Wednesday, October 26, 2016

American Revolution Road Trip: Mount Vernon

On our last day in the Washington, D.C., area, we packed up (how can we have made such a clutter out of our efficiency in only four days?!?), headed out, and were waiting at the front gates of Mount Vernon, happily right in front of a giant busload of field trippers, when they opened for business.

We met the Washington family--

--and then while Matt and Will subjected the model Mount Vernon to close inspection, Syd and I raced down the connecting footpaths and winding ways so that we could see the real thing before it became crowded with tourists!

Although it didn't rain, it was overcast off and on, so you'll have to excuse the color scheme of my photos. I still haven't gotten the hang of shooting on cloudy days.

This one's okay.

But I seriously back-lit this photo, underestimating how bright that cloud-covered sun would be, and there's only so much that you can do in post-production. Oh, well!

We weren't allowed to take photos inside Mount Vernon (although they do have an app that has a decent floorplan that you can peruse), so I snapped this photo from their front porch, looking out onto the Potomac:

Matt is a huge George Washington fanboy, and with his running commentary (he's read this amazing biography, which is on my to-do list), and the authentic set-up, you really could gain some interesting insights into Washington's life, times, and personality:
Will beelined towards the stable. Washington took a long ride around his property every morning.
 Washington was really invested in making his property productive and prosperous, and he invented quite a few novel techniques and designs:


 This leads me to a fascination that I had no idea would be so intense before we arrived, but oh, my goodness: THE GARDENS! I was deeply fascinated with the gardens.

Here you can see fruit-bearing trees, grapes trained on a fence that both marks the path and makes harvesting simple, and plots for produce, most with borders made from perennial herbs.
 I was fairly sure that you weren't allowed to pick anything, I mean of course, but I wanted a little cutting of lavender to keep as a souvenir so badly that Will and I concocted a plan. She fell behind us, hopped into a bed and picked a little cutting, then ran up to show it to me, whereupon I scolded her, took the cutting from her and pocketed it, then squeezed her hand and quietly told her that she was my good girl.

I promise that one day I WILL try to martial her powers for good, not evil!
Look how orderly and lovely everything is! 
I also really love the groundcover on the path between plots.
I had a major crisis of self-worth in this garden. I want to have a lovely garden so badly, but I clearly don't want to put in the work or invest my time, so I'm just a lazy, brown-thumbed, garden failure with a trashy yard. I express this, pretty much just as I said, and Matt's all, "Um, you were listening to the tour, right? Washington ENSLAVED PEOPLE and made THEM work these gardens for him! You want to enslave 40 people and put them to work 16 hours a day? Your yard would look nice, too! 
 Point to Matt, I guess.

Here's another garden that the enslaved people made awesome:




There's a giant greenhouse on one side of this giant, ornamental garden, and in the winter, Washington made one of his enslaved workers, often a child, sleep in front of a fire that warmed it so that they could keep the fire going all day and night.

Asshole.

Random, but I taught Syd this hysterically funny mash-up of the Running Man and the Cabbage Patch, and I am constantly making her perform it for me so I can laugh:



She's such a good sport.

We made a pilgrimage to Washington's tomb--


Awww, look at that fanboy's face!
 --and then made a pilgrimage to the memorial for his enslaved workers:

The memorial is on the site of the old cemetery, where all of the enslaved people, even the ones who were "special" to Washington, were buried in unmarked graves:

Archaeologists are using imaging techniques to identify where there remains lie, so that their burial spots can be honored:

They've laid out the outlines of their remains. Some of them are very small, and there are a lot of them:

Another part of Mount Vernon recreates a working farm of the time, with historical reenactors in some areas to show you how they worked:


We found that everywhere we went, we were able to easily learn about the likely experiences of the enslaved people who lived and worked here. Here, for instance, is the small shack of a family whose wife/mother worked on one of Washington's farms. The husband worked on another farm miles away, and was permitted to walk home on Saturday nights, spend Sunday with his family, then walk back on Sunday nights.

Other enslaved people lived in dormitories behind the greenhouse, and others, of course, lived all over, in areas that haven't been recreated.

Below, I'll share with you more of the resources that we used to prepare for this visit, but the most valuable of these was the Youtube channel, Ask a Slave. There's some language that's not kid-friendly in it, but on the whole, it's highly educational and makes the experiences of the enslaved people feel more immediate and real (and it helped us answer a couple of the docent questions on our tour!):


The museum inside Mount Vernon also had an excellent exhibit on his enslaved people, with a lot of artifacts and original documents to explore. I was a little burned out on Washington by the time we hit the part of the museum that was actually about him, but Matt pored over every. Single. thing, and I did find some things to entertain me:

Such as Syd wearing Washington's dentures!
And to answer what I'm sure is your burning question from my last post, no, I did not buy a stuffed George Washington. We zipped straight through that gift shop when we were done, made sandwiches at the car and took them to our seats, and drove to Maryland, marveling, as we left the neighborhood of Mount Vernon, how the area that we were driving through, with its houses and strip malls, was likely once part of Washington's vast estate.

But why Maryland, you ask?

Because that's where the fossilized shark teeth live, of course!

Here are some of the resources that we used in our study of George Washington:

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