Old Dominion was the cradle of the early presidency
by Priscilla Knight, Contributing Writer
Eight U.S. presidents hailed from Virginia, more than any other colony or state. Historians do not call them perfect men, but these presidents helped to form a new nation. On July 4th, Independence Day, note these native sons:
1. George Washington. After winning the American Revolutionary War as commanding general of the Continental Army and serving as president-general of the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Americans elected Washington as the first president (1789-1797). He lived in Westmoreland, Stafford and Fairfax counties.
Interesting Tidbit: Washington owned and operated a commercial whiskey distillery on his Mount Vernon estate.
2. Thomas Jefferson. The third president (1801-1809) lived in Albemarle County and Richmond. The principal drafter of the 1776 Declaration of Independence doubled the size of the nation with the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.He founded the University of Virginia and became its first rector at age 75.
Interesting Tidbit: Jefferson and second president John Adams died July 4, 1826, the 50th Independence Day.
3. James Madison. The “Father of the Constitution” and Bill of Rights author served as the fourth president (1809-1817). Madison lived in King George and Orange counties. During the War of 1812, his wife, Dolley, saved George Washington’s portrait before the British burned the White House.
Interesting Tidbit: Madison died in 1836 at 85. He outlived all U.S. Constitution signers.
4. James Monroe. After serving simultaneously as secretary of state and secretary of war under Madison, the fifth president (1817-1825), ushered in the “Era of Good Feelings.”His Monroe Doctrine called for no more European colonization in the Americas.He lived in Westmoreland and Loudoun counties.
Interesting Tidbit: Like Adams and Jefferson, Monroe died on July 4, but in 1831.
5. William Henry Harrison. The ninth president, born at Berkeley Plantation in Charles City County, was grandfather of the 23rd president, Benjamin Harrison.He gained fame during the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe and the War of 1812. Illness killed Harrison one month after he gave history’s longest inauguration speech in 1841.
Interesting Tidbit: President Martin Van Buren’s campaigners ridiculed Harrison by claiming he drank hard cider in his log cabin. Whig Party campaigners seized the insult and successfully spun it for “Old Tip.”
6. John Tyler. The 10th president (1841-1845), dubbed “His Accidency,” brought experience as U.S. representative and senator, and Virginia delegate and governor. The Charles City County native lived at Sherwood Forest Plantation until he died while serving in the Confederate House of Representatives in 1862.
Interesting Tidbit: Tyler’s wife was the first spouse to die in the White House. The 54-year-old president then married 24-year-old Julia Gardiner in 1844. Their grandson, Harrison Ruffin Tyler, lives in Virginia.
7. Zachary Taylor. “Old Rough and Ready,” a U.S. Army general, served as the 12th president from 1849 until his death in 1850. The Orange County native told Southern leaders he would hang anyone who rebelled against the Union.His son later fought as a Confederate Army general.
Interesting Tidbit: According to the Virginia is for Lovers website, the Whig Party nominated Taylor without his knowledge. Party leaders sent him notice, but Taylor refused to pay the postage.
8. Woodrow Wilson. The Staunton native, Princeton University president, New Jersey governor and first president with a Ph.D., became the 28th head of state (1913-1921). The U.S. never joined his planned League of Nations, but Wilson’s idea sprouted into the United Nations after World War II.
Interesting Tidbit: In 1915, Wilson married Edith Bolling Galt, a Wythe County native who played a major role after his stroke in October 1919 because of her influence, gatekeeping, and access to classified information. Maybe Virginia actually produced nine presidents.
Learn more by visiting the presidents’ Virginia homes and at whitehouse.gov.