Monday, December 08, 2014

The Original Builder of Mount Vernon

Rippon Lodge

     Richard Blackburn (1705-1757), although little noted in national history, stands out as a kind of “representative” man of the colonial period in northern Virginia.  Born in Ripon, England, Blackburn came to America to make his fortune, and according to his gravestone, because, “He was a man of consummate prudence, frugality and indefatigable industry…he made a large fortune in a few years.”  Among his other talents, Richard Blackburn was a master builder, who built his own house, Rippon Lodge, and the first Truro Parish church at Falls Church.  It was to master builder Richard Blackburn that George Washington’s father turned to build a house on a bluff overlooking the Potomac River, the house that was later to be known as Mount Vernon.  The survival of this early structure within the fabric of the present house is confirmed by a diarist who in 1801 identified the central portion of the house as having been “constructed by the General’s father.” 
     Colonel Thomas Blackburn, the son of Richard, was the contemporary and comrade-in-arms of George Washington.  Thomas Blackburn was a representative to the second, third, and fourth Virginia Conventions in 1775 and was elected Lieutenant-Colonel of the Second Virginia Regiment in 1776.  Colonel Blackburn served as an aide on George Washington’s military staff until he received a disabling wound at the battle of Germantown, after which he returned to Rippon Lodge, where he continued to support the patriot cause, feeding and clothing a regiment of Continental troops at Rippon Lodge one entire winter.  In the spring he sent them back to the army free of expense.
      In the time of Col. Thomas Blackburn, the Washington and Blackburn families were on close terms, and George Washington’s diary speaks of his visits to the Blackburns at Rippon Lodge, and frequently of entertaining the Blackburn family at Mount Vernon.  Thomas Blackburn’s daughter Ann married George Washington’s nephew Bushrod Washington, and a granddaughter (Jane Charlotte Blackburn) married John Augustine Washington. These ladies of Rippon Lodge thus became, in time, each in turn, the first lady of Mount Vernon.

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