Date of Award

Spring 2016

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Foster, Kristen, A.

Second Advisor

Avella, Steven

Third Advisor

Marten, James


This dissertation explores how Americans personally experienced George Washington’s legacy in the nineteenth century through visits to his estate and tomb at Mount Vernon. By the 1820s many Americans had conflicting memories of the American Revolution and its most iconic figure, George Washington. As America grew more divided, so too did the memory of Washington. On multiple occasions, government factions and organizations attempted to claim his remains for political reasons. At the same time, Americans and foreign travelers journeyed to Mount Vernon to experience his tomb and forge a deeper personal connection with the man. These visitors collected objects such as sticks, stones, and flowers from his gravesite, mementoes that not only represented their visits but also served as a reminder of a nostalgic American past. African slaves, free blacks, and European gardeners greeted these visitors as the first historical interpreters of Washington history. These individuals not only shared anecdotes but they also wove themselves into the narrative to profit from their affiliation with Washington. The history of Washington’s tomb therefore illuminates the origins of an American celebrity culture, one that elevated Washington in significance and also ultimately transformed him into a democratic figure.