Citizen and Husbandman

“The life of the Husbandman, of all others, is the most delightful. It is honorable, it is amusing, and, with judicious management, it is profitable.”

                                                                                                                             –George Washington, 1788

Washington Family
Washington Family, 1798.

Washington managed his Mount Vernon estate in Virginia during his time as a military leader, member of the Virginia House of Burgesses, and even as President. After his 1759 marriage to Martha Custis (1731-1802), he took responsibility for management of her considerable estate. He also became a stepfather to her young children, John “Jacky” (1754-1781) and Martha “Patsy” (1756-1773). Numerous journals, correspondence, and biographies detailed Washington’s enthusiasm and enjoyment in his role as husbandman, a common term for a farmer, in his home state. Artists depicted his life in Virginia in prints and paintings and mythologized him in works such as Washington Irving’s (1783-1859) Life of Washington, Vol. IV, published in 1857.

Artist Edward Savage (1761-1817) painted, and later engraved, one of the most famous portraits of Washington and his family in 1798. The Washington Family, based on multiple sittings with family members, depicts George and Martha Washington, their grandchildren, and slave William Lee (1750-1828). Throughout the 1800s, artists reproduced and reinterpreted the original painting with different backgrounds, dress, and colors to suit the cultural and social currents of the times. In the 1840s, printmakers such as Nathaniel Currier (1813-1888), omitted slave William Lee from reproductions of the print, likely due to national controversies related to slavery and abolitionism.