A Complex Legacy: Exploring George Washington’s Mount Vernon

George Washington's Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon, the iconic plantation that was once the home of the first President of the United States, George Washington is important to us because of what it reveals about this important figure in American history. George Washington was a politician, a farmer, a Founding Father, an enslaver, a general and a visionary.

Nestled along the scenic banks of the Potomac River in Virginia, this historic estate offers a unique opportunity to step back in time and experience the life and complex legacy of one of America’s most revered leaders. With its beautifully preserved grounds, immersive exhibits and fascinating glimpses into Washington’s personal and public life, a visit to Mount Vernon should be on everyone’s daytrip bucket list.

Mount Vernon House Tour

The tour will take you through the elegantly furnished rooms, including the dining room, bedrooms and even Washington’s study. Expert guides will share fascinating stories and insights about Washington’s daily life, his role in the founding of the United States and his accomplishments as a military leader and statesman.

One of the most remarkable features of the mansion is Washington’s last addition, the “New Room.” This grand space, with soaring ceilings and exquisite details, served as a reception area for guests. Washington intended for this new room to mirror the new nation’s values: unpretentious beauty and fine craftsmanship.

As you explore the mansion, you’ll also have the opportunity to view Washington’s personal belongings, such as his presidential desk, family portraits and original furnishings. These artifacts provide a glimpse into the private life of Washington and his family, adding a personal touch to the tour.

In addition to the mansion, Mount Vernon includes beautiful gardens and grounds, where you can stroll and enjoy scenic views of the Potomac River.

The People Washington Enslaved

There are a lot of reasons to venerate Washington. But there’s also his history as an enslaver of other human beings we need to take into account. In fact, at the time of his death, he enslaved 318 men, women and children. This is a critical part of our nation’s history: many of the men who played a part in the founding of the United States actively enslaved other people.

At Mount Vernon, you’ll find exhibits and displays providing insight into America’s history of slavery. These exhibits also provide information about the people Washington enslaved. Your first stop to learn about slavery at Mount Vernon should be the Slave Memorial and Burial Ground. This touching memorial honors the enslaved men, women, and children who were an integral part of Mount Vernon’s operations. It serves as a powerful reminder of their contributions and the hardships they endured. These exhibits offer an opportunity for reflection, learning and a more comprehensive understanding of our nation’s history

Exhibits inside the slave quarters tell some of the individual stories of the people who lived there through narratives, artifacts and historical documents. Touring the exhibits, you’ll learn about:

  • the work — the men and women not only worked for the Washingtons, but also, sometimes, were able to work extra for themselves.
  • the family life — many had spouses on neighboring farms and plantations and they juggled the work they were made to do with trying, as best as they were able, to raise their own children, and
  • the challenges faced by those Washington enslaved — running away was dangerous.

Much of the information about the men and women Washington enslaved is integrated into the exhibits. For example, in the wash house, you’ll learn about Dolsey and Vina, two women who washed the laundry that belonged to Washington and his guests. In the paint cellar, you’ll learn about Tom Davis, who maintained the iconic look of Mount Vernon and the out buildings.

We don’t know very much about the individuals Washington and his family enslaved at Mount Vernon. We simply don’t know all their names. However, Mount Vernon continues to research the enslaved community so their stories are told accurately as possible, despite poor documentation. The estate is committed to preserving this history and fostering dialogue about slavery and its impact on American society.

Note: The signage refers to the individuals Washington and his family enslaved as both “slaves” and “enslaved people.” It’s also worth noting that rarely does the signage note WHO enslaved these people. Somehow, they all “were enslaved.”

The Donald Reynolds Museum & Education Center

The Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center is another highlight of the visit. Here, you can delve deeper into Washington’s life and legacy. The museum provides a comprehensive overview of Washington’s military career, his role in shaping the new nation and his impact on American history.

The center also explores slavery at Mount Vernon. The Lives Bound Together exhibit specifically delves into the individual stories of the enslaved people who lived at Mount Vernon.

Know Before You Go

Parking can be tight, so consider going at less popular times. You’ll also likely encounter lines and waits to tour the mansion. Thus, you should plan to spend at least 3 hours there.

Getting there: 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon, VA
Hours: Open 365 days a year. Check the website below for specific hours and other helpful information.
Website: Mount Vernon

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