In 1799, Mount Vernon consisted of 8,000 acres divided into five farms: Mansion House, Dogue Run, Muddy Hole, River, and Union, plus a gristmill and distillery. Dogue Run Farm, similar to the Union Farm, was assembled over time through numerous purchases of smaller tracts. There are references in George Washington's diaries as early as 1762 to "Doeg Run Quarter," which was likely composed of at least the western portion of a 500-acre tract purchased from Sampson Darrell in 1757. This holding was enlarged by several smaller parcels acquired in the early 1760s.
It is significant that these early references to "Doeg Run" describe it as a "Quarter," a term generally used in the region to designate a remote section of a large farm or plantation. The phrase usually denoted a portion of the farm that functioned separately with an overseer and a basic complement of enslaved workers, buildings, and stock, and probably developed because of the fragmented pattern of larger landholdings common in the colonial Chesapeake.
This early quarter was significantly enlarged by the three purchases that became the central core of the resurveyed and renamed Dogue Run Farm. The key acquisitions were: seventy-five acres from Valinda Wade in 1770, 400 acres from Thomas Marshall in 1779, and 118 acres from William Barry in 1783. By 1786 Washington reconfigured these holdings and embarked on a plan to bring order to Dogue Run.
Washington, however, faced inherent obstacles: field systems based on disparate ownership, as well as buildings that were scattered across the new farm and constructed for outmoded needs. Among the buildings that can be identified on the new farm in the late 1780s were at least two dwelling complexes, "Wade's houses" located near "the old dam" on Dogue Run, and "Barry's houses," positioned in reasonably close proximity to Wade's. In addition to the dwelling house occupied by the prior owner, each complex included a typical array of domestic and agricultural buildings associated with a small tobacco farm.
There was also at least one tobacco house built by Washington at Doeg Run Quarter in the 1760s, as well as a hay barracks, a corn house, and huts for the enslaved people who worked the fields. With the new field system in place, a dwelling available for his overseer and housing for the enslaved workers, Washington turned his attention to improving the agricultural buildings at Dogue Run. In 1786 there were 39 enslaved men, women, and children living on the farm. The number of people grew to 45 in 1799.1
These improvements were modest at first. The tobacco house was adopted for other crop storage needs and work crews spent available time in the fall of 1788, cutting and hauling rails for enclosing the new fields and preparing stack yards for wheat, oats, and rye. A simple fodder house was built as well as farm pens and a cellar to store potatoes. Construction work was still at full bore on the Ferry barn in the spring of 1789 when George Washington turned his attention to the need for more substantial improvements at Dogue Run, anticipating the need for a new, solidly built barn on that farm.
The construction of the Ferry barn complex had another two years to run to reach completion. However, the bricks for the Ferry complex were completed the previous fall, and the enslaved bricklayers' duties were nearly complete there as well. Washington was thus intent on shifting to his next project, one that had already been discussed in at least conceptual terms. No further record of significant building activity can be linked to Dogue Run Farm until 1791. In June of that year, Washington prepared a memorandum of carpentry work to be done throughout the Mount Vernon plantation under the supervision of farm manager Anthony Whiting.
Other needs at Dogue Run took precedence, and by September the carpenters were at work on a new overseer's house for the farm. The old house of Valinda Wade was incompatible with the new field system and had become a distracting and inconvenient intrusion. It was replaced by a new frame house located in close proximity to the middle meadow. It was not until the fall of 1792 that Washington was prepared to make a major commitment to a new agricultural complex at Dogue Run. By October 28, Washington completed a framing plan and a structural section for a uniquely innovative barn designed specifically to tread wheat.
Dennis J. Pogue, Ph.D.
1. Mary Thompson, "The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret": George Washington, Slavery, and the Enslaved Community at Mount Vernon (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2019), 339-340.
Dalzell, Robert F. and Lee Baldwin Dalzell. George Washington's Mount Vernon: At Home in Revolutionary America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.
Fusonie, Alan M. and Donna Jean Fusonie. George Washington: Pioneer Farmer. Mount Vernon, VA: Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, 1998.