Sunday, February 9, 2014

America's First American Holiday

By the Julian calendar, which was in general use in Great Britain and her colonies in the early 18th century, George Washington was born on February 11, 1731/2.March 25th (the Feast of the Incarnation of Christ) had earlier been celebrated as the start of the New Year, but Washington’s contemporaries celebrated that holiday on January 1. On December 31, 1751 Great Britain officially switched from the Julian to the more widely accepted Gregorian Calendar. Switching to the Christian or Gregorian Calendar required the addition of 11 more days to the year 1752, and retroactive redating moved Washington's birthday back to the date of February 22, 1732. February 22 was observed as a federal public holiday until 1971 when President Richard Nixon declared that in order to honor all past presidents, a single holiday to be called Presidents' Day would be observed on the 3rd Monday in February. Due to the legal mechanism that President Nixon used, the name Presidents’ Day never became the permanent name of the holiday, and the day is still properly called George Washington’s Birthday on all official Federal Government calendars and writings.

George Washington was born on his father's Pope Creek tobacco farm on February 22, 1732.
Popes Creek is a 5.3-mile-long tidal tributary of the Potomac River in Westmoreland County,  Virginia. George Washington spent the first 3 formative years of his life on his father’s plantation and would return as an adolescent to visit his older half brother, Augustine, Junior. It was here at Popes Creek that George performed his first survey at 14. In 1779 the home where Washington was born burned. A Memorial House was built near the spot in 1930. Today the National Park Service operates a colonial farm where costumed interpreters recreate the sights, sounds and smells of 18th century plantation life. The George Washington Birthplace National Monument lies along the north side of Popes Creek. George Washington Birthplace National Monument preserves the heart of the Washingtons' lands in America. John Washington, the immigrant, arrived in Westmoreland County in 1657, and settled near Bridges Creek. Generations of Washingtons lived on these lands and established a legacy of public service, leadership, and love of the land. The rich legacy of the Washingtons would culminate with George Washington's achievements as the "Father of Our Country."

When George was 3 1/2,  his father took his family to live at Mount Vernon. The riverside estate of George Washington now includes the Ford Orientation Center and Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center, new facilities with 25 galleries and theaters, more than 700 artifacts, and interactive displays that introduce visitors to the real George Washington. The most famous dentures in the world are on display, along with three life-size models of Washington created from a forensic investigation. The historic area features the restored Mansion, original outbuildings, the tomb where the Washingtons are buried, beautiful gardens, and heritage breed animals who work at a four-acre farm site near the river.
Located 38 miles south of Mount Vernon on the banks of the Rappahannock River opposite Fredericksburg, is Ferry Farm, George Washington's boyhood home. Visitors can take a self-guided tour of the land Washington inherited at age 11 and where he lived between the ages of 6 and 20. Washington's Ferry Farm is an active archaeological site and the discovery of the location of the Washington house was announced in 2008. The Visitor Center contains an archaeology lab with displays of fascinating artifacts from the Washington period.
Did you know Washington's Birthday was the first American Holiday?
In 1778, in the midst of the War for Independence, the first public celebration of Washington’s Birthday took place at Valley Forge. A band of fifers and drummers from Proctor’s Artillery serenaded General Washington at his quarters. In 1781 the French at Newport held a parade in Washington’s honor. The French celebrated it on Monday, February 23rd to avoid holding the event on a Sunday. Washington wrote to Count Rochambeau that, “The flattering distinction paid to the anniversary of my birthday is an honor for which I dare not attempt to express my gratitude. I confide in your sensibilities to interpret my feelings for this, and for the obliging manner in which you are pleased to announce it.”