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A Thief Attempted to Steal the Skull of George Washington from Mount Vernon, He Mistakenly Stole the Skull of Bushrod Washington Instead

Following George Washington’s death in 1799, the US government announced its intention to move his remains to the US Capitol, where work on a crypt in the basement would connect to a glass-enclosed vault where his body would be interred. What happened in the failed attempt to steal George Washington’s Skull?

An effort was made to steal the skull from George Washington’s remains in 1830. His remains were kept in a mausoleum at Mount Vernon. The thief, however, took the skull of Supreme Court Justice Bushrod Washington instead.

Why were George Washington’s Remains Moved to Mount Vernon?

George Washington’s will stipulated that he be buried at his Mount Vernon home. Martha Washington agreed to his remains being transported to the capital city. Nonetheless, disagreements over the committal procedures caused a significant delay in transporting Washington’s remains, which were temporarily stored in a separate mausoleum on the Mount Vernon estate.

The Mount Vernon crypt deteriorated rapidly over the following 30 years. Many pilgrims visited Washington’s tomb to remove relics, mostly greenery, which aggravated the problem. As a result, the trees and other vegetation surrounding the tomb were stripped naked. The Russian ambassador to the United States even cut down a whole branch from a tree near the grave to give to Tsar Alexander I later. (Source: History, Art & Archives: United States House of Representatives

What Happened During the Robbery?

In 1830, Mount Vernon’s then-owner, John Augustine Washington II, dismissed one of the estate’s gardeners, whose identity is now lost. The jobless gardener broke into the crypt with the intention of snatching George Washington’s skull as a form of vengeance. On the other hand, the gardener made off with the skull of one of the Blackburns, George Washington’s nephew Judge Bushrod Washington’s in-laws.

The tomb’s deteriorated state purportedly caused the gardener’s surprise; twenty members of the Washington family and their relatives had been buried in the crypt, but many of their coffins had rotted through, resulting in human skeletons littering the ground. On the other hand, the remains of George and Martha Washington were spared this indignity since they had been encased in a lead before their committal.

As a result of the attempted robbery, Congress renewed its desire to take control of Washington’s body, but John Washington refused, stating that he could not disturb Washington’s perfect tranquillity. Instead, he authorized building a new tomb beside the previous one. The bodies of George and Martha Washington were moved to the new facility in 1831, which drew criticism from some, including the Earl of Carlisle, who observed after a visit in 1841 that the tomb of that most illustrious of mortals was placed under a glaring red building, somewhat between a coach-house and a cage. (Source: Mount Vernon

Was Someone Able to Steal George Washington’s Hair?

A claim has been made that locks of hair were retrieved from George Washington’s body during 1837 unsealing, yet successive auctions have been unsuccessful, raising questions about their validity.

Jules Germain Cloquet states in an 1835 book on the life and times of the Marquis de Lafayette that during his journey to the United States in 1824, Lafayette got a ring from one of George Washington’s step-grandchildren containing George and Martha Washington’s hair. Cloquet claims that the ring was presented to pass down to succeeding generations of the Marquis’ family. (Source: Mount Vernon

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