- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 4, 2000

Today Americans will celebrate the birthday of the American republic. But what if the Founders had created a monarchy instead?

All of his life, Paul Emory Washington has been bedeviled by the question: "Are you related to George Washington?"

"No one believed me when I answered yes," says Mr. Washington, 73, a resident of San Antonio, "so I just started saying no."

Emory Washington is indeed related to the first president. In fact, he has a good claim to being head of the far-flung Washington clan in the United States a distinction that has made him the object of sporadic media attention throughout the years.

If the residents of the victorious 13 Colonies had made George Washington king following the end of the American Revolution, it is quite possible that Paul Emory Washington would today occupy the throne of the American empire.

This is not a totally fanciful idea. At the conclusion of the Revolution, George Washington occupied a position of unchallenged authority in the 13 former Colonies, and there was strong sentiment in the Continental Army for crowning him king. Washington was appalled by the idea and angrily rejected it when it was broached to him by Col. Lewis Nicola, a Frenchman who had served under Washington and is reported to have had a great deal of influence with the officers in the Continental Army.

"Let me conjure you then," Washington admonished Nicola, "if you have any regard for your country, concern for yourself or for posterity, or respect for me, to banish these thoughts from your mind and never communicate, as from yourself or any one else, a sentiment of like nature."

But what if he had decided differently? What if he had decided that accepting the crown was the only way to preserve the fragile alliance of the 13 Colonies from disintegrating into cannibalistic warfare? Who would be king or queen today?

For starters, who would have been Washington's successor 200 years ago following his funeral on Dec. 18, 1799?

Life magazine explored the succession question in detail in its Feb. 19, 1951, edition. Editors relied heavily on the research provided by John A. Washington, now senior partner in the D.C. investment counsel firm of Farr, Miller and Washington. John Washington is a descendant of George Washington's brother, John Augustine, and has made the study of the Washington family genealogy a lifelong hobby. There are an estimated 8,000 descendants of George Washington's siblings today, John Washington says, fewer than 200 of whom bear the Washington surname.

"Ours is a very diverse clan," he adds. "There are Washington descendants in all parts of the country in just about every conceivable occupation."

Among the more unlikely locales where today's descendants may be found is the Fort Washakie Indian reservation in Wyoming where a number of the Indians are descendants of a great grandson of Betty Washington, George's sister.

Determining the line of succession is not a simple matter, as it turns out.

"To begin with, the general had no children," John Washington says, "and that means one has to look at his brothers."

But again things are not so simple. The general had two older half-brothers and three younger full brothers. Should the eldest half-brother or the eldest full brother get the nod?

Life decided the eldest full brother's line would have had the stronger claim, which means that the crown would have been inherited by John Thornton Augustine Washington, aged 14, eldest grandson of George's brother Samuel, who predeceased George in 1781. Samuel's son, Thornton, also predeceased the general in 1787.

"But again things get complicated," John Washington says. "Do we follow the primogeniture laws of the British royal family in which the title goes to the eldest heir, male or female? Or do we follow the custom of the British nobility, in which case the eldest male heir inherits the title?"

Following the practice of the former, he determined that our sovereign would now be Felix Craig of Nitro, W.Va.

Mr. Craig, 83, is a retired welder and church-camp director and a man of modest means. If fate had turned slightly and George Washington had accepted a crown, it is quite possible that Mr. Craig would be "Felix the First," sovereign of the American empire.

Reached by phone, Mr. Craig was in fine spirits, despite suffering from Parkinson's disease and the early stages of Alzheimer's (his diagnosis).

Following his retirement in 1979, Mr. Craig and his wife, Rachel, bought an Airstream mobile home and spent much of their time traveling. They are active in their local church and spend a good deal of time watching television, particularly Mrs. Craig's favorite soap opera, "Days of Our Lives."

The Craigs have two children, two grandchildren and one great-grandson. Their son, John, 47, is the heir apparent.

In a 1982 visit to California, the Craigs met Lawrence Washington, the man Life decided had the strongest claim to the throne. A longtime engineer with the Bechtel Corp., Lawrence died two years ago at 98. He had a daughter but no sons. According to British primogeniture law, that would have made him the last of his line. Using John Washington's reckoning, the title then passed to Lawrence Washington's distant cousin, Paul Emory Washington, mentioned earlier.

Emory Washington has long been aware of his place in the Washington family line.

"I had a number of aunts who were active in the DAR," he says. "They were very proud of having the Washington name in the family, and they never let me forget who I was."

As for his status as heir to the throne? "It's been a family joke for many years," he says.

For 40 years, Emory Washington worked for the Certain-Teed Corp., a manufacturer and distributor of wholesale building materials headquartered, appropriately enough, in Valley Forge, Pa., where General Washington and his rag-tag army bivouacked in the difficult winter of 1778-79.

Following his retirement in 1988, Emory and his wife, Jo, bought a house on a 10-acre lot in San Antonio. The couple enjoy their two horses, traveling (mostly to Europe), and spending time with their four children and grandchildren.

Their eldest son, Richard, 47, is the heir-apparent and his son, Connor, just celebrated his eighth birthday. Thus, the line of succession is secure through most of the 21st century.

Emory Washington holds no regrets about what might have been.

"I think we've done real well without a king," he says, adding, "I can't believe having one would have helped things." This does not lessen his regard for his famous ancestor, however.

"I think George Washington was a great man," he says, "He was the right man at the right time. We were lucky to have him."

• James Roberts is president of Radio America.

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