February 11, 16 or 22 -- take your pick, all could be legitimately celebrated as George Washington's Birthday.
Washington was actually born on February 11, 1732, at Pope's Creek Plantation. When he was 20, England and her colonies belatedly adopted the Gregorian calendar, losing 11 days. This moved Washington's birthday to the 22nd. Now with the federal holiday bill creating an extended weekend by celebrating on February 16th, it's easy to see why one shouldn't be too fussy.
This isn't the only capricious element in the Washington mythology. While Washington is considered the "Father of Our Country," he was never in fact a father, despite his lifelong hopes. When he married the widowed Martha Custis in 1759 he unofficially adopted her young children, Jack Parke Custis, age four, and Patsy, age two.
He was to acquire yet another young family when Jack, ill from exposure and fatigue, died at the age of 24 immediately after the British surrender at Yorktown, his death marring what would have been a jubilant time for Washington. Then Washington unofficially adopted Jack's two youngest children, George Washington Parke Custis and Eleanor (Nellie) Custis. Of course, Washington was not only the "Father of Our Country"; his family was also the country's first "First Family."
Eight homes of the Washington family survive and are restored to permit visitors a glimpse of the lifestyle of the different generations. The homes are open to the public and easily accessible, none being more than two hours from the Beltway.
MOUNT VERNON is the best known. It's the first major historical preservation and the most authentically restored -- to appear as it was in 1799, the year Washington died.
Not so well known is Pope's Creek Plantation, or the George washington BIRTHPLACE.
NATIONAL MONUMENT. This is a completely restored working plantation. The house, which cost Washington's father, Augustine, 5,500 pounds of tobacco, has been rebuilt and the surrounding outbuildings restored. George's father, grandfather, greatgrandfather and half-brother, Butler, all are buried in the family plot. Pope's Creek Plantation is off Route 3 just past Oak Grove, Virginia, and open seven days a week from 9 to 5. (Phone: 804/224-0196.)
Washington's parents' generation is represented by two of his mother's homes: Epping FOREST, where Mary Ball was born in 1708 and spent her early girlhood, and her Fredericksburg house, now the MARY WASHINGTON HOUSE, where she spent her later years and died, in 1789.
As Washington became involved in the Revolutionary War, he feared for her safety living alone on her country farm. He bought her a town house in Fredericksburg, near her daughter Betty. His mother was reluctant to move, disliking the noise of the city and objecting to the water. In fact, she sent a servant back to her old farm daily to bring her fresh well water.
Mary was not a self-effacing southern lady. She was a highly protective mother and exerted a strong influence on George Washington. When he had the opportunity, at age 15, to go to sea with the British Navy, she actually had his bags removed from the ship. He was forced to return home. His mother had a gift waiting for him: a knife inscribed, "Always obey your superiors."
The Mary Washington House, where she lived for 17 years, is on Charles Street in Fredericksburg. It's open seven days a week from 9 to 4. Epping Forest, open from April through November from 9 to 5, is off Route 3 in Lancaster, Virginia.
Two blocks away from the Mary Washington House in Fredericksburg is KENMORE, built by Fielding Lewis when he married George Washington's sister, Betty. Lewis died bankrupt after spending his personal fortune supplying munitions for the colonial forces. Washington then assumed the financial responsibility of Kenmore.
Noted for its ornamental plasterwork, the Drawing Room at Kenmore is on the list of "The 100 Most Beautiful Rooms in America." Tea and gingerbread, made from Mary Washington's recipe, are served in the old out-kitchen at the end of each tour. Kenmore is on Washington Drive and is open seven days a week from 9 to 5.
Though Washington supported the households of his mother and sister, his major interest was Mount Vernon and the surrounding area. He expanded his property until he owned four connecting farms, one of which was RIVER FARM. Owned by the American Horticulture Society, this is another house that is still open to the public. While visitors may see the house from 8:30 to 5 during the week, the Society prefers being called ahead at 768-5700. The house was used by Tobias Lear, Washington's personal secretary and the family tutor. River Farm is off the Mount Vernon Parkway at 7931 East Boulevard.
On Washington's last birthday, February 22, 1799, his granddaughter Nellie Custis married Betty Washington's son, Lawrence Lewis, at Mount Vernon. As their wedding gift Washington gave them one of his four farms, 2,000 acres, a grist mill (now restored) and a distillery. On this land, they built Woodlawn. The house was designed to resemble Kenmore and was furnished with pieces from Mount Vernon. From the river side of the house they could see the cupola of Mount Vernon.
Nellie Custis' harpsichord and music are still in the Music Room; a taped rendition of her favorites recorded at Woodlawn evoke her presence. Children will enjoy the collection of old-fashioned toys and games in the "Touch and Try Room." On nice days the stilts and hoops can be used on the lawn, but during cold weather youngsters busy themselves with the quill pens and large dollhouse. Off U.S. 1, 14 miles from 9:30 to 4:30 seven days a week.
George Washington Parke Custis, Nellie's brother and the adopted grandson of George Washington, began ARLINGTON HOUSE in 1802. He intended it to be a "treasury of Washington heirlooms" recreating the life style he had enjoyed while growing up at Mount Vernon. As one of the principal heirs, he inherited the Mount Vernon china, pictures and other valuable pieces of furniture.
Custis is responsible for perpetuating some of the Washington myths. He wrote a book about Washington after his death including a story about Washington throwing a rock the size of a Spanish doubloon across the Rappahannock. This developed into the story of Washington's throwing a silver dollar across the Potomac.
It was George Washington Parke Custis' daughter, Mary Anna Randolph, who married Robert E. Lee at Arlington House in 1831. Thus this eighth house links two great American families and two epic periods of U.S. history. Arlington House, open seven days a week from 9:30 to 4, across the Arlington Memorial Bridge from Washington.