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House for Families

As was generally the case at large agricultural enterprises during the 18th century, the labor of enslaved Africans was the engine driving the complex, multi-functioning system that was George Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation. The House for Families, in existence by the 1760s, was the main slave dwelling located at Washington’s Mansion House Farm. The structure was demolished in early 1793 when the slaves moved to new quarters located in wings attached to either side of the nearby greenhouse.

Selected artifacts recovered during the House for Families excavation

Selected artifacts recovered during the House for Families excavation

Archaeological excavations at the site of the House for Families began in 1984 / 1985 and were completed in 1990 / 1991. Excavation of a brick-lined root cellar, located below the slave quarter, contained more than 60,000 artifacts, including 25,000 animal bones or faunal remains. This rich assemblage of domestic artifacts and food remains associated with the house servants and craftspeople that lived there provides a clue about the slaves’ daily life and diet.

This study remains an integral component of Mount Vernon’s interest in understanding all the groups – planter household, indentured servants, hired laborers, and the various strata within the slave community – comprising the Mount Vernon plantation population.

View of the House for Families building as shown in Edward Savage’s East Front of Mount Vernon painting
(Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association)