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The Hard, Complicated Truth Delivered with Dignity and Grace

“But Washington allowed his slaves to marry, correct?”

“But Washington was a good slave owner, right?”

These are only two of the many reassurances that visitors ask for when on a tour at Mount Vernon. When their ideas of George Washington, Founding Father, come into contact with the harsh reality to George Washington, Slave Owner. The way that the Mount Vernon team handle the tough and murky stories there are to tell about the estate and the people who lived and worked on the lands was extraordinary. Of course there is no way to please everyone but the interpreters and staff try to teach the visitors to look at the situation thorough a different viewpoint, the one of the enslaved.

With the question, “but Washington was a good slave owner, right?” interpreters try and show the visitors that there is no such thing as a good slave owner. This revelation could come with a simple question such as, “what are the qualifications of a good slave owner?” then having them come to the resolution that if the enslavement of people is inherently wrong then how can a slave owner be called a good.

We witnessed one such question during our Character Interpretation when an older woman asked, “But Washington allowed his slaves to marry, correct?” In character, the interpreter of Christopher Sheels, explained the unofficial way that the enslaved population married, along with the story of how he met his wife, their life together both the happiness and struggles, then ending with how they were separated for trying to runaway to give a better life for their family. Although elegantly explained the hard fact of the life of the enslaved population set in hard and brought tears to many eyes in the room.


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