A Legacy of Mourning
After Washington's death, there was an immediate demand for commemorative books and mementos, often illustrated with fanciful depictions of his tomb at Mount Vernon.
Mason Locke Weems. The Life of George Washington: A history of the life and death, virtues and exploits of General George Washington; faithfully taken from authentic documents, and now, in a 3d edition, improved. Philadelphia: Re-printed by John Bioren, for the author, 1800. Understanding the American literary market, Mason L. Weems (1759-1825) created anecdotes to make Washington more interesting, including the apocryphal cherry tree story. An early best-seller in the United States, this book's original 1800 edition was later revised and enlarged. By Weems's death, twenty-nine editions had been published.
Legacies of Washington. Trenton: Printed by Sherman, Mershon & Thomas, 1800. This book contains a collection of Washington's public speeches and writings, a brief biography, an account of his death, the resolutions passed by Congress in response to Washington's death, and Henry Lee's funeral oration.
John Blair Linn. The Death of Washington. A poem. In Imitation of the Manner of Ossian. Philadelphia: Printed by John Ormrod, 1800. John B. Linn (1777-1804), a minister of Philadelphia's First Presbyterian Church, wrote this poem in the Ossianic epic poetry tradition. Named after a legendary third-century Irish warrior-poet, and revived by the Scottish poet James Macpherson in the 1760s, this style of poetry was popular among the elite of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
The Washingtoniana. Lancaster: Printed and sold by William Hamilton, 1802. This eclectic collection includes a sketch of the life and death of Washington, a compilation of eulogies, memorial orations, and commemorative poems, and his most famous speeches and writings, including his last will and testament.
Visitors at the Tomb
American citizens and visitors from abroad continued to visit Mount Vernon as they did during Washington's lifetime, but now they came to pay homage at the tomb of the great hero and their respects to the "venerable Old Lady" of the house. Although the Washington family longed for peace and quiet, especially after Martha's death in 1802, it continued the high standards of hospitality for which Mount Vernon had been widely known thoughout Washington's lifetime.
Washington's remains originally rested in the vault constructed shortly after Washington inherited Mount Vernon from his brother Lawrence. They remained there undisturbed until his heirs built a new and larger tomb in compliance with directions given in Washington's last will and testament. Then in April 1831, all the caskets in the old family tomb were transferred to the new vault:
The family Vault at Mount Vernon requiring repairs, and being improperly situated besides, I desire that a new one of Brick, and upon a larger Scale, may be built at the foot of what is commonly called the Vineyard Inclosure, on the ground which is marked out. In which my remains, with those of my deceased relatives (now in the old Vault) and such others of my family as may chuse to be entombed there, may be deposited.
Empaneled above the gated entrance to the new tomb is the statement, "Within this enclosure rest the remains of General George Washington." Two marble sarcophagi lie within: one holds the remains of George Washington and the other Martha Washington. Other family members are interred in the rear of the open vault, enclosed behind a square iron door, while some are buried outside the gated tomb.
Washington's final resting place as well as his beloved home, Mount Vernon, are presently in the care of the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, which was founded in 1858 when the association purchased the estate from Washington's great-grandnephew John Augustine Washington, III.