You may think that most of the United States Presidents are buried in Arlington National Cemetery. We hate to break this to you, but that's not true.
In fact, only John F. Kennedy and William Howard Taft are laid to rest at Arlington. The rest of our nation’s leaders are buried at public and private locations throughout the country.
Jump ahead to these sections:
- George Washington’s Mount Vernon Tomb
- Other Memorials for George Washington
- George Washington’s Tomb: FAQs
George Washington’s grave often gets special attention. After all, he was our first and most famous president. The good news is that if you were planning on going to Arlington to see Washington’s burial spot, you would only have to travel a little way down the road before you reach it in Mount Vernon, Virginia.
Let’s discuss the details of George Washington’s death and burial. You can consider this article your history lesson for the day.
George Washington’s Mount Vernon Tomb
If you have never visited Mount Vernon, we encourage you to add it to your US travel bucket list. Not only is it a beautiful location on the banks of the Potomac River, but great lengths have been made to keep the residence as historically accurate to the time of Washington as possible.
A brief history of Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon was the name of Washington’s residence. It dates back to 1734 when Washington’s father, Augustus Washington, built a house on the property when George was only two years old. At the time, the residence and surrounding property were called the Little Hunting Creek Plantation. The family only lived there for a few years, although the property remained in the family.
Washington returned to the property to live, this time as an adult, in 1754. At this point, he was a lieutenant colonel in the Virginia Regiment and was fighting in the French and Indian War. Even though he didn’t own the property until his half-brother’s widow died in 1761, Washington expanded the original family home during this time.
The property remained his throughout his presidency, and he retired to Mount Vernon in 1797 when he was about 65 years old.
History of the tomb and burial
George Washington died on December 14, 1799, at the age of 67. In his will, he gave instructions to entomb his body in the old vault that was located on the Mount Vernon property. He also said that a new tomb was to be built and that he wished for all his deceased family members to be transferred to the new tomb when it was complete.
The new tomb was finished in 1832. By then, Washington’s wife Martha was also deceased. George and Martha (as well as many other deceased Washingtons) were transferred to the new tomb that was near Mount Vernon’s vineyard.
Was he ever buried under the Washington Monument?
Members of the US Congress discussed the idea of building a monument for the first president the year Washington died. The discussion was raised again 33 years later, the same year Washington’s body was placed inside the new tomb on Mount Vernon.
Construction began on the Washington Monument in 1848, but it wasn’t completed until 1884. Washington’s body remained at Mount Vernon throughout and after the building process. His body was never at the Washington Monument.
But that doesn’t mean that there wasn’t a plan to have Washington’s body entombed within the boundaries of Washington, D.C. In fact, a crypt for Washington was planned under the dome of the US Capitol building. Martha permitted her husband’s body to be transferred there, but the vault was never completed.
The idea of moving Washington’s body was brought up again at the centennial of Washington’s birth in 1832. Washington’s great-nephew denied the request and said he wished to follow the intent of his great-uncle’s last wishes outlined in his will.
Other Memorials for George Washington
It should come as no surprise that our first president has many memorials and monuments scattered across the country. Even though the most iconic memorials are in Washington, D.C., and Mount Vernon, here are some others to visit if you happen to travel to these areas.
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Washington Monument in Baltimore, Maryland
Robert Mills designed at least two monuments for our first president. Construction started on the first one, a tall column that stands in a Baltimore square, two decades after Washington’s death.
Robert Mill’s second design is a bit more famous. After building his Baltimore, Maryland monument, Mills was commissioned to design the Washington Monument that stands in D.C.
Washington Monument in Boonsboro, Maryland
Yes, there is a second Washington monument in Maryland. Critics say that the second Washington monument resembles a milk jug, but the intentions behind the monument were heartfelt despite this criticism.
According to an article in Smithsonian Magazine, the residents of Boonsboro collected funds to build the monument to the fallen president out of sheer patriotism. Even though some question the design, the Boonsboro monument is the first monument completed for Washington.
Sculpture of Washington on horseback in NYC’s Union Square Park
You’ll find a statue of Washington on horseback when visiting Union Square Park in New York City. The sculpture is the oldest in the park system’s collection.
Statue of Washington on Wall Street in NYC
You’ll also find a statue of Washington in front of the Federal Hall National Memorial. Those familiar with our country’s history may know that this building served as the capital of the U.S. in 1789. It was on the building’s steps that Washington took the oath of office.
Sculpture of Washington in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
In Philadelphia, an association of Revolutionary War veterans commissioned a sculpture of Washington, again on his horse. This statue is more complex in design than the others on our list, as it features others from the era and plants and animals found in America.
Sculpture of Washington in Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Visitors to Marquette University in Milwaukee can see a statue of the first president dressed in a soldier’s uniform, accompanied by an additional sculpture of a woman pointing out the president to a young child.
George Washington Masonic National Memorial
George Washington was a Mason. This organization created a memorial to one of its most famous members in Alexandria, Virginia. This monument stands at a towering 333 feet tall and was entirely built by 1832.
George Washington’s Tomb: FAQs
Washington’s body is not entombed in the Washington Monument. But that’s just one of the frequently asked questions about Washington’s death and tomb. Let’s answer some more.
Can you visit George Washington’s grave?
Yes, you can visit the site of Washington’s tomb. The “new tomb” at Mount Vernon is walking distance from Washington’s home, where the president died. Visitors can stand outside of the structure to pay their respects. In addition, you’ll be able to see the two caskets that hold the remains of Washington and his wife, Martha.
Mount Vernon is open 365 days a year. If you time your visit right, you can be there for a brief ceremony called “Tribute at the Tomb.” During this ceremony, a staff member will lead those assembled in the Pledge of Allegiance, General Washington’s prayer for his country, and the placement of a wreath.
What clothes was George Washington buried in?
There doesn’t seem to be any reliable information regarding how George Washington’s body was dressed when it was laid to rest. Unfortunately, this information may be lost forever.
We do know that Washington gave these instructions to his secretary, “Have me decently buried; and do not let my body be put into the vault in less than three days after I am dead.”
We do know that he was not buried in the uniform that was often depicted in portraits. The president wore that outfit of clothes, consisting of breeches and a blue wool waistcoat throughout the last ten years of his life. This uniform is now part of the Smithsonian’s collection at the National Museum of American History.
Where are George Washington’s wife and children buried?
Washington married Martha Custis on January 6, 1759. Martha had been previously married and had four children. Her first husband died in 1757.
George and Martha didn’t have children of their own, and two of the four children Martha had from her first marriage died young. Washington adopted the other two children, and they lived at Mount Vernon with Martha and George. Unfortunately, one of Martha’s children (also named Martha but known as Patsy) died at the age of 16 while living on Washington’s plantation. Her body was placed in the old vault and was transferred to the new vault in 1832.
Martha Washington died in 1802. Initially, she was placed in the old vault with her second husband, George, and her daughter Patsy. Her body was moved to the new tomb in 1832.
How did George Washington die?
George Washington died from an unknown illness that started with a sore throat.
Washington had gone riding on Thursday, December 12, 1799. When he returned to the house, it was suggested that he change out of his wet riding clothes, but Washington didn’t want to be late for dinner and refused.
The next day, Washington went outside again to perform duties associated with overseeing the plantation. His voice became hoarse throughout the day.
During the night of December 13, Washington woke up in pain at 2 a.m. While waiting for the doctor to arrive, an overseer at Mount Vernon bled Washington. This was a common practice at the time and one that Washington used periodically with seeming success.
Several other procedures and treatments were attempted under the direction of three different doctors, including enemas, forced vomitings, and blistering. He was also given a concoction of molasses, butter, and vinegar to soothe his throat as well as sage tea and vinegar to gargle. None of them seemed to work, and Washington struggled to breathe.
Since he knew he was dying, Washington reviewed his wills, (and had Martha dispose of one of them), gave directions to his personal secretary, and said:
“Doctor, I die hard; but I am not afraid to go; I believed from my first attack that I should not survive it; my breath can not last long.”
Washington died on the night of December 14, two days after the damp ride around Mount Vernon.
What’s the epitaph on George Washington’s grave?
Since Washington’s body was placed in a family tomb, there is not a traditional headstone at his grave. Above the Washington Family tomb, which was constructed in 1832, is the short epitaph, “Within this Enclosure Rest the remains of Gen’l George Washington.” There is no mention of his presidency on the tomb.
Visitors to the site will see two sarcophagi within the walls of the tomb, which hold the remains of Washington and his wife. The sarcophagi were carved in 1837 by John Struthers of Philadelphia.
Was Washington’s skull stolen?
One of Washington’s survivors, John Augustine Washington II, fired one of Mount Vernon’s gardeners in 1830. The gardener was so angry that he broke into the old crypt intending on stealing Washington’s skull.
The gardener left with a skull, but it wasn’t that of our first president. Instead, it was the skull of Washington’s nephew.
Reflecting On US History
There are many famous graves scattered throughout the United States, and George Washington’s is one of them that is definitely worth visiting. Many visitors are awed by the simplicity of the structure.
You may consider scheduling your visit so you can see a brief wreath-laying ceremony. During the 20–30 minute ceremony, a staff member leads visitors in the Pledge of Allegiance, reads General Washington’s prayer for his country, and places a fresh boxwood wreath inside the tomb.
- “10 Facts About Mount Vernon.” George Washington’s Mount Vernon. www.mountvernon.org/
- Wilstach, Paul. Mount Vernon: Washington’s Home and the Nation’s Shrine. Doubleday, Page & Company, 1916.