Carla Killough McClafferty
illuminating lives from the past, impacting lives in the present
When you hear the name George Washington, what comes to mind? If you are like most people, you think about his image on the one dollar bill. And it’s no wonder since 9 billion dollar bills are in circulation at all times. This image is so familiar we sometimes forget that Washington wasn’t always a 64-year-old man. He certainly wasn’t born with white hair and dentures!
What did George Washington look like when he was a young man? The leadership of Mount Vernon, Washington’s home, decided to find out. They gathered a group of experts to do a forensic study of George Washington. Their goal was to create three wax figures that show him at the ages of 19, 45 and 57 years old.
To make sure the wax figures would look like the real George Washington, the hair they used must be the right color. The experts didn’t have to guess what color his hair was. They looked at George Washington’s real hair. Many locks of his hair still exist today. Why? Because in the 18th century it was common to keep small locks of hair that belonged to someone you loved or admired. (Sometimes even strangers would ask Washington for a lock of his hair to keep as a token of their respect for him.)
Can you guess what color Washington’s hair was when he was 19 years old? His natural hair was reddish brown (it wasn’t really red, and it wasn’t really brown—it was in between). Sometimes this color is described as “chestnut.”
Once the experts knew Washington’s hair color, they ordered human hair from a “hair merchant” in London, England. (Real people sell their hair to them.) The cost was about $300.00 for the hair used on the figure of Washington at 19. Sue Day, an artist, used a needle-like tool to place one human hair at a time directly into the wax head. She consulted portraits of Washington to make sure the shape of his hairline was right.
When the wax figure of young George Washington was finished, his long chestnut hair was pulled back into a queue (we would call it a ponytail). A large black silk bow was placed in his hair.
Today visitors to Mount Vernon can see what George Washington really looked like at the age of 19. And he looks great.
Carla McClafferty wrote a book on the subject of this Nonfiction Minute. For more information on THE MANY FACES OF GEORGE WASHINGTON: REMAKING A PRESIDENTIAL ICON (Carolrhoda, 2011) and for access to lesson plans and enrichment materials based on the award-winning book, click here.
Carla Killough McClafferty is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through Field Trip Zoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
McClafferty, Carla Killlough. "George Washington's Hair." Nonfiction Minute, iNK
Think Tank, 22 Feb. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Carla Killough McClafferty
Illuminating lives from the past,
impacting lives in the present
The shady spot overlooking the river didn’t look like a cemetery. Nothing marked it as a burial ground - no flowers, no grave markers, not even a sign. Yet buried there lay the remains of enslaved people of Mount Vernon, George Washington’s estate.
Even knowledge of the cemetery’s location might have been lost to time if The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association hadn’t bought Mount Vernon in 1858. Just a few years later, the Civil War brought an end to slavery. At last, men, women and children would no longer be enslaved - or buried - at Mount Vernon.
Years passed and the memory of who was buried there and where they were buried faded away. By 1929, The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association realized that even the location of the cemetery might soon be forgotten. They installed a marker to identify the site of the cemetery. More years passed. Weeds and underbrush grew over the unmarked graves-and the 1929 marker.
At last in 1982 a memorial was installed to honor the people who were enslaved at Mount Vernon. For the first time the public had a place to pay their respects to those buried there. The gray granite column in the center of the memorial reads:
Then in 2014, archeologists at Mount Vernon began an exciting new project. A multi-year archaeological dig that would answer three questions:
To accomplish the dig, archeologists remove six to eight inches of soil - only enough to determine if a grave is present. No human remains will ever be disturbed in the process. So far, more than 70 graves have been located – some of them graves of children.
Like other slave owning families, the Washingtons did not keep birth, death or burial records of the people they enslaved. Today, it is impossible to know the identities of the individuals who lie in each grave. But this archaeological dig will at least allow us to know, and honor, the location of their final resting places.
The individuals buried there may remain nameless, but they are not forgotten.
Do you want to find out how an archaeological dig works? In Buried Lives: The Enslaved People of George Washington’s Mount Vernon you will discover how they uncovered graves in the cemetery at Mount Vernon-and about six, specific real life enslaved people who served the Washington family. You can read Vicki Cobb's review here. It won the National CDA Young Reader Book Award in 2020.
“My heart was enlisted,” the Marquis de Lafayette wrote in his memoirs, “and I thought only of joining my colors to those of the revolutionaries.”
Who were the revolutionaries Lafayette referred to? Americans, bien sûr!
Lafayette was just 19 when he paid for his ship, hired a crew and set sail from France to attach his colors to ours. He defied his king, who denied him permission to leave, and left his pregnant wife and child behind.
Seasick every day of his month-long voyage, he nevertheless learned English along the way. Docking at Charleston, NC, he trekked hundreds of miles to Philadelphia, suffering a month of broken carriages, lame horses, and nightly mosquito raids. He remained buoyant, and dedicated to our fight.
Finally at Continental Congress, he enthusiastically introduced himself—only to be turned away. There were too many foreign officers, they told him.
S'il vous plaît, Lafayette pleaded. He’d come so far—and he would work for free.
They accepted his services, but refused to give him what he yearned for: troops to command.
At least Lafayette could stay—and meet his idol, Commander-in-Chief George Washington!
Lafayette felt an instant connection with Washington, who invited the young Frenchman to live with him. Washington was diplomatic. He knew Lafayette was of noble descent, and he needed France’s aid in order to win the revolution. But Lafayette mistook the invitation for affection. “I am established in his house, and we live together like two attached brothers…” he wrote his wife.
It wouldn’t be long before Washington felt genuine affection for Lafayette. As the situation in Philadelphia grew dire—they were surrounded by the British and awaited an inevitable attack—Washington took a moment to have a “great conversation” with Lafayette. Think of me as your father, he told him. Lafayette was touched in the deepest way.
At the Battle of Brandywine, the Americans were overwhelmed and defeated. Our soldiers panicked—deserting their lines. Lafayette requested permission to rally the troops. Though he feared for Lafayette’s life, Washington granted his wish.
Lafayette’s great spirit convinced the troops to stay. The Americans still had an army, to fight another day. A musket ball ripped through Lafayette’s leg! He eventually collapsed. Back at headquarters, Washington instructed his personal physician, “Treat [Lafayette] as if he were my son. For I love him the same.”
The father/son relationship of George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette developed while they were under British siege. A multiple award-winning choice in history books for kids, and a compelling account in American history by a research-loving writer!
You can buy it here.
Since 1775, Americans in the 13 British Colonies had been fighting to free themselves from mighty Great Britain. The French didn’t care for the British, having had their own wars with them, so many a Frenchman came to help the Americans. One was a teenaged aristocrat, the Marquis de Lafayette. He so admired America’s revolutionary ideals of liberty and democracy that he sailed there in 1777 to offer his money and services to his idol, General George Washington. By 1781, General Lafayette was leading French and American troops, battling the British in Virginia. Now a fellow there named James Armistead joined the fight, once he got his master’s permission. After all, Armistead was an enslaved African American.
What did he do? He hung around the British, finding out what they were up to – dangerous work! Then Armistead, patriot spy, took his info to General Lafayette, who used it to help beat the British at Yorktown in October 1781, which, in turn, led to the United States’ victory in the Revolutionary War.
The Marquis went back to France. Armistead went back to work for his master. Though he’d helped win America’s independence, he did not win his. When Lafayette made a return visit in 1784, he was outraged to find his fellow veteran still enslaved! The Marquis saw to it that Armistead was freed and the former slave showed his gratitude by changing his name to James Armistead Lafayette.
But this isn’t how the story ends. Forty years later, the Americans invited the Marquis to come for a visit. He’d grown old. He’d suffered in prison during France’s own revolution in the 1790s. How splendid it was, visiting the United States— all 24 of them! Oh, the parties and banquets the Americans had for their old friend! But one of the happiest moments of all was in early 1825. The old aristocrat was riding in a parade through Richmond, Virginia, when he spotted a white-haired black gentleman in the crowd. The Marquis reined in his horse, dismounted, and went to greet James Armistead Lafayette. And the two old heroes of the American Revolution flung their arms around one another.
Cheryl Harness uses her wonderfully vibrant art and down-to-earth writing style to present George the adventurous boy, tromping through the woods with his dog and his hunting rifle; George the courageous military leader fighting alongside his men; George the cunning military strategist, outfoxing the British and forcing their surrender at Yorktown; George the brilliant statesman presiding over the Constitutional Convention; and George the President, wisely protecting our country from enemies foreign and domestic so it could grow strong. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "The Aristocrat and the Spy." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think
Tank, 10 Apr. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
Let your imagination listen to the great historical menagerie of presidential pets and you’ll hear the sounds of their feathered friends, like Thomas Jefferson’s mockingbirds, or Calvin Coolidge’s canaries and maybe his pet goose – OR parrots? George and Martha Washington had more than one. When President James Madison and his wife moved into the White House in 1809, so did Dolley Madison’s green and yellow macaw parrot.
Dolley was known for her fashionable turbans and often, for Polly, the big bright, squawk-ative bird on her shoulder, helping to greet her guests. And how thrilling, when high-spirited Polly swooped about the high-ceilinged rooms and dive-bombed the company! Later, she was part of the scary War of 1812 drama, when, in 1814, red-coated British soldiers torched the White House. But at least Dolley made sure they didn’t get their hands on the precious painting of President Washington, or her precious Polly.
Just months later, General Andrew Jackson led a rough, frontier army down the Mississippi River to drive the British out of New Orleans. Victorious Andy Jackson, national hero, ended up being President, from 1829 to 1837. That old soldier knew a lot of salty language and so did his pet parrot, Poll. We know this because in 1845, he attended ex-President Jackson’s funeral – at least until a shocked human carried poor Poll out of the room. Too much sad excitement had set him to squawking curse words!
At the end of the 1800s, President William McKinley amused himself by teaching his yellow-headed Mexican parrot how to whistle “Yankee Doodle.” After Mr. McKinley died of an assassin’s bullet, in 1901, former Vice President Theodore Roosevelt took office. He and First Lady Edith Roosevelt and their six children had LOTS of pets, including a big, beautiful parrot named Eli Yale. Eli was a deep blue hyacinth macaw.
There would be other presidential parrots. After all, the big worldwide parrot family has 350 species. Parakeets, for instance: John F. Kennedy’s little girl had two of them. Lyndon B. Johnson’s family kept lovebirds, little candy-colored parrots. But more than a century has passed since a big, big-beaked macaw like Polly or Poll has lived in the White House. Deep blue Eli Yale was the last - so far.
Andrew Jackson owned an African grey parrot. Wikimedia
Cockatiels, cockatoos, and large flightless kakapos are just a few of the many kinds of parrots. One of the biggest is the gentle, South American hyacinth macaw – from head to tail, more than three feet long! Wikimedia
Teddy Roosevelt with Eli Yale. Wikimedia
MLA 8 Citation
Harness, Cheryl. "Polly Wants a President." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank,
13 Mar. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
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