Thursday, May 12, 2016

When Abraham Lincoln was at Mount Vernon...and I was There!

Last Tuesday my daughter and I got to visit Mount Vernon...where to our great surprise we met Abraham Lincoln!!

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I asked Mr. Lincoln's permission to take a photograph, to which he kindly agreed. Then someone volunteered to take my photo with him, so I called my daughter over and we got this surprise picture of the day! After this we found him talking to...could it be...General Ulysses S. Grant??? Oh, we must not disturb them. They must have important duties.

When I told a friend of mine about this she exclaimed, "How fun!" This is the fun part of Virginia...never know who we will meet!

I'm not sure if there was a special event at Mount Vernon that day or not. My daughter and I went because we wanted to see the garden exhibit, Gardens and Groves, before it closed, so this was a wonderful surprise. When I got home I started researching actual visits that Mr. Lincoln may have made to Mount Vernon...which led to lots of research on historic preservation of Mount Vernon...which led to lots of research on the genealogy of the Washington family...which led to...well stay tuned for lots of blog posts!

It would make perfect sense for Abraham Lincoln to visit Mount Vernon. I loved reading about him as a child, and of course I had my kids read a biography about Lincoln when I homeschooled. As a child I learned that Lincoln's favorite president was George Washington. He even borrowed a book on Washington when he was growing up. And of course Lincoln spent many years in Washington DC. Many other people made trips to see the home of the famed first president. Why not Abraham Lincoln?

I already knew of another important person who had visited Mount Vernon in the 19th century...Queen Liliuokalani of Hawaii. She visited in 1887.  I'll never forget portraying her when we first moved to Virginia. I read her autobiography to collect the best possible information to share her story. I was thrilled to read her account of boarding a boat in Alexandria, then floating down the Potomac. Her description of arriving at Mount Vernon and the honors sent from the boat as they arrived at Washington's estate were fascinating. And of course I loved her references to not only the wonderful George Washington and Martha Washington...but also of the Marquis de Lafayette! I wrote about it and linked to her autobiography here.   

The reason for the historic preservation research (and more details on that later) is because Mount Vernon was sadly falling into decay when Mr. Lincoln came to visit.  We think that Senator Lincoln visited Mount Vernon in 1848 during a congressional recess after the death of "Old Man Eloquent," John Quincy Adams. The documentation for this event is based on the writings of a certain Israel Washburn, who wrote about a conversation with Lincoln who shared about his recent visit to Mount Vernon. The rest of this visit is left to the imagination. We do know that at this time the home was owned by Washington's great-grand nephew, John Augustine Washington III. By this time Mount Vernon had sadly deteriorated. One of the paintings my daughter and I saw in the garden exhibit was of this decay, which was heartbreaking. Yet, I'm sure this came as no surprise to  Lincoln. Historic preservation was not a movement at this time. Nor had the mansion been steadily lived in since Martha Washington's death. Even so, I'm sure the deterioration saddened him, as he slowly walked on the same ground his hero had once walked. As he walked in the ground where Washington once walked, I'm sure Lincoln pondered Washington's life, decisions, choices, stands.  

During Lincoln's presidency, there were apparently a few visits to the mansion by his wife and her family members and some of his cabinet...some of which became fraught with danger due to the presence of Confederate soldiers. A couple of servants were actually captured and imprisoned. Thus, it isn't probable that Lincoln visited the mansion during the war.

However on April 9, 1865, the day Lee surrendered to Grant, Lincoln was returning to Washington DC after a visit with General Grant in the south. Riding on the River Queen with other passengers, Lincoln's gaze turned to the famed 18th century mansion coming into view.  A fellow passenger, the Marquis Adolphe de Chambrun remarked, "Mount Vernon, with its memories of Washington, and Springfield, with those of your own home-revolutionary and civil war-will be equally honored in America."  Lincoln replied, "Springfield, how happy I shall be four years hence to return there in peace and tranquility!"


Sadly, Lincoln was assassinated five days later.


Resources:

http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/sites/mtvernon.htm

http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/john-augustine-washington-iii/

http://www.mountvernon.org/the-estate-gardens/famous-visitors/article/queen-liliuokalani/

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