Every American knows who George Washington was — commander-in-chief during the American Revolutionary War, a Founding Father and the United States’ first President.
What many might not know, however, is that he was also a businessman and used his Virginia estate, Mount Vernon, to plan a transportation system.
This is something Kelly Trick of Manorville, who teaches social studies at Bishop McGann-Mercy High School, learned last month during five days spent at Mount Vernon, where she participated in numerous hands-on activities and listened to guest speakers.
“It was outstanding,” she said of the experience. “We participated in making nets, on how to use nets for catching fish, because that was another one of [President Washington’s] ways of supplying his estate with food. So it was really interesting stuff. It surpassed all my expectations.”
Ms. Trick said other activities included tending the estate’s tobacco plants, enjoying President Washington’s favorite breakfast of hoecakes and browsing the library, which contains documents from the president’s life.
One thing that surprised her the most, she said, was learning that our first president began diversifying his crops in an effort to break away from Britain. He started to supply them with less tobacco and moved into other business areas, such as operating a distillery and grinding flour.
She also learned that the former president was a land surveyor. At the time, people worked together to subdivide land for settlement so those who traveled to the New World could figure out where they wanted to live.
“It really set the tone for how to view life,” Ms. Trick said. “When you’re actually there you can kind of view life as somebody in that time period might have seen it. [The estate] was still very similar to what it was back then. They still maintain the gardens and they still have crops on site, like the tobacco plants.”
Ms. Trick, who teaches economics and government at the twelfth-grade level, said she plans to integrate what she learned into her lessons this upcoming school year.
The George Washington Teacher Institute program Ms. Trick attended was led by historian Dr. Bruce Ragsdale. It was one of several held every summer at Mount Vernon, each of which has a different historical focus.
Founded in 1999, institute provides K-12 educators with professional development opportunities; private funding supports scholarships and stipends for residential program participants.
“It was a wonderful opportunity to learn so much about how our first president viewed business and the economy,” Ms. Trick said. “I am pleased and honored to have been a part of such a well-organized, thought-provoking institute.”
Photo caption: Kelly Trick separates grain from the chaff, one of the last steps in harvesting grain, at George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate last month. (courtesy photo)