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Archive for February, 2013

February 27, 2013

Encyclopedia Entry: H.M.S. Savage

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During the spring of 1781, seventeen Mount Vernon slaves took advantage of the arrival of the British warship Savage on the shores of the plantation to make a bid for freedom. With George Washington away from his home serving as commander of the Continental Army, the Savage arrived at Mount Vernon seeking supplies. Writing about the experience years later, Lund Washington (the temporary manager of Mount Vernon) explained that the Savage sent a message to Mount Vernon that it would be burned unless the ship was given “a large supply of provisions.”

As explained in today’s featured Digital Encyclopedia entry, while supplies were being sent to the British ship, seventeen Mount Vernon slaves took the opportunity to flee their bondage. Escape to and service under British forces offered the promise of freedom for Virginia’s enslaved population. Early in the war the Royal Governor of Virginia John Murray, fourth Earl of Dunmore, issued a proclamation offering “Freedom to All Indented Servts & Slaves (the Property of Rebels) that will repair to his majestys Standard–being able to bear Arms.”

The event illustrates the complexities and contradictions of the American Revolution, as well as changing definitions of freedom and liberty. In addition, the events surrounding the Savage illustrate the bravery of this group of individuals and their desire to escape from the harshness of their lives as slaves.

Read more about the H.M.S. Savage at the Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington.

Adam D. Shprintzen, Ph.D.
Editor, Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington

The Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington is a new digital history project that allows users to interact and explore primary source materials and objects from the Mount Vernon collection. Entries focus on the totality of Washington’s life and experiences, while also covering the Mount Vernon Estate, its history, and preservation. The encyclopedia includes entries written by Mount Vernon staff and experts, as well as a team of more than thirty outside scholars of history and related fields. Periodically, encyclopedia entries will be highlighted on this blog.

Continue reading Encyclopedia Entry: H.M.S. Savage »

Category: Classroom Connections, Digital Encyclopedia, Mount Vernon, Slavery

February 26, 2013

Conservation: Where Science, Art, and History Meet

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It may seem obvious that the people who work at Mount Vernon love history, but did you know there is a role for art and science as well? At the beginning of February we blogged about restoring Mount Vernon’s New Room throughout 2013. This project draws on many disciplines, not just history.

In order to return the room to how it appeared in 1799, we rely on the work of architectural conservators as well as historians and curators. Conservators use scientific methods to study the materials used in the room, such as paint and plaster, in order to determine how the room was decorated during Washington’s lifetime. They also wear the hats of 18th century artisans as they apply new paint and other materials where the original is lost or in need of repair.

20130226_NR for GWW_Scaffolding

To document the restoration of the New Room and share what happens on top of the scaffolding, Mount Vernon will be posting updates on our Tumblr blog, The New Room Renewed. Over the past few weeks, the blog has featured interviews with Susan Buck, a conservator and paint analyst, and Maeve Bristow, an architectural paint conservator, who are both working on the New Room.

020113 Susan Buck OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Head over to The New Room Renewed blog to find out more about how Susan and Maeve got their start as conservators, what their daily work entails, and what they are working on in the New Room:

An Interview with Susan Buck, Conservator and Paint Analyst

Interview with Maeve Bristow, Architectural Paint Conservator

Hannah Freece
Outreach Coordinator, Historic Preservation & Collections Department

Category: Historic Preservation, New Room Restoration

February 22, 2013

Happy Birthday George Washington!

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Celebrations of George Washington’s birthday date back to the Revolutionary War when soldiers at Valley Forge gathered to wish their Commander-in-Chief a happy 46th birthday. More celebrations followed, including the 1781 celebration by French troops, ordered by the Comte de Rochambeau in Newport, Rhode Island.

Here at Mount Vernon we have been celebrating the General’s birth with free admission to the Estate since 1942 when the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association welcomed nearly 4,000 visitors, many of whom were soldiers serving in World War II. This past Monday we welcomed just over 12,500 visitors who toured the Mansion and outbuildings, participated in a wreath laying at Washington’s Tomb, visited the Donald W. Reynolds Museum and Education Center. They also took part in birthday festivities on the bowling green including a demonstration in 18th century battle tactics by the United States Army’s Commander in Chief’s Guard as well as visits with people from Washington’s world, including Martha Washington and Nelly Custis.

Birthday GW

Zerah Jakub and Danie Schallom
Education Outreach and Leadership Programs

Category: George Washington, Mount Vernon, On This Day

February 21, 2013

Keeping House

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Every morning, before the first visitors arrive at Mount Vernon, 4 members of our Collections Management team are hard at work cleaning and caring for George Washington’s home and furnishings. Each room in the mansion is cleaned daily, and at least once a month each room receives a deep cleaning. Deep cleaning means that the entire room is disassembled so that each object can be thoroughly dusted, floors vacuumed, and textiles cleaned.

Dust is a major concern for our team; in some seasons, it takes less than a day for a visible layer of dust to accumulate in the mansion! This dust comes from dirt, pollen, skin cells, and clothing fibers that our visitors and staff bring into the house.

Rather than using cleaning products filled with chemicals, we use soft bristled paintbrushes and microfiber cloths to dust the historic objects. When it comes to cleaning textiles, such as curtains, we can’t put them in a washing machine as you might with your own. The Collections Management team uses a soft wire screen placed over the textile and a special HEPA filter vacuum with numerous suction settings in order to remove dust without unnecessary force. The wire screen helps to distribute the force evenly across the surface of the textile.

As you can see in the slideshow above, our team wears protective gloves to keep fingerprints and harmful oils from harming the objects. They also wear shoe coverings to protect the floors and reproduction carpets from mud and grit. All of this work is done so we can ensure our collections will be preserved for generations to come.

Category: Collections, Historic Preservation

February 20, 2013

Encyclopedia Entry: Phillis Wheatley

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Phillis Wheatley - Google Art Project

George Washington’s connection to enslaved poet Phillis Wheatley illustrates “a telling example of his moral complexity and capacity for humanitarian understanding,” argues Adam Meehan, a doctoral candidate in Literature at The University of Arizona. Wheatley was brought to Boston from West Africa at only seven years of age. Uncommon to the practices of the time, Wheatley was formally educated, tutored by her owners’ daughter in subjects such as Greek, Latin and poetry. At just twelve years old, Wheatley began writing poetry and her works became well-known by the time she was eighteen.

In December of 1775, soon after his appointment to lead the Continental Army, Washington received a letter from Wheatley that included an ode written in his honor. The poem must have struck Washington as it prompted the only known letter that he wrote to a slave. In his letter, Washington extended an invitation for Wheatley to meet at his Cambridge, Massachusetts headquarters.

Read more about Phillis Wheatley and George Washington at the Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington.

Adam D. Shprintzen, Ph.D.
Editor, Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington

The Digital Encyclopedia of George Washington is a new digital history project that allows users to interact and explore primary source materials and objects from the Mount Vernon collection. Entries focus on the totality of Washington’s life and experiences, while also covering the Mount Vernon Estate, its history, and preservation. The encyclopedia includes entries written by Mount Vernon staff and experts, as well as a team of more than thirty outside scholars of history and related fields. Periodically, encyclopedia entries will be highlighted on this blog. Continue reading Encyclopedia Entry: Phillis Wheatley »

Category: Classroom Connections, Digital Encyclopedia, Slavery

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Portraits in Schools

Kids holding George Washington Portrait

Mount Vernon recently invited K-12 schools nationwide to request framed portraits of George Washington to display in a respectful, prominent place.

The response was overwhelming: thousands of schools submitted letters! Along with the portrait, schools received curriculum materials to help explore our first president’s contributions.

Where has George Washington gone back to school? Click here to see!

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