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Why is it called Mount Vernon? May 8, 2013

Posted by ourfriendben in Ben Franklin, wit and wisdom.
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If you’ve been following Poor Richard’s Almanac, you’ll know that our hero and blog mentor is the great Benjamin Franklin, and that we’re obsessed with all things Colonial, Revolutionary, and Federal. Our friend Ben and Silence Dogood are going down to Washington, DC this weekend, and are contemplating a trip to Mount Vernon, which I haven’t seen since childhood and Silence has never seen, en route back.

Contemplating returning as an adult and seeing the property through adult eyes must have stimulated a few dormant brain cells, since I suddenly began wondering why the place was called Mount Vernon. As much as I’ve read about George Washington and his family history, it had never dawned on me to ask this question before. To my knowledge, no Washington ancestors were named Vernon, and there certainly was no mountain called Vernon bordering the Potomac. What the bleep?!

Fortunately, a visit with Wikipedia resolved the mystery fast enough. Turns out, the Washington plantation was originally called Little Hunting Creek Plantation after the Little Hunting Creek which ran nearby.

But George Washington’s older half-brother Lawrence, who owned the property before him, renamed the estate in honor of his revered Royal Naval commander, the British Vice Admiral Edward Vernon. (Where the “Mount” comes from remains a mystery.) Upon Lawrence’s untimely death and George’s inheritance, the much younger George, who revered Lawrence as Lawrence revered Admiral Vernon, elected to retain the name his brother had bestowed on the property.

This all sounds ironic in light of brother George’s Revolutionary uprising and defeat of the British forces, not to mention his becoming the first President of the United States. But you have to remember that, until the Revolution, all American colonists, even Doctor Franklin, considered themselves to be British citizens. Vice Admiral Vernon never attacked American citizens; rather, he won a number of major wars in their defense, with Lawrence Washington fighting under his command.

No doubt, those of us living in post-Revolutionary times would rather have George Washington’s iconic home named Mount Washington or Washington on the Potomac or something, rather than honoring a British Admiral. But let’s try to be fair as George Washington was fair, refusing to punish Colonists who sided with the pro-British Tory faction even during the Revolution. We owe our Founding Father that much at least.