Thousands of miles away sat George Washington, only a month and a half into his presidency. He would not learn of the storming of the Bastille until September, and he would not acknowledge them until October 13/14. When he finally did, Washington only briefly discussed the revolutionary activity. His first responses are limited to five letters, three of which recycle the same uninterested reaction.
They say you crave what you cannot have. This was true for George Washington when it came to a formal education in the arts and sciences. Though his older half-brothers benefitted from schooling in England as adolescents, George did not. His father, Augustine Washington, died when George was only 11 years old, making it financially difficult for him to attend school. Although he was privately tutored in the following years, George Washington developed an insecurity about his lack of education and writing skills, which in turn motivated his words and actions, both public and private.
After growing up in Forsyth County, Ga., I was intrigued when I found a reference to Robert Forsyth in the Papers of George Washington. I had to dig deeper. And, boy, did the stories surrounding Robert Forsyth make it worth the effort!
More than just a man, George Washington is a symbol of our revolutionary spirit and democratic principles. Lydia Brandt, architectural historian and professor at the University of South Carolina, studies Mount Vernon, his home, to explore whether it holds similarly iconic status. In her new book, titled First in the Homes of His Countrymen: George Washington’s Mount Vernon in the American Imagination, Brandt surveys Mount Vernon’s memory in the American imagination. Recently, she sat down with us to reflect on the results of her investigation.
“You have to have a little ham in you,” James Madison recently told me. Or rather Kyle Jenks, the living history interpreter who portrays James Madison, told me.
Jenks and I were having lunch in Gordonsville, Virginia, just a few miles away from Madison’s home, Montpelier. I had the pleasure of meeting with Jenks and Tom Pitz, who plays Thomas Jefferson, to learn more about first-person historic interpretation.
The First American primarily focused on Washington’s role in the Revolutionary War, encouraging reflection on Washington’s extraordinary persistence in fighting and leading despite hardships and failures. But it was one specific instance that provoked my deeper appreciation for Washington as a leader who could balance noble ideals and everyday practicality.
Last week, Research Assistant Kathryn Gehred and I attended the National Humanities Alliance’s Advocacy Day in Washington, DC. The annual two-day event teaches humanities projects across the United States how to advocate among policymakers for equal or increased funding of institutions, such as the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).
The Washington Papers project stands poised to record the origins of the Franco-American alliance with the editing and publication of the final 16 volumes of the Revolutionary War Series, covering the years from 1780 to 1783. We are proud to announce a major new partnership with the Florence Gould Foundation, ensuring that these documents chronicling the most important period in the history of Franco-American relations are edited and published in time for the project’s completion in 2024.
At a time of the year when reflection is unavoidable, I am consistently drawn back to the story of the early years of Mount Vernon’s preservation. To me, this story is a testament to the strength of American determination, and a reminder of the beliefs and qualities that bind us together.
Associate Editor William M. Ferraro will soon be featured as an historical contributor in a documentary about James Monroe’s farm home Monroe Hill. As the film prepares to be debuted at the Virginia Film Festival, Ferraro sat down to answer questions about his experience in being a part of the documentary.