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Sarah Johnson's Mount Vernon: The Forgotten History of an American Shrine Hardcover – January 22, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
Schoolchildren, learning that George Washington freed his slaves when his wife died, may believe that slavery then ended at Mount Vernon, but this emancipation was not wholesale. Martha's slaves were not freed, and Mount Vernon remained a slave plantation. Historian Casper relates the complex tale of Mount Vernon's triple identities, home, workplace, and enduring, malleable national symbol, via the lives of its black workers and residents, slave and free, and its owners while he restores African-Americans' essential roles as actors—both as historical persons doing the work of maintaining Mount Vernon and as theater, today playing the roles that maintain an illusion of 18th-century accuracy. Casper uncovers the full breadth of these African-Americans' lives. Sarah Johnson, for example, was not only a slave, a servant and an attendant to the public decades after Washington's death; she was also a wife, mother, seamstress, landowner and default curator of the Mount Vernon residence. Casper succinctly relates how Washington's 18th-century estate became a 19th-century national shrine [and] site of reverent pilgrimage and deftly integrates national political, social and technological transformations into his tale. Unanticipated links and unsolved mysteries engage, while Casper's cautious speculation and meticulous documentation make his book as trustworthy as it is fascinating. illus. (Feb.)
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Extremely well written just sorry there wasn't more to give a more intimate feel of who Sarah was as a person. I really enjoyed the book and it was an easy read!Published 21 months ago by Msladyjae
A good airing of "the rest of the story-" loaded with irony. The patriotic blinkers come off and you can appreciate other lives lived at Mount Vernon.Published on June 6, 2013 by sam m dunn
A dangerous book, couched as it is in the rhetoric of revealing a forgotten history, but which relies on historical evidence created by the oppressors and agents of... Read morePublished on April 17, 2011 by AJ Hunter
As other reviewers have noted the basic story here, I will note that Casper has found out a lot of information about African Americans who lived and worked on the grounds of Mount... Read morePublished on January 26, 2009 by Concord
We found this book to very interesting and very detailed. Scott Casper's research was superb!Published on July 1, 2008 by Walter Kalman
This book is hard to get into. There's a little too much background. Getting right into Sarah Johnson's story would have been much more interesting.Published on March 29, 2008 by M. Goetting
Its a very interesting book-we had no problems in receiving the book and it arrived in great condition.Published on March 25, 2008 by browneyedgirl