Last month, my husband, our 3-year-old daughter, and I took a road trip through sections of the Washington Heritage Trail, which goes through Berkeley, Jefferson, and Morgan counties in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. This region is steeped in history not only related to the railroad, the Civil War, and John Brown’s raid but also (and more importantly to me) to the Washington family. The Washingtons, especially George and his younger brother Charles, seem to be everywhere, from family homes and gravesites to street names and tourist spots.
Perhaps Bushrod’s most famous verdict was the one in which he defined the concept of natural rights as those rights conferred unto individuals by nature. His verdict also explored the difference between natural and constitutional, or legal, rights, which he maintained were bestowed upon individuals by their government. The debate regarding which rights are natural and which are legal, set in motion by Bushrod Washington’s 1823 judgment of Corfield v. Coryell, continues to this day.
During the tense years leading up to the Civil War, Robert E. Lee found himself under the close scrutiny of a group of abolitionists (who his wife described as “fanatical,” “unprincipled & cruel”). Lee’s marriage to Mary Custis, daughter of Martha Washington’s grandson George Washington Parke Custis, came with public visibility and certain expectations. People who Lee had never met demanded that he live up to the precedent set by George Washington and free his slaves.
In Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, Tom Stoppard’s take on Hamlet, Rosencrantz tells Guildenstern that he doesn’t believe in England. Guildenstern shoots back, “Just a conspiracy of cartographers, you mean?” Here at The Washington Papers, we may not have the makings of a conspiracy, but—amazingly—we do have a cartographer.
The origin of Thanksgiving Day in America is a bit of a moving target. Tradition has it that Thanksgiving has been handed down to us from the Pilgrims and friendly Wampanoag Indians, who joined together for a celebratory feast in November 1621 to give thanks for a bountiful harvest. In grade schools throughout the United States, construction-paper silhouettes of Pilgrim hats, Indian headdresses, turkeys, and cornucopias have withstood many changings of the generational guard as part of November’s classroom décor.
No one knew better than Martha that life was fragile. And so, nothing was more important to her than investing in her family and in her religion. In the eighteenth century, Bibles physically united religion and family. Families passed them down for generations, writing births, deaths, and marriages into their pages. Martha, who gave her life to serving God, family, and country, would have cherished her Bible. In fact, nineteenth- and twentieth-century newspaper articles imply that Martha owned more than one.
At a time of the year when reflection is unavoidable, I am consistently drawn back to the story of the early years of Mount Vernon’s preservation. To me, this story is a testament to the strength of American determination, and a reminder of the beliefs and qualities that bind us together.