Mount Vernon was George Washington’s lifetime project, from his inheritance of the property in the mid-1700s until his death in 1799. It was his prized home and final resting place. Today it’s one of the most visited historic sites in the country. This was my first time at Mount Vernon, and I was eager to learn not just about Washington as a man, but also about his daily life and routines. When not busy leading the army or the country as a whole, what was Washington’s life like?
I was surprised to learn that Mount Vernon was largely a money-making venture. It consisted of 8,000 acres, five farms, multiple gardens, fisheries, and a gristmill and distillery. On top of that, I was surprised to learn that over 90 percent of the estate’s population was enslaved people. At Mount Vernon today, you can tour the mansion, explore about 500 acres of preserved property, learn about all aspects of life for Washington and his family, as well as for the enslaved men, women, and children who lived and worked there. At the museum, you can see the famed Houdon bust of Washington, as well as a pair of Washington’s dentures, made out of human and animal teeth. (Not wood!)
The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association has done great work in presenting Mount Vernon close to the way Washington would have known it. It is also clear, while touring the grounds and exhibits, that an effort has been made to provide a more fair picture of who Washington was as a person, and to not shy away from complex themes and subject matter. I learned a lot and I think it’s worth a visit.
Don’t forget to try hoecakes at the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant if you go—they were George Washington’s favorite breakfast food, and they’re pretty delicious.