Slavery at Mount Vernon
Hundreds of enslaved men, women, and children live at Mount Vernon. Washington 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.
In 1799, there were 317 men, women, and children enslaved at Mount Vernon’s five farms, which covered 8,000 acres. They made up more than 90% of the estate's population.
The Growth of Mount Vernon’s Enslaved Community
Over the course of George Washington’s life, at least 577 enslaved people lived and worked at Mount Vernon. The number of enslaved people at Mount Vernon grew steadily during Washington's residence from 1754 to 1799.
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.
A Community Divided
After George Washington’s death, Mount Vernon’s enslaved community was divided several times over.
The Washingtons relied on enslaved butlers, cooks, waiters, and housemaids. There were also many enslaved men and women trained in specific trades. However, the majority of enslaved laborers at Mount Vernon performed agricultural work on the estate’s four outlying farms.
From Slavery to Freedom
After their manumission in 1801, many former Mount Vernon slaves settled in free black communities nearby. In the following decades, they purchased land, planted crops, started businesses, formed churches, founded schools, created civic organizations, and helped freed and runaway slaves.
Mount Vernon after 1799
After Martha Washington’s death, the property passed to her late husband’s heirs. Three generations of Washington owners brought with them new communities of enslaved people. Slavery continued at Washington’s home until 1860, when the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association took possession of the property.
Washington's Changing Views on Slavery
As a young Virginia planter, Washington accepted slavery without apparent concern. But after the Revolutionary War, he began to feel burdened by his personal entanglement with slavery and uneasy about slavery’s effect on the nation.
The Slave Memorial
The Slave Memorial at Mount Vernon was designed by students attending the architectural school at Howard University. It was dedicated and opened to the public on September 21, 1983.
Most enslaved people never had an opportunity to learn reading or writing, so they left few written records of their own. Today, we use his words, combined with archaeology and oral history with descendants, to piece together the stories of Mount Vernon’s enslaved community.
Landscapes of Slavery
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.
Interpretation of Slavery at Mount Vernon
The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association is committed to interpreting the lives of the enslaved people who lived and labored on George Washington's estate. While an open discussion of slavery has evolved gradually, the MVLA has made efforts throughout its history to preserve, interpret, and memorialize those who were enslaved at Mount Vernon.