Mother of Presidents

Library of Virginia

Virginia's presidents and their homes

For Home and Country
Virginia is known as the "Mother of Presidents" with eight presidents born in the Commonwealth. Four of the first five presidents called Virginia home. This exhibit will explore the lives of these men and the places where they lived.
Father of His Country
George Washington (1732-1799) served as the first president of the United States from 1789 until 1797. Born in Westmoreland County, Washington was a lifelong Virginia resident. He commanded Virginia troops during the French and Indian War (1754-1763) and was commander of the Continental army during the American Revolution (1775-1781). He is the only president to be elected unanimously, twice. 

This video from George Washington's Mt. Vernon explores "how the Continental Army, under the command of General George Washington, was able to save the cause of independence through one brilliant military campaign at the end of 1776 and the beginning of 1777."

On April 30, 1789, George Washington was sworn in as the first American president and delivered the first inaugural speech at Federal Hall in New York City. Listen to his full speech:

This statue of George Washington by French sculptor Jean-Antione Houdon is purported to be the truest likeness of him. It was raised in the Virginia State Capitol rotunda in 1796, the year of his farewell address.

George Washington's Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon was originally built in 1735 by Washington's father, Augustine. George took ownership in 1754 and built it from a simple farmhouse into a 21-room dwelling over the course of forty-five years. This insurance policy from 1805 shows the valuation of the home after George Washington's expansion. 

Mt. Vernon remained Washington's country home throughout his life, and stayed in his family after his death in 1799.

In 1858, the philanthropic Mt. Vernon Ladies' Association acquired the historic estate and saved it from gradual decline.

In 1960, Mt. Vernon was designated a National Historic Landmark. It is open for public tours, just as George Washington allowed in his time.

Author of the Declaration of American Independence
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) was the country's third president. Born at Shadwell, in Albemarle County, Jefferson had a long record of service to his country. Before becoming president in 1801, he served in the House of Burgesses, and as governor of Virginia (1779-1781), minister to France (1784-1789), secretary of state (1790-1793), and vice-president (1797-1801). Like Washington, Jefferson served two terms as president (1801-1809). 

This video from Monticello explores Jefferson's interests and how he brought knowledge from around the world to his home.

Jefferson said, "I am as happy no where else and in no other society, and all my wishes end, where I hope my days will end, at Monticello."

Jefferson designed Monticello in the Neoclassical style. The primary construction was between 1769 and 1784, with a renovation and expansion in 1796. Monticello has been designated a National Historic Landmark and an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

You can virtually tour Jefferson's home using Google Street View imagery. Click and rotate your mouse to pan around the room, or use the arrows to move from room to room.

Father of the Constitution
James Madison (1751-1836) was the fourth president of the United States. A native of King George County, Madison served in the Virginia General Assembly and as a delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787. He was Secretary of State under Jefferson and served two terms as president (1809-1817). 
Today, Montpelier is restored to the era of Madison's retirement, between 1816-1836.

Virtually tour James Madison's Montpelier using Google Street View as captured by Encyclopedia Virginia at Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

Last of the Founding Fathers
James Monroe (1758-1831), the fifth president, was born in Westmoreland County. Twice governor of Virginia, Monroe served in various diplomatic posts and as secretary of state and secretary of war before becoming president in 1817. He served two terms as president (1817-1825), with his second election running unopposed, the only president aside from Washington to do so. A single elector from New Hampshire cast a vote for John Quincy Adams to prevent a unanimous vote in the Electoral College.  
James Monroe's Highland
Highland was James Monroe's home in Albemarle County. A later owner named it Ash Lawn. Today, the property is run by the College of William & Mary. 

Rear view of Ash Lawn-Highland, where the Monroe family resided for twenty-four years.

Virtually tour Ash Lawn-Highland using Google Street View images from Encyclopedia Virginia at Virginia Foundation for the Humanities.

Oak Hill
In addition to Highland, Monroe also lived for twenty-two years at Oak Hill in Loudon County. It is a National Historic Landmark.
Shortest Term in Office
William Henry Harrison (1773-1841), the ninth president, was born in Charles City County but spent most of his life in the Northwest Territory and in Ohio. He fought in the Indian Wars and won the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. Harrison's presidential campaign was one of the first to use a slogan--"Tippecanoe and Tyler Too." Harrison was inaugurated on March 4, 1841 and died on April 4, becoming the first to die in office.
Berkeley is the birthplace of William Henry Harrison and the ancestral home of another president, Benjamin Harrison.  Berkeley claims to have held the first official Thanksgiving in America in 1619. 
And Tyler Too
As Harrison's vice president, John Tyler (1790-1862) became president at Harrison's death. Born in Charles City County, Tyler represented Virginia in the United States Congress and was governor of Virginia. He later was elected to the Confederate House of Representatives.
John Tyler was born here in 1790; three miles from his retirement residence at Sherwood Forest Plantation.

Tyler retired to Sherwood Forrest in Charles City County, seen here.

Old Rough and Ready
Zachary Taylor (1784-1850), the twelfth president, was born in Orange County, Virginia but grew up in Kentucky. He won fame during the Mexican War for his victories at Palo Alto, Monterrey, and Buena Vista. Inaugurated president on March 5, 1849, Taylor served only sixteen months before dying on July 9, 1850. 

The twelfth president was honored with this marble bust by Frederick William Sievers, displayed in the Rotunda of the Virginia State Capitol.

Montebello is the birthplace of Zachary Taylor located in Orange County. It is a private residence and not open to the public.
Last of the Virginia Presidents
The twenty-eight president, Thomas Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924) was born in Staunton and grew up in Georgia and in South Carolina. He was president of Princeton University (1902-1910) and governor of New Jersey (1911-1913) before serving two terms as president of the United States (1913-1921). 
Woodrow Wilson Birthplace
Though Woodrow Wilson left Virginia after his first birthday, he visited relatives often. His birthplace is now home to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library & Museum and a National Historic Landmark.

Virtually tour the birthplace of Woodrow Wilson from Encyclopedia Virginia at Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. It is shown as it might have been furnished in Wilson's youth.

There is no doubt that Virginians helped shape the presidency. George Washington set a model that presidents follow to this day. The homes of these men are historic landmarks across the Commonwealth. To learn more or to view more images, please visit Virginia Memory.

Credits: Story

To view all of the Virtual Tours by Virginia Foundation for the Humanities’ Encyclopedia Virginia, visit

Research, text, and arrangement by Dana Puga, Prints and Photographs Collection Specialist, Manuscripts & Special Collections Department and Barbara Batson, Exhibit Coordinator, Education and Outreach Department. Editing and assistance from Sonya Coleman, Digital Collections Specialist.

Imaging by Ben Steck, Photo & Digital Imaging Services Department.

Images from the Visual Studies Collection and the Organization Records Collection, Manuscripts & Special Collections, Library of Virginia. White House Collection.

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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