A simple marker, for the longest time, was all there was to indicate the fifth president’s birthplace. Over the past several years, however, the James Monroe Memorial Foundation has been working to change that with the replicated construction of the house built by Monroe’s father, Spence Monroe.
Furnished with period furniture and constructed using period materials whenever possible, this project of passion and labor of love had its grand opening on October 2nd. Prior to that it had been in a state of soft opening with the Docents giving tours of the house from the visitor center.
G. William Thomas Jr., the President of the foundation, was the first to speak at the grand opening ceremony.
“I want to thank each and every one of you for the role you have played in making today possible,” he stated, “as well as thank the generations of people that preceded us. In many ways we are standing on the shoulders of giants that envisioned what this birthplace should be, and the history center it will be for future generations.”
After an invocation by the Reverend Ronald Oswyn White, the associate pastor of Providence United Methodist Church, The Virginia Society Sons of the American Revolution, led by Ken Bonner, presented the nation’s flag for a pledge of allegiance.
Next, Congressman Rob Wittman, a native of Westmoreland County, rose to speak. “If you use your imagination and look around here, today, you can imagine a young James Monroe out here in the yard with his siblings, here in the Neck,” Wittman stated, “You can imagine what he might have experienced here that morning. You can imagine his parents giving him his chores: taking care of the animals, taking care of the plants in the family garden, making sure the family had what it needed.
“That talks to us about who James Monroe was, what he learned here at his birthplace,” Wittman continued, “What Spence and Elizabeth Monroe taught him. Remember, his parents died when James was a teenager, so many of his formative years were here, and he went on to be under the care of his uncle. Through that time, he learned many of the valuable lessons in life that followed him. From that time on, he had an interest in politics. His mentor was Thomas Jefferson when he went to law school at the College of William and Mary. He then served in what is now the House of Delegates.
“Having that interest in public service, what it was to serve, and taking those lessons he learned here at the birthplace, he subsequently ran when the first United States Congress was put into place in 1789. He ran against James Madison and lost. Don’t feel bad for Monroe though. The Virginia General Assembly saw the incredible leadership in Monroe, and at the time, U.S. Senators were selected by the state legislatures. The Assembly selected Monroe to be the first senator from Virginia.
“What this all goes back to are the incredible lessons that James learned here at the birthplace, and how incredibly important it is for us to now celebrate the birthplace being re-created and thanking folks across the Northern Neck for their support. It really was a community effort. The vision never wavered, and now here we are, celebrating the re-creation of the birthplace.
Vice Chairman W.W. “Woody” Hynson, the Vice Chairman of Westmoreland County Board of Supervisors followed Wittman.
“I’m so lucky, because Rob and I were on the board of supervisors together when this all started. I’d also like to thank the DAR, because they were the ones that put up the monument out front,” Hynson stated.
“I’ve always been interested in our founding fathers, the Revolutionary War, and our Declaration of Independence,” Hynson continued, “I’ve been thinking about ‘We the People,’ because that’s what the revolution and freedom are all about. It does not matter what religion, race, class, or ideology, you still get one vote, and that is what makes us all equal. We have to understand that our country cannot cure itself of these problems until every last one of us votes.
Hynson continued further, stating, “I’ve been trying to figure how the country has strayed from where it was to where it is now. It’s because we don’t work hard enough teaching our children the history of America, ALL of its history. When we leave here today, I want everyone to bring someone back with you on April 28, and to educate your children and grandchildren. Speak to your school boards, your principals, and let’s get back to teaching what American history and freedom are all about. That means we all have to be a part of it.”
For Robin Schick, Mayor of Colonial Beach, her first interaction with the birthplace was actually around the time that the only thing marking the site as anything special was a single sign.
“My dad was driving me to daycare one day and, you can’t make this up, we get a flat tire right here,” Schick explained, “My dad pulls off into the gravel, and there is one sign that talked about James Monroe, explaining how this was his birthplace. That’s how I remember it as a child. I got out of the car and started exploring around here, maybe similar to James Monroe when he was a kid. I appreciated that context, and enjoy thinking of Westmoreland County in that way, and that we are inspiring that in our children.
“That day, I found a caterpillar and took him with me, naming him Monroe,” she continued, “And today I’m wearing my butterfly earrings and necklace because the caterpillar from this site has turned into what we are celebrating. I look forward to working with the future generations to celebrate this site, and hopefully grow more caterpillars.”
The project is not complete. There are plenty more plans on the drawing board, such as a trail system from Colonial Beach that leads to the birthplace.