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The Washingtons loved the arts and passed down their appreciation of music to their grandchildren, Nelly and Washy. While the Washington family was well known for their musical admiration, music was also very important to the enslaved community. Discover more about music here at Mount Vernon!

Music During the War

Music wasn’t just an “at home” activity: it was heavily used throughout the events of the American Revolution. The main instruments of the American army were the fife and drum. Click the link below to learn about how these instruments were used.

Music in the Revolutionary War

The Importance of Music

Enslaved labor was often inhumane, and music was an outlet for the enslaved community. It allowed them to express themselves amidst their situation and environment.

Listen to the Music of the Enslaved

Musical Instruments

Some of the enslaved played instruments such as fiddles and jaw harps, while others played drums or banjos made from gourds. There was also singing and dancing whenever music was involved. To the enslaved community, music was more than just a melody: it was a part of life.

Music and Storytelling in the Enslaved Community

Fun Fact

Francis Hopkinson wrote a composition dedicated to George Washington in 1788

Read more about it

Discover the Harpsichord in this Virtual Tour

Music at Mount Vernon

Even though George Washington was not gifted with musical talent, he thought music was very important. Both George and Martha encouraged family, friends, and colleagues to work on their musical abilities. Learn more about how George Washington pushed his soldiers to become more musically inclined, and also how Martha Washington pushed her granddaughter Nelly to do the same. 

Learn More

Nelly Custis' Passion for Music

Harpsichordist Dr. Joyce Lindorff talks about Nelly's passion for playing the harpsichord and piano and the importance of music in the Washington household.

Nelly's Music Book

In our collections, we have access to Nelly's personal music book. Click the link to explore this book and learn more about it.

Explore the Music Book

Recreating the Harpsichord

Watch a behind-the-scenes video of a rare and beautiful eighteenth century instrument being recreated!

Making the Harpsichord

Interested in playing the Harpischord?

Click the link to play the harpsichord just like a Washington!

Play the Harpsichord

This page made possible through the generous support of Battelle