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The study of Washington’s ownership of people reveals the tragedy and inhumanity of a slave-based economy.  The enslaved individuals he exercised power over at Mount Vernon lacked basic human freedoms, but built families and communities that lasted for generations.  Primary source documents show that George Washington came to question the institution of slavery over his lifetime, and struggled with the discordance between the world he grew up in and the principles that would come to define his public leadership.  Discussions about the challenges of teaching complex legacies (of founders like Washington), the impacts of those legacies, the history of race and slavery, and the relevance for students today will thread throughout the program. 

Participants will explore Washington’s conflict between publicly avoiding the issue of slavery in fear that the fragile nation might tear apart and his evolution to his own last will and testament, when he freed the men, women, and children he owned. Investigation into individual narratives of those like William Lee, Priscilla, Hercules, or Caroline Branham who were enslaved at Mount Vernon will honor their lives and aid in a fuller understanding of the past.

Participants will investigate the spaces throughout the Estate and material culture within Mount Vernon's primary source collections to examine of the lives and agency of those who were enslaved, and whose stories helped shape the 18th century intertwined with the biography of George Washington as a political, military, and symbolic figure of the same era. 

Past Program Speakers

Lead Scholar - Dr. Kathryn Silva, Chair of the Department of Humanities and Associate Professor of History at Claflin University, South Carolina.

Morgan Smith, Social Science and Global Studies Specialist at Loudoun County Public Schools in Northern Virginia.

Brandon Dillard, Manager of Historic Interpretation at Thomas Jefferson's Monticello. 

Dr. Eric Louérs-Phillips, Executive Director of Public Affairs, Frederick County Public Schools, Maryland. 

Richard Josey, President and Principal Consultant for Collective Journeys LLC.

Braden Paynter, Acting Director for Methodology and Practice at the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience.

Sample Program Schedule

Participant Testimonials

I feel much more prepared to teach the material and have gained ways to think about the impact it has on students emotionally. Hard history can weigh on the soul.

...gave me the methods to determine my own bias and racism so that I could effectively teach the issue of slavery in my classroom. It was mentally and emotionally exhausting, but worth every minute.