior historian of the White House Historical Association, has written an engrossing story tracing how this historical figure has been remembered. More than 30 black-and-white illustrations, which accompany the text, bring the tale to life.
Mount Vernon is 20 miles from D.C. Plan your own pilgrimage online at mountvernon.org.