Five of the eight presidents born in Virginia are buried in the soil of the Old Dominion. The other three are in Kentucky, Ohio and Washington, D. C.
photos by Chiles T. A. Larson
George Washington was born at his father’s plantation on Popes Creek in Westmoreland County, Virginia, on Feb. 22, 1732. He died in his bedchamber at Mount Vernon on Dec. 14, 1799.
Several months before his death, Washington directed in his will the building of a new burial vault:
“The family Vault at Mount Vernon requiring repairs, and being improperly situated besides, I desire that a new one of Brick, and upon a larger Scale, may be built at the foot of what is commonly called the Vineyard Enclosure… in which my remains, with those of my deceased relatives and such other of my family may choose to be entombed there, may be deposited.”
In 1831, the bodies of George Washington and Martha Washington were removed from the original deteriorating tomb to the present enclosure.
Washington also stated in his will that his slaves were to be freed; he did not have the legal authority to free his wife’s slaves but he did provide for them financially. He also expressed in his will a desire to protect Native Americans when negotiating the purchase of their tribal lands. Washington knew his will would become public, so articulating his intentions in the document was his way of sharing his views with people across the country.
Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, in Shadwell, Albemarle County, and died on July 4, 1826, at Monticello, 50 years after the Declaration of Independence was signed. John Adams died on the same day.
Jefferson was the third president of the United States. Before he died, Jefferson left precise directives concerning the memorial to be erected over his grave. He sketched the design and shape of the stone marker. He also prepared the text to be inscribed on it:
Here was buried
Author of the Declaration of American Independence
Of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom
& Father of the University of Virginia
“Because by these,” he stated, “as testimonials that I have lived. I wish most to be remembered.”
The first documented marker for Jefferson’s grave was erected in the family graveyard at Monticello seven years after his death. Almost immediately, visitors began chipping bits of the stone as souvenirs. In 1882, Congress voted in a joint resolution to fund a new granite monument that was completed the following year. The original headstone was donated to the University of Missouri at Columbia, where it now resides.
James Madison, Jr. was born on March 16, 1751, at Port Conway in King George County. He died on March 4, 1809, at Montpelier in Orange County. Madison was buried in the family cemetery on the grounds in an unmarked grave until 1857, when a large obelisk monument was installed to honor his memory. His wife Dolly is buried next to him in a grave marked with a smaller obelisk.
Madison served as the fourth president of the United States. He was a statesman, lawyer and diplomat. Madison moved to amend the Constitution shortly after being elected to the First Congress. He played a pivotal role in drafting a “declaration of the rights of the people” to ensure “the tranquility of the public mind, and the stability of the government.” Shortly thereafter, Madison—with his “coalition of republicans” in Congress—approved amendments to the Constitution. Under Madison’s driving force, Congress approved the first 10 of them, which became the nation’s Bill of Rights.
James Monroe was born on April 28, 1758, at Monroe Hall in Westmoreland County and died on July 4, 1832, in New York City at the home of his wife’s family. Like Jefferson and Adams, he died on the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.
Monroe was originally buried in the Gouverneur family crypt there in New York, but his body was reinterred in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery in 1858, 27 years after his death. His tomb is an ornate, Gothic-style cage made from cast iron and is known locally as The Birdcage. The National Park Service named it a National Historic Landmark in 1971.
Monroe served as the fifth president of the United States from 1817 to 1825. He held more high offices than anyone else in American history. Prior to his presidency, he served as governor of Virginia, a member of the United States Senate, ambassador to France and Britain, the seventh secretary of state, and the eighth secretary of war.
He is perhaps best remembered for issuing the Monroe Doctrine, a strategy of opposing European colonialism in the Americas.
John Tyler was born on March 20, 1790, at Greenway, the family plantation on the James River in Charles City County. He died on Jan. 18, 1862, in Richmond and is also buried in Hollywood Cemetery.
His monument stands in Presidents Circle not far from Monroe’s tomb.
Tyler served as vice president before he became the 10th president of the United States from 1841 to 1845. With William Henry Harrison’s sudden death only one month after his inauguration, Tyler became the first vice president to ascend to the office of president. A major achievement during his administration was the annexation of the Republic of Texas in 1845.
During the Civil War, Tyler served as a member of the Confederate House of Representatives. His death was not officially recognized in Washington, D.C., because of his allegiance to the Confederate States of America. Although Tyler desired a simple interment, Confederate President Jefferson Davis ordered his burial to be a prominent event and his coffin was draped with a Confederate flag.
William Henry Harrison was born on Feb. 9, 1773, at Berkley Plantation in Charles City County and died of pneumonia on April 4, 1841, after serving only 31 days as president. Before he died, he selected a knoll overlooking his home on the Ohio River for the site of his tomb in North Bend, Ohio.
Zachary Taylor was born on Nov. 24, 1784, at Montebello in Orange County and died on July 6, 1850, in Washington, D.C. He is buried in the Zachary Taylor National Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky.
Taylor was the 12th president and served a little over one year.
Woodrow Wilson was born on Dec. 28, 1856, in Staunton. He died on Feb. 3, 1924, and is buried at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. He served as the 28th president from March 4, 1913, until March 4, 1921.
The contributions and attributes of these Virginia-born presidents, in their time and place in the establishment of the United States and in the causes in which they believed, is worthy of our attention and remembrance.
Chiles T. A. Larson is a writer and photojournalist. He is the author of “Virginia’s Past Today” and “Barboursville Vineyards: Crafting Great Wines Inspired by Spirits from the Past.”