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Part the mists of time to experience a place where a child took his first steps in what became an extraordinary life journey – from this farm to the American Revolution and, ultimately, “Father of his Country.” It was here at Popes Creek that George Washington – Commander and Chief of the Continental Army and first president of the newly formed United States – was born February 22, 1732.
A distinct way of life flourished here on the Northern Neck in 18th-century colonial Virginia. Power was held by a rural elite who valued and passed on the classical ideals of honor, dignity, and duty to family and country. Washington came of age at a time when children were made keenly aware of their heritage and rights as “free men” of the English empire – in contrast to the enslaved and indentured workers in their midst.
Tradition holds that the house where Washington was born, which was inherited by George’s older half-brother in 1774, burned in 1779 in a Christmas fire. Even while the site continued to fall into disrepair, George Washington’s birthday grew in popularity and by the time of his death in 1799, it was a national celebration. His status as first in war, first in peace and first in the hearts of his countrymen secured him the new country’s primary status of god-hero in the classical Roman mold. As early as 1814, George Washington Parke Custis—Washington’s adopted grandson—returned to Popes Creek to commemorate Washington’s birth and mark what he believed to be the ruins of the birth house.
In 1930, Congress established George Washington Birthplace National Monument and allowed the Wakefield National Memorial Association to construct a replica of the house as a unique national monument to our first president in time to celebrate his 200th birthday. While the replica was under construction, the National Park Service pursued archeological investigations to determine the location and size of the original house.
Today, the original house foundations are indicated by an oyster shell outline, with the nearby replica—now called the Memorial House—commanding a view over Popes Creek. The Memorial House, a Colonial Revival imagining of a typical house of the Virginia upper classes, is furnished with antiques of the period. Special events at the park include people in appropriate period attire and demonstrations of the music and dancing, cooking, and blacksmithing of the time.
As eagles soar above Popes Creek, visitors stand in awe of this place where Washington was born. The 550 acres that make up the park today were all part of the Washington plantation and visitors can walk in the footsteps of young George around the historical area, along nature trails, pay respects to the grave sites of his ancestors at the family cemetery, moo at the Devon cows at the colonial farm, and view the mighty expanse of the Potomac River or the peaceful waters of Popes Creek. Skilled interpreters expand on the fascinating Washington story during regularly scheduled tours of the house.
Come and celebrate on February 20 and 22, 2010 and enjoy park events in honor of Washington’s 278th birthday. The admission fee of $4 is waived on these special days. For additional information see www.nps.gov/gewa.
George Washington Birthplace, Popes Creek Plantation, is located on the Potomac River 38 miles east of Fredericksburg, VA and is accessible via VA 3 and VA 204.