- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 20, 2007

The contrast is striking: On one end of George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, overlooking the Potomac River, is the iconic, stately 7,000 square-foot mansion where Washington and his family lived. A mile or so down the road, next to an ox barn, sits a tiny slave cabin, 16 feet by 14 feet with a packed clay floor and a mud chimney.

Mount Vernon dedicated the newly reconstructed slave cabin yesterday at a ceremony attended by some descendants of Washington’s slaves, who kept the plantation running while he served as general of the Continental Army and later as the first U.S. president.

“We wouldn’t have won the Revolutionary War without the men and women who worked here” and kept the estate functional in Washington’s absence, said Gay Hart Gaines, regent of the board of directors of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, which operates Mount Vernon.

The estate recognized for several decades that it neededto better tell the story of the 300 or so slaves who lived at Mount Vernon during Washington’s time, said Dennis Pogue, Mount Vernon’s director of preservation. A memorial sits at the unmarked grave sites where many slaves were buried, and visitors for years have been able to tour the brick building that was home to many of the estate’s house slaves.

But most of the slaves at Mount Vernon were farm hands who lived even rougher lives than those of the house slaves. The slave cabin helps provide a more accurate picture to the estate’s 1 million annual visitors of what life as a slave was like, Mr. Pogue said.

“The [existing] slave quarters almost looks too nice,” Mr. Pogue said. “People would leave here without a full appreciation of the difficult conditions” that slaves endured.

The new slave cabin is next to a 16-sided barn and four-acre site dedicated to describing Washington’s life as a farmer. Putting the slave cabin next to the reconstructed farm site helps demonstrate how much the plantation was dependent on slave labor, Mr. Pogue said.

Rohulamin Quander, a descendant of Suckey Bay, a slave who worked in Mount Vernon’s fields, said Washington was relatively progressive and enlightened in his treatment of slaves compared with other contemporaries, but added that people who visited the estate described the slave cabins as “wretched.”

“This plantation was not run by statesmen alone,” Mr. Quander said. The new cabin “really gives a sense of who these people were and what they did.”

The log cabin, with a second-floor loft that sometimes served as sleeping quarters for children, was reconstructed based on documents and descriptions. Cabins like these would have been home to as many as 10 slaves, Mr. Pogue said.

The reconstruction cost about $100,000.

Washington was a slave holder from the age of 11, when he inherited 10 slaves. He purchased and sold slaves in his adult life, but after the revolution his views on slavery evolved. Washington freed the 123 slaves in his possession after his death in 1799. Many of the estate’s slaves, however, belonged to the estate of Martha Washington’s first husband and could not legally be freed by George or Martha Washington.

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