Skip to main content

See also:

George Washington's birthplace is a fake

George Washington's birthplace Wakefield located in Wesmoreland County, Virginia
George Washington's birthplace Wakefield located in Wesmoreland County, Virginia
Google image

George Washington would have probably shaken his head. If he were alive today and visited his birthplace, he would be surprised. Washington was born in 1732 in Westmoreland County, Virginia. His birthplace, named Wakefield, burned to the ground in 1749. In the 1920's an effort gained steam to honor Washington by rebuilding Wakefield. Little information exists to describe the property. Many historians think it was a simple structure, and most likely a frame house. Evidence suggests that Augustine (George's father) may have built the original house (1728) by himself. Since Augustine was also farming 1200 acres it seems unlikely that he would have had time to build anything but a simple and unpretentious house.

A collaborative effort by several groups, including the federal government, were formed to build the new house. All parties were constantly at odds with each other. Different historical visions surfaced from the start of construction. There was a tug of war between the National Park Service and a local women's group called the Memorial Association. The women won. Their organizer, Mrs. Josephine Wheelwright Rust, wanted to honor Washington by making his birthplace into a lovely spot with beautiful gardens and a house that would be possibly reminiscent of one that Washington was born in. Instead, the house resembles the one that she was born in and the gardens, although beautiful, did not reflect the colonial period.

Finished in 1932, Wakefield is a lovely red brick cape cod and has a dark grey slate roof. The interior befits a man of means, with built-in bookcases and beautiful wood paneling. The National Park Service's own literature refers to the house as the Memorial Mansion. George's father owned a good amount of land, but he was far from being wealthy. Additionally, the new Wakefield was not even built on the correct site.

Both the historians and the park rangers had wanted authenticity. They had wanted the house and gardens to accurately reflect the property where George Washington was born. They were silenced and the women's group were allowed to be creative with interpeting history. Eventually, however, the historians and the park rangers suggested practical methods of commemorating Washington. There's a small museum of family artifacts in the house basement. Also, costumed interpreters try to create a sense of the times of George Washington.

Today, under the control of the NPS, they are careful to distance themselves from calling the house a replica. Despite the full disclosures presented by the NPS at Wakefield, one has to wonder how many school kids and adults have toured the property believing they had visited George Washington's real birthplace. Wakefield is not about history, but about the ambitions of non-historians to romanticize, and fictionalize his childhood.