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Mount Vernon Presents Special Activities in Honor of Black History Month

Thu, 01/07/2010

For Immediate Release
January 7, 2010
Digital images available

Media Contact:

Melissa Wood  (703) 799-5203
mwood@mountvernon.org

Mount Vernon Presents Special Activities in Honor of Black History Month

MOUNT VERNON, Va. – In observance of Black History Month, February 1 through 28, Mount Vernon interpreters highlight at the slave quarters the lives and contributions of the slaves who built and operated the plantation home of George and Martha Washington from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. A wreathlaying and presentation occurs daily at the slave memorial site at 12:00 p.m. throughout the month of February. A daily 1:00 p.m. Slave Life at Mount Vernon tour explores the work and home life of the slaves. On Saturdays and Sundays in February from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., visitors learn about life as a slave with “Silla” or “Slammin’ Joe,” two of Washington’s slaves, at the slave cabin. Black History Month activities are included in regular Estate admission: adults, $15.00; children ages 6-11, $7.00; and children under 5 are admitted free.

The daily wreathlaying at the slave memorial remembers and recognizes slaves for their sacrifices, accomplishments and contributions. Located approximately 50 yards southwest of George Washington's tomb, the slave memorial is near the slave burial ground. The burial ground was used as a cemetery for slaves and free blacks who worked for the Washington family during the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century. The graves are unmarked, and the identities and numbers of those buried remain largely unknown. The memorial, designed by Howard University architecture students in 1983, features a granite column atop three concentric circles, with the words “faith,” “hope” and “love” engraved on the circles. The inscription reads, “In the memory of the Afro-Americans who served as slaves at Mount Vernon.”

At the slave quarters visitors see a reconstruction of one housing unit based on available records and archaeological findings. Visitors learn that this one room might have housed an entire extended family or male artisans whose wives and families may have lived on one of the outlying farms or another plantation. Much of the documented information for this interpretation comes from Washington’s meticulous writings, including his diary and ledgers, as well as correspondence with his resident farm managers and plantation overseers. Former slaves and their families also contributed to available information through their recollections and family histories.

The slave cabin at Mount Vernon is located near the 16-sided barn at the George Washington: Pioneer Farmer Site, a four-acre farm that demonstrates how crops were grown and harvested in the 18th century. Because the barn was originally located about five miles from the Mansion on Dogue Run Farm, the nearby slave cabin represents housing from that same area of the estate. “Silla” and “Slammin’ Joe,” a married couple, will interpret the site.

George Washington was born into a society that accepted slavery, inheriting slaves from his father at the age of 11. When he and Martha Custis married in 1759, their combined slave community at Mount Vernon numbered about 50. According to records, Washington purchased approximately 50 slaves between 1754 and 1772, just two years before the Revolutionary War. It was during the War, when Washington led the new nation in its battle for freedom, that his views on slavery began to change, eventually leading to his resolve never to buy or sell another slave. In 1797, just two years before his death, Washington wrote to Lawrence Lewis saying, “I wish from my soul that the legislature of this State could see a policy of gradual abolition of slavery.” During his presidency, Washington privately advocated a policy of gradual emancipation through legislative action.

Washington provided for the emancipation of his slaves in his last will and testament. In addition to freedom, he left detailed instructions for the continued care and support of the elderly and children. Many newly freed slaves lived at Mount Vernon as pensioners into the 1830s. Of the 316 slaves living at Mount Vernon in 1799, 123 belonged to George Washington. Washington’s 123 slaves were freed on January 1, 1801.

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Events, programs, and activities are subject to change.

Public Information: 703-780-2000; 703-799-8697 (TDD); Visit.MountVernon.org

Since 1860, over 80 million visitors have made George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens the most popular historic home in America. Through thought-provoking tours, entertaining events, and stimulating educational programs on the Estate and in classrooms across the nation, Mount Vernon strives to preserve George Washington’s place in history as “First in War, First in Peace, and First in the Hearts of His Countrymen.” Mount Vernon is owned and operated by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, America’s oldest national preservation organization, founded in 1853. A picturesque drive to the southern end of the scenic George Washington Memorial Parkway, Mount Vernon is located just 16 miles from the nation’s capital. Hours of operation: April-August, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.; March, September, October, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; November – February, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Regular admission rates: adults, $15.00; senior citizens, $14.00; children age 6-11, when accompanied by an adult, $7.00; and children under age 5, FREE. Admission fees, restaurant and retail proceeds, along with private donations, support the operation and restoration of Mount Vernon.