There are some historical cliches that a good house museum just shouldn’t do without, chief among them the “Famous Person sat/slept/died in this chair/bed/house” chestnut.  Not wishing to disappoint, here is our contribution: George Washington Ate Breakfast In This Chair!

Not here in this house, sadly.  (We reserve that honor for Lafayette – and it was dinner, not breakfast.)  General Washington sat in this chair to eat his breakfast in 1775 in Pennsylvania – but the family moved to Montgomery County, Maryland in the early 19th century, so the chair has been a county piece for a long time.  (Usually I reject the “It’s been in the county for [X ] years even though it isn’t really from here!” argument, but I’m inclined to give George’s chair a pass.)   I’ll let the donor, Deborah Iddings Willson, tell the story: “My great, great, great, great grandfather Richard More lived in New Hope, Pennsylvania.  When George Washington left his winter quarters at Valley Forge in the spring of 1775 he passed Richard More’s house on his way to Philadelphia and sat in this chair to eat his breakfast.”  Mrs. Willson donated the chair to us in 1995.

As an antique chair, the piece is interesting by itself; a Pennsylvania comb-back Windsor arm chair from the late 18th century is nothing to sneeze at.  As a family heirloom brought to Sandy Spring, Maryland in the early 1800s, the chair helps tell the story of the Montgomery County Quaker community, many of whom moved here from Pennsylvania. If we had any way of proving that George Washington not only had breakfast with the Mores but also sat in this very chair, it would increase its monetary value – but for our purposes the story is enough, just an added bonus on top of its relevance to local history.

George’s chair normally* sits in the corner of the Beall-Dawson House parlor.  Some docents tell the story and others do not; though interesting, it’s not essential to the house narrative.  We (okay, I) might mock the famous-person cliche – George Washington Slept (or Sat) Here – but that link with the national storyline does resonate with people.  A few years ago, as a post-field-trip exercise, the fifth grade of Sherwood Elementary sent us their thoughts on our “most valuable artifact” (historically speaking).  George Washington’s chair won, with 12 children choosing it, beating our Rockville tall-case clock by two votes. 

* It has temporarily – and somewhat hilariously – been replaced with an aluminum Christmas tree, but it will be back on view in January.

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