J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Mount Vernon Slave Quarters Reopened

Early this month, Mount Vernon reopened the slave quarters near the main mansion after some refurbishment. The site’s official announcement explains:

The slave quarters opened to the public in 1962, and since then, scholarship and archaeology have determined that the site should be configured with separate men’s and women’s rooms with built-in bunks to accommodate the dozens of men, women, and children who lived there in 1799. Reproduction clothing, tools, furniture, cookware, ceramics, toys, and personal accessories will outfit the space to emphasize the living conditions and experiences of enslaved people as skilled craftsmen, house slaves, and laborers on the Mansion House Farm.
It’s not clear to me what the most recent changes are. The first archeological studies focused on the enslaved workers’ buildings date to the late 1980s. I don’t recall my own visit to Mount Vernon clearly, but the pre-refurbishment photos I can find online show the previous slave quarters already equipped with lots of bunks, as described here.

An earlier page on the structures says:
The slaves living at the Mansion House farm were housed in communal quarters. A structure known as the House for Families was used until 1792, when it was replaced by the communal quarters in the Greenhouse complex. Archaeologists excavating the site 200 years later uncovered many objects, which helped us discover how slaves in the House for Families lived. Some slaves lived above their place of work, such as the kitchen or carpentry shop. Although we know a great deal about many of the slaves living on the estate, the records tell us very little about how the living spaces were assigned or who lived in each quarter.
Perhaps the “Reproduction clothing, tools, furniture, cookware, ceramics, toys, and personal accessories” are the new details in this interpretation. In any event, it does indicate ongoing effort at Mount Vernon to present the lives of all the people who lived there.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I was at Mount Vernon this week and the slave spaces have been completely redone. Their blog seems to have a piece on it
http://www.georgewashingtonwired.org/2010/11/19/video-slave-quarters-more-accurate-with-reopening/