George Washington and Our Ancestors


Washington Receiving a Salute after the Victory at Trenton, NJ on 26 dec. 1776. William Holl engraving c1860 after a painting by John Faed. Library of Congress

Washington Receiving a Salute after the Victory at Trenton, NJ on 26 Dec. 1776. William Holl engraving c1860 after a painting by John Faed. Library of Congress. (Click to enlarge.)

McMurray Family, Horn Family

Those of us ‘of an age’ to remember the days when our two greatest presidents were born, and those births celebrated separately, so that one could reflect on the accomplishments of each, know that today is the anniversary of the birth of George Washington.

Back in those days, on February 12th, schoolchildren learned about the horrors of the Civil War and how a lanky farm boy from Illinois held our country together and freed the slaves, and was so eloquent that he could sum up the deep emotions of our citizens in the 10 short sentences of the Gettysburg Address. On February 22nd, schoolchildren listened to the myth of the cherry tree and learned lessons about honesty. That lesson modeled how such a solid, moral foundation could make a middle-born person great enough to help a small group of citizens fight and earn the rights of a democracy, even against the greatest power in the world at the time, Great Britain. Of course, all that learning, reflecting, and honoring individuals ended with the federal government’s “Uniform Monday Holiday Act” that took effect on 1 Jan 1971, and the commemoration of these two great men became a 3-day holiday for bank and federal workers on the third Monday in February. (And don’t forget the commercial President’s Day sales.)

Technically, today is the date George Washington may have celebrated his birth once he was 20 years old, when England changed to the Gregorian calendar. Contemporary records (those created at the time) had dated his birth as 11 February 1731 using the Julian or Old Style (O.S.) calendar. In 1752, England finally came around to the calendar the rest of the world was using, the New Style (N.S.) or Gregorian calendar. This calendar changed the first day of the year to 1 January, instead of 25 March, so any events between those dates had a number of days added- it depended on which year as to how many- plus the year was corrected to the next. So George Washington’s birthday then became 22 February 1732.

I do ramble about our heritage (hence the most appropriate blog name), but there is a reason to mention George Washington when one discusses our family history. We have no proof that a family member met George Washington, but there certainly was opportunity. At least three ancestors may have been in the same place as George Washington at the same time, and, of course, a number had their lives permanently altered because of his actions. These men are Jonathan Benjamin, Henry Horn, and Wiley Anderson Murrell; Washington surely influenced many other ancestors from that time and since. These next few weeks we will be learning more about these men and their families, so stay tuned.

[Is this just name dropping? Hopefully dear reader, you are not thinking that. We are merely interested in putting our ancestors in the context of the times, and knowing ‘famous’ persons would have been a part of that history. It is just as important as a young man fighting a Civil War battle,  a couple taking their friends to the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis as newlyweds (Anna May Beerbower and William Gerard Helbling), a woman casting her first vote in 1921, our generation watching men walk on the moon for the first time, or any relative participating in any big event, or even the mundane ones- all context.]


Notes, Sources, and References: 

1) Wikipedia:’s_Birthday


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