Join us for an enlightening look at the personal interests and exploits of George Washington prior to the American Revolution. We will also examine the broader world of the British Empire in North America in the mid-eighteenth century.

During this symposium:

  • Hear from Mount Vernon staff and leading historians
  • Tour the Mansion
  • View historic documents and objects



The annual George Washington Symposium is supported by a generous endowment established by the Barra Foundation.

Add to Calendar 11/05/2021 11/06/2021 America/New_York Becoming George Washington: The 2021 George Washington Symposium

Join us for an enlightening look at the personal interests and exploits of George Washington prior to the American Revolution. We will also examine the broader world of the British Empire in North America in the mid-eighteenth century.

During this symposium:

  • Hear from Mount Vernon staff and leading historians
  • Tour the Mansion
  • View historic documents and objects



The annual George Washington Symposium is supported by a generous endowment established by the Barra Foundation.

Robert H. and Clarice Smith Auditorium George Washington's Mount Vernon MM/DD/YYYY 15

Special Event Showing On


$225 for General Public
$200 for Members and Donors

Please note that this lineup is subject to change at any time.

Becoming George Washington

Before George Washington's emergence as the leader of a world-changing revolution, he lived a successful, colorful, and productive life, which was full of remarkable achievements, failures, and even tragedies. 

The wide variety of personal experiences and daring adventures in which the young George Washington took part greatly influenced and shaped the man who would become the Father of Our Country.

Learn about:

  • his first job as a surveyor
  • his beloved Mount Vernon estate
  • his experiences in the French and Indian War
  • his passion for agricultural pursuits
  • his comportment and personal presence as a young gentleman
  • some of the earliest portraiture of Washington and his family

Friday, November 5


Symposium RegistrationVaughan Lobby


Welcome and Opening Remarks


Young Washington at Home

Jason Boroughs, Amanda Isaac, and Caroline Spurry

A panel of talented Mount Vernon experts will open the symposium by discussing different aspects of George Washington’s beloved estate, from his first occupancy in 1754 through the beginning of the American Revolution. 

These scholars will examine the property through a variety of lenses, including the landscape of the five farms that made up the vast Mount Vernon estate, the architectural changes implemented across the 1750s, 60s, and 70s, as well as the furnishings and material culture which the Washingtons purchased for their home.


George Washington: An Education in Silk and Blood

Maurizio Valsania

Eighteenth-century upper-class men led a paradoxical life. They were educated in politeness and sensibility, and yet many of them underwent brutal experiences and carried out impossibly violent acts.

For them, being able to praise the “good things in life” (including the art of conversation, self-presentation, and the mastery of fashion) was seamlessly tied to the reality of war, slavery, and the pain inflicted by the heroic medicine of the time. These conflicting elements characterized a world that is totally lost on us.

By focusing on the young Washington, this presentation explores the tensions and paradoxes embedded in 18th-century masculinity.


Refreshment Break


George Washington and the Point of Beginning

Clinton Terry

George Washington was involved with land surveying from his teenage years to the very end of his life, and that experience affected every aspect of his life and service to the new nation.

His experience as a surveyor led to his initial military experience in the French and Indian War, his land speculation in the West, his joining the American revolutionaries, his military leadership during the Revolution and, finally, his political service as first President of the United States.

Knowing the land and its relationship to a well-led life ran as a current throughout Washington’s career, private and professional.


Cocktail Reception, Vaughan Lobby

Mansion Tours


Dinner, Mount Vernon Inn

Saturday, November 6


Continental Breakfast

Historic Document and Object Viewing, Washington Library


Opening Remarks, Smith Auditorium


Imperial Conflicts, Revolutionary Outcomes: How the First Global War Transformed America

Al Zuercher Reichardt

How did the first global war lead to an American revolution? From Pondicherry to the Ohio Valley, the Seven Years’ War transformed the British Empire.

In North America, British victory over France was celebrated as the product of new imperial government-funded and constructed infrastructure: improved roads and highways, an expanded postal service, burgeoning print centers, and more. State infrastructure, however, would also prove the Empire’s undoing.

These networks not only connected colonial frontiers to provincial centers, but provincial centers to London, Europe, and beyond. They also soon propelled the circulation of radical propaganda and subversive interpretations of the news. Roads to British power, then, quickly became roads to American Revolution.


The Trials of George Washington: How the Seven Years' War Shaped the Leadership of America's First Commander in Chief

David Preston

By 1759, when George Washington embarked on his legislative path in the Virginia House of Burgesses, he had discharged weighty diplomatic and military responsibilities in the Seven Years’ War and undergone a concentrated array of trials that few officers have experienced by the age of 27.  Those trials--mostly marked by failure, defeat, and frustration—imbued Washington with a remarkable education in warfare and leadership. 

This presentation offers new insights into Washington’s formation as a military officer during the French and Indian War and his evolution as the quintessential American officer of his era.


Refreshment Break

11:15 am

Those Loose, Idle, Self-Willed and Ungovernable Persons: George Washington's First Regiment and the Challenges of Leadership and Command

Christian E. Fearer

In 1754, George Washington’s youthful military ambitions confronted the realities of leadership and the demands of command.

The contest for the Ohio Country was accelerating toward open conflict, and Virginia needed a military force. Transforming proverbial butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers into soldiers was Washington’s responsibility, and the resulting regiment would be the first he would lead into battle.

Broken promises and a chronic want of supplies stretched soldiers’ patience, testing Washington’s abilities to lead. Rather than bend to the authority conferred by his rank, the regiment challenged its inexperienced commander at nearly every turn.

12:15 pm

Lunch, Mount Vernon Inn

1:30 pm

On the Bench with Justice Washington: Colonial Law Enforcement and the Magisterial Foundations of Revolutionary Politics  

Brendan Gillis

On September 21, 1768, George Washington took the oaths required to become a Justice of the Peace for Fairfax County, Virginia. Over the next five years, Washington attended monthly county court sessions with regularity, joining colleagues on the bench as they issued more than 1400 administrative and judicial decisions. 

The business, rituals, and procedures of local courts introduced Washington and others of his generation to the nuances of local administration. Participation in colonial law enforcement left a lasting mark on the county justice who would become the first chief magistrate of the United States. 

2:30 pm

Refreshment Break

2:45 pm

The Farmer's Example: Slavery and Agriculture at Mount Vernon

Bruce Ragsdale

In his dedication to British farming methods after 1759, Washington anticipated a different kind of imperial relationship in the exchange of agricultural knowledge and the material culture of improvement.

His innovations at Mount Vernon also placed him at the forefront of efforts to adapt enslaved labor to diversified and scientific farming in Virginia.

This presentation will explore how the merger of a British model of agricultural improvement with the stricter control of enslaved labor enabled Washington to assert a civic-minded and commercially-spirited role for the owner of a large estate in the years before the Revolution.

3:45 pm

Symposium Concludes


Speaker Biographies

Jason Boroughs

Jason Boroughs is Mount Vernon’s research archaeologist. With over 25 years of field experience excavating historic sites throughout America and the Caribbean, his research and publications focus on Chesapeake and Atlantic plantation communities.  He has held a variety of research and teaching positions in institutions such as the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Jamestown Rediscovery, and Salisbury University.  He holds a B.A. from the University of Virginia, and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the College of William and Mary.

Amanda Isaac

As Associate Curator, Amanda Isaac leads the research and development of the Mount Vernon Furnishing Plan and oversees the clothing and textile collection.  She directed the recent refurnishing of the major bedchambers as part of the ongoing Mansion restoration. She holds an M.A. from the University of Delaware’s Winterthur Program in Early American Culture and a B.A. from the College of William and Mary.

Caroline Spurry

Caroline Spurry is Mount Vernon’s Architectural Historian. She leads the architectural research, documentation, and investigation of Mount Vernon’s historic structures and oversees the architecture collection. She guided such efforts for restorations of the Mansion Exterior, Front Parlor, Little Parlor, Blue Room, Yellow Room, North Garden House, and South Garden House. She holds an M.A. in Historic Preservation from The George Washington University and a B.A. from Franklin and Marshall College.

Maurizio Valsania

Maurizio Valsania is professor of American History at the University of Turin, Italy. He is the author of The Limits of Optimism: Thomas Jefferson's Dualistic Enlightenment; Nature's Man: Thomas Jefferson's Philosophical Anthropology; and Jefferson’s Body: A Corporeal Biography. He is the recipient of numerous fellowships from leading academic institutions, and is a Washington Library research fellow. Valsania's new book, George Washington: The First American Male, will be published by the Johns Hopkins University Press in 2023. 

Clinton Terry

Clinton Terry teaches American History and Liberal Studies at Mercer University in Georgia. He specializes in the long 19th century, from the American Revolution to the Great War, focusing on the social history of economic development, business, and technology. He recently published Surveying in Early America: The Point of Beginning with co-author Dan Patterson.

Al Zuercher Reichardt

Al Zuercher Reichardt is an Assistant Professor of History & Constitutional Democracy at the University of Missouri. His research revolves around the intersections of 18th-century European and Indigenous peoples, politics, and empires. Dr. Reichardt’s forthcoming book, War for the Interior, maps the long Seven Years' War for the heart of North America and reconstructs the inter-imperial roots of the American Revolution.

David Preston

David Preston is General Mark W. Clark Distinguished Professor of History at The Citadel, and the author of several books, including The Texture of Contact (2009) and Braddock’s Defeat: The Battle of the Monongahela and the Road to Revolution (2015), which won the 2016 Gilder Lehrman Prize in Military History and was a finalist for the George Washington Prize.

Christian E. Fearer

Christian E. Fearer is a senior historian for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Before joining the Department of Defense, he worked with and for the National Park Service at sites in Virginia, Alaska, and Pennsylvania, including Fort Necessity National Battlefield. His current research focuses on the years between the War of Austrian Succession and the outbreak of the French and Indian War, culminating in George Washington’s 1754 military campaign.

Brendan Gillis

Brendan Gillis is an Assistant Professor of History at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas, where he also serves as Assistant Director of the Center for History and Culture of Southeast Texas and the Upper Gulf Coast. His research explores the entangled histories of law, local government, and politics in colonial North America and the British empire. Dr. Gillis’s current book project Empire of Peace provides a global history of the British magistrate during the eighteenth century. 

Bruce Ragsdale

Bruce Ragsdale is the author of Washington at the Plow: The Founding Farmer and the Question of Slavery (2021). He was a fellow at the Washington Library, as well as the International Center for Jefferson Studies, and he was Mount Vernon’s inaugural fellow with the Georgian Papers Programme. Ragsdale formerly served as the director of the Federal Judicial History Office at the Federal Judicial Center. He received his Ph.D. from the University of Virginia.


Guests should park in the Mount Vernon visitor lots and enter the auditorium via the Shops at Mount Vernon.

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