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Sarah Johnson's Mount Vernon: The Forgotten History of an American Shrine Hardcover – January 22, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Hill and Wang; 1st edition (January 22, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0809084147
  • ISBN-13: 978-0809084142
  • Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 1.3 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,247,328 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Loves the View VINE VOICE on May 17, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This is a history of Mount Vernon following the death of George Washington. Because it is a story of the everyday life on and operation of the estate, it is a story of 200 years of African American history. There is a parallel history here too, about the pioneer days of the historic preservation movement.

Early vistors to Mount Vernon believed what they wanted to believe. Knowing Washington's will had freed his slaves (upon the death of Martha, who released them early) one could ignore reality and presume that those who labored in the field and encountered visitors were free. For 60 years it bubbles into public consciousness only every now and then that they are not.

In the first part of the book, Sarah is in the background as we learn about Washington's heirs, Martha's dower slaves, crops, the buying, selling and renting of people, and the precursors of the tourist trade yet to come. Sarah becomes the central vehicle for the story in the later half of the book. Sarah is a perfect vehicle for this history because her life illustrates her times.

Augustine Washington assumed control of this estate at age 21. From his mother, he received Sarah's mother Hannah, and noted her additions to his assets when she bore children. In 1844 he hired Hannah out to a cousin for $24 for the year. She returned from this forced labor pregnant and delivered a mulatto child naming her Sarah with her grandfather's last name, Parker. Later, when Mount Vernon was sold to a preservation society, which in part preserved it from the raveges of the Civil War, Sarah was also sold. In freedom she returned to her home, Mount Vernon, and became an employee of the new society.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Dr. Casper's book is an incredibly engaging account of stories that have often been lost to time. Nearly everyone in America respect George Washington and his legacy, yet few care or know about the people who live, worked, and died on his plantation.

This book covers this and so much more. It's a book that isn't afraid to challenge readers to think about the history of America's greatest house by looking at evidence and history that had been long forgotten. I highly recommend it to any fan or student of American history who wishes to know a thoughtful chapter in Mount Vernon's history.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
We know that George Washington had a large plantation freed his slaves upon his death. The story of how Mt. Vernon fared under his descendants (the first was a Supreme Court justice and the last was a Confederate officer) is just as interesting. The focus of this book is on the black people, both enslaved and free) who played prominent roles in the life of the estate under Washington's descendants and in the employ of the Mt Vernon Ladies Association who acquired the estate in 1858. A fascinating but little known story.
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Format: Paperback
I'm the type of reader who wants to know the story after the story. So after reading Ron Chenow's Washington: A Life, I thought Sarah Johnson's Mt. Vernon: The Forgotten History of an American Shrine by Scott E. Casper to be a good choice.

Sarah Johnson was born a slave in 1844 belonging to Augustine Washington, one of George Washington's nephews. While long after Washington's death, she lived at Mt. Vernon over 50 years--longer than our nation's first president. Casper relates the history of Mt. Vernon after Washington's death. It was owned and managed for long periods of time by nephews Bushrod Washington and then Augustine Washington. When the house reached a level of shabbiness that Augustine had not the money to address, he sold the mansion and 200 acres to the newly formed Mt. Vernon Ladies Association (MVLA) in 1858. After the Civil War, the MVLA had trouble finding enough local employees, so they hired Sarah and many of her family and friends. She worked at Mt. Vernon until 1892, and even after that, she returned once a year to cook and care for the members of the MVLA at their annual meeting.

Casper tells parallel stories in Sarah Johnson's Mt. Vernon. There's the story of Mt. Vernon, the house. Washington didn't build Mt. Vernon, but he did make it what we see today. Nobody knew the house better than the former slaves who served the Washington nephews, and Sarah was often consulted about original features. There's the story of Mt. Vernon, the workplace. Although Sarah was freed after the Civil War, she often worked harder for the MVLA than she did as a slave. And then there is the story of Mt. Vernon, the shrine. The story of the MVLA is fascinating, and they should be given credit for purchasing and preserving Mt. Vernon.
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For me the history of the ownership of the Mt Vernon Mansion and its land was most interesting. I am about 2/3rds through the book and find it difficult to follow the life or history of Sarah Johnson. There are so many Sarah's in the book I forget what the book is about. I would recommend the book in that there are so few written about the life of Mount Vernon after the death of George Washington. I have always been fascinated by Mount Vernon as many are. Love the history in the book, hard to follow who is who.
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