October 14, 2006
Today was another day of sightseeing. This morning we went to Mount Vernon, which was George Washington's house. It's located on a large farm in Virginia, about half an hour from DC. Washington inherited the farm from his brother when he was 22. He then married Martha, who was probably the richest widow in all of Virginia. She and her two kids came to live with George at Mount Vernon, and he decided to expand the small house, a process that took decades to complete.
We tend to think of Washington as a great ruler, but he was first and foremost a farmer. After he fought in the French and Indian War, he came back to Mount Vernon and ran the farm. He switched from growing tobacco to grains and hemp because they didn't deplete the soil as quickly, and he employed the newest technology of the time to produce the highest yields possible. Over 300 slaves worked on his farm from sunrise to sunset, six days per week.
After spending decades on the farm, Washington went away to fight in the Revolutionary war. He told Martha he'd be home for Christmas, but he never mentioned which year. Eight years later, on the day before Christmas, he was home, and the US had won the war. Of course he became the first President and conducted a lot of his business from Mount Vernon. He left office after two terms and went back to farming, but he unfortunately died about a year later. The farm was in the hands of private owners until the mid-19th century when it was bought by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association and opened to the public.
Walking through the house and the rest of the farm was an interesting look at history. Washington was quite affluent, so I got to see how the upper crust of society lived back in the 18th century. The visitor's quarters themselves were larger than most houses of the day, and there are ten bedrooms in the main house, so the Washington's had a lot of visitors. In fact, they averaged over 500 annual visitors at one point. The slaves' quarters were very basic, with just a bunch of bunk beds and a small fireplace in a room, but at least they were livable. Still, it makes me wonder how some of the less-affluent people of the day treated their slaves.
Mount Vernon is in an excellent location. It's right on the Potomac River, in the middle of a large forest, and many large fields. The view across the river is spectacular. I can easily see why Washington liked living there so much.
The Mount Vernon visit took a large part of the day, so we had just a few hours to head downtown. I went to the Smithsonian Natural History Museum, which is on the Mall like most of the Smithsonian's. On the way, I saw a game of Ultimate being played in front of the Capitol. I wanted to join in, but I didn't have much time left for sightseeing. Living in the area would be nice because there's always some sort of pickup game going on on the Mall.
The Natural History Museum was once again massive. The exhibits mainly contained fossils from throughout Earth's history and lots of stuffed animals. I also saw a Maoi from Easter Island, one of only six removed from the island and one of only two in the USA. Of course, I had already seen one on my visit to Vi?ña del Mar, Chile. Once again, I was totally overwhelmed by the size of the Smithsonian.
Tonight we met up with uncle Mike again for dinner. We attempted to drive to the Marines Memorial, but got completely twisted around in the labyrinth of roads and eventually turned back. It's so much fun sitting in the back of a car with your parents and great uncle and trying to navigate through an unknown city at night. You don't even know what a blast it is.