Most enslaved people never had an opportunity to learn reading or writing, so they left few written records of their own.

By contrast, George Washington wrote a vast number of letters, kept meticulous records of his plantation, and closely monitored all of his enslaved and hired workers. These records reveal the importance of slave labor to Mount Vernon’s operation. They also contain valuable details about the lives of those in bondage on his estate— information that might otherwise be lost forever.

George Washington unwittingly wrote the biography of Mount Vernon’s enslaved community in the records and correspondence he left behind. We can use his words, combined with archaeology and oral history with descendants, to piece together the stories of Mount Vernon’s enslaved community.

Oral Histories

Listen to the oral histories of the descendants of Washington's enslaved community.

The Lives of the Enslaved—Through Archaeology

Take an in-depth look at a reconstructed slave cabin. What clues can we pull from looking at the structure, the soil, and the material culture around the cabin to help us understand more about the lives of the enslaved?

The content on this page was adapted from Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, an exhibition on view in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum & Education Center from 2016–2020.

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