To create this 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.
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 workers—hired and enslaved. 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.
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.