President’s Day

Happy very belated President’s Day!

Did you know that 8 of the United States’ presidents came from Virginia?

  • George Washington, 1st president- 1789-1797

You can visit Mount Vernon, Washington’s home away from the White House, which is along the Potomac in Northern Virginia.  They recently built a new visitor’s center with even more history and amazing Washingtonian artifacts on display, like his dentures.  Little known fact about Washington: he only had the equivalent of an elementary school education.

  • Thomas Jefferson, 3rd president – 1801- 1809

Both Jefferson’s home, Monticello, and retreat Poplar Forest, are open to the public.  Monticello is a Jeffersonian mecca, while Poplar Forest is still coming into its own.  Monticello illustrates amazing visitor service, as you can get a tour on almost any subject: Archaeology of the plantation, the gardens, the house (along with a super secret attic tour, for an additional cost), African American tour, etc.  Plus, the grounds are super beautiful, as is the view from Poplar Forest! Little known fact (maybe?) about Jefferson is that both he and John Adams, the 2nd U.S. president, both died on July 4, 1826, exactly 50 years (to the day!) of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

The kitchen gardens at Monticello, 2011.

The kitchen gardens at Monticello, 2011.

  • James Madison, 4th president – 1809-1817

Montpelier, James Madison’s home is also open to the public; however, there was considerable backlash from preservationists surrounding the restoration of the Madison’s home to its original state.  In 1900, the DuPont family purchased the house, altering the home into a 55 room mansion.  Painstaking research and careful deconstruction and reconstruction of the house has brought it back to its original state.  A little known fact about Madison was that he was the youngest member of the Continental Congress (he was 25 compared to Jefferson’s, and despite his shy demeanor and soft spoken mannerisms, he has come to be considered one of the more influential founding fathers.

  • James Monroe, 5th president – 1817-1825

Ash Lawn-Highland, which is very close to Monticello, is another president’s home open to the public.  It is currently owned by the College of William and Mary, after it was left to the college from Monroe philanthropist and owner, Jay Winston Johns.  Little known fact about Monroe: he fought and was wounded at the Battle of Trent during the American Revolution.  He was also the last of the ‘Virginia Dynasty,’ of the first five presidents, four hailed from Virginia.

  • William Henry Harrison, 9th president- 1841

Harrison came from a long lineage of wealthy tobacco farmers from Berkeley Plantation on the James River.  Little known fact about Harrison: he served only 32 days in the presidency, succumbing to complications of pneumonia.  His grandson, Benjamin Harrison, became the 23rd president from 1889-1893.

  • John Tyler, 10th president- 1841-1845

John Tyler hailed from Sherwood Forest Plantation, which is still owned and maintained by the Tyler family.  Tyler was not well liked by Harrison’s cabinet of men, especially since he assumed the position only 32 days after Harrison had been inaugurated.  Most felt he was only an interim president.

  • Zachary Taylor, 12th president, 1849-1850

Taylor was a Virginia-born, Kentucky-raised war hero of the Mexican-American war, a patrol of Indian frontier, as well as a huge supporter of slavery.  He wasn’t able to make any impact during his presidency, as he died 16 months in, likely from cholera.  Millard Fillmore, the VP that assumed the position after his death, minimized and even canceled out many of the items Taylor worked toward during his presidency.  Little known fact: His 2nd daughter, Sarah Knox Taylor, married Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, against her father’s wishes.  She contracted malaria and died 3 months after their marriage.

  • Woodrow Wilson, 28th president- 1913-1921

President as the world was about to explode from World War I, Wilson is often considered one of the most important American presidents because of his vision on foreign policy and peace relations.  He was the first president to hold a doctorate, which was from Johns Hopkins University.  He holds an undergraduate degree from Princeton, and attended the University of Virginia to obtain a law degree.  He only attended UVA for a brief period before dropping. He passed the Georgia bar exam, though, without any formal law training.  His birthplace in Staunton, Virginia, is now library and museum.  Little known fact: Wilson could not read for the first 10 years of his life.

If you’re in Virginia, and want to take a historical tour of plantation homes, seeing the great homes of these Virginia presidents is a must!

Further Reading:

Chernow, Ron. Washington: A Life. New York: Penguin Press, 2010. Print.

Ellis, Joseph. American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson. New York: Random House, 1996. Print.

Shea, Christopher. ‘Uncovering Montpelier’s Hidden Past.’ Preservation September/October 2008. National Trust for Historic Preservation. Web. 17 February 2014 http://www.preservationnation.org/magazine/2008/september-october/montpelier.html

University of Virginia. ‘The American President: The Reference Resource.’ The Miller Center. 17 February 2014. Web. 17 February 2014 http://millercenter.org/

‘Zachary Taylor: 12th President.’ Travel with Terry: Virginia. 5 September 2008. Web. 17 February 2014 http://travelwithterryvirginia.blogspot.com/2008/09/zachary-taylor-12th-president.html

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