The Washingtons of Jefferson County
By John Augustine Washington, Family Historian,
Interview August 3, 2001
For more information on the early Washingtons in Jefferson County go on the Internet to http://www.lib.shepherdstown.wv.us/huntfield/documents.html
ED: What brought the Washington family to Frederick County, to the part that is today Jefferson County?
JAW: “It really begins with the fact that the old Tidewater was being worn out by tobacco cultivation without crop rotation. All the people in the Tidewater who could afford it were trying to acquire land in the far west, such as the present Jefferson county, to have some place to farm when their Tidewater lands were completely worn out.”
Lawrence Washington (1718-1752)
“The Washington family tie with the Shenandoah Valley and the Jefferson county region begins with the marriage of George's older half-brother, Lawrence, to Ann Fairfax in 1743. Of course the Fairfax family held the Northern Neck Proprietary as sort of an overlord with ownership of the entire, huge territory between the Potomac and Rappahanock Rivers and back to their sources. This included today's Jefferson County. Lawrence’s lands would go after his death to his younger half-brothers.”
George Washington (1732-1799), Bullskin Plantation and Rock Hall
“As a very young man, George went with young George William Fairfax on some surveying trips back in this area and found what seemed to him the most fertile and beautiful land he had ever seen.
His first surveying fees were spent in acquiring a tract in what is now Jefferson County, the so-called Rock Hall tract, and over the years George would accumulate more land here.”
His purchases were documented as follows: - ED
Oct. 16th and Oct. 25th, 1750 - George Washington, the second member of the Washington family to purchase land in Jefferson County, buys 453 acres along the lower fork of the Bullskin from Thomas Rutherford. (Northern Neck Grants, Book G, P. 465).
Oct. 25, 1750 - GW obtains a grant for "about ninety-three Acres" on Bullskin Run (Northern Neck Grants, Book G, P. 466). Total GW acres = 546.
November 24, 1750 - "Survey'd for myself the land at the head of the Marsh which I bought of Captn Rutherford and afterward granted by Lord Fairfax." (The Papers of George Washington: The Colonial Series, Vol. 1, P. 26 and GW's Survey Field Book, 1750-1, P. 16 Library of Congress).
Dec. 3-4, 1750 - GW buys 456 acres adjacent to the 93 acres from James McCraken (Ibid, P. 27 and Frederick County Deed Book 2, 1749-1752, PP. 209-11). This, was the site of “Rock Hall.”
March 16-17, 1752 - GW buys a 552-acre tract from George Johnston, also located on the Bullskin in Jefferson County. (Frederick County Deed Book 2, PP. 478-481). Total GW acres = 1554.
March, 1752 - GW receives a grant from the Northern Neck proprietary of 760 acres on the Bullskin. (Northern Neck Book Grants, Book H, P. 136). Final total GW acres = 2314.
General Washington had an overseer at Rock Hall named Christopher Hardwick. He wrote regularly to Hardwick and visited in April, 1755 prior to joining Gen. Braddock’s disastrous expedition to Fort Duquesne. He visited later in March, 1769; October, 1770; and in March, 1774 – a period when his brothers John Augustine and Samuel were establishing plantations and, in Samuel’s case, a residence. He kept the lands until his death, with his brother Charles erratically collecting rents from tenant farmers. An extremely astute and innovative farmer who eventually owned some 50,000 acres in several states, Washington made carefully worded agreements, that encouraged long and fruitful tenancies through a combination of easy-to-meet rents but strictly required improvements. Each tenant usually was required, at the risk of his lease, not to own and farm adjacent acreage; but he usually had to build on Washington’s lands a forty-foot barn, maintain a woodlot, maintain fences, build a twenty-foot house with stone chimney, plant an orchard or vineyard, and rotate crops.
Bushrod Washington, as one the executors of Gen. Washington’s estate, sold Rock Hall. An interesting footnote to history, the Lees of Virginia (Thomas Lee’s descendants) defaulted on payments to Washington’s estate on Rock Hall, with a court a deciding on its resale to Lawrence Lewis for the amount of $17,115. He owned it until 1819. Washington family members owned the land again, after 1869, when its owner, Nathaniel Hite Willis, married Jane Charlotte Washington, daughter of the last family member to own Mt. Vernon. The main house was destroyed in a fire in 1906. The land was bought October, 1912 by John L. Burns. – ED.
“George’s older half-brother Lawrence died in 1752, and his four younger half-brothers George, Samuel, Charles and John Augustine inherited his accumulated land. So each of these four brothers had significant land holdings in this area from his earliest youth.
“They continued to acquire more land here beyond what they inherited from Lawrence. In their lifetimes two of them, Samuel and Charles, eventually settled in what would be Jefferson County - Samuel at Harewood in 1770, and Charles at Happy Retreat in 1786. The grandchildren of John Augustine Washington settled here in the 1809-1812 period. They all built houses; their families flourished and became very numerous and really dominated the history of the region that is now Jefferson County. Perhaps the best evidence is the churchyard at Zion Episcopal Church in Charles Town, a crowded churchyard where perhaps half the burials are descendants of these Washington families.”
Samuel Washington (1734-1781), Harewood and its Thread
“Samuel Washington continued to live in Stafford County near Fredericksburg until 1770. He is the Washington that was frequently married. Three young wives died one after another; and he married his fourth wife when he was twenty-nine. There's reason to believe she brought a good deal of property with her, and I've always thought that it was partly with her resources that he began soon after this 1764 marriage to build the house at Harewood.
“He moved here in 1770 with his wife and children, and during this whole period, both before and after he lived at Harewood, he was buying more and more land until eventually, by adding to what he inherited from his half-brother Lawrence. He held a total of 3800 acres that stretched in a long zig-zag north-to-south and includes, of course, the site of Harewood. This land over the years was divided and subdivided among children and grandchildren. The Harewood house and 260 acres there are still owned by his descendants.
“When you think about Col. Sam Washington, it’s hard not to think of him as the one that was married five times and died at the age of forty-seven. It wasn't his fault - or maybe it was - that his wives died at such a rapid rate. It's pretty clear that he had tuberculosis which we now know is a contagious disease and tuberculosis and pregnancy and childbirth do not go well together. The strain of pregnancy is very difficult for a woman who has tuberculosis. I've always thought that his young wives who kept dying so quickly had caught tuberculosis from him, became pregnant, and soon died as a result of the combination.
“Be that as it may, he was a good deal more distinguished man than we usually think, for we tend to contrast him with his famous brother. Col. Sam was a leading citizen in Stafford County before he moved to what is now Jefferson County and here he at once became vestryman and warden of the church, a member of the county court, colonel of the county militia and very much a leader of the community.
“His son by his fourth marriage, George Steptoe Washington, followed him at Harewood. Again we think of this Washington first because of his marriage. In 1793, he married Lucy Payne, the attractive sister of Dolley Madison and when Dolley Payne Todd married James Madison in 1794, they were married in the parlor at Harewood, where Lucy had been settled for a year. George Steptoe Washington, like his father, died of tuberculosis rather young, in his thirties. His widow, the young widow Lucy, in a few years married Judge Todd of Kentucky, a member of the Supreme Court. This was the first marriage ever performed in the President’s House, now called the White House, in Washington. Their son, Dr. Samuel Walter Washington - that is, George Steptoe Washington and Lucy Payne's son - followed his father at Harewood. He had studied medicine at Philadelphia and married a Philadelphia girl, Louisa Clemson, whose brother was the founder of Clemson College in South Carolina, and, incidentally the brother-in-law of John C. Calhoun. The Washington family has continued generation after generation at Harewood and still owns the house.
“Out of the 3800 acres that Col. Samuel Washington eventually owned, more farms and houses have come than just Harewood: Barleywood, Locust Hill, Megwillie, Sulgrave, Richwood Hall, and Cedar Lawn..”
“Col. Sam left one surviving son by his second wife as well as two sons and a daughter by his fourth wife to carry on his family. The son by the second wife, Thornton Washington, in turn, married twice and yet died at the age of 29 and left a son by each wife. Thornton’s older son, John Thornton Augustine Washington lived to a decent old age for a change. At least he was over fifty. He married a Miss Bedinger from Shepherdstown and built the house called Cedar Lawn, where he had a family of thirteen children. The Cedar Lawn family produced Benjamin Franklin Washington who led the Charles Town group that went to California in the gold rush in 1849. I think they called themselves the Charlestown Mining Company of Virginia. That family all moved to southern West Virginia, Missouri, California and elsewhere, but away from Charles Town. They had been numerous here until the 1850s.”
“When George Steptoe Washington died in 1809 and his widow remarried, his older son, Dr. Samuel Walter Washington, kept Harewood and his younger surviving son, William Temple Washington, took a piece of the Harewood land and built about 1828 the house called Megwillie, which seems like an odd name until you realize his wife's name was Margaret and Megwillie stood for “Margaret” and “William.” This house the family did not keep for very long because around 1856, before the Civil War, they had left the County and gone down to live near Fredericksburg. Megwillie went into the ownership of the Amblers and has had various owners since. The house burned in, I believe the 1920s, and the present Megwillie was subsequently built on the foundation and is owned by the Magahas.”
“William Temple Washington of Megwillie had a daughter, Mrs. McPherson for whom about 1840 he built a house near Megwillie called Barleywood, which is very little known or remembered. The McPhersons did not live there long and I believe about 1853 returned to Frederick County, Maryland, whence the husband had come.”
“Doctor Samuel Walter Washington, the third Washington to own Harewood, had, besides a son, three daughters, Christian, Lucy, and Annie, all of whom got pieces of the Harewood property. Daughter Christian, who married her third cousin, Richard Scott Blackburn Washington of Blakeley, would remain at Harewood after Blakeley burned in 1864.
“Her sister, Mrs. Lucy Washington Packett built a house called Locust Hill, which is toward Charles Town and is now the site of a real estate development by the same name. The Locust Hill property is especially remembered for a skirmish and small battle that occurred there during the Civil War. I myself remember being told by my Great-Aunt Christine about how, as a little girl of seven or eight, she and other children ran away from this house through the corn while the Yankees shot at them.”
“While Samuel's son, George Steptoe Washington, inherited Harewood, a piece of the Harewood land, named Richwood Hall, was cut off also for another son, Lawrence Augustine Washington. Here this youngest surviving son of Col. Sam, lived with his wife Julia Wood from Winchester before he moved to what is now Wheeling, West Virginia. His family eventually went down the river about 1850 to Texas and settled there.”
“The second brother to settle in Charles Town was Charles Washington, and ‘in Charles Town’ is just the right way to say it because he laid out the village of Charles Town on his farm, called Happy Retreat. He subdivided it and sold lots in the village that had been surveyed. This was a conventional way to make some money out of a farm, an early form of real estate development. Charles also had acquired other land and I really don't know how many acres he eventually had. His descendants sold off the property they had here and moved away fairly early and were gone from the county by the 1820s.
“Charles, the youngest brother, had had a son, George Augustine Washington, who was a major in the Revolution and who then settled near Mt. Vernon with his wife, Fanny Bassett, who was Martha Washington's niece. He and Fanny both died quite young leaving three children; and in his will, General Washington was particularly generous to these children because of their mother's connection to Martha and because George Augustine Washington had been a valuable assistant to him in the war and as sort of a manager of Mt. Vernon after the Revolution until George Augustine 's death.
“One of George Augustine’s boys grew up and married a Charles Town girl, Maria Frame, whose father was an early Irish merchant here in Charles Town. This family continued to live down on the piece at Mt. Vernon they inherited from the General, which they called Wellington, but eventually they came up to this area - not in Jefferson County, but over near Winchester in Frederick County. They purchased a stone house called Waverly, near Hopewell Friends Meeting. They were close friends as well as distant relatives of all the Washingtons in Jefferson County. That family died out with Miss Nannie Bird Washington and her mother, who died in 1919 and 1920.”
This brother’s descendants would include the last three family members to own and manage Mt. Vernon. Their land in Jefferson County, first called Prospect Hill, would be the site of the better-known residences, Blakeley and Claymont. All the owners of Mt. Vernon in order were: Lawrence Washington; briefly his baby daughter, Mildred; General Washington; the General’s nephew, Justice Bushrod Washington; the second of three John Augustine Washingtons, an orphaned nephew that Justice Bushrod raised at Mt. Vernon; John Augustine’s widow, Jane Charlotte Washington; and the third John Augustine Washington, their son. The last three spent half of each year at Blakeley in Jefferson County, the other half at Mt. Vernon from 1832 until its sale by the third John Augustine in 1858. – ED.
“The third brother whose family loomed in the history of Jefferson County was the family of the General's brother, John Augustine. John Augustine had at least 2700 acres in a large tract here in Jefferson County on which he was paying taxes in the 1770s, and he called this Prospect Hill. It went on his death to his younger son, Corbin. George Washington strongly advised Corbin to come out here and live, but Corbin refused his uncle's advice and instead built and settled near Alexandria in Fairfax County, because his wife Hannah Lee’s relatives were there and she wanted to be near to them. Corbin and his wife, however, both died very young in 1799 and 1802; their orphans were brought up at Mount Vernon by their Uncle Judge Bushrod Washington, who sat on the U. S. Supreme Court with Justice John Marshall for thirty years. Under their parents' wills, the three sons of Corbin inherited this 2700 acres in Jefferson County. One by one, as they became twenty-one years-old, they came out here and lived.”
John Augustine Washington, in line to inherit Mt. Vernon, built the more modest Blakeley on his 900-acre parcel.
Brother Bushrod Corbin Washington employed some 90 slaves to build his palatial 34-room mansion called Claymont, that faced Blakeley some 600 yards away. – ED.
“The oldest son, Richard Henry Lee Washington, occupied the old, small two-story house called Prospect Hill on his 900-acre portion but he died as a young bachelor and his property was divided among his sister and two brothers. We don’t know much about Richard Henry Lee Washington, but we do have a little, printed invitation to one of the Fairfaxes to come to a party at Prospect Hill. It was a dancing party and it was called for twelve noon and since the house was diminutive, they must have danced outdoors on the lawn.
“When Richard died unmarried in 1819, his 900 acres went one-third to Blakeley (the second John A. Washington), one third to Claymont (Bushrod Corbin Washington), and one-third to his sister, Mary Lee Washington, who was the wife of a lawyer named Noblet Herbert. Mrs. Herbert and her husband lived in Alexandria and would not have spent much time in Jefferson County, I imagine. Unfortunately, they soon died quite young in 1825 and 1827. They left two sons: Bushrod Washington Herbert and Noblet Herbert Jr., who had inherited this 300 acres and the little house - shall we say cottage - of Prospect Hill. These two orphan boys were brought up by their uncles at Blakeley and Claymont. The older boy, Bushrod Herbert, lived at Claymont because the children there were older than their cousins; the younger son, Noblet Herbert, lived at Blakeley where the children were younger than the Claymont children.
“1849 came, and Noblet Herbert, Jr. at the age of something like twenty-five went on the gold rush with the Charles Town Mining group under Benjamin Franklin Washington of Cedar Lawn, and unfortunately was murdered in the gold fields in 1852 by Mexicans he had hired to run a mule train for him. His brother, Bushrod Herbert, then became the sole owner of the 300 acres and of Prospect Hill. Bushrod Herbert lived there as an old bachelor, and after the Civil War, he stayed on there cared for by a colored family, the Johnsons, who had been his slaves before the war. They took care of him until his death in 1888. The house was apparently little changed. My cousin, Margaret Chew was born in 1875, and I knew her very well. She had lived at Blakeley for a while as a child and remembered going over and calling on Cousin Bush Herbert at Prospect Hill. She described the Prospect Hill house to me many years ago before she died. Obviously when Bush Herbert died a lonely old bachelor, he had sold part of the 300 acres, but he left the house and what was remaining to the Johnson family who had stayed by him and had taken care of him for all those years after the war. The various transfers of property within the Johnson family over the next years are a complicated story in themselves. By the 1920s the house was abandoned and derelict, ready to fall down and a danger to anyone who came by and invaded the property.
“Cousin Forrest Brown, whose family had Sulgrave, was a lawyer in Charles Town. He had the Prospect Hill house torn down so it would no longer be a public menace. That was, I believe, in 1926. He found a packet of letters there that had belonged to Bush Herbert including an interesting letter from his brother Noblet Herbert in California. My great Aunt Betty in Charles Town had these letters and lent them to me in the 1940s, and I copied them all carefully and later published the Noblet Herbert letter from the gold fields in the California Historical Magazine. I returned the letters to Aunt Betty but at some subsequent time they somehow disappeared and her family no longer knows what happened to them. However I do have a complete verbatim transcript of them and so know something of the personality of Bush Herbert. My recollection of Cousin Margaret’s description of Prospect Hill is that it was a small frame dwelling with small central entrance hall and a narrow staircase, so that there was a second floor and a room on each side of that entrance hall. She said nothing about the inevitable outbuildings associated with it, that must have existed: barns, slave quarters, kitchen, smoke house, whatever there would have been.”
“After Richard Henry Lee Washington, the next brother in that family, John Augustine Washington, who built Blakeley was in line to inherit - he was promised he would inherit – Mt. Vernon, when his childless uncle, the Judge (Bushrod) died, as indeed occurred. So he built a comparatively modest, yet still a rather large house on his third of the Prospect Hill tract and the family viewed this over the years more as a summer retreat to get away to from the humidity, mosquitoes, malaria and heat of Mt. Vernon. They would come up here to the mountains for a healthier and less oppressive summer. John Augustine Washington and his brother, Bushrod Corbin, had married two sisters. We have two brothers marrying two sisters. The second couple - Bushrod Corbin Washington and Anna Maria Thomasina Blackburn - knew that they were not going to inherit Mt. Vernon. So when they built Claymont, they built a monster of a house, which I think is still perhaps the largest house ever built in West Virginia, a little impractical for a family to keep up today.
“These Blackburn girls, to further complicate the family connections, were orphaned nieces of Mrs. ‘Judge Bushrod’ Washington’s, so Mrs. Washington’s two orphaned nieces married her husband’s two orphaned nephews. These Blackburn girls and their other sisters were very strong members of the Episcopal Church in its period of revival. The Episcopal Church had gone into a decline after the Revolution because it had seemed associated with the established church of the colonial government, and therefore with the colonial government and Britain. But it began to come back, particularly under the leadership of Bishop William Meade. Some people became very enthusiastic lay supporters, and the Blackburn women were among them to the extent that Bishop Meade’s classic book “Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia,” especially refers to these Blackburn girls as ‘the first fruits and some of the most valuable fruits of my early ministry.’ The lady whose husband built Claymont kept a diary which, though I’ve never seen it, I am told is nothing but one long series of religious and pious reflections, and has none of the historic and genealogical material that we would like to find in a diary.”
A tender love it was between John Augustine Washington and his Eleanor Selden. He inherited Mt. Vernon in 1855 from his mother, Jane Charlotte; and sold it three years later.
For many years, however, he had shared responsibilities with his mother for running both Blakeley and Mt. Vernon. His courtship with Eleanor culminated in the proposal of marriage, the joy of which is captured in these two letters with his future wife and mother. - ED
“Oct. 16, 1842
JAW to Eleanor Love Selden
I have endeavored to convince you how necessary a free, constant and mutual epistolatory intercourse is to my happiness and next to your society, your letters are dearer to me that anything else. You may possibly think that I speak with too much warmth and sometimes color too highly in advocating my views but I assure you that, if I know my heart and may confide in the strongest impulses, I can commend no language that will convey the intensity of my wishes. You may imagine but can never express the earnestness of my feelings . . .You must see now, my dearest Nell, how necessary for me it is that you should answer this letter as soon as it is practicable for I shall be upon thorns until I know from yourself that you have pardoned this my first offence. Do not keep me long. JAW”
“Oct. 18, 1842
Private and Confidential Mt. Vernon
My dear Mother,
I got down here safely on the first of this month and found everyone well but George and Edmond who are still suffering from the effects of sickness. For two or three weeks before I got down, almost everyone on the place had been laid up. Wes and Aunt Lienny were very near dying. As you may suppose from all this my work is very much behind here altho' not later than the majority of my neighbors, about half of my wheat is sown, but I shall not finish before the fifteenth or twentieth of this month. The corn is as good as I expected from what I can see at present.
“Before leaving Blakeley, I had some conversation with you in regard to a
matrimonial connection, and you approved of the choice which some of my friends thought I have made. Altho' at the time my preference was as decided as it could have been yet unless I had been fully satisfied
that it was entirely agreeable to you, nothing could have induced me to proceed one step in it. No obstacle of this kind existed but my mind was not made up as to the expediency of entering into the matter at the time, and it was not until after I had bestowed a great deal of reflection on the subject that I determined to bring it to an end and know the result at once. Accordingly upon the day I left you, instead of traveling the lower road as I had proposed, accompanied the ladies to Exeter and, upon the first opportunity that occurred, I explained my feelings to Nelly and am happy to say that they are reciprocated by her and that no objection existed on the part of the parents. We are, in the common phraseology, engaged.
“For the present, it is her desire that this should not be known generally.
“Please know from Burns if he intends signing the lease, if he does I will get the four of you to witness it and bring the copies down for me to sign, and then you can take one back to him. I wish it to be determined at once, for if Mr. Burns cannot make up his mind, I may find someone who can. I will also get the favour of you to receive from him any money of mine coming into his hands and also to receive from Dick any money he may get for me from the sale of my share of corn from Mr. (illegible), and yourself, of course if he wishes to use my share of the corn he makes he can, as I told him, and pay me at harvest, but if he does not want it, I will get him to sell it for whatever corn is worth and pay you the money. With my love to all, I am, Dear Mother, always your affectionate son, JAW”
The “Alexander” Washingtons
“After the complications of the Blackburn marriages, perhaps the next tangle almost as complicated is the Alexander Washington set of connections. John A. Washington and Jane Charlotte Blackburn, the ones who built Blakeley and inherited Mt. Vernon, had two sons and also a daughter, their oldest child, Maria - her full name was Anna Maria Tomasina Blackburn Washington. She married an estimable gentleman, a physician from Alexandria, named Dr. William Fontaine Alexander. They had seven children and one gets tired of mentioning tuberculosis, but she died of tuberculosis after having the seven children. When they settled in Jefferson County in a farm called Walnut Farm, which her mother, Jane Charlotte Blackburn Washington, had purchased for them - their only descendants come from a daughter who was a Mrs. Ranson in Staunton.
“But there are more Alexanders over at Claymont. Bushrod Corbin, the builder of Claymont, besides the son who succeeded him there - Thomas Blackburn Washington - also had a daughter named Hannah Lee Washington.
“She was visiting Mt. Vernon in 1835 when she proceeded to elope with a man who her family did not want her to marry. He was a young widower. His name was William Pearson Alexander - not to be confused with Dr. William Fontaine Alexander. They were first cousins once removed.
“William P. Alexander came out of King George County. He and his new wife lived in a variety of places, including King George County and Fairfax County until they finally settled up with her father at Claymont. A house was apparently built apparently on the Claymont property for them, but the enormous house at Claymont was plenty big to house everybody and they seemed to live there a good deal of the time. This marriage produced nine children but eventually ended in a divorce and William P. Alexander went away, married again and died. His wife, Hannah Lee Washington Alexander, lived much as a widow would live in black mourning dress to a great old age in Charles Town.
(Hannah Alexander’s decision to seek a divorce, unusual for 1854, was made as a painful necessity, as reflected in the beginning of her letter to her cousin at the time. The original letter was located in an open box in storage in the Jefferson County Courthouse among papers of the divorce proceeding. – ED):
“To Mr. John A. Washington
The conduct of my husband, William Alexander, towards myself and my children has been such for some time past, that I find it impossible for me to live with him any longer and I sincerely believe that, not only the character and reputation, but the lives of my children will be seriously endangered if they remain longer under his control.”
“The Alexanders, who were so very prominent around Charles Town in the period, shall we say, from 1850 to 1950, were all descendants of this couple.”
A letter to George C. Washington from Jane Charlotte Washington, May 25th, 1840 from Mt. Vernon, (Permission Mt. Vernon Ladies Association, Mt. Vernon Research Collection):
“My dear (George C. Washington)
“I never would have submitted to the endless intrusions and sacrifices of everything like private right and domestic privacy to which we are liable here but that I believe it arises frequently from a sincere though thoughtless desire of honoring the memory of Genl Washington. 'Tis a feeling calculated to inspire and strengthen virtuous and patriotic principles and cement more firmly the ties that bind us together as a Nation. We have done and shall continue to do all we can to keep the place from entire decay. It is yearly becoming more expensive and difficult to do so, the buildings all ought to be thoroughly repaired or they must in a few years go down - when that occurs if unable to do better, I trust the family will erect a Log Cabin and still let the place descend to the name and family of Washington. A family, I must say, whose simple integrity of heart, disinterested honesty of purpose and pure patriotism, must ever make worthy the Inheritance.
“My son Augustine is at present in Jefferson I was compelled to have him attend to some business. He will join us here in a few days.
“Several circumstances, and among these the illness and death of my excellent Aunt Blackburn, detained me much later at Blakeley this spring than usual soon after my arrival here I received your kind letter but was at the time enjoined in a painfully interesting duty - having the remains of our revered Uncle and Aunt, my beloved husband and dear sister, Mary Herbert, interred in the Vault. I was so dreadfully shocked at seeing the melancholy state and exposure of several of our friends who were deposited in the vault, that I determined while it could yet be done, that those four objects of my early and unceasing affection, should have a safe hiding place in the bosom of the earth until called forth to a glorious resurrection!”
“One of the most conspicuous people in the history of the Washington family always seemed to me to be “Grandmother Jane." This was Jane Charlotte Blackburn. She was the orphaned niece of Judge Bushrod’s wife, and married the second John Augustine Washington, the builder of Blakeley and inheritor from the Judge of Mt. Vernon.
“When her husband died in 1832, he left his entire estate to his wife to be divided as she pleased among her children. So Jane Charlotte became the owner of Mt. Vernon and remained so until the place went to her older son and this she confirmed in her will in 1855. The family, as I said, considered Blakeley a summer retreat from the heat and the bad climate of the tidewater area of Mt. Vernon. The family had always been burdened with the responsibility of slaves, and they felt this burden to be a very serious and unwelcome responsibility, just as George Washington had felt. One thing that they had done from the beginning was to support the American Colonization Society which founded Liberia, a free nation on the coast of Africa to which they would send freed slaves. The trouble with this project was that it was a very expensive thing to do - to educate slaves to the point where they could be self-sufficient and then transport them over to Africa and give them enough support to have books, a start to get going and become independent. Judge Bushrod Washington, while he sat on the Supreme Court of the United States, was President of the American Colonization Society, and the family always supported it. Indeed Jane Charlotte, in her 1855 will, provided for one slave, named William Lyon, to be educated and transported to Liberia if he chose.” (A parcel near Claymont on the 1883 map of the county indicates a parcel owned by a man of the same name - ED).
“One other member of the Washington family who settled here was Col. Lewis William Washington. His land came to him in a different fashion. He was a close relative of other Washingtons. His mother, Jane Washington, had been a sister of Judge Bushrod Washington and Corbin Washington, the father of the Blakeley and Claymont builders. This sister, Jane, had married a cousin - a half-first-cousin named William Augustine Washington - and these were Col. Lewis William's grandparents. Col. Lewis William’s mother was a Miss Beall from Georgetown near Washington, D.C. and it was Beall land that Col. Lewis William inherited here in Jefferson County. He had lived in Baltimore with his wife until her death in 1844 and then settled here as a widower on at the farm called Beallair. He, of course, was captured by John Brown in 1859 at the time of the Harper’s Ferry raid and was Brown’s prisoner at Harper’s Ferry for a time.
“Another member of the family enters into the story here. Richard Blackburn Washington, my great-grandfather who was the son of the builder of Blakeley. He was a famous squirrel shot and he was among the citizens who went over to Harper’s Ferry
in response to the emergency created by John Brown and was credited with having shot one of the raiders from some tremendous distance and killing him in one of the incidents before the U.S. Army arrived and dislodged Brown from the armory.”
“Of course the whole slavery question was one of the factors that led to the Civil War,
and the Civil War really destroyed the Washington family in Jefferson
County. All the other families in the area, in Jefferson and adjacent counties, suffered because it was a war fought against civilians and civilian property and not just against armies. This was an area which kept changing control, first under Confederate, then under Union, then under Confederate, then under Union rule; and it changed constantly during the war. Of course all the local people were very strong Confederates, as it was their state of Virginia which had been invaded, and they were defending their homes against the invaders. And this led to many casualties.
“The Washington and Alexander families suffered, particularly the Claymont Washingtons. Thomas Blackburn had two sons, George and Jimmy, who died during the war in the Confederate army and the sister, Mrs. Hannah Alexander, had two sons who died in the war.
“One of the Washington boys, George, who had been born on February 22nd in 1842 and died in 1863, was in love with, and perhaps engaged to, his cousin, my great aunt, Elizabeth Washington of Harewood. It was only several years after the war she married an old widower, Mr. Flagg.
“The John A. Washington who got Mt. Vernon from his mother, Jane Charlotte and father, John Augustine Washington, was born in 1821 and lived of course at Mt. Vernon. His younger brother inherited Blakeley from their parents. The families did a lot of going back-and-forth and the two families would be together at one or the other house.
“John Augustine and his wife, Eleanor Selden, had seven children. He was the last Washington to own Mt. Vernon. To preserve it, he sold it to the Mt. Vernon Ladies Association in 1858. Of their seven children, the older ones were daughters and the sons were very young when the war came along. In 1860, Eleanor Washington died in childbirth, leaving their seven children with John Augustine.
“Father John Augustine entered the army as a lieutenant colonel on General Lee’s staff, with his children being cared for by other family members.
(He even shared a tent with Gen. Robert E. Lee on his first campaign. The pious John Augustine would pray at cot-side on his knees each morning and evening. On September 13th, 1861, he was killed at Elk Water on Cheat Mountain, when he reconnoitered too far into enemy-held territory. A distant relative to John Augustine, through the Lees, and a childhood friend, Gen. Lee was hit hard by one of the first personal losses he would experience in the War. He wrote his friend’s eldest daughter breaking the awful news: - ED)
“Camp on Valley River
My dear Louisa
With a heart filled with grief I have to communicate the saddest tiding you have ever heard. May your Father who is in Heaven enable you to bear it for in his Inscrutable Providence abounding in mercy and omnipotent in power, he had made you fatherless on earth.
“Your dear father in reconnoitering the enemy’s position came into range of fire of his pickets and was instantly killed. He fell in the cause to which he had devoted all his energies and in which his noble heart was enlisted. My intimate association with him for some months has more than full disclosed to me his great worth than double so many years of ordinary intercourse would have been sufficient to reveal. We have shared the same tent and morning and evenings has his earnest devotion to Almighty God elicited my grateful admiration. He is now happy in heaven, I trust with her he so loved on earth. We ought not to wish him back. May God in his mercy, my dear child, sustain you, your sisters, and brothers under this heavy affliction. My own grief is so great I will not afflict you further with it. Faithfully your friend, R. E. Lee.”
Gen. Lee would write Louisa during the war, especially after the death in October, 1862 of his own 23-year-old daughter, Annie. After the war, Louisa, in choosing an appropriate tombstone for her father for the Zion Episcopal Churchyard, wrote Gen. Lee for advice. Epitaphs must surely have been on his mind. - ED
“December 11, 1868
My dear Louisa
Simple inscriptions on monuments to the dead harmonize best with my feelings and are more in accordance with my taste. The name, date of birth & death on the front face, and some sentiment typical of their lives & characters on the reverse side . . .impressive. In the case of your father, it might not be out of place to add to the inscription on the face ‘the last proprietor of Mount Vernon of the family Washington and sentiment on the reverse might embody the ancient maxim which he felt more strongly than __himself. It is honourable and glorious to die for our country. In the present state of affairs, it would not be well or wise (?) I think to state more particularly his devotion and sacrifice to his state. You must consider what I have written merely as a suggestion which you must reject or follow as you may think. But in this matter it is proper that your sentiment and feelings should be consulted rather than those of others and I prefer that they be strictly complied with . . . .”
(The epitaph from 2 Timothy Chapter 4 in the Bible says: “I have fought the good fight, I have stayed the course, I have kept the faith.”)
“John Augustine’s younger brother, my great-grandfather, is still referred to as Uncle Dick, because he was uncle to so many people. Uncle Dick – the good marksman - quixotically entered the Confederate army as a private even though he was thirty-nine years old and almost twice the average age of the enlistees. He felt that it was wrong to accept a commission merely because of one’s general ability, family connections, and position in the community. However when his brother was killed leaving seven orphans, Gen. Lee ordered Dick to go home and quit this nonsense and take care of his responsibilities. Uncle Dick had seven children of his own, as well as the seven orphans of his brother to be responsible for. His sister, Mrs. William Fontaine Alexander, had died followed by her widower’s death in 1862, also leaving under Uncle Dick’s strained care their four children.
“This was not easy - the children were scattered at three different farms. The Mt. Vernon people were at Waveland in Fauquier County; Uncle Dick's own family was at Blakeley, then at Harewood. The Alexanders had Walnut Farm over on the other side of Charles Town. Travel was very difficult. It was constantly a question of whether you were going into Union territory, or from Union territory to Confederate territory, across the lines to get from one place to another. The Confederates, when they came along, had to be fed; and the Union army, when it came along, took all the food, to say nothing of all the livestock. The Union army under orders from Gen. Sheridan deliberately burned all the fences on the farms to make it impossible to keep livestock or grow crops. They stole possessions from the houses, they stole clothes. In one instance I’ve never been able to understand, my Great-Uncle John, who was a hunchback and sixteen or seventeen years old, was herding some cattle from one field to another when the Union soldiers captured him and sent him to a military prison in Washington. His grandmother, who had been Miss Clemson from Philadelphia, got on the train and went down to Washington. She went to see Mr. Lincoln and got from him permission for the boy to come out of the prison and live with relatives, the Walter Jones family, in Washington and go to school.
“Life was really tough for these families. When the war was over, not only was the labor gone, but all the facilities for farming and existing were gone: the seed corn, the fences, the cattle, the horses - everything was gone. That they hung on to any property was remarkable. They did for a while, but they had large families and such property as there was would be divided when someone died among a number of people. Eventually they left the farm and moved into Charles Town or many states away. They had all scattered all over the country.
“These families, as I say grew, flourished, and populated the territory for the 19th and well into the 20th century. Although there are very few of the descendants left in Charles Town today. I think of Walter Washington, Betsy Wells and Nancy Treuttner. There may be one or two others but there are not many.”
I can still think of one other fragment, another branch of the Washington family that was in this region. Out near Middleway on a farm are the graves of two Washington women who came from Spy Hill, King George County, and descended from cousins of George Washington. There was a man here in Charles Town, William Pinckard Flood, who was sheriff of Jefferson County in, I believe the 1830s or 1840s. One of the graves is that of his wife, Nancy Washington (1777-1832). Her mother, Harriet Peyton Washington, married as her second husband, in 1800, Francis Whiting, and came to live on Bullskin farm here. Beside Mrs. Flood, her niece is buried. She was Amelia Washington (1808-1831), the first wife of Dr. Mann Page Nelson of Middleway. Her sister Cecilia was Mrs. Edward Bacon Burwell, also apparently of Middleway, but as a young widow she married Dr. John Owen and is buried at the Old Chapel in Clarke County. The Flood family remained in Jefferson County for many years, but have not been easy to trace, and they do not seem to have been close to their numerous Washington kinfolk.