Episode 1: “Passages”
Sambo Anderson was just a boy when he was captured in West Africa, survived the Middle Passage, and purchased by an ambitious George Washington sometime in the late 1760s. During his years of enslavement at Mount Vernon, Anderson became a carpenter, a husband, and a father. In this episode, we tell the story of Anderson’s life to explore the rise of slavery in the Chesapeake Bay region, George and Martha Washington’s connections to the transatlantic slave trade, and the laws that marked the boundaries between slavery and freedom in Virginia.
Intertwined: The Enslaved Community at George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Episode 1: “Passages”
Episode Published November 15, 2021
BRENDA PARKER: This podcast is supported by anonymous friends of George Washington’s Mount Vernon
PARKER: Our story begins in West Africa, thousands of miles from the banks of the Potomac River, but not beyond the reach of George Washington’s Virginia.
It’s sometime in the late 1760s, in the region known as Guinea, the origin of many African men, women, and children who were sold into slavery and shipped to the Americas in exchange for sugar, tobacco, textiles, and other goods.
A captive a child, with a tattooed face is among a group of shackled human cargo who will soon board a ship bound for North America. In later years, a Virginian will describe his “bright mahogany color,” his “high cheek bones,” and the “rings of gold in his ears,” but now he is just a young man, if not a boy, stripped of his possessions, and facing a long voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to an uncertain fate.
In English, he is called “Sambo,” a name common among Muslim peoples like the Hausa in parts of what is today Nigeria and Niger, and the Fulani or Fulbe in eastern Guinea and Senegal.
His name means “second son.”
In time, the waters of the Middle Passage will erase whatever family names Sambo might have had. After 1801, after he gained his freedom, his surname “Anderson” appears in the records. We don’t know when he claimed his family name, but in the 1770s, when he appears in George Washington’s records, and in the years at Mount Vernon that follow, he is known mostly as “Sambo”
The name “Anderson” lies far into the future.
The ocean lies just ahead.
The man who would become Sambo Anderson was one of at least 577 people George and Martha Washington enslaved over their lifetimes.
Some, like Sambo Anderson, were born in Africa; many more, like Caroline Branham, Frank Lee, Ona Judge, and Davy Gray were born in America. Their lives are intertwined together with the Washingtons in a story that spans across oceans, empires, revolutions, and time.
This is their story.
I’m Brenda Parker, Mount Vernon’s Coordinator of African American Interpretation and Special Projects.
And this is Intertwined: The Enslaved Community at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
Episode 1: “Passages”.
PARKER: By the mid-eighteenth century, when Sambo Anderson boarded an unknown slave ship, and George Washington began his ascent among the Virginia elite, slavery had become woven into the social and economic fabric of British America, especially in the southern and Caribbean colonies.
American slavery is part of a much longer history of enslavement.
Exploring how, and why, will help us to understand slavery at Mount Vernon.
American slavery is part of a much longer history of enslavement.
BRENDA STEVENSON: Slavery is one of the oldest institutions that we know that has existed in almost every society.
Brenda Stevenson, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Endowed Chair, in Women's History, St. John's College, University of Oxford.
If we go back into what we call the ancient world, we see that slavery exists among the Greeks, the Romans, the Egyptians, in Mesopotamia, etc. It also has existed outside of what we think of as the classical world in very old societies in Mesoamerica, for example, also in North America, in Asia, in Europe, virtually every place has had a people working for them who have not had particular kinds of rights or access to their physical labor or their sexual labor, or their emotional labor. Most of the people over time in place who have been enslaved have actually been taken as prisoners of war.
PARKER: When Europeans first began settling the Americas in the late fifteenth century, they relied on a mix of free and unfree labor to populate their colonies and cultivate the land.
By 1607, when English colonists founded Jamestown in Virginia, the Spanish and Portuguese already had extensive experience enslaving and trading Indigenous and African peoples in the Atlantic world. These Iberian nations dominated the transatlantic slave trade.
By contrast, in early Virginia white indentured servants were the dominate labor force, especially once planters began to cultivate tobacco.
Indentures were a type of legal contract in which a person agreed to labor for another individual or company over a fixed period. At the end of their service, the indentured servant was entitled to receive land, clothes, or some other goods.
LORENA WALSH: The Chesapeake economy took off very early, once the Virginia company settlers discovered that they could grow tobacco, which was in great demand in Europe, the initial plan was that indentured servants were going to provide the labor.
I’m Dr. Lorena Walsh. I worked for a number of years for historic St. Marys City and then for 27 years for Colonial Williamsburg as a Research Historian.
Staple growing colonies were places were people went to get rich quickly, so they didn’t wait to form a family to grow up to provide labor.
PARKER: Despite tobacco’s promise, Virginia’s early years were marked by death.
Disease, harsh winters, and confrontations with Indigenous peoples continually threatened the colony’s survival.
To stabilize the colony and meet growing European demand for its tobacco, the Virginia Company of London adopted the headright system in 1618. In part, the new policy made it easier for wealthy men to expand their personal landholdings and labor force. In exchange for paying the expense of transporting an immigrant or indentured servant to the colony, they received 50 acres of land. The more people, or heads, they subsidized, the more land they gained.
WALSH: They intended to import British laborers, but that changed somewhat in 1619 when the first cargo of slaves were brought in by a privateer.
PARKER: In 1619, the first enslaved Africans to arrive in English America disembarked in Virginia at Point Comfort, on the James River. Their arrival represented the tangled tapestry of the transatlantic slave trade.
In late August, some “20. and odd Negroes” who had been captured in West Central Africa, arrived on board The White Lion. It was an English privateering vessel flying a Dutch flag. The 20 enslaved people had been stolen off a Portuguese slaving ship trading at Vera Cruz in Spanish Mexico.
English settlers bought them in exchange for food.
Virginia’s first enslaved Africans were among some 12.5 million Africans forcibly carried to the Americas and elsewhere in the Atlantic world from the early sixteenth through the mid-nineteenth centuries. In the decades that followed 1619, the enslaved African presence in Virginia grew slowly.
JOHN C. COOMBS: It’s very ad hoc.
My name is John C. Coombes and I am a Professor of History at Hampton City College.
Beginning in 1640, though, with the development of the English commercial slave trade, there does begin to be a steadier supply, but throughout that period, Chesapeake is on the margins of that English transatlantic slave trade, which develops very closely in concert with the growth and development of the West Indian islands, particularly Barbados, which it is the islands that are the primary market for enslaved Africans begin sent across the Atlantic by English traders throughout these years. And so the Chesapeake colonies are very ancillary to that.
PARKER: Nevertheless, the number of enslaved Africans in the colony rose as white English settlers participated directly or indirectly in the transatlantic slave trade. Privateers brought more enslaved people to Virginia’s shores. Virginians purchased Africans from slaving ships, and they used the headright system to acquire additional enslaved people and land.
Like most Europeans, early Virginians had few qualms about enslaving Africans or misgivings that Africans could or ought to be held in permanent bondage. As Virginia’s enslaved population grew, the colonial government began passing laws to define the boundaries more precisely between slavery and freedom, between Black and white.
Few laws had greater consequence for the future of slavery in Virginia and Mount Vernon’s enslaved community than a December 1662 act that tied a child’s freedom status to that of the child’s mother.
In Latin, this doctrine is known as Partus sequitur ventrem: “That which is born follows the womb.”
Virginia legislators decided that a child born of an enslaved woman would be enslaved, even if the child’s father was a free white man. The law made clear slavery’s increasingly important role in Virginia society. It also acknowledged the unwanted existence of sexual relationships between white and Black Virginians.
The 1662 law enabled generations of white Virginians like the Washingtons to claim children born to enslaved women as their property.
Still, white indentured servants remained the most important labor force in the Chesapeake through the 1680s, but in the late seventeenth century that began to change.
WALSH: Initially, people had thought that because at the time the number of slaves in the colony expanded greatly and the number of people who wanted to migrate as indentured servants declined, that the white settlers preferred servants, but switched to slaves when they could no longer get them. But more recent research has shown that the people who were buying slaves were the economic and social elite in the colony. So people who had a choice, were making a choice to import Africans who could be held in lifetime servitude and who had absolutely no rights to protest brutal treatment.
COOMBS: Almost all of those slaves are both obtained by and held by leading planters of the region, the gentry. Slave ownership among ordinary planters in the Chesapeake colonies is very, very minimal throughout most of the 17th century. And that’s important because while larger planters are able to obtain slaves, they don’t make them available for sale to anybody else.
Instead, this is a trade that’s closely controlled on its various axes, leading planters in the Chesapeake, larger merchants in England, and correspondence in the Caribbean Islands. So the growth of slavery in the Chesapeake Colonies is not only slow over time, but it’s also restricted to a very, very small group, perhaps the top 5% of planters own the vast majority of enslaved Africans.
PARKER: But why did the Virginia elite make this choice? Comparing English and Virginia society offers us a useful perspective.
COOMBS: The entire hierarchical structure of England is largely based on the ownership of land and the wealth of both the aristocracy and the gentry derives from the rents they receive from tenants who work that land on their estates. The Chesapeake is the exact opposite. Land is abundant, labor is the scarce resource, and so I think the attractiveness of slavery for the gentry is that it really provides a solution to a fundamental problem. How do you build lasting familial estates that can be maintained over time in an environment in which labor is scarce and land is plentiful? Servitude, of course, is very common in the Chesapeake Colonies throughout the 17th century and will continue to persist throughout the 18th century as well. But servitude has its limitations in terms of servicing dynastic ambition, which many members of the Virginia and Maryland gentry derived not from the aristocracy, but rather from these kind of landed families in England. Their vision of the world is one of landed estates passed down from heir to heir over time. And servitude doesn't really lend itself to that, of course, because servants serve a finite term and this requires constant investments in labor over time.
Slavery provides the solution to that. It ensures that planters desirous of building dynasties can keep an adequate supply of labor on their plantations over time, and not only adequate, they're going to grow over time because of the inheritable nature of slavery.
PARKER: The rise of race-based slavery in seventeenth-century Virginia and other American colonies remade colonial society. New laws and regulations in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries led to an increase in the number of enslaved people transported to the Chesapeake.
WALSH: As the number of slaves increased, the Chesapeake along with the lower South, the West Indian Islands, transitions to what Ira Berlin has called slave societies, where slavery dominates the economy and everyone, whether they are slaveholders or not, are enlisted in policing the slaves and maintaining the system. Slaveholding slaves became seen as the only way to get ahead economically and socially in the colony, and as more and more slaves were brought in, not just great planters, but middling planters as well, began acquiring them. And by the time George Washington was mid-career even tenant farmers were hoping to acquire slaves as the only way they could see to advance their families economically.
PARKER: We’ll have more when Intertwined returns after the break.
JEANETTE PATRICK: Hi, I’m Jeanette Patrick, one of the co-creators of Intertwined. If you’d like to explore the topics discussed in this episode, learn more about our guests, or get a list of related readings, please visit georgewashingtonpodcast.com Thank you for listening. Now, back to Intertwined.
PARKER: George Washington became an enslaver in 1743 at the age of 11, when he inherited 10 enslaved people from his father, Augustine.
Washington inherited Milly, Long Joe, Jenny, and Fortune, among others. By then, slavery was firmly entrenched in Virginia’s tobacco farms, South Carolina’s rice plantations and Barbados’ sugar fields. Enslaved people labored on dockyards of New York City and in the homes of colonists in Philadelphia and Boston. Rhode Island merchants made fortunes in the slave trade. Most American colonists accepted slavery and slaveholding without question.
As a young adult, Washington the surveyor, soldier, and aspiring great planter inherited and purchased additional enslaved people, including Sambo Anderson and his shipmate, Simon, sometime in the 1760s.
In August 1759, Washington traveled to Maryland where he purchased at least two enslaved men, Neptune and Cupid, off a slaving ship. They were among 350 enslaved people aboard the vessel. Washington made a similar journey to Maryland two years later to purchase “sundry slaves” off the ship, Africa.
We know little about Anderson’s life before his appearance in Washington’s records, but research on the transatlantic slave trade can help us reconstruct what people like Anderson and Simon might have experienced on their journey through the Middle Passage.
Here’s Dr. Brenda Stevenson.
STEVENSON: The whole process is one that is emotionally psychologically quite devastating and traumatizing. Enslaved people are overwhelmed almost immediately, because they’re coming from war-torn societies, they’re coming from societies that are economically fragile, They’re losing their homes or losing family members, they have a great fear of disappearing because people are just disappearing, they go out to work in the fields, or if they go out hunting, they never come back, and so there’s a great amount of fear about this process.
Typically are chained together and you’re walked from whatever destination you’re taken from to the coast. Usually you are not just walk, but also carrying items that are picked up along the way that are going to be used to feed you, to answer your thirst, and you are going to also bring items that are going to eventually be loaded onto the ship also as a way of support for the trip across. Those people who are coming from societies where they wear jewelry are usually stripped of that jewelry. The slave trade is one in which it’s all focused on profit, and that profit starts from the very beginning. So if you have earrings, if you have a necklace, anything you have…Your clothing is all taken from you at that point. Once you get to the coast line, you are stored either in a fort or some kind of housing until enough people are gathered to make a ship load. The focus is really on getting young men, young healthy men, some women and children that are taken but primarily is young men from the ages of 10 years told to about 30, 35 years old, and healthy people.
PARKER: The enslavers further dehumanized their captives onboard slaving ships.
STEVENSON: At the time that you are placed on a ship, you are inspected, you are sometimes branded depending on whether or not there’s a specific owner and they wanna be able to continue to claim ownership of you, and you’re packed into the ship. Sometimes the ship doesn’t leave immediately, sometimes it travels up and down the coast until it’s filled, because you may go to one fort and get 20 people and then that’s not enough to ship across, that’s not what’s been asked for. And then you might go to another fort, so sometimes you’re sort of being shifted around for two or three months before you get to open sea. The men are separated from the women and children, they’re placed in separate parts of the ship, depending on what time of year it is and what the weather is like on the Atlantic, and where you’re leaving from or where you’re arriving at, determines how long the trip will be. And that length also has a lot to do with how healthy you will remain on the ship. There’s at least about anywhere between 20 to 35% of people die before they reach the Americas. Most of the people died from illness and the predominant illness is dehydration, because you are traveling, you’re very much packed together, there’s a lot of sweating, there’s not a lot of room, there’s not a lot of water. People are given about eight ounces of fresh water a day. You know how much water our body needs, you can understand, you know, that dehydration was very, very significant illness.
PARKER: Dehydration was not the only illness to claim the lives of enslaved people on the passage across the Atlantic.
STEVENSON: There were also outbreaks of smallpox and chicken pox and dysentery. Once you’re in the middle of the ocean and there is something contagious that beings to spread, it’s very, very hard to control that. And the bodies, of course, typically are thrown overboard.
PARKER: Sambo Anderson’s journey through the Middle Passage may have lasted a few weeks to a few months, depending on the ship’s intended destination. Perhaps his unknown ship sailed from Africa first to Barbados or Jamaica in the Caribbean, where his enslavers sold some of his shipmates, purchased sugar and supplies, and then moved on to the American mainland to sell the rest of their human cargo.
Maybe he sailed directly from West Africa to the Chesapeake Bay where he was sold at auction or purchased by a planter in exchange for tobacco or other American-produced commodities.
Did someone named Anderson purchase him first, the origin of Sambo’s last name? Did Washington buy him and Simon directly off the ship? The archives are silent. We may never know.
What we do know, is that enslaved people like Sambo Anderson were not George Washington’s only tie to the transatlantic slave trade. As a young man, Washington, the up-and-coming Virginia planter, witnessed firsthand the wealth and brutality of Barbadian sugar slavery. His journey to the island in the mid-eighteenth century reminds us of the close connections between Virginian and Barbadian slavery.
LYNN PRICE ROBBINS: George Washington visits Barbados when he’s 19 years old, it’s 1751, and he goes with his elder half-brother Lawrence. Lawrence has an illness, most likely, its tuberculosis and Barbados is thought to be a very healthy climate that can cure lung issues.
My name is Lynn Price Robbins, and I am an historian of George Washington and Martha Washington as well as Early America and the Early Republic.
George Washington volunteered to go to Barbados with Lawrence. It’s the only time he left the North American continent in his entire life, and what he sees there is a much higher level of brutality in slavery, than he does in Virginia.
Barbados is a very small island, it’s 21 miles by 14 miles. And it was colonized in 1625, and it was also a trading partner of Virginia. So when Barbados started to create a sugar-based economy, they essentially cut down everything on the island so that they could have as much sugar production as possible, and make as much money. So they had to import everything else. Crops, lumber, things like this, they had to import and they imported a lot of that from Virginia. And in response, Virginia would import enslaved people and they would import, of course, sugar from Barbados. And sugar production is very intensive, it’s dangerous, and it takes a lot of individuals and so Barbados was actually the first colony that moved from indentured servitude to slavery. And Barbados had about 75% of the population was enslaved, and this is very different from Virginia, which is a much lower percentage.
He sees a very harsh version. George Washington didn’t write a lot of his opinions in his diary, it’s not even a diary like we would call it today, where you talk about what you did or you talks about your feelings or what you thought about things, he’s very factual. So he says, I had dinner with this person, I saw this… The end. And so we’re trying to glean what slavery was like there from other individuals who did write more. And one observer said that the heads of slaves fixed upon sharp pointed stakes while their unburied carcasses were exposed to be torn by dogs and vultures on the sandy beach. So you can imagine this is a very brutal, very different form of slavery than George Washington saw when he was in Virginia.
An interesting thing Washington mentions in his diary is about the women. He says, “The ladies generally are very agreeable, but by ill custom affect the Negro style.”
So what we think this means is that the women may have been picking up some of the style or the culture from the enslaved people, which makes sense because they’re a much larger portion of the population. On theory is that enslaved women would wear head wraps, and that’s what the European women were picking up. And another thought is dialect may have impacted the speech patterns. And so, and he says, of course, by ill custom, so obviously he’s not very approving of this. Really what he sees is a higher brutality and he’s spending time with a higher class that he is hoping to obtain. He’s seeing people who he hopes that one day he can be, plantations owners who are very successful and have made quite a bit of money.
PARKER: Washington returned from Barbados in early 1752 bearing the scars of the smallpox infection he had contracted while on the island. Lawrence, whose health had failed to improve, soon followed. Lawrence died at Mount Vernon that July.
Lawrence’s death made George master of six more enslaved people, including two children, Lucy and Tom. The younger Washington inherited five more enslaved people in 1761, following the death of Anne, Lawrence’s widow. Maria, George, Kate, and Kate’s two children legally became George Washington’s property.
In the years between Washington’s Barbados sojourn, and his purchase of Sambo Anderson sometime in the 1760s, Washington continued his on journey to the top of the Virginia planter elite.
He commanded the Virginia Regiment in the early years of the French and Indian War, part of the global Seven Years’ War that pitted Great Britain against its French and Spanish enemies.
He also began leasing Mount Vernon from his sister-in-law and running the plantation.
And, the now Colonel Washington, expanded the number of enslaved people under his control.
He purchased Jack for £52 from William Buckner in January 1755.
In November 1756, he bought an unknown woman and child for £60, from Lieutenant Governor Robert Dinwiddie.
A year later, he rented several enslaved people from his younger brother, Charles, including two men and one woman for £20.
But it was Washington’s marriage to the widowed, and very wealthy, Martha Custis in January 1759, that forever changed the lives of the enslaved people who would call Mount Vernon home.
ROBBINS: There are two types of enslaved people then, there are the ones that George Washington owned before his marriage and ones that he would purchase throughout his lifetime, and then there were the ones that Martha brought into the marriage.
PARKER: 84 enslaved people were part of Martha Custis’s dowry, the property she brought to the marriage. But she did not own these enslaved people outright. They belonged to the estate of her late first husband, Daniel Parke Custis. Because Daniel died without a will, Martha had the right to use one-third of his property during her lifetime, including enslaved people. But after she died, her descendants would inherit them.
ROBBINS: These were called the dower slaves. So with the enslaved people that George Washington owned outright, they were his property, which means he could sell them, he could free them depending on, of course, Virginia law at the time, he could rent them out, he could pretty much do as he wished. As far as the dower slaves go, he was more a guardian than an owner. And so while he could work them however he wished at Mount Vernon, in the end, they weren’t really his.
PARKER: Of the 84 dower slaves, initially only about a dozen, including 38-year-old Doll, 15-year-old Betty, and 30-year-old Tom were relocated to Mount Vernon. More were sent to the plantation over the next two decades.
Over the course of this series, we’ll examine the relationships among the people enslaved by Washington and the Custis estate in detail, but for now it is enough to say that these relationships could be joyful, complicated…and heartbreaking.
Martha Custis brought many things to the marriage, including a colorful punch bowl made of Chinese export porcelain, decorated and painted peonies and chrysanthemums, that powerfully symbolized the Washingtons’ combined link to the transatlantic slave trade in ways we might not expect.
JESSIE MACLEOD: It’s very large, it would have been very expensive, very elegant, refined objects for them to have in their home.
PARKER: That’s Jessie Macleod, Associate Curator at Mount Vernon. She was the lead curator of Lives Bound Together, the exhibit that inspired this podcast.
MACLEOD: One thing that we have done recently is to think about all the different stories that punch bowl tells. So traditionally, we talk about the Washingtons’ hospitality, how they would serve punch to visitors and how that was evidence of their graciousness and generosity. But the punch bowl has a lot of other stories too. So one is in thinking about the beverage that the punch bowl held, you know punch is made from rum and sugar, fruit juice and other spices and a lot of those products were produced by enslaved people on Caribbean plantations mostly. So enslaved people were the ones who were harvesting sugar cane, who were growing many of the spices that were used in exotic beverages. And the conditions on sugar plantations were especially brutal. And there were a number of injuries and the mortality rate was very high, and plantation owners would readily import more people from Africa to work on those plantations, and so the sweet beverage that’s in this bowl, that’s in the Washingtons’ parlor, holds that story of violence of the experiences of these people who were harvesting this product for the use of people like the Washingtons.
PARKER: That same story of violence brought Sambo Anderson to Mount Vernon.
Anderson made his first appearance in Washington’s records on November 2, 1774. He is listed as a “boy” in a ledger book. Anderson was not noted on Washington’s tax list for that year, which tells us he was under the age of sixteen.
Over the course of Anderson’s years of enslavement at Mount Vernon, the plantation would grow to encompass five different farms and 8,000 acres of land. And Anderson would raise a family as well.
MACLEOD: He was trained as a carpenter. He did work in the mansion as well as across the estate. He had a family at Mount Vernon. He had a wife named Agnes, and they had several children. His wife lived on River Farm where she was a field worker, and Sambo Anderson lived at the Mansion House Farm, as did most of the skilled tradesmen. Their’s was one of a number of families that was separated during the week because they were assigned to different locations. We know that Anderson was freed by George Washington’s will. So he was emancipated.
PARKER: In January 1801, just over a year after George Washington’s death, Anderson gained his freedom. Martha chose to execute the emancipation clause in her late husband’s will early, freeing Anderson and another 121 people directly owned by her husband’s estate. Why Washington chose to free his enslaved people, and why his wife acted when she did, is a tale for another time.
But what did freedom mean for Sambo Anderson? What did it mean for his wife, Agnes, and their six children?
MACLEOD: He continued to live at Mount Vernon, possibility in the cabin that his family had occupied on River Farm. His wife and their children remained enslaved because they were owned by the Custis estate, so they were inherited by Martha’s grandchildren.
PARKER: Sambo and Agnes were one of many couples whose love crossed the Washington-Custis property divide. Yet, because Agnes belonged to the Custis estate, she did not receive her freedom. And the status of the children followed the status of the mother.
But Anderson did not give up on his family.
MACLEOD: Sambo Anderson earned money as a free man by hunting and selling wild game to local hotels and taverns, and he was actually able to earn enough money to purchase the freedom of several of his family members, which was pretty extraordinary, and we have documentation of those purchases. There’s actually a notice of his death in the Alexandria Gazette as well, which gives evidence of his prominence in the community.
PARKER: Anderson died on February 20, 1845, nearly a century after his passage into American slavery, and over forty years since his passage to American freedom.
In the years before his death, Anderson used his earnings to free his daughter Charity; his grandchildren William and Eliza; and Eliza’s children, James, William, and John.
In 1835, Anderson and his grandson William were among twelve enslaved and freed people who helped landscape around the new tomb built for the Washingtons a few years earlier.
We are not sure where Anderson is buried. He may rest now in an unmarked grave, in the cemetery near the Washingtons’ mansion, just across the path from the Washingtons’ brick and wrought iron tomb.
There was always more work to be done at Mount Vernon. So what kind of work did Sambo Anderson and other enslaved people do Mount Vernon? That’s next time on Intertwined: The Enslaved Community at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
Intertwined: The Enslaved Community at George Washington’s Mount Vernon is a production of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association and CD Squared.
I’m your host, Brenda Parker.
Intertwined was co-created and co-written by Jeanette Patrick and Jim Ambuske.
Curt Dahl of CD Squared was our lead producer and audio engineer.
Additional producers were me, Brenda Parker and Jessie MacLeod. MacLeod was the lead curator of the Lives Bound Together exhibit, which inspired this podcast.
Mary Thompson provided invaluable research support. Thompson is Mount Vernon’s research historian and the author of “The Only Unavoidable Subject of Regret": George Washington, Slavery, and the Enslaved Community at Mount Vernon, published by the University of Virginia Press in 2019.
We received fact checking and additional editorial support from Samantha Snyder.
Rebekah Hanover Pettit designed our show’s beautiful artwork.
Thank you to Mount Vernon’s Media and Communications Department for their support.
Our summer interns were Izzy Black and Maggie-Mae Ellison from Midwestern State University in Texas. They helped put together our show notes and episode bibliographies.
Thank you to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.
And a very special thanks to the anonymous friends of George Washington’s Mount Vernon without whose financial support this project would not have been possible.
Learn more about Mount Vernon’s enslaved community and topics covered in this program by checking out our reading lists on our show’s website at George Washington Podcast dot com.
Thank you for listening.
Jessie MacLeod joined Mount Vernon’s curatorial team in 2012, after receiving an M.A. in history, with a certificate in public history, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She previously received a B.A. in history from Yale University and has worked at numerous historic sites interpreting eighteenth and nineteenth-century American history. In her time at Mount Vernon, Jessie served as lead curator for the award-winning exhibition Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon (2016-2021).
Lorena Walsh was a research historian at Colonial Williamsburg from 1980 to 2009. She is the author of From Calabar to Carter's Grove: The History of a Virginia Slave Community, and Motives of Honor, Pleasure, and Profit: Plantation Management in the Colonial Chesapeake, 1607-1763.
John C. Coombs is Professor of History at Hampden-Sydney College. He received his B.A. in Political Science from Arizona State University in 1989 and his PhD. from the College of William and Mary in 2004. His research focuses on early America, specifically the politics, economy, society, and culture of the colonial Chesapeake. He is the co-editor, with Dr. Douglas Bradburn, of Early Modern Virginia: Reconsidering the Old Dominion, and his latest work, The Rise of Virginia Slavery, is forthcoming from the University of Virginia Press as part of the Early American Histories series that Professor Coombs co-edits with Dr. Bradburn and Professor S. Max Edelson of the University of Virginia.
Historian / Griot / Narrator
Brenda Parker is the Coordinator of African American Interpretation and Special Projects at George Washington's Mount Vernon. Foremost she serves as a liaison between the institution’s mission to “preserve, maintain and restore” and the descendants of the enslaved at Mount Vernon. She researches and develops programs including the Lives, Loves, and Losses: Remembering the Families. She also works closely with the League of the Descendants of the Mount Vernon Enslaved, a newly formed organization. They freely allow and encourage her to portray their ancestors in the second part of her job as a Historical Character Interpreter. In this position, she narrates the stories of multiple persons individually or collectively in story format such as her play titled Freedom Skies.
Brenda Parker has worked for the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association for 17 years. She started working at the Mount Vernon Inn in 2004. She has thirty-plus years of acting, music, and theatre experience, as well as early childhood education. Additionally, she is the mother of four adult children, two beautiful and smart daughters-in-law, and is Griot to one exceptional tiny human being. Brenda believes in the Ghanaian ancestral saying of “Sankofa” To go back and get. In other words, we must learn from our past to get to our future.
Dr. Lynn Price Robbins holds a PhD in U.S. History from George Mason University. She co-edited "George Washington’s Barbados Diary, 1751-52" and "The Papers of Martha Washington" and is the author of an essay on Martha Washington in "The Women of George Washington's World" (2022). In addition to her research on the Washingtons and women in early America, Robbins focuses on the creation of Washington, D.C., manumission, and the American Colonization Society. She is also a co-host of the 2 Complicated 4 History podcast.
Inaugural Hillary Rodham Clinton Chair in Women's History, St. John's College, University of Oxford
Brenda E. Stevenson (Yale Ph.D.) is an internationally recognized scholar of gender, race, slavery, family and racial conflict. She currently is the inaugural Hillary Rodham Clinton Chair in Women’s History at St. John’s College at the University of Oxford. At UCLA, she served as the inaugural Nickoll Family Endowed Professor of History and Professor of African American Studies. A social historian, specific intellectual interests center on the comparative experiences of women, family, and community. Her published works include: Life in Black and White: Family and Community in the Slave South; The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender and the Origins of the Los Angeles Riots; and What is Slavery? along with multiple edited volumes and articles on women, race, film and art.
Professor Stevenson’s research has garnered numerous awards, including the James Rawley Book Prize, the Ida B. Wells Barnett Award and the Gustavus Meyer Book Prize. Her research has been supported by, among others, the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the Ford and Mellon Foundations, the American Association of University Women, the Center for Advanced Study, the National Humanities Center and the American Academy in Berlin. She is the recipient of the John Blassingame Award for Mentorship and Scholarship, the Carter G. Woodson Medallion and Yale’s Wilbur Cross Alumni Medal.
Professor Stevenson is the past Chair of the Department of History and the Interdepartmental Program in African American Studies at UCLA. She is a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians and is currently a member of its Executive Board. Her interviews and commentaries can be heard on NPR affiliates and other national and international media outlets.