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Ask Rufus: Passing Thoughts of Long Ago

 

Pushmataha, the most famous Choctaw chief, is buried here in Congressional Cemetery in Washington. His funeral procession to the cemetery was said to have been a mile long and was led by Andrew Jackson.

Pushmataha, the most famous Choctaw chief, is buried here in Congressional Cemetery in Washington. His funeral procession to the cemetery was said to have been a mile long and was led by Andrew Jackson.

 

Bathed in candle light, George Washington's home, Mount Vernon, provided an awe-inspiring setting for the

Bathed in candle light, George Washington's home, Mount Vernon, provided an awe-inspiring setting for the "Spirit of Mount Vernon" dinner last week. Mount Vernon has been cared for and maintained by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association since 1853. The association accepts no federal or other governmental money and depends entirely on the generosity of those who wish to honor our first president and preserve his home and legacy.
Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

 

Rufus Ward

 

 

Sometimes being away from home reminds you of home in a very poignant way. Karen and I were in Alexandria, Virginia, last week for the annual "Spirit of Mount Vernon" dinner at George Washington's Potomac River home. Mount Vernon has been cared for and maintained by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, a private nonprofit founded in 1853 to preserve Mount Vernon in trust for the American people. The association accepts no federal or other governmental money and depends entirely on the generosity of those who wish to honor our first president and keep his house open as a living memorial.  

 

It is an awe-inspiring place in its beautiful setting overlooking the Potomac. On entering the home, its sense of history can be almost overwhelming, beginning with the entrance hall where the key to the Bastille given Washington by Lafayette still hangs on the wall. 

 

I had grown up hearing stories of Mount Vernon from the Late Mary Billups whose Columbus home was Snowdoun. From 1916 till 1963, she had been a vice regent at Mount Vernon. When she died the flag there was lowered to half-staff the day of her funeral and the flowers for her funeral service in Columbus were sent from the gardens at Mount Vernon.  

 

Mount Vernon is more than just a house museum it is a vibrant recreation of a late 1700s farming community even including a grist mill (makes some of the best grits I have ever eaten) and a reconstruction of Washington's distillery. There is an outstanding museum, impressive research library and an excellent educational component. The staff is knowledgeable, friendly and helpful. And if you could not already tell it, I enjoy going there and working on a research matter with the staff. 

 

Mount Vernon was not my only stop on the trip. Last Sunday, I mentioned Peter Pitchlynn and the Pitchlynn family in my column. Peter was born on the Noxubee River in 1806 and moved to Plymouth Bluff in 1810. He became chief of the Choctaw Nation in 1864. Pushmataha, who was a principal chief of the Choctaw during the War of 1812 period, was also said to have been born in Noxubee County. Both Pushmataha and Pitchlynn died in Washington and were buried in Congressional Cemetery on Capitol Hill. Pushmataha's funeral procession to the cemetery was said to have been a mile long and was led by Andrew Jackson. I had never been to that cemetery, and after finishing what I was doing at Mount Vernon I made a pilgrimage there. The lady in the cemetery office was also extremely helpful and provided me a map of the cemetery locating those two graves. I had no trouble finding the graves as I walked through the beautiful well-kept grounds. 

 

The cemetery, which was the cemetery for Christ Episcopal Church, was established in 1807 and became the resting place of some of the most notable people in American history. As I was walking to Pitchlynn's grave, I passed the marker for Henry Clay who Pitchlynn had once bested in a debate on an Ohio River steamboat. It was a very poignant feeling to stand beside the graves of people who had played such a role in the history of our area and find them beside some of America's founding fathers and most famous leaders. 

 

All through the cemetery, I encountered people walking dogs. Apparently, in the mid 20th century the cemetery became little used, almost forgotten and in need of care. I was told that it was the people who were walking their dogs there who came to the aid of the cemetery and have helped preserve it as a National Landmark. It is a fascinating place to explore. By the way all the dogs I saw were friendly and well-behaved. They actually brought an unexpected feeling of happiness to the place.

 

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]

 

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