local exploration: Weems-Botts Museum

There’s a general sense of being surrounded by history here in Virginia, and it becomes common-place and taken for granted.  We have early settlements, colonial life, the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, the Civil Rights movement.  Everywhere, there are historical markers posted.  It could signify a battle next to a creek along an empty road or a still-existing cemetery in the middle of a shopping mall.  I’ve been encouraged from my friends’ explorations to go out myself and learn about my area’s history.

Today I went to tour the Weems-Bott Museum in Dumfries and walked through a house that has stood through much of American history.  The building’s most famous occupants are Mason Locke Weems and Benjamin Botts although it has had many more.

Reverend Weems was President Washington’s pastor at Pohick Church after his presidency and is most known for writing three biographies about the former President.  He is the source for the parable in which George Washington cuts down his father’s cherry tree, and upon being discovered, cannot tell a lie.  In addition to being an author, he was also a bookseller and set up shop in this one and a half story house.

The next most famous occupant in the house was Benjamin Botts who was an up-and-coming lawyer.  He was friends with both Alexander Hamilton and the treasonous Aaron Burr.  As every good West Virginian knows, Burr killed Hamilton in a duel.  But it is not well known that Burr was never found guilty of murder.  Benjamin Botts, who had a little law office down in Dumfries, was one of his lawyers.

The house has a lot of history because of its surroundings, and I learned a lot about Dumfries from the docent (tour guide).  It is the oldest, continuously charted city in Virginia.  It was a port town, larger than New York City.  Its primary commodity, tobacco, is what ultimately lead to its decline.  There were four tobacco plantations along the harbor, and over the years the land eroded down into the harbor turning into a marsh land where the deepest part right now is only 8 feet.  Today there are residential communities (urban sprawl) that is built on the land.  It’s just amazing to learn about the devastating impact that man has on nature, especially keeping in mind that this happened before the Industrial Revolution.

It was pretty fun, and I really enjoyed the staff and volunteers at the Weems-Botts Museum.  I think I will take the time to slow down and learn more about a place the next time I see a sign.

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