Cover image for George Washington--the man behind the myths
George Washington--the man behind the myths
Rasmussen, William M. S. (William Meade Stith), 1946-
Publication Information:
Charlottesville : University Press of Virginia, 1999.
Physical Description:
xv, 328 pages : illustrations (some color), maps (some color) ; 31 cm
General Note:
Catalog of an exhibition held Feb. 1999 in Richmond, Va.
Added Author:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E312.17 .R37 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks-Oversize

On Order



TWO HUNDRED YEARS after Henry "Lighthorse Harry" Lee's funeral oration for George Washington, the eloquence of his words "first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen" has caused most Americans to forget the clause that followed in which Lee located Washington's character firmly in his private life. George Washington: The Man behind the Myths redresses this historical imbalance in our image of Washington by examining our conceptions and misconceptions about him through a fascinating collection of documents and images.

Washington's own accounts, observations by his contemporaries, narratives by the first generation of Washington biographers, decorative objects, and visual images, which were assembled for a major exhibition sponsored by the Virginia Historical Society, the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, and Washington and Lee University, invite a fresh evaluation of Washington. William M. S. Rasmussen and Robert S. Tilton trace the ways in which Washington's origins in the peculiar colonial society of Virginia prepared him for success on the national stage. Chronologically arranged chapters examine Washington's early exposure to the wealthy Fairfax family, his command of the Virginia Regiment during the French and Indian War and later the Continental Army, his decision to attend the Constitutional Convention, and his two elections to the presidency. Rasmussen and Tilton argue that the major transitions we see in Washington's public image were made possible by the stability of his private life and his love of Mount Vernon.

The image of Washington created by antebellum writers and artists after his death was intended to capture what he signified to the fledgling republic. This myth has survived largely because of its usefulness to our national culture. George Washington: The Man behind the Myths takes a crucial step in restoring our understanding of Washington as he actually was.

Author Notes

William M. S. Rasmussen is Curator of Art at the Virginia Historical Society. Robert S. Tilton is Assistant Professor of American Literature and Director of American Studies at the University of Connecticut at Storrs.

Reviews 1

Choice Review

The Virginia Historical Society has taken the occasion of the 200th anniversary of George Washington's death to present a truly impressive exhibition of images and objects that chronicle his life. Many of these 260 paintings, artifacts, manuscripts, maps, and letters, drawn from the rich collections of Washington and Lee University and the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, have not been on public display before. This book provides high-quality reproductions of the exhibit items and ties them together with a very readable account of Washington's life. Rasmussen (Curator of Art, Virginia Historical Society) and Tilton (Univ. of Connecticut) present a nontraditional account that helps bring Washington to life, to expose "the man behind the myth." Also enlightening is their illustration of the apotheosis of Washington in the 19th and 20th centuries, showing how idolatry and legend have obscured him for many Americans. A valuable complement to John Rhodehamel's The Great Experiment: George Washington and the American Republic (CH, Feb'99), which catalogs the Huntington Library exhibition of Washington paintings and artifacts. Includes 25 pages of footnotes. Recommended for public and university libraries. General readers; undergraduates. R. Detweiler California Polytechnic State University--San Luis Obispo