Browse Exhibits (2 total)

Comparative Analysis of Mount Vernon and Gunston Hall’s Enslaved Communities

George Mason and George Washington enslaved 434 people in total on their respective plantations in Fairfax County.[1] Despite relying on the labor of the enslaved communities at Gunston Hall and Mount Vernon only recently has information been compiled to detail the lives of these individuals. It is known that many Virginian plantations were remarkably similar to how the enslaved communities that resided there lived and worked. However, what can we learn from the differences between the enslaved communities lives at Gunston Hall and Mount Vernon plantations, and how does this reflect on the two owners?

Scholars of George Washington’s Mount Vernon tend to describe the plantation and Washington’s treatment of the enslaved living there as better than other plantations. There are primary source examples in which other white landowners describe the plantation and Washington’s treatment of the enslaved living on the plantation with some of the opinion that slaves lived much better there than on other plantations while others disagreed. How does this stand up to scrutiny? Was there a substantial improvement in the quality of life for the enslaved at Mount Vernon compared to other Virginian plantations such as Gunston Hall? What are the substantial differences between the two plantations if any?

1. Jackson T. Main, “The One Hundred” The William and Mary Quarterly 11, no. 3 (1954): 378-383.

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The Mason Family Gentry and the Civil War

The Civil War devastated the nation and had economic consequences that ravaged the ex-Confederate south. Historians agree that with the Union blockade which resulted in very few imports and exports, along with mass destruction of infrastructure, the south was severely hit by the destructive effects of the war. Specifically, the planter gentry class were hit worse than the average citizen since they lost their main means of income and prestige as plantations were targeted for destruction along with the passage of the 13th amendment to U.S. Constitution. The war would not effect the south only economically however, as the war would also have social effects of bitterness and shame which would contribute to the development and spread of myths regarding the Lost Cause of the Confederacy. Members of the Mason family during this time period were part of the southern gentry and would no doubt lose significant amounts of property along with their pride. This project hopes to see how the Civil War effected the gentry class socially and economically by using three examples from the Mason family. The three examples that will be examined are Betsey Clapham Mason (wife of Thomson Francis Mason), Gunston Hall, and James Murray Mason.

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