Stubborn Washington Spurned Kingdom
The Washington Times, 4 July 2000«back | home
By James C. Roberts
Today Americans will celebrate the birthday of the American republic.
But what if the Founders had created a monarchy instead?
All of his life, Paul Emory Washington has been bedeviled by the question:
"Are you related to George Washington?"
"No one believed me when I answered yes," says Mr. Washington, 73, a
resident of San Antonio, "so I just started saying no."
Emory Washington is indeed related to the first president. In fact, he
has a good claim to being head of the far-flung Washington clan in the
United States - a distinction that has made him the object of sporadic
media attention throughout the years.
If the residents of the victorious 13 Colonies had made George Washington
king following the end of the American Revolution, it is quite possible
that Paul Emory Washington would today occupy the throne of the American
This is not a totally fanciful idea. At the conclusion of the Revolution,
George Washington occupied a position of unchallenged authority in the
13 former Colonies, and there was strong sentiment in the Continental
Army for crowning him king. Washington was appalled by the idea and angrily
rejected it when it was broached to him by Col. Lewis Nicola, a Frenchman
who had served under Washington and is reported to have had a great deal
of influence with the officers in the Continental Army.
"Let me conjure you then," Washington admonished Nicola, "if you have
any regard for your country, concern for yourself or for posterity, or
respect for me, to banish these thoughts from your mind and never communicate,
as from yourself or any one else, a sentiment of like nature."
But what if he had decided differently? What if he had decided that
accepting the crown was the only way to preserve the fragile alliance
of the 13 Colonies from disintegrating into cannibalistic warfare? Who
would be king - or queen - today?
For starters, who would have been Washington's successor 200 years ago
following his funeral on Dec. 18, 1799?
Life magazine explored the succession question in detail in its Feb.
19, 1951, edition. Editors relied heavily on the research provided by
John A. Washington, now senior partner in the D.C. investment counsel
firm of Farr, Miller and Washington. John Washington is a descendant of
George Washington's brother, John Augustine, and has made the study of
the Washington family genealogy a lifelong hobby. There are an estimated
8,000 descendants of George Washington's siblings today, John Washington
says, fewer than 200 of whom bear the Washington surname.
"Ours is a very diverse clan," he adds. "There are Washington descendants
in all parts of the country in just about every conceivable occupation."
Among the more unlikely locales where today's descendants may be found
is the Fort Washakie Indian reservation in Wyoming where a number of the
Indians are descendants of a great grandson of Betty Washington, George's
Determining the line of succession is not a simple matter, as it turns
"To begin with, the general had no children," John Washington says, "and
that means one has to look at his brothers."
But again things are not so simple. The general had two older half-brothers
and three younger full brothers. Should the eldest half-brother or the
eldest full brother get the nod?
Life decided the eldest full brother's line would have had the stronger
claim, which means that the crown would have been inherited by John Thornton
Augustine Washington, aged 14, eldest grandson of George's brother Samuel,
who predeceased George in 1781. Samuel's son, Thornton, also predeceased
the general in 1787.
"But again things get complicated," John Washington says. "Do we follow
the primogeniture laws of the British royal family in which the title
goes to the eldest heir, male or female? Or do we follow the custom of
the British nobility, in which case the eldest male heir inherits the
Following the practice of the former, he determined that our sovereign
would now be Felix Craig of Nitro, W.Va.
Mr. Craig, 83, is a retired welder and church-camp director and a man
of modest means. If fate had turned slightly and George Washington had
accepted a crown, it is quite possible that Mr. Craig would be "Felix
the First," sovereign of the American empire.
Reached by phone, Mr. Craig was in fine spirits, despite suffering from
Parkinson's disease and the early stages of Alzheimer's (his diagnosis).
Following his retirement in 1979, Mr. Craig and his wife, Rachel, bought
an Airstream mobile home and spent much of their time traveling. They
are active in their local church and spend a good deal of time watching
television, particularly Mrs. Craig's favorite soap opera, "Days of Our
The Craigs have two children, two grandchildren and one great-grandson.
Their son, John, 47, is the heir apparent.
In a 1982 visit to California, the Craigs met Lawrence Washington, the
man Life decided had the strongest claim to the throne. A longtime engineer
with the Bechtel Corp., Lawrence died two years ago at 98. He had a daughter
but no sons. According to British primogeniture law, that would have made
him the last of his line. Using John Washington's reckoning, the title
then passed to Lawrence Washington's distant cousin, Paul Emory Washington,
Emory Washington has long been aware of his place in the Washington family
"I had a number of aunts who were active in the DAR," he says. "They
were very proud of having the Washington name in the family, and they
never let me forget who I was."
As for his status as heir to the throne? "It's been a family joke for
many years," he says.
For 40 years, Emory Washington worked for the Certain-Teed Corp., a manufacturer
and distributor of wholesale building materials headquartered, appropriately
enough, in Valley Forge, Pa., where General Washington and his rag-tag
army bivouacked in the difficult winter of 1778-79.
Following his retirement in 1988, Emory and his wife, Jo, bought a house
on a 10-acre lot in San Antonio. The couple enjoy their two horses, traveling
(mostly to Europe), and spending time with their four children and grandchildren.
Their eldest son, Richard, 47, is the heir-apparent and his son, Connor,
just celebrated his eighth birthday. Thus, the line of succession is secure
through most of the 21st century.
Emory Washington holds no regrets about what might have been.
"I think we've done real well without a king," he says, adding, "I can't
believe having one would have helped things." This does not lessen his
regard for his famous ancestor, however.
"I think George Washington was a great man," he says, "He was the right
man at the right time. We were lucky to have him."
James Roberts is president of Radio America.
© 2000 The Washington Times
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