HOW THE IRON ORES OF MARYLAND MADE GEORGE WASHINGTON
"FATHER OF OUR COUNTRY"
|George Washington the national icon, the man on the dollar and the quarter, the symbol of the Revolution, and of course "Father of Our Country" General/President Washington is ubiquitous. But, how does a person achieve such renown? By being general of a victorious army and President of a powerful country, of course! In order to get to such a position one must have the opportunity. Most of our presidents weren't well known until they were successful military leaders or until after they became President. Washington, too, might well have remained an obscure figure if he had not gotten those opportunities. Among the important factors in his life that made those opportunities possible were the iron ores of Maryland. |
In January, 1725, Capt. Augustine Washington, George Washington's father, became an investor and owner in the Principio Company. During the period 1725-1730, Augustine had frequent dealings with John England at Principio, both selling him ore from his Accokeek mines in Virginia and receiving support in the construction of a furnace at Accokeek (see Fig. 5). Nathaniel Chapman, mentioned previously as an important ironmaster at Principio, worked at this time for Capt. Washington at Accokeek. In the summer of 1729, Augustine left for England to deal with his partners in the Maryland iron ore business.
Figure 5. A conjectural painting by Sidney King of Augustine Washington and his ten-year-old son, George, visiting Accokeek Furnace in 1742. (courtesy Intermet Corporation)
On his return to Virginia on May 26, 1730 he found that his wife Jane Butler, mother of Lawrence, had died during his absence on November 24, 1729. Whether his absence in any fashion contributed to Jane's death or whether had he been at home he could have prevented it is a matter of pure speculation. Nonetheless, it cleared the way for him to marry Mary Ball, George Washington's mother, on March 6, 1731. Therefore, even before his birth on February 22, 1732 (actually February 11 under the Julian calendar then in use), the iron industry of Maryland had two significant influences on George's life. It provided money to his father, and in his father's absence on an iron-related business trip the opportunity developed for his father's marriage to his mother.
The money from the iron business further influenced young George's life in that, in part, it provided funds to send his half brother Lawrence to school in England. On his return in 1738, the educated and sophisticated Lawrence became George's model and idol. It was Lawrence who built Mount Vernon, in part with iron money, which would later pass on to George. And it was Lawrence who was George's mentor and entrée into society after their father's death in 1743.
As a member of that society and the de facto owner of Mount Vernon on the death of Lawrence in 1752, George was able to meet and marry the wealthy widow, Martha Custis in 1759. (He even visited the Principio works briefly in February, 1756.) From then on, his path is well known. He went from the Virginia House of Burgesses to the Continental Congress, to Commander of the Armies of the American Revolution (Freeman, 1948). Thus, in a very real sense, George Washington, the "Father of Our Country," began his rise to fame on the iron ore industry of Maryland.