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What's a Servants' Hall?

On large eighteenth-century Virginia plantations, cooking, washing and other common tasks were often performed in buildings that were separate from the main house. These outbuildings could also serve for the storage of food and other goods and sometimes were residences for slaves, employees and others who would not have been accommodated within the main house. The Servants’ Hall at Mount Vernon served the latter function; documentary evidence indicates that George Washington intended this building to be reserved for the accommodation of white servants that might accompany visitors to the estate. Whether the building would have also served to house any enslaved persons who accompanied his visitors is not known.

Importance of Washington's Servants' Hall

Mount Vernon's Servants' Hall is an unusual outbuilding and not typically found on an eighteenth-century plantation. Although obviously secondary in importance to George Washington’s home, the Servants’ Hall was one of the largest (20 by 40 feet) and prominent outbuildings. Along with the Kitchen, it served to flank the Mansion, and the facades of both of these buildings were rusticated – pine boards beveled and covered with sand to resemble stone blocks – to match the Mansion which was also rusticated. Both buildings were also directly connected to the Mansion, by the use of curved colonnades. The placement and treatment of the Servants’ Hall, as well as the Kitchen, suggests that it was an important element in Washington’s vision for Mount Vernon.

That such a large and prominent structure could be reserved only for the occasional use of the servants of visitors is remarkable. First, it must be remembered that at 20 by 40 feet and with two usable floors, the Servants’ Hall was larger than the great majority of the houses lived in by Washington’s fellow Virginia planters. According to a study of houses advertised for sale in the Virginia Gazette between 1736 and 1780, only 23% of the 169 planters’ dwellings included were larger than Mount Vernon's Servants’ Hall.

Second, the building’s interior finishes also were of a high quality. Washington’s ability to devote what would have been a significant outlay of resources to a building that may have been unoccupied most of the time testifies to his relatively great wealth. But it also may reflect his ambition to lay claim to the status of membership in the highest level of the Virginia gentry. The significance of the possession of such a specialized structure certainly would not have been lost on the gentlemen whose servants periodically resided there.