Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Civil War Odyssey of George Washington’s Will

Two historically priceless documents, the wills of George and Martha Washington are housed in the Fairfax County Courthouse in Fairfax, Virginia. 

During the Civil War, Federal troops occupied the Fairfax area.  The Clerk of Court instructed his wife to take George Washington’s will to the home of their daughter near Warrenton, Virginia.  The will was placed in a chest, which also contained family silver, buried in the wine cellar and covered with coal. In 1862, the will was taken to Richmond for safekeeping. The will was folded when it was moved to Richmond for safekeeping. As a result, the brittle pages were damaged and every page was broken. In an attempt to prevent further breakage, some of the broken pages were sewn together with needle and thread. In 1865 the will was returned to the Fairfax County Courthouse.  In 1910 William Berwick, restored George Washington's will using a conservation process called crêpeline lamination. This technique involved coating each page of the will with a paste of wheat starch and water and then embedding a fine silk net into the paste.

During the Civil War, Martha Washington's will remained at the Fairfax Courthouse. In 1862, the courthouse was vandalized by Union troops and Martha Washington's will was stolen by Brevet Brigadier General David Thomson, who shortly before his death, gave the will to his daughter Mary Thomson. Miss Thompson sold the will to Wall Street financier and avid art collector, J. Pierpont Morgan.  The Commonwealth of Virginia pursued the will's return to the Supreme Court of the United States of America. In 1915, prior to the Supreme Court hearing the case, Morgan's son returned the stolen will to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

A quick look at women doctors and medicine in the Civil War for the general reader. Technologically, the American Civil War was the first “modern” war, but medically it still had its roots in the Middle Ages. In both the North and the South, thousands of women served as nurses to help wounded and suffering soldiers and civilians. A few women served as doctors, a remarkable feat in an era when sex discrimination prevented women from pursuing medical education, and those few who did were often obstructed by their male colleagues at every turn.

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