Wednesday, September 20, 2006

George Washington Part 2 reinterment 1837


As I mentioned in the first part with Washington he was a rather fascinating figure. He was not a great thinker, but did have the sense to see that he was a man people looked up too. He was very smart to know his limits...and he used them much to his advantage.

He was physically impressive and had the largest calves in Congress. (that was a sign of good character in those days). Washington enjoyed Madeira wines and had a rule when it came to drinking you could drink as much as you cared to as long as you remained a gentleman.

Washington grew hemp, and also distilled whiskey at his home.

Now you know Washington had to have a sense of humor at times...He had a dog named SWEET LIPS! That is just too good My image of him changed as soon as I learned that.


Washington died in 1799 and was buried in the family tomb. He had asked for a new tomb to be made for him but it seems that there was no plans to do so. The old family tomb at Mt Vernon was not nice, was very damp, and there often seemed to be flooding. Also it was not too secure.

That should not have been a problem but in the mid 1830's there were attempts to steal the bones of Washington. There was a attack on the tomb and bones were taken. A skull and some bones were taken. However the person was captured. The bones he took were not from George and Martha. But clearly it was time to do something in the way of a new tomb.

The new Tomb of Washington was built in the upper entrance to a secluded hollow near a pathway to the river.

Now some history of the old vault or tomb. It had been built many years before and when it was entered the following was written in 1837 by William Strickland of Philadelphia who entered with Mr Struthers into the vault. Incidentally, the marble coffins in which Washington and his wife are now entombed were presented by John Struthers and made from Pennsylvania Marble.
Now to Mr. Stricklands narrative.

" On entering the vault we found everything in confusion. Decayed fragments of coffins were scattered about and bones of various parts of the human body were seen promiscuously thrown together. The decayed wood was dripping with moisture, the slimy snail glistened in the light of the door opening. The brown centipede was disturbed by the admission of fresh air, and the mouldy cases of the dead gave a pungent and unwholesome odor. The coffins of Washington and his lady were in the deepest recesses of the vault. They were of lead inclosed in wooden cases. When the new sarcophagus arrived the coffin of the chief was brought forth. When the vault was opened Mr. Strickland was accompanied by Major Lewis. ( who was the only survivor of the first group of executors of Washington's will in 1800) and his son. Then Washington's decayed wooden case was removed and the leaden lid was perceived to be sunken and fractured, In the bottom of the wooden case was found the silver shield that had been on the top of the leaden coffin when Washington was first entombed. At the request of Major Lewis the fractured part of the lid was turned over on the lower part, exposing to view a head and breast of large dimensions, which appeared by the dim light of the candles to have suffered but little from the effects of time. The eye-sockets were large and deep, and the breadth across the temples, together with the forehead, appeared of unusual size. There was no appearance of grave-clothes; the chest was broad, the color was dark and had the appearance of dried flesh and skin adhering closely to the bones. We saw no hair, nor was there any offensive odor from the body; but we observed, when the coffin had been removed to the outside of the vault the dripping down of a yellow liquid, which stained the marble of the sarcophagus. A hand was laid upon the head and instantly removed; the leaden lid was restored to its place; the body was carried by six men, was carried and laid in the marble coffin, and the ponderous cover being put on and set in cement, it was sealed on the 7th day of October 1837. The relatives who were present , consisting of Major Lewis, Lorenzo Lewis, John A Washington, George Washington, the Rev. Mr Johnson and lady, and Mrs Jane Washington, then retired to the mansion".

There you have it...Many wondered how Washington was buried where he was and now you know the whole story. The mansion by the way from the 1830's on was looking worse for wear. It was photographed in 1858 and looked like it was ready for collapse. As you can see in the photo provided. I would very much welcome your comments on these articles as I am trying to share history that is rarely seen or known......your comments are always welcome.

Washington was a perfect man for his time...This country was blessed in its early days with leaders who were not perfect, but had some real good common sense. I often think our leaders today should follow their amazing example.
People like Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, and so many others. They put their personal dislikes for each other aside, and fought for the common good.



End of part 2.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Several years ago I read in a newspaper or magazine that George Washington was placed in a coffin full of alcohol. And it was opened once and Washington was perfectly preserved except for his nose because the alcohol had evaporated to that point.

This article would indicate otherwise. I wish I had saved that other article.

Anonymous said...

As a follow-up to the comment by "Anonymous:" I remember that article--it wasn't Washington, but John Paul Jones who was placed in alcohol. The article I saw was in the Washington Post, many many years ago.

Mike the G.W. fan said...

Charles McCabe, great columnist of the San Francisco Chronicle, wrote a story in the late '70s (I was attending SF State) devoted to Washington preserved in alcohol and viewed in 1837.

Bradley Farace said...

At least he had something to do while he was dead.

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