During the summer months of 1857 Johnson visited the George Washington homestead at Mount Vernon, Virginia, with his friend Louis Mignot. Johnson painted one or two paintings, but returned the following summer to paint several more. During the 1850s the building and its grounds had fallen into disrepair. A new veneration of Washington, spurred on by growing sectional political conflicts between North and South, led to the formation of a committee of women to restore the site. They formed the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union. The painter Thomas Rossiter brought attention to the situation by writing a plea in The Crayon (September 1858):
The nation has permitted his tomb to crumble, the storms to despoil his mansion, the weeds to grow over his footsteps and his door-sill, with an effort to preserve the sacred domain. At last, the women of the land—God bless them! Having waited and hoped in vain for a recognition of the sanctity of Mount Vernon, moved with feminine zeal and loyalty to the noble dead, have combined, organized and purchased the estate.
(Adapted from Hills, The Genre Painting of Eastman Johnson, pp. 54–55.) —PH