George Washington Birthplace National Monument
the time of George Washington’s birth in 1732 on the marshy
shores of Popes Creek, his family had been on the land between
Mattox and Popes Creek for three quarters of a century.
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. The
birthplace house no longer stands, but its foundations have been
discovered and preserved.
His half-brother, father,
grandfather, and great-grandfather lie in the family burial
ground nearby. The memorial shaft erected on the property
in 1896 and the Memorial House constructed in 1932, at about the
time of the bicentennial of Washington’s birth, are vivid
testimonies to the reverence attached to America’s first
president and greatest hero.
In 1657, an English merchant
ship sailed up the Potomac River, anchored in Mattox Creek, and
took on a cargo of tobacco. With her new load, the ship ran
aground on a shoal and sank. During the delay, a young officer,
John Washington, great-grandfather of the future president,
befriended the family of Colonel Nathaniel Pope, especially his
daughter Anne. When the ship was ready to set sail John stayed
behind to marry Anne, thus beginning the Washington family
legacy in the New World. The bride’s father gave the newlyweds a
wedding gift of 700 acres of land on Mattox Creek four miles to
the east. John Washington eventually expanded his land holdings
to 10,000 acres.
In 1664, he moved his family to a
property on Bridges Creek, within the boundaries of today’s
George Washington Birthplace National Monument. His son
Lawrence, born in 1659, inherited the bulk of his father’s
estate. His son Augustine, born in 1694, inherited some
property from his father and acquired more, including an iron
furnace near Fredericksburg and a substantial plantation on
Augustine found a small house on the Popes
Creek property and began expanding it into a middle-sized
plantation manor house. It was here that George Washington, the
first son of his second marriage, was born on February 22, 1732.
This is where young George lived until 1735, when his father
moved the family to his Little Hunting Creek Plantation, the
land that would eventually be renamed Mount Vernon. In 1738, the
family moved again, to Ferry Farm near Fredericksburg.
Washington’s American ancestors saw themselves primarily as
planters, but they all also involved themselves in the public
service that confirmed a planter’s status while imparting skills
such as public speaking, leadership, and generosity to others.
They served as justices on the county courts, militia officers,
sheriffs, vestrymen in the local Anglican Church, and members of
the Virginia House of Burgesses. When Augustine Washington died
in 1743, the bulk of his estate went to the two sons of his
first marriage. George Washington did not inherit much wealth or
land, but his father did pass on to him the Washington family’s
status as members of the landed gentry and its commitment to
George Washington’s half-brother
Augustine Jr. inherited the Pope’s Creek plantation when his
father died in 1743 and eventually willed it to his son,
William. George Washington frequently returned to Popes Creek
throughout his adolescence to learn practical farming and to
assist with the responsibilities of running the plantation.
William named the property Wakefield and owned the house until
it burned down on Christmas Day, 1779. He saved the only item
thought to have come from the original house, a tilt-top tea
table. It is now on display in the Memorial House.
family never rebuilt the birthplace house, and its exact
location was lost. In June 1815, George Washington Parke Custis,
the adopted grandson of George Washington, placed a
commemorative stone by the ruins of a chimney thought to mark
the birthplace. During the 19th century, the land at Pope’s
Creek was farmed. Five years after the Civil War, a visitor to
Wakefield observed that the freestone slab that George
Washington Parke Custis placed over the presumed birth site was
The State of Virginia acquired some of the land
on Pope’s Creek, with plans to preserve and mark it as a
memorial, but did nothing until after the Civil War. In the
1880s, the United States acquired Virginia’s land and more. In
the 1890s, Congress donated a 50-foot obelisk and erected it on
a brick foundation on the recently discovered site of what
people thought were the remains of the birth house.
February 23, 1923, 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. After relocating the memorial
shaft, the association built the Memorial House over the
foundation found in the 1890s. Constructed between 1930 and
1931, and not intended to be a replica of the birth house, of
which no images survived, Memorial House represents instead a
typical house of the upper classes of the mid 1700s. It is
probably a bit more elegant than the original.
with administering the site since 1932, the National Park
Service conducted archeological investigations that revealed a
second, larger foundation not far away from the Memorial House.
Excavations confirmed that this was the actual location of the
birth house. The outline of the foundation is now marked with
crushed oyster shells. The excavations of the main house and a
number of outbuildings also provided thousands of artifacts,
including ceramics, jewelry, glass, and clay pipes. These
artifacts have been invaluable in telling the story of the site,
in furnishing and interpreting the Memorial House, and in the
reconstruction of the working colonial farm.
monument includes the historic birthplace area, the burial
ground, and the working colonial farm. Livestock, poultry, and
crops of traditional varieties and breeds are raised on the farm
to show farming techniques common during colonial times. A
colonial herb and flower garden is also included on the grounds.
George Washington Birthplace
National Monument, a unit of the National Park System, is
located in the Northern Neck of VA, 38 miles east of
Fredericksburg and is accessible via Virginia Rte. 3. It is open
daily 9:00am to 5:00pm year round. Closed Thanksgiving,
Christmas and New Years Days. An entrance fee is charged for
adults ages 16 and older.
A Visitor Center includes
exhibits, film, bookstore, and restrooms. Ranger talks are
offered on the hour 10:00am to 4:00pm. The property includes a
one-mile nature trail and picnic area with tables, grills,
pavilion, and restrooms. The Potomac River beach offers views of
the river and Maryland, walking, sunbathing, and fishing;
however, swimming is not allowed. For more information, visit
the National Park Service George Washington Birthplace National
Monument website or call 804-224-1732, extension 227.