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Day 93 - Famous Birthplaces (Photo's Added)

We visited another plantation, Stratford, where R. E. Lee was born and lived until he was about 4. We also visited the Popes Creek Plantation, where George Washington was born.

sunny 50 °F


Miles Driven - 120 (Not RT, but not South either)
Weather - quite Windy & Gusty, not too much of a problem but I had to keep my speed down
Camped at - Fredricksburg KOA


True to form, I am still very behind. We were heading to Monticello today but Mom thought a side road would be just as fast and George Washington's birthplace was marked on the map on this route. Not Mt. Vernon mind you, but his birthplace. My mistake, I should have checked the map a little more carefully - Monticello was only a couple hours drive from where we'd been staying, but not by the route we took, so we took in some unscheduled stops again (which is the general theme of this trip anyway).

Shortly after we'd started out, we saw two or three bald eagles circling overhead. We'd seen these a couple of different times in this area but had never been able to get a photo. I pulled over to the side of the road quickly and hopped out with the camera. Maybe they knew we were leaving town and decided to be nice and stick around long enough for me to get a picture?


So off we go - planning to see Washington's birthplace. We drove through a small town called Brays Fork. We didn't really stop there although they did have a museum and some civil war signage. However, it looked like such a typical rural town for Virginia that I thought I'd snap a shot. The big cities in the south have all been built up so much, it's hard to picture what they might have looked like a century or more ago. Take out the cars & telephone lines, this one probably looks much like it did during the Civil War IMHO.


As we continued on the road, we started seeing signs for Robert E. Lee's birthplace, Stratford. I'm not a big fan of Lee. From what I know, he was a great general but I have a problem with the cause he fought for, the South yes, but also everything the South represented. However we're here and this is an opportunity to learn and understand the past so we stopped. We did learn more, but not necessarily about Gen. Lee or the Civil War, this was much earlier than that. He only lived here until he was about 3 or 4, so this is more about the history of 1700's plantation era Virginia.

Richard Lee was the first Lee in Virginia. He arrived in Jamestown in the late 1630's and quickly realized the value of land and he acquired large tracts and exported tobacco, hides and pelts. He was also active in the local government and held several offices in the colony. Over time, he amassed 16,000 acres in Virginia and Maryland. His son, Richard also, was more of a scholar than a plantation manager and died fairly young, but not before he'd had six children of his own. One of those was Thomas Lee, who had a knack for business and politics like his grandfather. Thomas Lee built Stratford for his wife, Hannah.


Our tour guide for the house was Martha, who didn't seem to mind us pesky tourists!


Unfortunately however, no photo's allowed indoors so I'll just have to describe the house a bit from my notes.

The house covers 10,800 sq ft, has 18 rooms and 16 fireplaces. Hannah Lee wanted a Georgian style mansion, as was the fashion in England. They made the 600,000 bricks on site. Almost all of the other materials were also local. The walls are over 18" thick. Inside there are several skylights (there was no electricity in 1740) and 14' ceilings. It took about one cord of wood per day to heat the house in the winter.

The plantation itself was a self-sufficient community. While the Lee's imported some luxury goods, just about anything else needed on the plantation was made there. At it's height, there were probably about 200 workers, including 137 slaves, 13 more skilled slaves, and the rest indentured servants or white workers (clerks, oversee'ers, some skilled workers).

Two of Thomas Lee's sons signed the Declaration of Independance. Another, Harry 'Lighthorse' Lee served under Washington and delivered the final tribute: "First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen...". Harry "Lighthorse" Lee was also Robert E. Lee's grandfather.

There is a lot of information about all the contributions the Lee's made in government during this era, but not as much about what happened to the family fortune that Thomas Lee amassed. However, by the time Robert E. Lee was ready for college, there was no money left for a private education which is why he went to West Point, because it was free.

Another interesting tidbit that Martha provided was that one of the ways Thomas Lee had made at least some of his money was as a slave trader. Non of the other materials I checked had that information, just that he exported tobacco and held several government offices. This appears to be a very sensitive area still, maybe people don't want to know too much about the realities of our past. We either glorify the founding fathers as almost mythical hero's, or we castigate them for behavior we would find reprehensible today. I think he truth is somewhere in between and I am attempting to understand this more.

OK - maybe it's getting late again, I'm starting to drift.

We did get back on the road and just a couple miles farther was the Popes Creek Plantation where George Washington was born. There is a visitors center, a marble monument and a house built in the style they think the original house might have been like. The original house burned down at Christmas, 1799 however, so there's not a whole lot to see here that is of historical significance. The location is right on the Potomac River and they think that while living here, G. Washington may have developed his lifelong love of the river and farming (plantation management style).


We did learn more about the Washington family and how their holdings developed. But it's late and that sort of information is probably readily available on the internet. So I'll leave it for you - for the moment, I'll get some sleep.

Monticello in the Morning Or Else!

(ps - found a KOA open year round here in Fredricksburg, so are plugged in and comfy. Hope everyone made it through the big wind storm OK back home!)

Posted by jl98584 20:43 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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Sometimes early places be interesting. I usually take the side road when I can. I rarely sorry.
The wind and rain are still happening. We got a deluge on the way to the office. Apparently I5 is closed in Chehalis, and the Chehalis river has not peaked yet. They expect it to top the record.

by drque

It has been very interesting seeing some of the earliest European settlements in America, first in MA, then down here.
Sorry about the rough weather out there but glad everyone is OK. We got some snow Wednesday, but were close enough to the edge of the storm I just drove south a couple hours and we missed the worst of it. Should be nice a couple days now.

by jl98584

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