Little Hunting Creek Plantation
George Washington's father, Augustine Washington, moves his family to the Little Hunting Creek plantation for three years. George Washington was about two years old at the time. Dendrochronology, or the use of tree ring analysis to determine relative dating, shows the trees used to frame this section of the house were cut in 1734. The original house likely consisted of four rooms and a central passage on the first floor and a garret. The family lived at Little Hunting Creek for a few years before moving to Ferry Farm, located across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg, Virginia.
Augustine Washington Dies
Augustine Washington dies leaving the Little Hunting Creek plantation to George Washington’s older half-brother Lawrence Washington. Not long after inheriting the estate, Lawrence renamed it Mount Vernon, in honor of Admiral Edward Vernon, his commander while serving in the Virginia Foot Regiments.
Lawrence Washington Dies
Lawrence Washington died of tuberculosis in July of 1752 and left Mount Vernon to Sarah, his only living child. His will also stated that if Sarah died without offspring the property would go to Lawrence’s wife, Anne Fairfax Washington. Sarah died only two years later without any children, so Anne inherited Mount Vernon. By this time, Anne had remarried and no longer lived at Mount Vernon. So, after taking ownership of the estate, she began leasing it to George Washington in late-1754. A further provision in Lawrence’s will stated that upon Anne’s death Mount Vernon would pass to George Washington. Thus, when Anne died in 1761, George Washington became the owner of Mount Vernon.
George Washington Expands Mount Vernon
George Washington began expanding Mount Vernon while leasing the property. His first major expansion of the original one-story house with a garret began in the late 1750s. The roof was raised to create a full second story and a third-floor garret. While Washington likely left the footprint of the first floor largely intact, he reconfigured the staircase and the second-floor rooms. In addition, ‘Closets,’ or one-story extensions, were added on the north and south ends of the house. Additionally, an entry in Washington's diary reported the house had four principal dependencies attached to the main house by "Pallisades" on low brick walls.
Washington Marries Martha Dandridge Custis
On January 6, 1759, George Washington married Martha Dandridge Custis. In April, she, her children, and many enslaved people moved to Mount Vernon. Just days before their arrival, Washington writes to his plantation manager: “You must have the House very well cleand... the Stair case ought also to be polishd in order to make it look well.”
George Washington Inherits Mount Vernon
Upon the death of Lawrence Washington’s widow, Anne, George Washington becomes the owner of Mount Vernon.
Second Expansion Begins
The second expansion began in 1774. First, a two-story addition was added to the south end of the house. It contained a study for Washington on the first floor, small service spaces on either side of the study, and a bedroom and dressing rooms for himself and Mrs. Washington on the second floor. This addition was completed in 1775.
The north end was also expanded to include a large two-story entertaining space called the New Room. With its two-story-high ceiling, detailed architectural ornamentation, and stylish furnishings, the New Room intended to convey unpretentious beauty and fine craftsmanship, qualities Washington believed communicated the new nation’s values. The General summed up his ambitious goals for the room in a letter written while he was away fighting in the Revolutionary War: “I would have the whole executed in a masterly manner.” While the north wing was started in 1776, its interior was not completed until circa 1787.
Additionally, the house received several impressive features: a large pediment with an oval, ox-eye window, a cupola, and a two-story piazza along the east façade. While a classically-inspired pediment was not an unusual feature on large houses of the time, cupolas were not commonly found in domestic architecture, being more associated with public buildings. And, while small porches could be found adorning houses throughout the colonies, the Mansion’s full-width, two-story form was unique.
Dove of Peace Weathervane
In 1787, Washington designed and ordered a weathervane from Philadelphia artisan Joseph Rakestraw. Washington explained that he "should like to have a bird...with an olive branch in its Mouth. The bird need not be large (for I do not expect that it will traverse with the wind and therefore may receive the real shape of a bird, with spread wings).” Supporting this dove of peace weathervane, and the wooden finial and copper ball that were installed with it, is a large wrought-iron lighting rod that has protected the Mansion for over two centuries. The whole assembly completed the cupola, which had been “left so long unfinished.”