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George Washington visits an old friend's house

Lawrence Pierce
Dean Malissa, Mount Vernon's official George Washington portrayer, sits at the replica of Washington's writing desk at Charleston's Craik-Patton House on Wednesday. Malissa spoke to dinner guests about the first president's close relationship with the Craik family.
Lawrence Pierce Malissa stands in front of the Craik-Patton House Wednesday night.
Lawrence Pierce Malissa says he practices his signature to make it identical to Washington's. Here's his signature in the Craik-Patton House guestbook.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When George Washington died in 1799, he willed a piece of land in what would become Charleston to Dr. James Craik, his close friend and personal physician.

Craik's grandson, also named James, built a home on the property years later and lived there with his family for about a decade before moving to Louisville, Ky.

The house, now known as the Craik-Patton House, still stands in Charleston. Washington portrayer Dean Malissa stopped by Wednesday night to educate guests on the first president's relationship with the Craik family.

Malissa is the official portrayer of Washington at the Mount Vernon Estate and Museum, Washington's former home. Part of Malissa's job is to learn everything about Washington and his friends.

He said Craik and Washington met during the French and Indian War, serving together on border patrol. Washington became impressed with Craik's abilities after the latter successfully treated the Marquis de Lafayette's wounds.

Craik later served under Washington during the American Revolution. Washington named Craik "physician general," a precursor to the position of surgeon general. Craik was responsible for inoculating Washington's army to build immunity from smallpox.

After the war, Washington kept a small circle of friends, Malissa said, and Craik was his closest confidant.

"Washington liked him because he was a man of conviction, a man of duty, a man of integrity and a man of honor and virtue," Malissa said, "all of which Washington respected tremendously."

After Washington died, he willed land to Craik to thank him for his wartime service. Washington's personal writing desk was willed to Craik's grandson and his wife. They took the desk with them on their move to Louisville, but it was later returned to Mount Vernon.

A replica of the original desk now sits in the Charleston building, which became known as the Craik-Patton House, after George S. Patton moved in with his family during the Civil War, when Patton was a colonel in the Confederate Army. The house has since been moved from its Virginia Street location to Daniel Boone Park, to prevent its demolition.

Malissa sat at the desk Wednesday night, dressed as Washington in a shirt with gold buttons, long black coat and black buckled shoes.

"I'm going to have to take out my spectacles if I want to really look like Washington," Malissa said while reading a parchment.

Reach Travis Crum at travis.crum@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5163.


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