The Downstairs Bedroom served as a bedchamber as early as 1759 and continued to be as such throughout George Washington's life at Mount Vernon. The 1799 inventory taken at the time of Washington's death indicated that the room still served as a bedchamber.
The list recorded the following objects in that room: one looking glass, one small table, one bed, bedstead and mattress, four mahogany or walnut chairs, one large gilt frame, window curtains, one carpet, irons, and shovel tongs. The first reference to a bedchamber on the lower floor at Mount Vernon occurs in a letter of instruction which George Washington sent on to his overseer while journeying northward from Williamsburg with his bride in the spring of 1759.1
A downstairs bedroom was a common feature of early Virginia homes and served an important purpose at Mount Vernon. Even after the house was renovated and enlarged, there would have been a continuing need for a sleeping chamber on the first floor. The post-Revolutionary War family living at Mount Vernon included eight people: George and Martha Washington, the two Custis grandchildren, Washington's nephew George Augustine Washington and his wife, and the two secretaries Colonel Humphreys and Tobias Lear.
This family-in-residence would have fully occupied the rooms on the second floor. The numerous overnight guests that frequently visited Mount Vernon taxed the facilities of the house, and the Downstairs Bedroom was often utilized to house visitors. Caroline Branham, Molly, Charlotte, and other enslaved housemaids faced a relentless cycle of domestic work: lighting fires, making beds, washing clothes and linens, sweeping and scrubbing floors, and dusting furniture, among many other duties to ensure all rooms were kept ready for visitors.
Washington installed a new bedstead with hangings and window curtains in the Downstairs Bedroom in 1787. This room continued to serve as a bedroom until the end of George Washington's life. A large oil painting hung in the room depicting the 1759 Battle of Minden where the Marquis de Lafayette's father was killed. It was a gift to Washington in 1787 from Samuel Vaughan and originally hung in the New Room before being moved to the Downstairs Bedroom by Washington.
1. "George Washington to John Alton, 5 April 1759." The Papers of George Washington: Colonial Series, Vol. 6, ed. W. W. Abbot (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1988), 200.
Dalzell, Jr., Robert E. and Lee Baldwin Dalzell. George Washington's Mount Vernon: At Home in Early America. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.