Most enslaved people never had an opportunity to learn reading or writing, so they left few written records of their own.

By contrast, George Washington wrote a vast number of letters, kept meticulous records of his plantation, and closely monitored all of his workers—hired and enslaved. These records reveal the importance of slave labor to Mount Vernon’s operation. They also contain valuable details about the lives of those in bondage on his estate— information that might otherwise be lost forever.

George Washington unwittingly wrote the biography of Mount Vernon’s enslaved community in the records and correspondence he left behind. We can use his words, combined with archaeology and oral history with descendants, to piece together the stories of Mount Vernon’s enslaved community.

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