Take a drive from Northern Virginia to Richmond and while you’re in Prince William County, you’ll no doubt see the brown sign that reads, “Weems-Botts Museum, Exit 152A.”
Not much detail there, but the Weems-Botts Museum is a project maintained by Historic Dumfries Virginia Inc., a group dedicated to preserving the history of Virginia’s oldest chartered town. In 1749, Dumfries was the first of seven chartered towns approved by the General Assembly; it was named after Dumfries, Scotland.
The museum is in a house built more than 250 years ago and named for two of its owners.
One of the leading locals there in the late 18th century was Rev. Mason Locke Weems, a/k/a Parson Weems. The good parson came to Virginia from Maryland and served in various churches, including Pohick Church in Lorton, where George Washington sometimes worshiped. In fact, George became the parson’s meal ticket: In 1800 Weems published “Life of Washington,” an 80-page pamphlet purporting to tell the first president’s biography. It was Weems who introduced the stories of the chopped-down cherry tree (“I cannot tell a lie…”) and Washington’s throwing a rock across the river. Needless to say this stuff was popular, if mostly spin.
Weems sold the house to a lawyer, Benjamin Botts, in 1802. He used the building as his law office. Botts is probably best known as a member of the defense team representing Aaron Burr, who was tried for treason in 1807 on a charge of plotting with the Spanish to peel off the western part of the new nation. The trial, held in federal court in Richmond and presided over by Chief Justice John Marshall, ended in an acquittal.
Botts and his wife Jane were among the victims of the Dec. 26, 1811, theater fire in Richmond that decimated Virginia society; the governor, George William Smith, was among those who perished.
If you go: Weems-Botts Museum, Dumfries. Take Exit 152A off of Interstate 95. Open Tuesday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission (includes guided tour): $4 for adults; seniors and children $2.50. Children under 6 free. Call (703) 221-2218 for any additional details. (Photo borrowed with appreciation from a Weems family site on RootsWeb).