Mount Vernon was the home of George Washington. It was also home to hundreds of enslaved men, women, and children.

He depended on their labor to build and maintain his household and plantation. They, in turn, found ways to survive in a world that denied their freedom. As a young man, Washington accepted slavery, but after the Revolutionary War, he began to question it. Washington avoided the issue publicly, believing that bitter debates over slavery could tear apart the fragile nation.

He made his most public antislavery statement after his death. In his will, Washington ordered that his slaves be freed at his wife’s death. Unfortunately, this applied to fewer than half of the people in bondage at Mount Vernon. Those owned by the Custis estate were inherited by Martha Washington’s grandchildren after her death. Many Washington and Custis slaves had married and formed families together. For them, separation from loved ones tainted celebrations of newfound freedom.

Enslaved People at Mount Vernon

Enslaved People at Mount Vernon

At the time of George Washington’s death, the Mount Vernon estate’s enslaved population consisted of 317 people. These silhouettes are meant to represent people in bondage at George Washington's Mount Vernon. The designs were based on physical descriptions, age, gender, clothing, and work assignment.

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Food

Food

The standard rations enslaved people received were cornmeal and salted fish, which they harvested themselves. In their limited personal time, enslaved people kept gardens, raised poultry, and foraged.

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Housing

Housing

The standard slave quarter on Mount Vernon’s five farms was a rough one-room log structure with a wooden chimney. On Mansion House Farm, many enslaved house servants and craftsmen lived in larger barracks-style quarters.

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Clothing

Clothing

Mount Vernon’s enslaved people usually had no choice but to wear clothing identifying them as slaves. Enslaved house servants were provided more and better-quality clothing than field workers.

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Labor in the Mansion

Labor in the Mansion

In 1799, a team of at least ten enslaved butlers, housemaids, waiters, and cooks ensured the Washingtons and their guests' needs were always met.

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Skilled Trades

Skilled Trades

In 1799, more than 50 enslaved men and women were trained in specific trades that kept parts of Mount Vernon’s operation self-sufficient.

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Field Labor

Field Labor

The majority of enslaved people at Mount Vernon were assigned to agricultural work on the plantation’s four outlying farms.

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Resistance and Punishment

Resistance and Punishment

Mount Vernon slaves found many ways to resist bondage and challenge George Washington’s authority. Resistance ranged from subtle behavior to more visible actions.

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Plantation Structure

Plantation Structure

In 1799, Mount Vernon consisted of 8,000 acres divided into five farms, plus a gristmill and distillery. Enslaved men, women, and children lived on each farm The workers at Mansion House Farm were primarily domestic servants and craftsmen, while those on the outlying farms labored in the fields.

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Slavery and Washington's Presidency

Slavery and Washington's Presidency

After the Revolution, George Washington repeatedly voiced opposition to slavery in personal correspondence. He privately noted his support for a gradual, legislative end to slavery, but as a public figure, he did not make abolition a cause.

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George Washington's Will

George Washington's Will

George Washington addressed the issue of slavery in his will, when he ordered that his slaves be freed at his wife’s death. This emancipation provision was a powerful public statement of Washington’s antislavery views.

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Researching Slavery

Researching Slavery

Most enslaved people never had an opportunity to learn reading or writing, so they left few written records of their own. At Mount Vernon we use Washington's words, combined with archaeology and oral history with descendants, to piece together the stories of Mount Vernon’s enslaved community.

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Slavery Database

Slavery Database

A team of Mount Vernon staff and volunteers spent more than two years analyzing Washington’s papers and compiling references to the enslaved people who lived and worked on his plantation. Search by event type, person, skill, location, and more. 

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Landscapes of Slavery at Mansion House Farm

Landscapes of Slavery at Mansion House Farm

At Mount Vernon, many original structures in which enslaved people lived and worked survive. These tangible spaces, along with discoveries made by historians and archaeologists, help us better understand the lives of individuals who were held in bondage on this estate.

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History of Interpretation of Slavery

History of Interpretation of Slavery

Mount Vernon is committed to interpreting the lives of the enslaved people who lived and labored on George Washington's plantation. While an open discussion of slavery has evolved gradually, the organization has made efforts throughout its history to preserve, interpret, and memorialize those who were enslaved here.

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