The Extended Washington Family

Washington was connected to St. George’s  not through membership. His home was not in Fredericksburg but Stafford.  However, he was connected to St. George’s through his family and some documented visits  to the Church.

Among its 18th century vestrymen were Charles Washington, Fielding Lewis, Charles Lewis, Lewis Willis, George Thornton, Francis Thornton, and John Lewis, all of whom were related to George Washington. 

The family is complex with intermarriage prevalent. Let’s concentrate on the last names -Willis, Lewis ,Thornton and Washington  and look at a representative member of each family. These families were important in Fredericksburg’s early history in the 18th century.

  1. Willis – Lewis Willis (1734-1813). Lewis Willis was born on November 11, 1734, in Fredericksburg, Virginia, two years after George the child of Henry Willis and Mildred Washington and a cousin of George Washington. Mildred was a daughter of Mildred Warner and Lawrence Washington. The latter was the grandfather of George Washington- the father of Augustine Washington, the father of George Washington.

Lewis Willis was left an orphan at the age of twelve . The estate was well cared for, but his education was very much  neglected.  He was a school-mate of George Washington, being two years older than George.  Lewis Willis oten spoke of how diligent George Washington was at school; while most of the boys would be playing, George would be busy cyphering.

He served the Vestry in 1770-1771, 1791  was Church warden 1770,1778. In 1791, he  represented the church in General Convention. He helped manage the building, making repairs and voted for a new gallery.  Significantly he dealt equitably with the poor encouraging people to employ them on “reasonable terms”

Like  his cousin, he served in the American Revolutionary War as Lieutenant- Colonel of the one of the six regiments authorized for continental service by the First Virginia General Assembly in October 1776. 

The only documented visit of the two men was mid-June, 1788. As party consisting of  “Mr. Fitzhugh, Colo. Carter & Colo. Willis and their Ladies, and Genl. Weeden” stayed with George’s sister, Betty Lewis on Thurs., June 12,1788, then visited Mann Page on Friday,  General Spotswood on Sat. and went to church at St. George’s on Sun, June 15 where the famous incident of the gallery possibly collapsing took placed.

  1. Lewis- Betty Washington Lewis (1733-1797)

Betty Washington (Lewis) was George’s sister. Both the Lewis and Washington families descend from Augustine Warner II (1642-1681), Speaker of the Virginia House of Burgesses.  The Lewis family extends from Elizabeth Lewis who married John Warner in the 1690’s.  Another daughter of the Warners married Lawrence Washington a few years earlier.  Lawrence is the grandfather of both and Betty and George Washington.

When Betty was 5 years old, the family moved to a 600-acre farm (now called Ferry Farm) across the Rappahannock River from Fredericksburg. Although in the colonial gentry class, the Washington family was not especially wealthy or prominent. After her father’s death in 1743, life became difficult for Betty because of the family’s financial situation

At age 16, Betty married her second cousin, Fielding Lewis, a wealthy and prominent businessman in Fredericksburg. Her wealth and social status increased and she immediately became step-mother to 2 young children from Fielding’s first marriage. Within a year, Betty gave birth to her first child, Fielding Jr., followed by 10 more children over a 20-year period. Only 6 of Betty’s children survived to adulthood.

Upon her marriage, Betty moved into a large brick house in Fredericksburg where she and Fielding lived together for the next 25 years.

In 1775, the family moved into a new mansion (now called Kenmore) a short distance from the old house. Sadly, the family almost immediately entered a period of financial difficulty because of the Revolutionary War and, by 1781, Betty was a widow.

Betty remained at Kenmore for another 14 years although the property was inherited by Fielding’s oldest son, John. She struggled financially and, at times, resorted to renting some of her slaves.

During the last two years of her life, Betty lived on a smaller farm about 12 miles south of Fredericksburg. In many ways, the property suited her more than Kenmore because it had better farmland and a mill that generated a small but steady income.

Betty died in 1797 at the age of 64 while visiting her daughter near Culpeper, VA, where she is buried

  1. Thornton – Francis Thornton (1711-1749)

Francis Thornton III (1711–1749) was Washington’s 4th cousin. Their common relative is Laurence Townley (1564-1645) and Jennet Halstead (1574-1623). The connection

Francis Thornton built the house on Fall Hill in order to escape the heat of the house at The Falls laying lower in elevation near the river.  The current house of Fall Hill in Stafford was built by was built in 1790 for Francis Thornton V (1760–1836), a later relative

The land on which Fall Hill was established is believed to have been included in a grant of 8,000 acres in Spotsylvania County patented by Francis Thornton I (1657–1727) around 1720. The family ran a grist mill on the Rappahannock River.

Francis Thornton III married Frances Gregory, daughter of Mildred Washington Gregory, aunt and godmother of George Washington. He served as a burgess (1744,1745,1752,1754), a trustee of Fredericksburg, and Colonel of the Spotsylvania militia. In 1749, Fall Hill was inherited by Colonel Thornton’s son, Francis Thornton IV (1737–1794

Francis was the grand uncle of Meriwether Lewis of the Lewis and Clark expedition.

He acquired 2,631 acres in the west . Thornton Gap was named for Francis Thornton. Thornton Gap was one of the passages through the Blue Ridge Mountains between the Shenandoah Valley and the Piedmont region of Virginia used by Confederate General Stonewall Jackson  in the Civil War to move his forces

Francis served on the Vestry from 1735 to 1748, a year before his death. He served as warden in 1735, 1743 again in 1748.  In that capacity he helped with the building of the churches at Rappahannock and Mattaponi. 

Vestries were busy during his time with a combination of religious functions ( paying those supported the church – readers, sextons, the minister, those who provided the sacraments) as well as civil functions( supported the poor, needy and sick in the community, setting the payment for those who were prosecuted legal suits, and established the levy or tax for the people)

  1. Washington. Charles Washington (1738-1799)

George’s youngest brother Charles Washington was a prominent citizen of Fredericksburg.  From 1765 to 1773, Charles served as a magistrate in Spotsylvania County. He also served as a vestryman and warden at St. George’s Episcopal Church and as a trustee of Fredericksburg. Charles purchased several lots in Fredericksburg itself, and ordered the construction of the building that would one day become the Rising Sun Tavern.  He married Mildred Thornton a daughter of Francis Thornton III

In addition to his farms, Charles pursued other sources of revenue including a butchering business in partnership with Fredericksburg businessmen George Weedon. Charles also assisted his brother George in purchasing western properties. 

After 1765, Charles joined in the protests against British taxation efforts. He, along with his brothers John Augustine and Samuel, signed the Leedstown Resolves that condemned the Stamp Act of 1765.   n 1774, he won election to the Spotsylvania Committee of Safety and worked to coordinate aid to British-occupied Boston, while increasing local preparedness in anticipation of war with Great Britain. During the American Revolution, his son, George Augustine Washington, served as an aide to the Marquis de Lafayette. 

A strong supporter of his older brother’s political ambitions, Charles was one of the first to cast his vote him when George ran for reelection as a delegate in the House of Burgesses. 

Around 1780, Charles and Mildred departed their home in Fredericksburg and moved to Berkeley County, Virginia (today Jefferson County, West Virginia). There, on land he had inherited from his half-brother Lawrence, Charles ordered the construction of his new plantation, Happy Retreat. The home was four miles away from his brother Samuel’s plantation at Harewood. 

In 1786, the Virginia General Assembly, anxious to spur greater settlement and economic activity in the western region of the state, granted Charles’ request to establish a town on his land.  The legislature declared “eighty acres of land, the property of Charles Washington, lying in the county of Berkeley, be laid on in such as manner as he may judge best, into lots of half an acre each, with convenient streets, which shall be, and is hereby established a town, by the name of Charlestown.” 5 Named “Charles Town” after him, many of the streets are named after his family, including George Street, Lawrence Street, Samuel Street, and Mildred Street. He also donated four lots in the center of the town for the construction of public buildings. In 1859, the jail and courthouse built on the donated lots hosted the trial of abolitionist John Brown and his allies after their unsuccessful raid on the United States Armory and Arsenal at Harpers Ferry.