I had a hard time deciding between Mt. Vernon and Monticello since we don’t have time for both. I recently read a book about Thomas Jefferson, “The First Daughter” so I was anxious to see Monticello. When I posed the question to google, most things I read said Mt. Vernon over Monticello (next trip!). We allotted ourselves the whole day to explore Mt. Vernon. We took the subway/bus to get there which is really what made it such a long day. It is about 15 miles outside of DC but that is over an hour by subway/bus. However, we met a lovely couple from England on the way out and and a nice couple from Utah on the way back, so the time went quickly.
It is easy to understand why Washington preferred to be home. It is such a beautiful, secluded, serene area. You can easily imagine what it was like over 200 years ago, even more secluded than it is now. We started with a tour of the main house.
The most amazing aspect is knowing you are walking the same grounds as so many renowned historical figures. The Washington’s had visitors 360 days a year. You can just imagine who all of those people were – from The Marquis de Lafayette, to many of the Revolutionary War era figures.
After the tour, we explored the grounds, the gardens, and enslaved quarters and ran into Martha so we chatted with her a bit.
We then had an appointment with Christopher, George Washington’s valet. It was an incredibly informative tour (called “Through Their Eyes”) with him of the grounds as he described his typical day and what life was like for him and the other enslaved. During his talk Christopher hinted at some “drama” that occurred while they lived in Philadelphia during Washington’s presidency. After no one else in the group said anything, and knowing that a few of the slaves had run away while they were in Philadelphia, I pressed Christopher on the issue, and he shared the whole story. Turns out, by law, in Philadelphia any enslaved person that becomes a citizen of Philadelphia (after living there for one full year), becomes free. Christopher explained that every 11 months Washington would send his slaves out of Philadelphia to prevent that from happening.
I would say that one of the main themes we are hearing about throughout our tours is the dilemma/contradiction/hypocrisy of the founding father’s, their writing of the Declaration of Independence, yet not abolishing slavery nor releasing their own slaves. While many of our founding father’s have been placed on pedestals for their accomplishments in forming our country, today’s discussions are knocking them off those pedestals and allowing us to recognize their achievements while also analyzing their weaknesses and biases.
After that tour, we headed to the Washington tomb and happened to arrive while they were performing a wreathe ceremony so we were able to participate and get up close to the tomb since they opened the gates for the ceremony. The monument to the enslaved was right there as well. That day there had been a special event honoring the enslaved and they had laid flowers on all of the grave sites of the enslaved which are currently outlined in colored string. They are currently renovating the site; after many years of neglect most of the grave markers have disappeared. Shayna was selected to present the wreathe for the ceremony.
In my mind I had been saving Sunday to do a few more things around DC that we still wanted to see. Once we arrived home, I checked our itinerary and realized we were actually supposed to leave the next day. Once again, lots that we did not get to do (Air and Space Museum, Newseum, Natural History Museum, etc.). So, we had just enough time to do some laundry, clean up, get packed, do some grocery shopping and hit the road again – back to the van!