George and Martha Washington viewed hospitality to guests as a vitally important aspect of life at Mount Vernon. Before the Revolutionary War, the Washingtons welcomed many guests to Mount Vernon. However, George Washington's eventual status as a world figure in the post-Revolutionary Era brought considerably larger numbers of guests to the Estate. It was only due to the work of enslaved butlers, housemaids, waiters, cooks, and others the Washingtons’ were able to accommodate all of their visitors.
In 1768, for example, before the start of the American Revolution, Washington and his wife had guests for dinner on eighty-two of the 291 days where records are available, more than 28% of the year. That same year the Washingtons welcomed overnight guests on 130 of the 291 days (almost 45%) that records remain. Six years later in 1774, the last full year before George Washington went off to war, there were dinner guests on 136 of the 207 days when Washington was home, nearly 66% of the time.
During the same period, there were overnight guests on 125 days or about 61% of the time. Following the war, guests dined at Mount Vernon on 225 of the 365 days (64%) recorded in 1785, with overnight guests staying on 235 of 365 days, about 65% of the time. The figures remained high following Washington's retirement from the presidency. In 1798, for example, there were guests for dinner on 203 of the 310 days that records exist (66%) and overnight guests on 183 of 310 days, a little over 59% of the time.1
A more detailed analysis of the guests who stayed at Mount Vernon indicates that prior to the Revolution the vast majority of the individuals who had dinner were neighbors, friends, fox-hunting companions, relatives, and business associates of George Washington. The majority were Virginians, either by birth or by choice. Other visitors were from the nearby colony of Maryland, while some were foreigners in America temporarily for business or a military assignment. The composition of guests at Washington's table before the Revolution reflected his social position during this period as a prominent member of Chesapeake society in Great Britain's North American colonies.2
After the Revolution, the guest list, while still including friends and relatives, became more national and international in scope, reflecting Washington's vastly increased prominence that drew visitors from all over the newly independent America, and Europe. Of the 588 individuals who came to the Estate between 1784 and 1789, well over a third (38.44%) either came from a state other than Virginia (25%), or visited from Europe or the West Indies (13.44%).3
1. This information is taken from George Washington's diaries. The figure is not meant to imply that 677 separate individuals stayed with the Washingtons in 1798. For example, Dr. James Craik was a frequent visitor, coming often for dinner and to stay the night & Mrs. Washington’s two eldest granddaughters and their families were often at Mount Vernon, as well. However, the figure does give an accurate representation of how frequently guests stayed at Mount Vernon. Washington's diaries have been published as: The Diaries of George Washington, 6 volumes, edited by Donald Jackson and Dorothy Twohig (Charlottesville, Virginia: University Press of Virginia, 1976-1979) and can be found online at Founders.Archives.gov.
2. Mary V. Thompson, "Dining with the Washingtons at Three Periods in Their Lives: A Study Undertaken in Support of the Exhibits in the New Museum at Mount Vernon" (unpublished paper prepared for the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, 2003), 2-64.
3. Mary V. Thompson, "Visitors to Mount Vernon, 1784-1789: A Study Undertaken for the Bill of Rights Institute and the Mount Vernon Education Department" (unpublished paper, Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, July 2003). For purposes of determining the numbers of foreign and out-of-state visitors to Mount Vernon in this period, foreign-born merchants and people who had come to America from elsewhere but lived in Virginia or another state were not counted in the European/West Indian category.