How Mount Vernon Slaves Shaped Our Image of Washington

Scott Casper has written an excellent book about slaves at Mount Vernon called Sarah Johnson’s Mount Vernon: The Forgotten History of an American ShrineWe have mentioned his book at The Way of Improvement Leads Home before.

Last week he had an op-ed in The New York Times discussing slave life at Mount Vernon after Washington’s death.  Here is a taste:

Today, of course, Washington is again at the center of the presidential pantheon. For that he can thank an unlikely group of allies: former slaves who worked at Mount Vernon in the late 19th century and who helped shape our modern beliefs about him — but only by hiding his complicated views on slavery behind the illusion of an Old South plantation.

Everything about the restored Mount Vernon was designed to render Washington a noble but approachable figure. Visitors could wander through his dining room and peer into the second-story bedchamber where he died. Another floor up, they saw the room where Martha Washington supposedly spent the rest of her life after his death, gazing out the window at her beloved husband’s gravesite.

The estate was governed by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association of the Union, but much of the daily work was performed by African-Americans who had been owned by Washington’s descendants. They guarded the premises, sold souvenirs and refreshments and spoke with visitors about bygone days. 

Read the entire piece here.