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George Washington’s life has been scrutinized by historians over the past three centuries, but the day-to-day lives of Mount Vernon’s enslaved workers, who left few written records but made-up 90 percent of the estate’s population, have been largely left out of the story.
In her book The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret: George Washington, Slavery, and the Enslaved Community at Mount Vernon (Univ. of Virginia Press, 2019), Mary Thompson offers the first comprehensive account of those who served in bondage at Mount Vernon.
Drawing on years of research in a wide range of sources, Thompson brings to life the lives of Washington’s slaves while illuminating the radical change in his views on slavery and race wrought by the American Revolution.
Thompson begins with an examination of George and Martha Washington as slave owners. Culling from letters to financial ledgers, travel diaries kept by visitors and reminiscences of family members as well as of former slaves and neighbors, Thompson explores various facets of everyday life on the plantation ranging from work to domestic life, housing, foodways, private enterprise, and resistance. The book closes with Washington’s attempts to reconcile being a slave owner with the changes in his thinking on slavery and race, ending in his decision to grant his slaves freedom in his will.
The Fort Plain Museum is hosting a virtual presentation by Mary V. Thompson on Tuesday, March 9 at 7 pm. The program is free and open to the public but registration is required, and can be completed online.
Mary V. Thompson is a Research Historian at Mount Vernon. Mary is responsible for research to support programs in all departments at Mount Vernon, with a primary focus on everyday life on the estate, including domestic routines, foodways, religious practices, slavery, and the enslaved community. Mary is a vitally important resource available for consultation to researchers visiting the library looking for guidance and advice.
Book Purchases made through this Amazon link support the New York Almanack’s mission to report new publications relevant to New York State.