President Trump was not impressed with a tour of the first commander in chief’s home last year, Politico reported Wednesday, describing his visit to Mount Vernon with French President Emmanuel Macron and their wives as “truly bizarre."
“If he was smart, he would’ve put his name on it,” Trump reportedly said. “You’ve got to put your name on stuff or no one remembers you.”
On the subject of whether anyone remembers George Washington, The Washington Post, which is based in the capital city of Washington (not Washington state) near George Washington University, would refer readers to the fact that Washington has come in first or second in nearly every “best presidents” poll conducted, including the most recent one, in 2018, by Siena College Research Institute. Trump, in case you’re wondering, came in 42nd out of 45 commanders in chief.
So why is Washington’s magnificent sprawling estate on the Potomac River called Mount Vernon instead of George Washington Plaza or George Washington International?
If Doug Bradburn, CEO and president of Mount Vernon, talked about the origins of the name during the tour, he isn’t saying. But on Wednesday evening, the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, the private, non-profit that runs the estate, released a statement that gently took issue with the Politico account of the visit:
“During the tour, all parties were interested and engaged in the story of George Washington and his beloved home. Conversations touched on topics like business dealings, real estate, and related matters that were of relevance and interest to the touring parties, and questions were asked by both leaders with curiosity and respect. Comments pulled from sources who were not present for the tour do not properly convey the tone and context in which they were delivered.”
Anyway, the “Vernon” of Mount Vernon is British Admiral Edward Vernon. He was the commanding officer of George’s older half brother Lawrence Washington, who fought in a conflict between England and Spain in the West Indies called the War of Jenkins’ Ear.
(Yes, that is really what it was called, but Jenkins and his ear is a story for another day. Just know that rumors of the ear being exhibited before Parliament are false.)
In any case, Lawrence inherited a small house and the land surrounding it from his and George’s father, who died when George was 10 and Lawrence was about 25. Admiral Vernon had the unique distinction among British officers of treating colonial soldiers with some respect; hence, Lawrence renamed the property, previously called Little Hunting Creek, after him.
Lawrence became something of a surrogate father to young George, and some of the future president’s happiest childhood memories occurred during his frequent trips to Mount Vernon.
Tragically, Lawrence had contracted tuberculosis while in the West Indies, which killed him 10 years later, just as George was leaving his teens. Lawrence bequeathed Mount Vernon to his daughter upon his death. But, as was common in the colonial era, she died two years later, at which point the deed went to Lawrence’s widow, who by then had remarried. She no longer lived at Mount Vernon and leased it to George. Then, in 1761, she died, too.
There were no other heirs but George, who began transforming the house into a 21-room mansion over the course of decades. According to Mount Vernon’s website, “Washington personally supervised each renovation; advising on design, construction and decoration — even during the Revolutionary War."
So why didn’t George Washington ever change the name?
It’s unclear, but it’s probably a reflection of the reverence Washington had for his older brother throughout his life. A portrait of Lawrence still hangs in Washington’s study in Mount Vernon to this day, which Trump might have noticed had he not been “disinterested” in the private tour.
The Macrons, Politico said, knew much more about the historic property, so they may have already known about some of the other fascinating details about Mount Vernon, like, for instance, that in the main hall still hangs a gift from the Marquis de Lafayette — the key to the Bastille.
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