The original brick greenhouse was completed in 1787. In 1791 and 1792, one-story wings were added to each end of the building. The wings were designed to house the enslaved workers who lived at the Mansion House Farm, possibly housing as many as 60 individuals in 1799. The complex was completely destroyed by two separate fires, one in 1835 when the Washington family was still in residence, and the other in 1863, just three years after the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association opened the site to the public.
Each room in the quarters was heated by a fireplace and accessed by a single exterior doorway. Laying out the quarters in 1791 with just four large rooms was an unusual decision that runs counter to the regional pattern at that time, when enslaved families generally were housed in separate log cabins. The unusual communal living arrangement that the plan suggested was given some support by the scant information provided by other period documents, such as entries in the weekly work reports referring to carpenters and masons constructing built-in beds, supported by brick foundations which were referred to as "births."
Of the 98 enslaved people known to be living at the Mansion House Farm in 1799, there were 70 adults and 28 children.1 The people selected to live this close to the Mansion were largely skilled workers who lived at the Mansion House Farm, often away from their family. At Mount Vernon, enslaved people lived where they worked and if a couple did not work on the same farm they did not live together during the week. Large barracks-style bunk rooms would have been a highly economical way to accommodate a large number of adults who lived away from their families.
In addition to the greenhouse quarters, there were also cabins for enslaved people on Mansion House Farm. Accounts of visitors indicate that these cabins were loosely grouped across the lane from the Greenhouse. Given the presence of the cabins, it makes sense that many, if not all, of the families living at the Mansion House Farm were housed in cabins, not the greenhouse quarters.
1. Mary V. Thompson, "The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret": George Washington, Slavery, and the Enslaved Community at Mount Vernon (Charlottesville, Virginia: University of Virginia Press, 2019), 340.
Campbell, Jr., Edward D.C. and Kym S. Ryce, eds., Before Freedom Came: African-American Life in the Antebellum South. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1991.
Macomber, Walter M. "The Rebuilding of the Greenhouse-Quarters," Mount Vernon Annual Report for 1952. Mount Vernon, VA: Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, 1953, 19-26.
Morgan, Philip D. Slave Counterpoint: Black Culture in the Eighteenth-Century Chesapeake & Lowcountry. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998.
Pogue, Dennis J. "The Domestic Architecture of Slavery at George Washington's Mount Vernon," Winterthur Portfolio 37, no. 1: 3-22.
Pogue, Dennis J. "Slave Lifeways at Mount Vernon," in Slavery at the Home of George Washington ed. Philip J. Schwarz. Mount Vernon, VA: Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, 2001,111-135.
Thompson, Mary V. "'They Appear to Live Comfortable Together': Private Lives of the Mount Vernon Slaves," in Slavery at the Home of George Washington ed. Philip J. Schwarz. Mount Vernon, VA: Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, 2001, 79-109.