The Mount Vernon Ladies' Association (MVLA) 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.Explore the Timeline
The MVLA takes control of the property. Founder Ann Pamela Cunningham insists on preserving the estate as Washington knew it, including the outbuildings where enslaved people worked and lived.
Ann Pamela Cunningham, 1874
Let no irreverent hand change the home of Washington...”
The MVLA hires formerly enslaved people and their descendants to work on the estate as paid laborers, including Thomas Bushrod and Tom Quander. Some provide valuable information to assist in the furnishing of the Mansion.
The MVLA places a memorial stone at the site of the slave cemetery near Washington’s tomb. Annie Burr Jennings, Vice Regent for Connecticut, pays for the marker. While the reference to “faithful colored servants” embodies a nostalgic view of slavery, the marker represented an early effort to acknowledge the lives of those who labored on the estate.
The MVLA reconstructs the greenhouse slave quarter, which had been destroyed by fire in the 19th century. In 1962, one interior bunkroom is refurnished and opened to the public, the first time visitors to Mount Vernon can learn about the private lives of enslaved people.
After the 1929 marker is found to be overgrown and nearly invisible, local activists lead efforts to place a new memorial at the slave cemetery site. Architecture students from Howard University design the monument. In 1990, the service organization Black Women United for Action begins the tradition of an annual wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial.
Mount Vernon sponsors a two-day conference entitled “Slavery in the Age of Washington.” Papers from the conference are published in 2001.
Mount Vernon begins offering a “Slave Life” tour focused on the estate’s enslaved people. One of the staff members to lead the tour is Gladys Quander Tancil, a relative of Nancy Quander, an enslaved woman freed by Washington’s will. Tancil is the first African American historical interpreter at Mount Vernon.
Mount Vernon opens a replica slave cabin at the Pioneer Farm site, based on an early 20th-century photograph. This replica structure shows the conditions under which much of Mount Vernon's enslaved laborers lived.
Mount Vernon’s archaeology team begins an ongoing survey of the slave cemetery site. The goal is to determine the number and arrangement of graves in order to improve understanding of the burial ground. By 2022, archaeologists identify 86 graves of the enslaved men, women, and children who lived and worked on the property prior to 1860. No human remains will be disturbed.
Mount Vernon establishes a database compiling all references to enslaved people at Mount Vernon and other Washington properties. More than 900 individuals have been identified, with more than 500 at Mount Vernon.
In conjunction with the exhibition Lives Bound Together, Mount Vernon conducts interviews with descendants of enslaved people in order to record their family stories.
The Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture and The Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington sponsored a major conference on the topic of slavery and race. The event drew more than 100 scholars from across the country to the estate for three days of papers, conversation, and learning.
Participants included senior scholars, like Lorena Walsh and Ira Berlin, whose decades of work has shed light on slavery, plantation management, and the history of the slave trade. Attendees also included museum educators and others involved in public history and rising scholars.
A new exhibition opened at the Donald W. Reynolds Museum at Mount Vernon on October 1, 2016. Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon explores the personal stories of the people enslaved at Mount Vernon while providing insight into George Washington’s evolving opposition to slavery.