The “Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon” exhibition explores the personal stories of the people enslaved at Mount Vernon, while providing insight into George Washington’s opposition to slavery. The exhibition is held in the Donald W. Reynolds Museum at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
The “Lives Bound Together” exhibition opened on October 1, 2016 and will continue through September 30, 2017. The exhibition featured the profiles of 19 individuals that were enslaved at Mount Vernon, using George Washington’s extensive records to piece together what is known of their lives in interactive displays.
At the time of George Washington’s death, the Mount Vernon estate’s enslaved population consisted of 317 people. Silhouettes are used in the exhibition to represent people in bondage at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. The designs were based on physical descriptions (which survive for only a few) and each person’s age, gender, clothing, and work assignment.
There is a page on the Mount Vernon website that has information about the people who are represented by the silhouettes. Priscilla and Penny, a mother and daughter, are depicted together. Priscilla was a field worker who was married to Joe (who worked at the Mansion House Farm as a ditcher.)
The couple was not allowed to live together because slaves were assigned living arrangements based upon their work assignments. This left Priscilla raising her children largely alone, supported by the Dogue Run community she lived in. Priscilla had six living children, the youngest of which, Christopher, was born in 1798. Based on the records, it appears that she lost at least one, possibly two, children.
Penny was Priscilla’s third daughter. She was eleven years old in 1799. Enslaved children were not given formal work assignments until they were between the ages of eleven and fourteen (based on their physical abilities). She may have performed such simple tasks like fetching water and gathering sticks. Penny may have helped care for her three younger siblings while her mother Priscilla worked in the fields.
The life story of Priscilla and Penny is just one among many others in the “Lives Bound Together” exhibition. The Mount Vernon website has a Slavery Database that genealogists can use to explore Mount Vernon’s enslaved community. You can search the database by event type, person, skill, location, and more. Click on each result to see text from the historical document.
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