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A Tomb with a View: On the Shore at Mt. Vernon and the USNA

An old tomb, built in 1734. An entrance pointing out northeast, overlooking the Potomac River. Down the hill, a new tomb built 100 years later- with not quite the same view, but more stately as is befitting this particular family. I’m talking of course about the tombs of the Washington estate at Mt. Vernon. The old tomb was the final resting place of Washington's father, Augustine, and his half-brother Lawrence. Washington was interred in the old tomb four days after his death in 1799. There was some debate on how long he would remain there.

After his death, the relatively new House and Senate passed a resolution requesting that Martha Washington allow her husband’s remains to eventually rest in the still to be built US Capitol. Martha was reluctant to go against her husband’s will. She agreed to the concept in principle, however plans to have his body moved to the Capitol never came to be. As interest waned in the Capital while efforts to preserve Mt. Vernon itself grew, it was determined that Washington should rest in peace as he wished on the shore of the Potomac.

In his will, Washington specified that he wanted to be buried at Mt. Vernon, with a new family tomb built to his specifications to replace the old one. Washington remained in the old family tomb for years, as debate continued about where and if a permanent resting home would be build in the Capitol. Construction of the new tomb eventually began in 1831 and was completed in 1833. George Washington's remains were moved there in 1837.

Now in 2022, the new tomb itself is undergoing some renovations. Cracking mortar in the brick work, and a partially collapsing ceiling in the tomb itself are currently being repaired, while the Washington family remains inside. Renovations are to be completed by next year.

Head east across Route 50 to another tomb of a famous early American- and again, one whose final resting place didn’t come quite so simply.

John Paul Jones, the famous admiral of the American fleet in the Revolutionary War now rests in a tomb in the Naval Academy Chapel along the shore of the Severn River. With his famous words "I have not yet begun to fight", he rose to prominence leading a ragtag fleet of ships against the British Navy and winning several key victories. After the revolution, war fortunes never materialized, so he went to Paris in search of new commissions.

However, he was unable to secure any new ships and eventually found his way into the Russian Navy. He eventually returned to Paris where he died and was buried in a relatively obscure grave for years. His death went largely unnoticed at the time, and the location of the cemetery he was buried in Paris eventually became unknown.

Over a century later, a search was undertaken to find the resting place of Jones, with the intention of having his body returned to America as a hero of the Revolution. Once found, and under much fanfare, Jones' remains made their way back to American soil, where an elaborate tomb (much more ornate than the tomb of Washington) would hold his remains beneath the United States Naval Academy Chapel. (EDIT: A studious One Hundred Shores reader sent me a source after publishing this story which claims that once back on US soil, Jones still hadn't found his final resting place. According to lore, Commodore Jones spent seven years under a staircase waiting for the elaborate marble tomb to be funded and built. As you might guess, this is a fact not mentioned in my tour of the crypt).

Both the tombs of Washington and Jones are open for viewing. Each has certain stipulations however. Mt. Vernon of course comes with an entrance fee. And it should be noted that the new tomb is undergoing renovations and only the facade is viewable. The USNA chapel is open to the public, however public access to the USNA is subject to change depending on defense status. And when I visited the USNA crypt I was asked not to take photos for some reason.

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