Mount Vernon Launches Extensive Archaeological Research Project That Is Expected to Provide Important New Historical Insight on the Enslaved Community at Union Farm

In honor of Juneteenth, George Washington’s Mount Vernon is hosting Freedom Before Emancipation: Family Days from June 19 to 22, 2024. The program allows visitors to discover how the enslaved men and women at Mount Vernon expressed agency and resistance despite enslavement, as well as the important legacies they left behind.

Juneteenth commemoration activities will include:

  • Enslaved People of Mount Vernon Specialty Tours. Admission includes this program, and a free ticket is required.
  • Slave Burial Ground Commemoration Ceremony to honor the lives of the enslaved people.
  • Performances including Music of the Revolution, outdoor story time reading of A Spy Called James, and character performances that consider freedom and resistance through the eyes of Ona Judge and Christopher Sheels.
  • A character interpretation of Hercules Posey.
  • Breaths Along the Potomac: Breath Art Silent Walks at Mount Vernon with Dominic Shodekeh Talifero, 2023-2024 Mount Vernon Research Fellow.
  • Spinning, cooking, blacksmithing, and foodways demonstrations.
  • Exploration of horticulture and ongoing archaeological research about the enslaved people at Mount Vernon.
  • Visit the Enslaved Memorial and Burial Ground to see Mount Vernon’s Archaeological Field School and learn about ongoing research about the enslaved people who lived here.

Read the full schedule.

Images related to Juneteenth at Mount Vernon are available here and should be attributed to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.

Mount Vernon also has launched an extensive archaeological research project in the domestic core of Union Farm, an 18th-century production farm and commercial fishery that was part of George Washington’s Mount Vernon. By the 1780s, Washington expanded Mount Vernon into an 8000-acre agricultural enterprise comprised of five contiguous farms worked by enslaved people who became agricultural pioneers practicing leading-edge techniques and technologies. A 1793 property survey shows a row of dwellings that housed the enslaved residents, and by 1799, 76 enslaved persons resided on Union Farm.

This archaeological project has extraordinary potential to enrich our understanding of the broader Mount Vernon landscape and the community of enslaved people that helped shape it. It is expected to provide a wealth of new information about the lives of the skilled enslaved agricultural laborers that comprised the majority of the Mount Vernon community. This land had been in private hands until acquired by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association in 2019. Fairfax County has since purchased this site, with research rights granted to the MVLA. This research is being conducted collaboratively, involving key stakeholders and archaeology students from The George Washington University. Importantly, descendants of the enslaved people of Mount Vernon have been invited to visit Union Farm to learn about the planned work in advance of the excavation work.

Learn more about the history of the enslaved people at Mount Vernon, along with insight into George Washington’s evolving opposition to slavery.

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