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Was George Washington born in England? At least, those were the rumours that were published in "Notes and Queries" in January 1857 but in the end were deemed untrue. Then perhaps he was born at his beloved Mount Vernon in Virginia. The answer is again a resounding No. Despite all these tales, George Washington's actual birthplace is on the marshy shores of Pope's Creek, Virginia, just off the Potomac River. He was born on 22 February 1732 and lived there only for three and a half years. Washington's father, Augustine, purchased the land in 1718 and built the house by 1726. By late 1735, Augustine had moved his family to Hunting Creek. President Washington's half-brother Augustine, Jr., inherited the Pope's Creek property after his father's death in 1743. The dwelling, a U-shaped timber-frame house, burned on Christmas Day 1779 and it was never rebuilt by the family. Originally known as Pope's Creek, the property was renamed 'Wakefield' about 1770 by George Washington's half-nephew William Augustine Washington.
The George Washington Birthplace National Monument preserves much of the character of the 18th century tobacco plantation where Washington lived until he was about four. Shown in the composite photograph are three features that distinguish the monument. On the left side panel, one can see the red brick 'Memorial House', a Colonial Revival-style version of a medium-size planter's house, erected in 1930-31 that thought its location marked the site of the birth house. Six years after, archeologists confirmed the location of the birth house foundations, 100 feet away. Shown are white oyster shell fragments on the ground that mark the foundations of the birth house. Its exact location remained hidden under deepening soil and thickening underbrush for 150 years. It was in 1923 that Mrs. Josephine Wheelright Rust organized the Wakefield National Memorial Association "to rebuild the home in which George Washington was born, to restore the neglected graveyard of his ancestors, and to make Wakefield a place of pilgrimage for all those who venerate the name of Washington." The date set for completion of the task was 1932 – the 200th anniversary of Washington's birth. These early commemorative efforts led to the designation and Presidential approval of Washington's birthplace as the "first historic site in the National Park System" on 23 January 1930.
As you enter the main entrance to the George Washington Birthplace National Monument, one will find within the traffic circle the prominent display of a memorial shaft raised to "commemorate the birth of a legend." In the late 1890s, Congress donated a 50-foot granite obelisk and erected it on a brick foundation that originally stood on the location at that time believed to be the birthplace of George Washington, the future location of the Memorial House. It was moved to its present location in 1930 at a cost of $15,000. The obelisk is one tenth the size of the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.
Shown on the third panel is part of the family burial ground where three generations of George Washington's forebearers are interred here as early as 1668. In 1930, the Wakefield National Memorial Association constructed a wall around the grounds, consolidated the graves into a single casket, and interred the remains in a rebuilt vault. Located on the far left of the grounds is a cenotaph – or empty tomb – in memory of his father, Captain Augustine Washington (1694-1743) and his first wife, Jane Butler (1699-1729), and Mary Ball (1708-1789), his second wife and George Washington's mother who is buried at Fredericksburg, Virginia.
On this day, 22 February 2022, we commemorate the 290th anniversary of the birth of George Washington and mark more than 92 years since the designation of Washington's birthplace as the first historic site in the National Park System.
André M. Levesque