Quick Facts

Condition: Original

Where is it Located

About the Smokehouse

The Smokehouse was used to smoke meat over a fire pit. Vast quantities of pork—mainly bacon and ham—were smoked to feed the family and Mount Vernon’s guests. Fish, fowl, and the meat of larger animals were eaten fresh as well as cured to last longer.

After enslaved workers salted or pickled the meat, they hung it on the rails inside the smokehouse above a smoldering fire that burned in the pit at the center of the building. For long-term storage after smoking, the meats remained hanging or were packed in barrels filled with ashes. During the curing process, meat was locked in the smokehouse to prevent theft. This precaution was not always successful, however. In May 1795, while George Washington was living in Philadelphia, his farm manager William Pearce wrote to inform him that “some person ripped a plank off the Back part of the smoke House and Took out several pieces of Bacon. . . . I have not been able to find out yet who It is.”

According to Washington, Virginia ladies took special pride in the quality of the ham and bacon produced on their plantations. He and his wife even sent these meats as gifts to friends in far-off Europe. In 1786 Washington wrote the Marquis de Lafayette that Mrs. Washington “had packed & sent . . . a barrel of Virginia Hams. I do not know that they are better, or so good as you make in France but as they are of our own manufacture . . . and we recollect that it is a dish of which you are fond.”

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