A Brief History of Mount Vernon
Mount Vernon, the plantation home of George Washington from 1754 until his death in 1799, was an expansive estate that encompassed almost 8,000 acres of land, divided into five interrelated farms. At the time of Washington’s death, 316 enslaved workers lived on the plantation, with the house servants and most of the skilled craftsmen living at the central “Mansion House Farm,” where the Washington family lived. Slaves living at the outlying farms – “Union,” Muddy Hole,” “Dogue Run,” and “River” – were primarily field hands and were under the supervision of resident overseers. After 1766, Washington gave up tobacco in favor of wheat as his cash crop. Other commercial activities included a gristmill and a fishery, and, after 1797, a whiskey distillery. The Mount Vernon slaves were trained in a variety of plantation crafts, including as millers, blacksmiths, carpenters and other building trades, spinners and weavers, coopers, and others. A variety of types of quarters were used at Mount Vernon to house the large, dispersed, and highly organized slave community. These ranged from a substantial brick building (erected in 1792) that held as many as sixty people in barracks-style conditions to small wooden cabins that might shelter only a half-dozen occupants.
George Washington’s slave holdings grew steadily from the twenty-seven individuals he had acquired by 1754 via inheritance and lease from the estate of his brother Lawrence. By 1763, Washington paid taxes on sixty-four individuals (those over the age of 12 years); by 1770, he was taxed on eighty-seven slaves; and by 1786, there were 216 enslaved workers at Mount Vernon, 121 of whom were older than 12 years. Finally, in the year of his death, George Washington inventoried his slave population for the last time, listing a total of 316 slaves, 201 of whom were considered fit to work. In his will, Washington freed the 123 slaves that he owned; 153 other slaves were tied to the estate of Martha Washington’s first husband, Daniel Parke Custis, and were passed onto his heirs after her death; another forty slaves had been rented from a neighbor and were returned to their owner.
Dennis J. Pogue
Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens