Kenmore Plantation

Fredericksburg
VA

Historic Kenmore

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QUICK FACTS
  • Kenmore Plantation is not the original name of the Lewis property. When the family has to sell it just before the Civil War, it is given that name by the new owners.
  • In 1799 the Lewis’s son, Lawrence, marries Eleanor Parke Custis, who is the adopted daughter of George Washington and the granddaughter of Martha Washington.
  • Despite competition and changing tastes, the store started by Fielding Lewis’s father continues successfully in the same building for nearly 100 years.
  • Two miles from Kenmore is Ferry Farm, George and Betty Washington’s childhood home. Like Kenmore Plantation, it is also cared for by the George Washington Foundation, whose mission is to enhance the public understanding and appreciation of the lives, values, and legacies of George Washington, Fielding and Betty Washington Lewis, and their families.
  • The Mary Washington House is also nearby in Fredericksburg. This is the house that George Washington bought for his mother in 1772.
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Completed in 1775, Kenmore was the home of Fielding Lewis and his wife Betty, the sister of George Washington. Originally on 1,300 acres and with some 80 slaves, the estate abutted the Rapahannock River for easy access to waterway transportation.

Today the mansion is on three acres. It includes a separate museum, with changing exhibits, and gardens. With ornately detailed ceilings, the house is considered one of the finest surviving colonial mansions in America.

Guided-tours, of approximately 45-minutes, take visitors through the first floor and to the external kitchen. (Tours of the second floor are no longer available since foot-traffic will lead to deterioration of the plaster-ceiling artwork below.)

Betty Washington and Fielding Lewis

Betty Washington (1833 - 97), the younger sister of George Washington — and the only sister to live into adulthood — was born at the family plantation on Pope’s Creek in Westmoreland County, Virginia. In 1750, age 17, she married Fielding Lewis (1725 - 81), the son of a successful Fredericksburg merchant. This was Lewis’s second marriage. In 1746 he had married Catherine Washington (Betty’s cousin) and together they had three children before she fell ill and died in 1750.

Betty eventually had 11 children of her own, though only six survived into adulthood.

Lewis entered into business with his father, and at his death in 1754, he inherited not only his store, but also the fleet of ships that traded with Liverpool, England. While Lewis became wealthy enough to build a mansion (1769 – 75), the outbreak of the Revolutionary War was also a turn of fortune. He was unable to continue his trade with England; in addition, fully supporting the war, Lewis loaned the state of Virginia money to build a gun factory in Fredericksburg. At the time of his death in 1781 (just after the Battle of Yorktown), he was still owed £7000, which was never repaid.

George Washington ordered his overseers to begin the 1767 wheat harvest on June 24, a hot, cloudy Saturday at the end of a dry week. Thus began twenty days of unrelenting exertion for Mount Vernon’s slaves and no little anxiety for their master, who for the first time had given over his holding almost entirely to the cultivation of grain. Much depended on the success of this experiment, which was a crucial element in Washington’s scheme to free himself of the debts he had accumulated over the years of failing to produce tobacco that would sell on London’s finicky market. Rich as he was in land, he feared that, like so many of his fellow planters, he too would become permanently dependent on his English merchant creditors. It was a fate he dreaded above all, for to suffer it meant that he would lose the essence of a gentleman’s character, independence, and with it the capacity to behave in a truly virtuous way.

Fred Anderson
Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754 - 1766 (2000)