Topic: Katie Lebert

George Washington: Muse, Patron, and Lover of the Arts

by Katie Lebert, Communications Specialist
May 31, 2017

That Washington was not a Schollar is certain. That he was too illiterate, unlearned, unread, for his Station and reputation is equally past dispute. He had derived little no Knowledge from Reading; none from Travel, except in the United States, and excepting one Trip in his youth to one of the West India Islands and directly back again. From Conversation in publick and private, he had improved considerably and by Reflection in his Closet, a good deal. He was indeed a thoughtful Man.1

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.2

Washington believed that books were useful to soldiers in their development of military acuity and discipline. Once, when his corps misbehaved, he suggested reading as an occupational necessity:

Remember, that it is the actions, and not the commission, that make the Officer—and that there is more expected from him than the Title. Do not forget, that there ought to be a time appropriated to attain this knowledge; as well as to indulge pleasure. And as we now have no opportunities to improve from example; let us read, for this desirable end. There is Blands and other Treatises which will give the wished-for information.3

Washington attended to the education of his adopted children and grandchildren as well, by providing them with books and tutors. Concerned that his stepson John Parke “Jacky” Custis did not appreciate his schooling, Washington advised Jacky’s instructor to more strongly divert the young man’s attentions from frivolities and back to his studies.4 To Washington’s alarm, his exhortations went unheeded. The Reverend Jonathan Boucher, Jacky’s tutor, complained:

In Truth, it is one of the worst Symptoms that I know of in Him, that He does not much like Books: & yet I have been endeavouring to allure Him to it, by every Artifice I cou’d think of. I hop’d that Cargo of Books wou’d have done it.5

When neither Jacky nor Martha acquiesced to Washington’s plea that Jacky complete his college education, Washington gave in, “contrary to [his] judgement.”6 Indeed, for Washington, a well-rounded education was necessary to render Jacky “useful to society.”7

George Washington’s honorary degree from Harvard College. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress. See Washington’s other honorary degrees by visiting their online collection of George Washington’s papers.

Such a belief reflected the 18th-century enlightenment idea that reason was the foundation of knowledge. Putting this into practice, then, required a commitment to intellectual self-improvement.

For the adult Washington, that meant reading. Consequently, he sought to amass a large and diverse library. Benefitting from the additions of the Custis estate, the Mount Vernon library boasted more than 1200 books at its largest size.8 Along with such reference tomes as A New and Complete Dictionary of Arts and Sciences, The World displayed; or a Curious Collection of Voyages and Travels and Cadmus: or, a Treatise on the Elements of Written Language, Washington collected works of history like The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire and novels including The History and Adventures of Don Quixote.9

In leading a young nation, Washington’s passion for education shines brightest. He frequently advocated for the establishment of a national university for the arts and sciences. The subject was so important to him that he included it in his undelivered first inaugural address (see paragraph 62), his first annual address to Congress, and his Farewell Address. He believed that such an institution was crucial to the cultivation of American values and to an understanding of the principles that governed democratic society.10

Though Washington would not see the establishment of such an institution in his lifetime, he personally invested in its future. In his last will and testament, Washington set aside money for a national university as well as for a school for orphan children.11

Educational institutions and organizations honored Washington by bestowing on him honorary degrees.12 For a man so enamored with the arts and sciences, it is even more fitting that his life would be celebrated in verse. A living muse, Washington was the subject of numerous songs and poems, among them one by renowned poet Phillis Wheatley.

Proceed, great chief, with virtue on thy side,

Thy ev’ry action let the goddess guide.

A crown, a mansion, and a throne that shine,

With gold unfading, Washington! be thine.13



  1. “From John Adams to Benjamin Rush, 22 April 1812,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, [This is an Early Access document from The Adams Papers. It is not an authoritative final version.]
  2. David Humphreys, The Life of General Washington (Athens, Ga., 2006), 6.
  3. “Address, 8 January 1756,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, Also available in print: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series 2: 256–58.
  4. “From George Washington to Jonathan Boucher, 16 December 1770,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, Also available in print: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series 8: 411–12.
  5. “To George Washington from Jonathan Boucher, 18 December 1770,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, Also available in print: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series 8: 413–17.
  6. “From George Washington to Myles Cooper, 15 December 1773,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, Also available in print: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series 9: 406–7.
  7. “From George Washington to Benedict Calvert, 3 April 1773,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, Also available in print: The Papers of George Washington, Colonial Series 9: 209–11.
  8. Amanda C. Issac, Take Note!: George Washington the Reader (2013).
  9. Ibid. See also Mount Vernon’s catalogue of George Washington’s Library:
  10. “From George Washington to the United States Senate and House of Representatives, 8 January 1790,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, Also available in print: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series 4: 543–49.
  11. “George Washington’s Last Will and Testament, 9 July 1799,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, Also available in print: The Papers of George Washington, Retirement Series 4: 479–511.
  12. “From George Washington to the President and Faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, 20 April 1789,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, Also available in print: The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series 2: 86–87.
  13. “Enclosure: Poem by Phillis Wheatley, 26 October 1775,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017, Also available in print: The Papers of George Washington, Revolutionary War Series 2: 242–44.

Connections to Local History: A Short Biography of Robert Forsyth

by Katie Lebert, Communications Specialist
April 10, 2017

I grew up in Forsyth County, Ga., a suburb of Atlanta. Although I left Forsyth some time ago, I will always be interested in my home county’s history. So, it is a happy circumstance for me that my work here at The Washington Papers occasionally affords an opportunity to indulge that interest.

Recently, while researching the Judicial Act of 1789 through our project’s digital edition, I happened upon George Washington’s appointments for the positions created by the act. At the time, I was interested specifically in one appointee, John Jay. But since I had the document already pulled up, I thought I would go ahead and browse the list of appointees for the state of Georgia. One name in particular caught my eye: Robert Forsyth. Might this be the man who put the Forsyth in Forsyth County?

A simple search said no. He was, however, the father of John Forsyth, the man for whom my home county would be named. Curious, I dug a little deeper. And, boy, did the stories surrounding Robert Forsyth make it worth the effort!

Born in Scotland in 1754, Robert Forsyth relocated to Fredericksburg, Va., a few years before the outbreak of the American Revolution.1 During the war, he served in a variety of positions, including deputy quartermaster general, as well as captain and later major in Major Henry Lee’s Partisan Corps.2 He eventually settled into a position as deputy commissary of purchases for Virginia.3 The new role prompted Washington to write to Forsyth:

I am always sorry to lose a good officer or when the circumstances of his affairs render his resignation necessary—I feel myself however in this instance pleased that we are not to be deprived of your services, but that we are still to enjoy their usefulness in another line of the army—Under this idea I the more willingly at this time acquiesce in your resignation.4

(<a href="">U.S. Marshals Service).</a>

After the Revolutionary War, Forsyth moved to Georgia with his wife, the former Fanny Johnson Houston, and their two children, Robert (b. 1778) and John (b. 1780).5 In 1789, Washington appointed Forsyth marshal for the state of Georgia—an appointment that would prove fateful.6

On Jan. 11, 1794, Forsyth tried to serve civil papers, “from a principle of decency,” to a man named Beverly Allen, “a methodist preacher whose character is as vile as it is possible.”7 Unsurprisingly, Allen did not welcome Forsyth’s arrival. Barricading himself in a locked room, Allen threatened to shoot if Forsyth did not leave. With a loaded gun aimed at the still-closed door, the preacher followed through on his promise. Beverly Allen shot and killed Major Robert Forsyth.8

Soon after being apprehended for killing Forsyth, Allen escaped jail and took refuge in the home of his brother. Thirty men surrounded the home and threatened to set it ablaze. Only after the house was engulfed in flames did Allen apparently emerge. The “allaccomplished [sic] villain” supposedly escaped jail once more, never to be apprehended again.9

And so, without justice, Forsyth’s family was left “to mourn his unhappy fate.”10 Robert Forsyth’s elder son would die just a few years later, but his younger son, John, would lead an auspicious life of his own account. His long political career included stints as a Georgia congressman and governor, U.S. minister to Spain, and secretary of state to presidents Andrew Jackson and Martin Van Buren.11

Robert Forsyth’s legacy may not loom as large as that of his son, but his name still commands respect. He is remembered as the first U.S. marshal killed in the line of duty and was clearly beloved.12 A letter published in a newspaper following his death declared that Forsyth was so “highly revered” and such a “useful and pleasant member of society” that his “removal from this scene of things affords a most striking and instructive lesson of mortality.”13 Similarly, the stone on his grave informs all future visitors that Forsyth “left [an] impression on his Country and friends more durably engraved than this Monument.”14

Words of praise for Forsyth also reached George Washington as eager applicants lauded the man they hoped to replace through presidential appointment. One applicant for Forsyth’s vacant post went so far as to offer his potential earnings to a fund for the Forsyth family.15  Congress soon made a similar gesture when, on June 7, 1794, in “an act to make provision for the widow and orphan children of Robert Forsyth,” it granted $2,000 to Mrs. Forsyth “for the use of herself and the children.”16

Robert Forsyth is still recognized today. In 1981, the U.S. Marshals Service created an award in his honor, which commemorates “a U.S. Marshals Service employee who has demonstrated unusual courage, good judgment, and competence in hostile circumstances, or who has performed an act or service which saved the life of another person while endangering his/her own life.”17



  1. Forsyth de Fronsac, Memorial of the Family. Forsyth de Fronsac, Frédéric Gregory. Memorial of the Family of Forsyth de Fronsac. Boston, 1903, p. 35; Jeffries, History of the Family.    Jeffries, Jennie Forsyth. A History of the Forsyth Family. Indianapolis, 1920, pp. 49-50.
  2. “General Orders, 23 July 1778,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017,; “To George Washington from Major Henry Lee, Jr., 22 August 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017,; Forsyth de Fronsac, Memorial of the Family, 35; Jeffries, History of the Family, 49.
  3. Greene Papers. Richard K. Showman et al., eds. The Papers of General Nathanael Greene, 13 vols. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1976-2005, 4:362, 460.
  4. “From George Washington to Captain Robert Forsyth, 5 September 1779,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017,
  5. Forsyth de Fronsac, Memorial of the Family, 35-6.
  6. “From George Washington to the United States Senate, 24 September 1789,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017,
  7. “Augusta, January 18,” The Augusta Chronicle and Gazette of the State (Augusta, Ga.), Jan. 18, 1794; “Extract of a Letter from Savannah, Jan. 29,” Columbian Gazetteer (New York), Feb. 13, 1794.
  8. Ibid.
  9. “Georgia. Augusta, June 19,” The Medley or Newbedford Marine Journal (New Bedford, Mass.), Aug. 4, 1794; Ernst, Robert R., and George R. Stumpf.Deadly affrays: the violent deaths of the United States Marshals. Edited by Sharon A. Cunningham and Mark Boardman. Avon, Ind., 2006, pp. 93-4.
  10. “Extract of a Letter,” Columbian Gazetteer, Feb. 13, 1794.
  11. Forsyth de Fronsac, Memorial of the Family, 35-6; Jeffries, History of the Family, 50.
  12. “Northern District of Georgia History.” U.S. Marshals Service. Accessed April 5, 2017.
  13. “Augusta, January 18,” The Augusta Chronicle, Jan. 18, 1794.
  14. “Northern District of Georgia History.” U.S. Marshals Service.
  15. “To George Washington from William Thompson, 22 January 1794,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017,
    More humorously, another applicant digressed to share his opinions of Citizen Genet: “I need not attempt to give your Excellency the news of our Country as no doubt you have it Officially, I shall only observe the disquietude I am under to see a parcell of Blockheads around us with Cockades in their Hats.” (“To George Washington from James Hendricks, 15 January 1794,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified March 30, 2017,
  16. Stat. Richard Peters, ed. The Public Statutes at Large of the United States of America, from the Organization of Government in 1789, to March 3, 1845. . . . 8 vols. Boston, 1845-67, 6:17.
  17. “Northern District of Georgia History.” U.S. Marshals Service.

A Mount Vernon Democracy: The Popularized Image of George Washington’s Home

By Katie Lebert, Communications Specialist
December 10, 2016

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.

Brandt’s interest in the subject was sparked when she began to notice replications of Mount Vernon. Soon after, friends affirmed her hunch, by finding Mount Vernon elsewhere: “People used to send me photos and postcards of buildings that looked like Mount Vernon.” But it was not until she began tracking all the various examples that she saw a pattern. The house had become a revered symbol, much like George Washington.

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Meeting Mr. Madison

by Katie Lebert, Communications Specialist
October 7, 2016

“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.

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A Lesson About Duty from General George Washington

By Katie Lebert, Communications Specialist
June 4, 2016

Recently, someone contacted the Washington Papers for help with locating a specific document. They were looking for a letter in which George Washington explained why patriotism was not enough to win the Revolutionary War. Fair payment for the men who fought was also needed:

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Re-Engaged: Participating in the National Humanities Alliance’s Advocacy Day

By Katie Lebert, Communications Assistant
March 25, 2016

Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a Government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.
– George Washington’s Farewell Address, September 17, 1796 1

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 first day included panels and discussions about how the humanities benefit individuals. Since I am somewhat new to the Washington Papers, I was initially nervous about how I could contribute to Advocacy Day. However, the first day’s activities instantly appealed to the humanities major in me, and aligned with the curiosity and commitment to history that I experience working at the Papers.

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Bust of George Washinton

The Washington Papers and the Florence Gould Foundation Embark on a Partnership to Explore Early Franco-American Relations

Houdon Bust

George Washington. Sculpted by Jean-Antoine Houdon, 1785.

France and the United States have a long tradition of friendship, forged in the course of two great 18th-century revolutions and tempered in the flames of two global wars in the 20th century. 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. These volumes will chronicle Rochambeau’s landing with a French expeditionary army in North America in the autumn of 1780; his strategic planning with Washington in the winter of 1780-1781; the Yorktown campaign of the summer and autumn of 1781; and finally, the protracted negotiations that led to the Treaty of Paris in 1783.

The Washington Papers project is 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. With the Gould Foundation’s major and ongoing financial support, the Washington Papers will hire an expert scholar whose time will be fully devoted to editing these documents as well as carrying on important research in French archives.

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The Spirit of Mount Vernon

By Katie Lebert, Communications Assistant
December 21, 2015

“No one in the Association receives any salary whatsoever. Their sole reward is having preserved Mount Vernon, ‘sacred to the memory of the Father of his Country.’

“In proof of the appreciation of the sacredness of the spot is the fact that during the [Civil] War no act of vandalism was committed there by either side. … The members of contending armies on approaching its precincts sounded a truce, and, stacking arms outside, trod the hallowed ground with reverent feet.”1

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On the Set with Associate Editor William M. Ferraro: An Interview About his Role in the Film Monroe Hill

October 9, 2015

Associate Editor William M. Ferraro will soon be featured as an historical contributor in a documentary about James Monroe’s farm home Monroe Hill. Director Eduardo Montes-Bradley‘s film Monroe Hill overviews the trials James Monroe faced in running the unproductive plantation, in following his political obligations, and in strengthening a new nation. Continue reading

National Endowment for the Humanities Grant Supports Three Washington Paper Projects

ledgeraAs part of the 212 grants announced by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) on July 28, the Washington Papers will receive $318,000 in outright funding to support three of their current projects.

Two of those projects include the publication of volumes for the remaining two uncompleted Papers of George Washington series: the Presidential and Revolutionary War papers. For the Presidential Series, the grant will allow for the publication of volumes 20 and 21, volumes that will cover the final years of Washington’s second term. Similarly, the grant will prepare volumes 25-30 of the Revolutionary War series.

The funding will also support the completion of transcription for the financial papers of George Washington, a project that will create digital translations of Washington’s ledgers. In making these financial papers more accessible, the search engine will take viewers to the very line of where the searched item is mentioned.

Moving toward these goals, the Washington Papers remains grateful for the funding it continues to receive from the NEH, as well as from the federal matching program and private donors. For a full list of our current and past donors, click here.