New Stories from an Old American Shrine The home of our first president has come to symbolize the ideals of our nation: freedom for all, national solidarity, and universal democracy. Mount Vernon is a place where the memories of George Washington and the era of America's birth are carefully preserved and re-created for the nearly one million ...
New Stories from an Old American Shrine The home of our first president has come to symbolize the ideals of our nation: freedom for all, national solidarity, and universal democracy. Mount Vernon is a place where the memories of George Washington and the era of America's birth are carefully preserved and re-created for the nearly one million tourists who visit it every year. But behind the familiar stories lies a history that visitors never hear. "Sarah Johnson's Mount Vernon" recounts the experience of the hundreds of African Americans who are forgotten in Mount Vernon's narrative. Historian and archival sleuth Scott E. Casper recovers the remarkable history of former slave Sarah Johnson, who spent more than fifty years at Mount Vernon, before and after emancipation. Through her life and the lives of her family and friends, Casper provides an intimate picture of Mount Vernon's operation during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, years that are rarely part of its story. Working for the Washington heirs and then the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, these African Americans played an essential part in creating the legacy of Mount Vernon as an American shrine. Their lives and contributions have long been lost to history and erased from memory. Casper restores them both, and in so doing adds a new layer of significance to America's most popular historical estate.
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Publishers Weekly, 2007-11-19 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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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