In all the years I’ve lived in DC, I’d never taken the drive just 30 minutes south to visit Mount Vernon. Thanks to IGDC, I was able to attend yesterday, with some of my family. We were allowed in the property before it was fully open to the public, to see the Revolutionary War reenactments taking place.
The grounds were bustling with encampments: All manner of costumed people were milling about the property, ready to let some cannons boom and eager to show beautiful pageantry. And cannons. Cannons go boom.
Mount Vernon is large. It’s so large that if there were no helpful arrows or signposts, you might end up having to follow the curve of the Potomac and pray you were going north in order to get back home. Maybe not so bad, but it’s pretty big. Aside from the main house, there are all manner of smaller and larger buildings that in the time of Mr. Washington lodged a large amount of staff. Now they just sit and house signs and other artifacts that teach you about life in the late 1700s. It’s a pretty cool visit, if you are in a learning mood. The views from every corner of the house are stunning. It’s fun to walk around and pretend you’re 6’4″ and really cool, and say things like, “This is my morning view. I’ll have my coffee here today.”
The one place that left me thinking, however, was the quiet row of slave quarters in the back of the greenhouse that George Washington had made so he could have the plants on hand that would allow him to “survive Virginia winters.”
He grew coffee. Coffee. Coffee is a temperamental plant– possibly as temperamental as its fragrant cousin, the gardenia. Then again, if you have the inclination to build your own greenhouse and grow your own coffee –and establish your own new country– then you probably have no problem whatsoever growing coffee in your greenhouse so you can drink it on a cold winter morning and say things like, “This is my morning view.”
Although they are unusually close to the house, the slave quarters at Mount Vernon are small and cramped. The bunk beds are of dimensions that would not accommodate an adult comfortably. Their location at the back of the greenhouse was so that their presence could help buffer the greenhouse itself from the extreme cold. There is a furnace room between female and male quarters where a fire had to be kept going constantly between October and April (or so), so the room could always be nice and tropical. So you know that someone was whipped at least once at Mount Vernon for falling asleep in exhaustion, letting the fire die. The spinning wheel in the women’s quarters was particularly hard to take. The accompanying explanation in the quarters said something along the lines of, spinning was a constant thing. If you wanted rough linen or wool clothes, you had to spin.
The wheel is beautiful.
The house is gorgeous and airy, with views of Accokeek, MD. The slave quarters are small and musty, but somehow they look lived in– and like a place where people just stepped out to work, as opposed to a place frozen in time.
At the end of the slave quarters, you can find the gift shop.
I bought some seeds.