Episode 8: "Legacies"
Interpreting slavery at Mount Vernon was not part of the mission of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association when the organization purchased the estate in the mid-nineteenth century. Over time, however, investigating the people enslaved at Mount Vernon and educating the public about their lives and legacies has become central to the Association’s work. In our final episode, we look at how interpreting slavery has become intertwined with interpreting the Washingtons at Mount Vernon, and collaborative efforts by the Association and the Descendants Community to tell a story of lives bound together.
Intertwined: The Enslaved Community at George Washington’s Mount Vernon
Episode 8: “Legacies”
Co-written by Jeanette Patrick and James P. Ambuske
Episode Published December 20, 2021
BRENDA PARKER: This podcast is supported by anonymous friends of George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
PARKER: Long before the sun has risen, the fires must be lit. Then there were beds to make, clothes and linens to wash, chamber pots to empty, furniture to dust, and floors to scrub. And when all of these tasks were complete, there were still shirts and shifts to sew.
Caroline Branham’s days were long and the work was hard. She was tasked with ensuring George and Martha Washington’s home was clean and in good order. Ready for the endless stream of guests.
Branham was born in the 1760s and was about 35 years old in 1799. She was the property of the Custis estate. Since Branham worked in the house as a maid, she lived on Mansion House Farm.
Her husband, Peter Hardiman, also lived on the farm and worked as a groom. He too, was owned by the Custis estate. Together, they had at least eight children: Wilson, Rachel, Jemima, Leanthe, Polly, Peter, Austin, and Daniel.
Branham, Hardiman, and their children were all inherited by George Washington Parke Custis, Martha Washington’s grandson, and sent to Arlington House.
By 1806, Branham had given birth to another daughter, Lucy.
Today, Caroline Branham’s legacy lives on.
Through programs, exhibits, tours, lectures, demonstrations, and podcasts, the team at George Washington’s Mount Vernon works to tell an inclusive narrative about the enslaved community and the Washingtons.
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 8: “Legacies”.
Caroline Branham’s stories, and the stories of her family, are shared with visitors today to help them understand what life was like for the people enslaved at Mount Vernon during the 18th century.
Here’s Jessie MacLeod, Mount Vernon’s associate curator, to tell us more about Caroline Branham’s life.
JESSIE MACLEOD: Caroline Branham was a house maid at Mount Vernon. She was charged with lighting the fire in the Washington's bed chamber every morning, so she would have had to wake up before dawn, walk over in the dark and off in the cold to the mansion to go and light the fire, while the Washington's were still in bed. She also was tasked in many other things within the house, along with the other housemaids, cleaning the floors, washing linens, preparing the bed chambers for the Washington's many visitors, emptying chamber pots in the morning, fetching fresh water for people to wash with, all of those things that kept the household running. Caroline Branham was owned by the Custis state, and upon Martha's death, she was inherited by George Washington Parke Custis, Martha's grandson who would ultimately build Arlington House. And Caroline Branham was taken to Arlington House. Presumably, she continued to serve as a house maid, although we don't have a lot of details about what her life was like there. We know that Branham gave birth to a daughter named Lucy. It's believed that that daughter was the child of Caroline and George Washington Parke Custis. And so you can imagine what Caroline Branham's life was like at Arlington House. It was something that many enslaved women experienced you know sexual violence at the hands of their enslavers. Caroline Branham died in 1843, and she was buried in the graveyard of Christ Church in Alexandria, which suggests that she was a parishioner of that church.
PARKER: Branham and her family were enslaved and many decisions about where they lived, what they ate, and how they spent their time were made for them. This did not mean they lacked agency. As we have heard throughout this series, being enslaved was a legal status placed upon people, but it did not define them. Caroline Branham, Peter Hardiman, Ona Judge, Hercules Posey, Davey Gray, Kate, William Lee, Sambo Anderson, and Edmund Parker were people. And they did not lack humanity or ambition.
Their lives were intertwined with lives of George and Martha Washington. And by telling their stories we get a fuller picture of life at Mount Vernon. Today, we use the spaces they inhabited to illustrate life during the 18thcentury. In addition to the Mansion, Mount Vernon is fortunate to have 14 original outbuildings in the historic area that stood at the time of Washington’s death. These spaces, including the Spinning House, Salt House, Kitchen, Smokehouse, Washhouse, and Stables have been preserved to look as they in 1799.
MACLEOD: We also have several refurnished spaces, including a cabin and a bunk house quarter where enslaved people lived. And that's another way that people can get a sense of the living conditions of the enslaved and see the spaces where they lived and learn something about their personal lives not just the work that they did for the Washingtons. So our goal is to really have this be woven into the story that we tell, not as a separate topic, but as something that's central to George Washington's life and central to the story of Mount Vernon in the 18th century.
PARKER: The Greenhouse Slave Quarters is one of these reconstructed spaces. It was originally built in the 1790s to house many of the enslaved people who worked on Mansion House Farm. Two fires, first in 1835 and a second in 1863 destroyed the building. The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association decided to have it reconstructed. And it turns out the exterior was much easier than the interior.
LYDIA BRANDT: The experience of interpreting the slave quarters that were part of the Greenhouse really exemplifies the tension that starts to happen by the middle of the 20th century between the Ladies quest for truth, how they saw this truth about Washington, and getting the material world right to what Washington would have known in 1799.
My name is Lydia Matice Brandt I am Associate Professor of Art History at the University of South Carolina.
They begin talking about reconstructing the Greenhouse, which of course they always knew had been there and they had pretty good evidence for what it looks like, they began talking about it before World War II, and then they really get going with it, after the war with architect Walter Mayo Macomber. And Walter, he was a good researcher, and he was thorough and he was doing what the Ladies told him to do, which was research this thing, make sure you know exactly what it looked like, make sure that if Washington showed up tomorrow he would recognize it. And he discovered that Washington designed the interior of the quarters so that enslaved people slept in basically bunk beds that were attached to the walls. So working with some of the Vice Regents, but also working with another man named Frank Morris that the Ladies had hired to basically go around Virginia and buy old stuff to put in all of the different outbuildings they've built the bunks based on what little evidence they had, and then they outfitted them with cups and candles on the table. So that you could imagine this space is a place where enslaved people lived the same way that you could imagine Washington and Martha in the bed chamber in the Mansion. So the Ladies can see this in 1952, after these quarters are furnished and many of them are really blown away, they're really concerned. They are not convinced that Washington would have housed enslaved people in a way that they found inhumane. And so rather than just saying, well, we can't believe Washington would have done this. We know Washington, Washington never would have done this. They launched into this really fascinating research rabbit hole where they really require Morris and Macomber to find evidence that Washington really housed enslaved people in these bunk beds. And so there's this huge debate that lasts a decade, meanwhile, these quarters are just shut because they are arguing over Washington's use of the word "berth", b-e-r-t-h which he uses to describe the beds, the actual sleeping arrangement in these buildings. And many of the Ladies choose to interpret that word as not bunk beds, but as individual. The way that you would build on a ship. They're using this like, well, we wanna be right, we wanna be authentic, we wanna be true to the research as a way to mediate the fact that these spaces just totally blow in the face of how they want Washington to have treated his slaves. So finally, by 1962 there is real evidence that Washington used the word "berth" to describe these kinds of bunk beds, he uses the same word to describe the way in which soldiers were housed in barracks. So they say, alright, well, I guess that's what he did. And so they opened the space to the public, and so when the space is open in 1962, there from what I can tell, really some of the first fully interpreted slave quarters at a plantation Museum. And I think to the Ladies credit, they did not gussie them up the way that they could have. They stuck to the research, and once there was irrefutable evidence that these berths were indeed how enslaved people were housed. They moved forward with it.
PARKER: Through research, we can better understand the past. And as the debate over the berths in the Greenhouse show, how we remember the past, does not always match with historical reality.
Larger social and cultural movements also shaped the interpretation at Mount Vernon, and the questions that historians and the public asked of the evidence.
BRANDT: Slavery does enter the narrative obviously after the opening of the slave quarters, but also in different interpretations in the 1960's and 1970's, in part because more people are coming to the site every year expecting it. With the rise of social history, the emergence of African American history as a field within academics and also more popular representations of slavery such as "Roots", which was on TV in 1977, people come to Mount Vernon expecting the Ladies to say something about slavery. And more people are coming to Mount Vernon knowing something about slavery, and in many ways, that's really the key. That people are increasingly aware that George Washington was not the only person to live here, and that he did not run this farm all by himself, and so they’re kind of starting to talk about it a little bit more. That being said, like any other plantation museum in the United States, they're talking about it in context of Washington as a good slave owner, as Washington as a reluctant slave owner, as Washington as someone who supposedly freed his slaves when he died or that's what he meant to do. So that's always part of the narrative, privileging Washington as this great hero. By the 1970's, I think that's really starting to come to a head.
SCOTT CASPER: By the 1980s, of course, we're on the other side of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950's and 1960's.
I'm Scott Casper, I'm President of the American Antiquarian Society, which is a research library and learned society founded in 1812 and based in Western Massachusetts.
Certainly an unfinished movement, an unfinished movement to this day, but there is much more understanding and appreciation of Black people's agency, not just in freedom, but also in certain ways in slavery. How had Black people been able to maintain their family ties, been able to maintain their sense of community, even under the degrading and dehumanizing conditions of slavery.
PARKER: As we heard in episode seven, the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association placed a marker at the Slave Cemetery in 1929 to honor the lives of the people who were enslaved at Mount Vernon. Unfortunately, by the 1980s, this marker was nearly lost.
BRANDT: In 1982, a Washington Post columnist named Dorothy Gilliam writes an article in The Washington Post about the 1929 Slave Marker. And she contrasts this marker which was all overgrown with the House, which is so pristine and perfect. And she says, "This is a real shame, this is really embarrassing." And the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association immediately acts.
REBECCA BAIRD: It was on the ground, so of course, weeds and bushes and stuff had grown up around it and it was hard to find. So she kind of made it known that something needed to be done about this. People in the community read this article, brought it to the attention of the Ladies’ Association, and then the Ladies became involved and decided, yes, this is something we need to do. We need to take on a better marker for this.
My name is Rebecca Baird. I'm the archivist of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.
A committee was formed. It wasn't just the MVLA members who formed this committee, it was members from the Fairfax Community. They all got together and decided what should be done, and they came up with the idea for a new memorial that would mark the graveyard.
CASPER: The Ladies’ Association, the local NAACP, and the Howard University School of Architecture and Planning sponsored a design competition, and Howard's Architecture School suspended classes for three days while 30 teams of students sketch proposals for a monument to go at Mount Vernon to the enslaved people of Mount Vernon. The submission that won, invited visitors through a brick archway that echoes the brick work of Washington's tomb. There's a kind of architectural echo between the new tomb of the 1830's and this new memorial to formerly enslaved people.
And you walk down the path, and this path is still there to this day. And it leads to a brick circle where there's a broken granite column, symbolizing the brokenness of people's lives within slavery, and then there are three concentric circles and they have the words on the faith, hope, love. The idea is that these are the qualities, these are the attributes faith, hope, and love that kept people from total despair during slavery that sustained people in the world of slavery. And the inscription on this monument says: "In memory of the Afro Americans who served as slaves at Mount Vernon this monument marking their burial grounds dedicated September 21, 1983 Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association”. So we see several differences here, Afro Americans, the terminology most common in the 1980's for people of African descent in the United States. The language of people Afro Americans who served as slaves at Mount Vernon, in other words, their identity is more than just the identity of slavery. Slavery was the service they provided, not willingly, but the service they provided, but they were human beings with lives distinct from slavery, and all of that is captured in the language of this monument, at which to this day there's an annual ceremony marking the monument and sponsored both by Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association and Black Women United for Action.
DON FRANCISCO: Just saying that I have to stop and take a breath because I've personally shed some tears at that memorial. I've seen visitors gather there: White, Black, Native American, Hispanic, Asian, multiple cultures and races.
My name's Don Fransisco, I'm a retired US veteran, and I was volunteering at Mount Vernon before I started to work Mount Vernon as a History Interpreter.
So that ceremony, it comes at the end of a tour we do called the Enslaved People's at Mount Vernon. So there's a special reading we do, we read biographies of some of the slaves, like Hercules Posey, Lucy, Nathan, Molly, Caroline Branham, Ona Judge, and each ceremonies can be quite different. Sometimes it's a small intimate conversation more than a ceremony. Other time there's a large school group and the children are eager to participate. We've had Howard University Choir singing down there before. Sometimes Brenda Parker will sing a song there and I'll play a song on the fife or the African flute. We do not deny slavery happened, to not acknowledge it would be an injustice, but we use it to learn and grow from hopefully.
PARKER: As Don explained, the memorial is a special place at Mount Vernon for many, including myself. Located within the Slave Cemetery, it holds the stories of many people. Unfortunately, there is very little documentation on who was buried there. To learn more, Mount Vernon has begun exploring just below the surface.
JASON BOROUGHS: In 2014, we started a long-term research program to actually locate those burials that have been actually reclaimed by the forest.
Dr. Jason Boroughs. I am the Research Archaeologist at George Washington's Mount Vernon, which is owned by the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association.
There are no standing headstones there, and we've used a variety of resources to do that, including ground penetrating radar surveys. We actually don't know how long the cemetery was in use. The 1830s references suggest that there were already 100 to 150 graves that were visible. That suggests to me as an archaeologist that they were marked because if you can count how many graves there are, you have to see them physically. If there were already 150 graves in there in the 1830s it stands to reason that that cemetery was likely in use during Washington's lifetime. It probably grew and we think it grew exponentially after his death, and the last known documented internment that we have of that particular cemetery is 1863. A man named West Ford, who was actually born into slavery and was emancipated and died a free man and was buried in that cemetery, or at least according to oral tradition. So we don't exactly know how long it was in use.
What we're doing archaeologically is trying to discover unmarked graves, graves that were marked, although if they were marked for example, if they had wooden markers, they typically wouldn't survive very long in Virginia's climate between termites and humidity, they just don't survive that long. If there were stone markers, we haven't found any that are surviving, that doesn't mean there weren't stone markers. They might have been removed. Our research design is to relocate those interments, the grave shafts themselves, not disturbing any human remains in the process. Basically, we just remove 6 to 8 inches of soil, and you can actually see physically the tops of the grave shafts. And the reason we can see them, they basically show up as a rectangular discoloration that looks different than the surrounding soil matrix. If you've ever dug a hole in your backyard, you probably see top soil, something else, and then you get to, in this part of the world, a clay layer that might be yellowish brown or orangeish brown, and you take that soil out, if you're planting a tree, for example, you put the tree in and you put the soil back. What you're doing is jumbling up those natural soil layers, and when you put that soil back, the stuff that was darker at the bottom is now mixed in with the stuff from the top. So we're actually looking for those soil stains, and that's how we identify the graves. The ground penetrating radar has actually helped us find them as well, and that kinda gave us an idea where to look. So we've been doing that on and off basically since 2014 in summers with a year off for covid, and we've discovered 86 graves to date, and a little over 40% of them are children. They appear to be in really nice neat rows in an east west orientation, which is actually a Christian practice of burial that overlapped with different West and Central African understandings of ancestors and their cycle of life and death and rebirth into the world of the dead.
PARKER: By using new technology paired with the knowledge of religious practices we are able to learn more about the people buried at Mount Vernon.
BOROUGHS: What we've discovered archaeologically about how the graves were marked is also very interesting. They may have had organic markers like wooden markers. They may have had stones that just aren't there anymore, but we can see archaeologically that they were also marked with kind of a burial dressing tradition that isn't just something that's on the African continent and many parts of the world. But basically, when someone was interred, they used a little bit of excess clay to make a nice kind of semi-circle mounded grave topping that went the length and width of each grade shaft. So you would have seen nice neat rows of mounded markers above each individual internment. And because the rows are so nice and neat, that suggests to me that it was well taken care of for a very long time. The thing about grave mounds, they're a community investment, they're intended to be. They require periodic maintenance by kin, relatives, family members, and friends. Basically, you have to think of it like the cemetery itself is the village of the dead, and each individual grave would be the abode of the dead. And respect to ancestors demands that they be kept in pristine condition. It's considered kind of a bad sign if a grave mound cracks, for example, it means that that person isn't doing so well, their spirit isn't doing so well. So you want to take care of your family members. So the fact that we only out of 86 graves only have two graves that are cutting into other graves, suggests that they were very visible for a very long time, which then in turn suggests that the place was well taken care of by generations.
PARKER: As the work continues to identify each grave, the Association is already thinking about how to prevent them from slipping back into the forest. Forgotten by another generation.
BOROUGHS: We continually re-outline the graves in white twine to show where they were, and the goal one day is when we're done with this to work with the descendants and actually come up with permanent markers. But we're kind of still in the middle of that process now, we've only gone about halfway across the land form, which is a big ridge over the Potomac. So we're thinking at this point, it probably is gonna be 150-plus individuals, and we're going to continue excavating.
PARKER: Today, people are invited to visit the cemetery. When they do, they respond in a variety of ways.
BOROUGHS: We've seen people cry, we've seen people sing, we've seen people that didn't know each other, embrace, we've seen people get angry, we've seen every kind of emotion you can imagine. Each of those people are accessing different levels of meaning based upon that site. And so I've been just taking photos of the many types of things that are left there over the past several years, and some of them are very dramatic. Things like stones and coins are often left, flowers, people have left personal items, people have spelled out words with stones on the memorials there. In particular, "freedom" is one that actually I took a photo of Thanksgiving a couple of years ago. And I didn't notice it until the other day that it actually looks like two separate offerings. Someone spelled out F-R-E-E in capital letters with stones, and then someone spelled out D-O-M in lower case. So that site, in that cemetery in particular shows this kind of connection, the power and the places that we're excavating and how it draws people from the past and people from the present into a common area of engagement. William Faulkner said, The past isn't dead. Right? It isn't even past. So we kinda see that happening here, and it's a pretty powerful thing, and we're pretty privileged as archeologists to play a role in that.
PARKER: We will have more when Intertwined returns after the break.
JEANETTE PATRICK: Hi I’m Jeanette Patrick one of the co-creators of Intertwined. If you would like to explore the topics discussed in this episode, learn more about our guests, or get a list of related readings, please visit George Washington podcast dot com.
Thank you for listening. Now, back to Intertwined.
PARKER: The work to preserve historic structures and identify graves is an important part of telling the stories of people who were enslaved. There are also subtler changes that have been made at Mount Vernon to emphasize the humanity of enslaved people. One key shift is understanding that the language we use to talk about the people who were enslaved matters.
MARCUS NEVIUS: The significance of re-training ourselves to speak about slaves as enslaved people or slave holder, slave owners, and slavers has a very crucial connotation for the next generation of people who will engage with these histories.
I am Marcus Nevius, newly promoted Associate Professor of History and African Studies at the University of Rhode Island.
That connotation is, in my mind, pretty simple. Although as a scholar, I'd probably complicated more than it needs to be complicated, but the people who were enslaved, descendants of African, descendants of various Native American polities and to some degree descendants of European polities too, depending upon the context that we take up. Had the circumstance of slavery imposed upon them, by others, they were not inherently slaves, though we can't get into the psychology of their minds because we largely don't have first-hand documents to tell us what most of these people thought it should hold as a common place that if we understand the institution of slavery to be imposed upon some human beings, and we understand that in position not to remove those human beings sense of humanness, then we should shift the language. And so that has two benefits, I think, one is to teach future generations without equivocation that people who were enslaved remained human and two, when the next generation of people engage with the primary sources, produced mainly by enslavers, they also have this shift front of mind, top of mind, they understand that the enslavers themselves who labeled enslaved people as slaves were imposing that sort of status upon them.
PARKER: Referring to a person not just by their status or assigned task, but as a person who was part of a community matters. It helps us today, and it will help future generations remember that enslaved people were people first.
Since the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association began operating the site in the 1860s, there are many examples of efforts to tell the stories of the people enslaved at Mount Vernon.
ROHULAMIN QUANDER: Gladys Quander Tancil, was born on a farm, which is part of the Quander Road area in 1921. And after marrying Mr. Tancil, and having a career in the federal government when she was near retirement, she started helping out in Mount Vernon, when the Mount Vernon Ladies would come twice a year they would come to have the meetings. And her mother she was a domestic working at Mount Vernon as a cleaning lady, Gladys would take off a couple of days from her federal job, and she'd be preparing breakfast or lunch or dinner, whatever it was, and helping out with whatever needed to be. And after she'd been doing that for a while, she was called in by one of the site people and said would she be interested in training to become a certified interpreter? And she said, "Yes."
My name is Rohulamin Quander. And I am the President and Founder of the Quander Historical and Educational Society.
So when she retired, she had 35 years of service, at Mount Vernon, 25 of which were devoted to being an interpreter guide and she died in November 2001. She was there and she did the very first tours of the African American tours. There'd been articles in the paper that highlighted her, etc., Because the Ladies were very, very afraid to talk about the issue of slavery and they wanted to know what Gladys thought and Gladys was outspoken, she was not disrespectful. When people would ask her, if George Washington was a good slave holder, she would stop them in mid-sentence, and say, "Wait a minute, good and slave holder don't belong in the same sentence." And she would tell them just like it was. If you wanna go according to ratings, he was better than some and worse than others, and then of course, she would talk about the relentless pursuit of trying to get Ona Judge back and Hercules, and then also desiring not to split families, but when he felt necessary, sending somebody off to the West Indies never to be seen again. So she said, "You can't put all of that in and talk about being good, but at the same time, on the overall scale, perhaps better than most." And so that was the best answer. And she was known and respected for being that, and she was often requested when a tour was coming and when she was working, not every day, they would call and say, "Well, so and so group is coming, and that's your day off. Are you available to work?" And she would often times do it. So she always supported as a founding member of the Black Women United for Action and well-known and well-respected.
PARKER: Gladys Quander Tancil’s impact was felt by many visitors. Her work lives on today, visitors can still take a similar tour that focuses on the outbuildings, and the work done within them by enslaved people.
DOUG BRADBURN: Everybody who comes to Mount Vernon needs to understand that this was a plantation that was based upon enslaved labor and so it's our responsibility to help teach people that when they come through here.
I'm Dr. Doug Bradburn, President and CEO of George Washington's Mount Vernon.
It has to touch every aspect of our teaching in our audio guides and in our guided tours by our interpreters. It needs to be a part of it. As well as character actors who inhabit the role of the enslaved people to help bring humanity and empathy to the story in a way that excites learners of all ages. Our historic trades are a tremendous way that people can kinda see the craftsmanship and the skill that was a part of the story of enslaved lives here, and so exhibits and efforts in this regard are critical. We also teach teachers how to teach the story of slavery, particularly by learning the biographies of actual enslaved people. So slavery isn't some abstract thing, but it is a human institution with human beings who suffered but persisted in this unjust system. So Mount Vernon has this responsibility.
PARKER: In my own work at Mount Vernon, I’ve had the opportunity to research the lives of many people who were enslaved at this site, and then share their lives with visitors. I narrate and interpret the lives of people including Caroline Branham, who was enslaved, worked as a chamber maid, and a seamstress inside of the Mansion House. Priscilla, who was the wife of Slammin' Joe, who was a field worker and located down on Dogue Run Farm, apart from her husband. I've taken on the narrative of Lucy, who was the wife of Frank Lee. And Doll, the matriarch of one of the largest extended families within Mount Vernon’s enslaved community. All of these different people had vastly different experiences. But their lives share one important aspect, they were an enslaved person here, on this particular site.
I’ve also created programs that weave together the stories of many people to illustrate the experiences of the community here. Through these programs, visitors get a better sense of broader themes that impacted most people. Themes including love, loss, music, and religion. I also work as a liaison between the descendent community, and more specifically the League of the Enslaved Descendants of Mount Vernon, to ensure that the lines of communication are always open. Mount Vernon’s enslaved community and the land is part of their legacy and part of their heritage. In recent decades, there has also been a larger shift at Mount Vernon to expand our educational offerings.
Here’s Dr. Bradburn.
BRADBURN: We have really transformed in the last 20 years, from being a historic site in some ways a shrine to Washington, to being more of a living history site that can teach people about the complexity of the 18th century, in addition to celebrating the role of George Washington. We have a museum with multiple exhibits which opened in 2006. We have a farm, example of 18th century agriculture, we have a gristmill and distillery, which all opened in the last 25 years. We have teacher programs in which we teach teachers how to teach the Founding Era, which is a challenging era to teach, particularly if you don't have any background in it, particularly in today's political climate. We do that work all funded by donors, we have a great digital presence and are trying to teach people around the world. We show what a historic site can do. We can open up the 18th century world in a tangible way to people who visit here. We can be a place of conversation and debate about the present and the future in the context of the past. We can patronize the work of scholars, which we do in our presidential library. And we can be that place for America, which we have been since the Ladies’ Association saved us, and in fact, since George Washington came back here, we can be a symbol of unity, of non-partisanship, a touchstone for American identity, even as American identity is understood as a more complex thing, we have an incredible role to play because we can tell the story of the enslaved people here, as well as George Washington's own remarkable life. And require people to understand both those things and not a simple path as to who we are.
BAIRD: Miss Cunningham lived on a plantation, and other Vice Regents from the south also were from wealthy families who also had plantations and slaves. The Association followed the country with how they've evolved over time and how they've slowly recognized and seen how the lives of the enslaved are so important to the story of Mount Vernon. I don't think that that would have been anything on Miss Cunningham's radar, whereas she wanted to preserve Mount Vernon the way it was. That was totally different than saying, I wanna save places where the enslaved community lived. I think how they have evolved over time, how they have recognized this need and how they've accepted it. It's part of their mission. They've evolved with the rest of the thoughts and views on this topic.
PARKER: As Rebecca Baird explained, the original goal of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association was not focused on slavery, but today we expect visitors to understand it was part of Washington’s life. One of the ways the organization has evolved was to curate an exhibit focused on the enslaved community. Jessie MacLeod served as the lead curator for the exhibit Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
MACLEOD: Up until recently, we had a 5,000-square foot museum exhibit that focused on the lives of the enslaved. Unfortunately, that exhibit has closed, but we have a virtual version of it where people can explore the exhibit as if they were there in the gallery. In my own work on the Lives Bound Together exhibition, we were fortunate to work with a number of individuals from the descendant community to interview them and hear more about their family histories and how they feel about the connection the they have to Mount Vernon. And we were able to include pieces of those interviews in a video within the exhibit, and then the full interviews are housed in our archives where they'll be available to researchers in future years. So we really want to capture these stories and the voices of the people for whom this is a very personal history and make sure that we're including that in the work that we do so that we can honor their ancestors and make sure that they are a part of the process as we're telling those stories.
There were certainly a lot of powerful moments working on the exhibit. One thing that comes to mind is that we discovered as we were putting the exhibit together and actually fairly late in the process that a chair that we were already planning to exhibit, historically, this chair had been described as coming from Mount Vernon owned by the Washington's. In looking at the file, we realized that it had actually been purchased from Lucy Harrison, who was the daughter of Caroline Branham, who was an enslaved house maid out of Mount Vernon. And Lucy Harrison was the daughter of Caroline and George Washington Parke Custis, Martha Washington's grandson. And she had this chair which had gone from Mount Vernon to the Arlington House where Custis lived, and she continued to own it as she was living as a free woman in the late 19th century in Washington DC and in the 1890s when she's very elderly and she's sick. Her pastor actually helps her connect with The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, and she sells the chair actually to a board member who then donates it to the museum. And that money from the sale goes towards her medical care. But it was this fascinating moment to realize this, for a few reasons, one that this object is one of the few intact objects that actually passed down within the family of an enslaved person. Usually the only objects we have that are connected with enslaved families are archaeological. So to have something that was passed down was really remarkable. The fact that it was passed down within the family and that she had access to it, I think affirms the oral history and the strong evidence that she was the daughter of George Washington Parke Custis, because she did have this piece of the furnishings of Arlington House. In the exhibit, as we were developing it, worked with Lucy Harrison's descendant. Whose name is Zsun-nee Matema And she didn't know about this chair, and so we were able to tell her that we had this chair in our collection that had been belonged to her ancestor and to be able to share that was incredibly powerful and meaningful to me, to bring the story that had been hiding in plain sight. It was in our files, nobody had just bothered to bring it forward. And so to create that connection and to be able to tell that story was a really profound moment.
PARKER: Helping connect people today with their ancestors is an important role sites like Mount Vernon can play.
STEPHEN HAMMOND: The Syphax's had a number of artifacts, I think there are some things that are in the form of paper later on in terms of the late 20th century, but as far as heirlooms go, there are three that really come to mind, and they were under the stewardship of a woman by the name of Mary Gibson Hundley.
My name is Stephen Hammond, and I am a family historian for the Syphax family. I am currently retired and enjoying the work that I can do to help people understand our history and to learn more about what they can do to learn about their own history.
Mary Gibson Hundley was the granddaughter of William Syphax, who was the son of Mariah and Charles Syphax. And she basically had under her stewardship three items. She had a Windsor chair that we believe was passed down, and when the Lees actually left the property at Arlington, that this piece of furniture ended up with the Syphaxs and it was passed down to William Syphax and his family, and he passed it down to his daughter and his granddaughter. Mrs. Hundley actually gave that chair back to Mount Vernon. The other items that Mrs. Hundley had were the autograph book of her grandfather that had autographs with all nine of the secretaries of the interior that he worked for, but it also had Abraham Lincoln and a number of other folks who were congressmen and senators. So that's a really powerful book, and that book is in the possession of the Park Service and it's on display at the Arlington House today. And the third item, which is kind of a special keepsake, is a picture that Mary Gibson Hundley had that she also donated to the Park Service, which is on display at the Arlington House today. So those items are things that really tie back not only to the history of the family, but also to the history of the first president's family of the United States.
PARKER: Here’s Judge Quander
QUANDER: The piece that I have that is really very novel is a settee, and what's so special about the settee? You may know where I'm going on this, because half of the story is sitting right there at Mount Vernon. The settee came to the Quander family in the 70's from the Syphax family. Mary Hundley, you may not know her name, but her mother was a Syphax and Mary Hundley was descended from George Washington Parke Custis and Martha Washington. And when the war came at Arlington House, Robert E. Lee and his wife Mary Anna Randolph Custis Lee, they didn't think the war was gonna last very long. So they parceled out some of the furniture, if not all of it, to the enslaved, to hold so the Yankees wouldn't get it. Sarah Gray was a big trustee, she was involved and responsible. And one of those pieces was a settee that one of the Syphax's got. And Mrs. Hundley, was my father's favorite teacher, he her favorite student, so she owned that sofa 'cause her grandfather had it. He's a Syphax, and she gave it to us. And it's in my living room right now. We've had to have it re-done, but it matches the furniture in Arlington House perfectly and they know it's here.
PARKER: While Mr. Hammond and Judge Quander are able to point to specific objects that connect their families to the past, not all do. But that doesn’t mean they were left without gifts from their ancestors.
ANN CHINN: If you talk about what survived enslavement, what we carried with us was a distinct commitment to survive and support each other.
Ann Louise Chinn, Historian, Community Activist, Founder of the Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project.
The family, the community, and to work hard at whatever it is, you thought was important. But I don't see it at the expense of someone else. It also is a guarded approach, so that you don't tell everything, you don't expose yourself, you anticipate what may be challenges and difficulties. To talk about a priority, of course, was always education, just the ability to read and write would have been milestones for anyone, not to attain great wealth, but to be secure and to learn how to take advantage of connections. I think that's another thing that you almost had to read who you saw it within the European descendant community would support you or advocate for you, and you learned to hook into that person to enable you to get what you wanted or what you needed. I think those are the things that we have.
I'm also surprised at how many people say just in the DC area, share either Mount Vernon or Arlington House history. Those connections go way back and they've maintained them, even though we thought as kids that this was somebody that my father knew or somebody my mother knew. These people traveled together. They trusted each other. When I had my first operation, Mickey Syphax did it. Why? Because the family knew him, they were Syphaxs, they're coming out of Arlington House, my aunt's best friend was his sister, it's like everything is in place. Riggs National Bank. The family used that, why? And then you find out that Costin was connected to that bank. That's Arlington House. There are things that they shared and support systems that they shared and benefitted. That's what we carry out of Mount Vernon not artifacts. That was for the Peters, and the Custis, and the Laws to do that, they had those things, the objects. I think that we had the Spirit.
PARKER: This “spirit” was forged during generations of enslavement and its legacy lives on. Experiences working at Mount Vernon differ from employee to employee. We each have our own reason for choosing to work here. I chose to work here in order to be able to elevate the lives of the enslaved ancestors, to amplify their voices, and to reclaim their spaces and their legacies as important to not only Mount Vernon’s history but to Americas’ history.
Here’s Don Francisco.
FRANCISCO: Carefully, prayerfully, properly, thinking about this, you know 'cause I had another colleague that was asked that question and they gave a pretty simple answer, I'm paid to work here, it's my job. Yeah, okay, I get that, but I'm gonna take it a little deeper. Hopefully they're answering this question sincerely. I chose to work here at Mount Vernon, there were other jobs that were available, but I chose to work here to honor the slaves. I chose to work here to pay respects to them and also it's a great place to work. I work with some people that have taught me a lot of things. So for me, working here at Mount Vernon helps me to grow intellectually, spiritually, emotionally. Slavery is a tough thing, it's not pretty, but yet we wanna grow and use it hopefully as a way to come together as opposed to divide us. I have chosen to work here. They didn't get paid, I'm getting paid. They weren't educated. I'm blessed and fortunate to have an education.
PARKER: Here’s Mr. Hammond and Mrs. Chinn.
HAMMOND: My experience working with Arlington as well as Mount Vernon has been exciting. It's also been mixed in terms of the progress that we're making with regard to telling these stories. In working with Mount Vernon, I am really proud of the fact that I was able to be part of the beginnings of the Lives Bound Together exhibition that existed there for several years, having been part of the recorded history of that space and also thinking about how to present information to visitors there. I have been actively involved with George Washington Teachers Institute in terms of interacting with teachers who are trying to think about how do we teach slavery in our classroom and working to have interaction and exchanges with teachers that sometimes ultimately even involve me going on to be a guest in their classrooms, which has really been enjoyable and I hope productive for everyone.
With regard to working at the Arlington House, I serve as a volunteer for the Park Service, not only am I a descendant of the Syphax family that was enslaved there, but I also am currently on the Arlington House Foundation. And for me, wearing this three cornered hat, I think, is important and powerful in terms of looking at this site from multiple points of view. As a descendant, I want to make sure that our narrative is lifted up and told in its entirety. As a volunteer, I find myself having the ability to speak with visitors and also working to impact exhibits that are being designed and created for the space. And as a trustee for the Arlington House Foundation, I find myself working to try to influence how we are supporting the Park Service in telling the story about the Arlington House. And that means thinking about this space as more than just bricks and mortar. That it's really about the lives, the people, the land, and not just the people who lived there during the 18th century, 19th century, but about the indigenous people who lived there for millennia before the Europeans took ownership of that space. So those are really important to me.
The other thing that I'm very much involved with is trying to establish and to coordinate descendant family members in groups that we can begin to talk about and amplify our voices, so we have a descendant's group at Mount Vernon, which is called the League of Descendants of the Enslaved at Mount Vernon, which continues to form and grow and kind of figure out how we wanna amplify our voice. We hope to be able to provide input and feedback to Mount Vernon in a way that's constructive to support new exhibits and how information is shared on the landscape. I think it's important that as curators of these spaces, that we work really hard to be as inclusive as possible. I think the stories of the enslaved who in many ways have been misrepresented and in other ways under-represented are just beginning to find their way into the light. And I think opportunities like this podcast, new exhibits that are being put together, the willingness to support descendant families, and listen to folklore to bring that into the light and lift up those ancestors and honor their personal truth is extremely important. And that's one of the things that I personally will continue to do in the work that I undertake as a community member and a supporter of these historic sites.
CHINN: I'm working with Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project, which has identified 55 arrival locations in the Continental US related to the arrival of Africans into this country. I'm very interested in promoting and informing people of the presence and contributions of those citizens who are African descended because there is, I think for many families, a lack of information or even the ability to fare it out the information that does exist. There also is a need to expand this narrative to include African Americans and what are parts of American history that have excluded them for the most part over centuries.
PARKER: Here’s Mr. Holland and Judge Quander.
HOLLAND: I always knew that we played an important role in this community, and then now as the families move out and diminish, I realized that I wanna stay connected to that community because we were part of it, we're still a part of it, my history, and I'm proud of that. And I would like to continue that. I would like to play a responsible role in the community, having a voice. I'm an American, and most Americans know where they come from, they know their heritage, they know who their people are. Most can go back and trace what Irish village they came from or what Scottish village, he comes from. I can't do that. And I think it's important that we know who we are, where we come from. As an American, I share in that American heritage. But there's a missing link. And that link back to Africa, I think is very important.
QUANDER: They could be students, it could be older people at all different races and ethnicities, I tell them that we should understand that American history of fathers, of founding fathers is really more than that. We have founding fathers and founding mothers. We also have to understand that while George Washington was off at Trenton or crossing the Delaware on Christmas night in the overloaded boat, that the reason he got to be so great is because the home fires were maintained by the enslaved who put the crops in and took the crops out, pulled the weeds up, ran the distillery, ran the fisheries, all of that, and he knew that it was under control with those who were at Mount Vernon left back in charge of taking care of things. I said, you need to understand there's more to it than that. We're looking at American history from an African American perspective.
PARKER: As I tell Caroline Branham’s story to visitors, I’m telling American history from an African American perspective. I’m helping people to learn about the life and legacies of George and Martha Washington through the context of their time and ours.
The lives of the people enslaved at Mount Vernon were intertwined with the Washingtons in a story that spans across oceans, empires, revolutions, and time. In slavery and freedom, in life and death. Their legacy live on.
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).
Lydia Mattice Brandt is an associate professor of art and architectural history at the University of South Carolina. Dr. Brandt has authored The South Carolina State House Grounds: A Guidebook (UofSC Press, 2021), First in the Homes of His Countrymen: George Washington’s Mount Vernon in the American Imagination (2016), and articles on American architecture in Winterthur Portfolio, The Public Historian, Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians (forthcoming 2021), and numerous book chapters. Her current research explores the southern plantation house in popular visual culture. She graduated from New York University and the University of Virginia.
Rebecca has worked as the archivist for the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association (MVLA) for 6 years. She is responsible for acquiring, organizing, and providing access to the institutional records of the MVLA. Rebecca became a Certified Archivist (CA) in 2012 and a Digital Archives Specialist (DAS) through the Society of American Archivists in 2014. She received a master’s of library science (MLS) from Emporia State University and a BA in History and French from Texas Tech University. Before joining the Washington Library’s staff in 2015, Rebecca worked as an archivist for the Daughters of the American Revolution for 8 years.
Norwood Holland grew in Gum Springs, attended Fisk University and Howard University School of Law. He's a writer and operates his own publishing imprint and tour guide business.
Rohulamin Quander, a native Washingtonian, is a retired Senior Administrative Law Judge for the District of Columbia, and a member of the Quander Family whose history traces to the 1670s. Their legacy includes enslavement at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Plantation, where he periodically serves as an advisor. He often serves as a guest lecturer on African American History.
He holds two degrees from Howard University (BA 1966, JD 1969), and in 1985 founded the Quander Historical and Educational Society, Inc., a 501 (c)(3), to document, preserve, protect, and share the family’s legendary history, as an educational tool.
He is a founding member of the League of Enslaved Mount Vernon Descendants, whose Mission is to gather, tell, share, and preserve the many stories of the formerly enslaved ancestors and free people of color who rendered service to George Washington and his family at the Mount Vernon Plantation.
His years of service include addressing human and civil rights inequities among the Dalit (Untouchable) population of India, his mother’s ancestral homeland. He is the author of four books, and a licensed and certified DC tour guide.
Married to Carmen Torruella Quander, internationally acclaimed artist, they have three adult children and one grandchild, and reside in Washington, D.C.
Board Chair, MPCPMP
I was born and grew up in Washington, DC, among family and friends with a strong awareness of history. Over the years I became a person who loves stories and the people who generate these narratives. Along the way I also realized that each of us is deeply entwined with a local and national heritage that can be traced through memory as well as knowledge. Textile art, social service, community organizing and historical research are constants in my life. Married to Charlie Cobb (journalist and author), I appreciate language, written and spoken. From my parents and many relatives, I learned the responsibility of honesty, humor and community. Being a member of a diverse and ever-expanding family of three children, five grandchildren, and numerous cousins, I increasingly appreciate the role we all have in telling the story, in valuing who we are and who helped shaped us, and in acknowledging that process.
MIDDLE PASSAGE CEREMONIES and PORT MARKERS PROJECT, INC (MPCPMP) 2011-2021 Executive Director / Board Chair
-Established the tax-exempt non-profit organization to honor African ancestors and their descendants in the Western Hemisphere
-Assist 55 documented U.S. Middle Passage arrival locations in conducting ancestral memorial services and installing historical markers related to the transatlantic human trade of Africans from the 16th through the 19th century
-Promote the history of the African American experience in the Western Hemisphere through lectures, conference presentations, research, blog posts, and maintenance of the website: www.middlepassageproject.org
-Member, “Healing Day” Program Planning Committee, Africatown/Mobile, AL, 2019
-Advisor, 400 Years of African American History Commission, National Park Service, “Healing Day” Planning Committee, 2019
-Member, Advisory Board, North Carolina African American Heritage Commission, 2019
-Founding member of the League of Descendants of the Enslaved at Mount Vernon
Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, MA
BA Major: Sociology, Minor: History
Yale College, New Haven, CT
Special Student, American History and Sociology (Independent Study)
The George Washington University, Washington, DC
Masters level coursework in Health Care Planning and Hospital Administration
Associate Professor of History
Marcus P. Nevius, Ph.D. is associate professor of history at the University of Rhode Island, where he teaches courses in the history of slavery, the Revolution, Confederation, and Early Republican periods in the early United States; and, in the history of African Americans in the early American republic. Nevius holds a B.A. and M.A. in history from North Carolina Central University, and a Ph.D. in history from The Ohio State University.
He is the author of the book City of Refuge: Slavery and Petit Marronage in the Great Dismal Swamp, 1763-1856 (Georgia, 2020). He has authored review essays published in the William and Mary Quarterly, and in History Compass. He has published book reviews in the Journal of African American History, the Journal of Southern History, and H-Net Civil War.
Nevius is the recipient of research fellowships granted by the William L. Clements Library at the University of Michigan; the Special Collections Research Center of the Earl Gregg Swem Library at the College of William and Mary; the Virginia Museum of History and Culture; and the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon.
Jason Boroughs holds a PhD in anthropology from the College of William and Mary. With over 25 years of field experience excavating historic sites throughout America and the Caribbean, his research and publications focus on Atlantic plantation communities through enslavement and emancipation. He has held a variety of research and teaching positions in institutions such as the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, Jamestown Rediscovery, and Salisbury University. He has served as Mount Vernon’s research archaeologist since 2016.
President / American Antiquarian Society
Scott Casper is President of the American Antiquarian Society, a national research library of American history and culture in Worcester, MA. He is the author of Sarah Johnson's Mount Vernon: The Forgotten History of an American Shrine (2008), and the author or editor of eight other books.
He was previously dean of the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and Foundation Professor of History at the University of Nevada, Reno. For more than twenty years he has worked with K-12 educators through the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association, the Center for Civic Education, and the Northern Nevada Teaching American History Project, and for a decade he edited the "Textbooks and Teaching" section of the Journal of American History.
President & CEO
Douglas Bradburn, President and CEO of George Washington’s Mount Vernon and the former Founding Director of the Fred W. Smith National Library for the Study of George Washington at Mount Vernon, is an award-winning author and well-known scholar of early American history.
Dr. Bradburn is the author of The Citizenship Revolution: Politics and the Creation of the American Union, 1774-1804, and three anthologies including Early Modern Virginia: Reconsidering the Old Dominion, the most significant book produced to mark the 400th anniversary of the English founding of Jamestown. He is the co-founder and editor of the award-winning book series, Early American Histories, at the University of Virginia Press, and the winner of numerous awards, grants, and fellowships, including the yearlong Gilder Lehrman Research Fellowship at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies at Monticello.
He is the recipient of two Telly awards for his work on the animated documentaries, Now or Never and A More Perfect Union: George Washington’s Constitution, and a “Thea” award for the popular Be Washington interactive educational game. Dr. Bradburn has appeared on CSPAN, Good Morning America, CBS Sunday Morning, and was most recently featured in the History’s channels docudrama, WASHINGTON.
Before coming to Mount Vernon, Bradburn served as Chair of the History Department at Binghamton University, State University of New York. He received his Ph.D. in History from the University of Chicago and his B.A. in history and economics from the University of Virginia.
History Interpreter / United States Army, Retired
Sergeant First Class (SFC) Donald Paul Francisco
U S Army Retired
Don Francisco is a New Orleans, LA native. He graduated from St. Augustine High School in May of 1983 and enlisted in the US Army that Summer. He graduated from the Armed Forces School of Music in Norfolk, VA. He served with The 5th Infantry Division (Mech) Band in Fort Polk, LA, The 8th US Army Band In Seoul, South Korea and retired from active duty with The US Army Old Guard Fife and Drum Corps at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall (formerly known as Fort Myer), Virginia completing 30 years of active duty service. Don also traveled extensively performing nationally and internationally. While on active duty he attended a variety of diverse military courses, also Northern Virginia Community College, Washington Bible College, University of Maryland, NSU of Louisiana and George Mason University pursuing studies in Music, Education, Public Relations and American History. He performs Gospel, Classical, Colonial, Jazz, Folk and a few standards on various flutes, fifes, penny whistles and panpipes.
Currently, he is a History Interpreter & The Resident Fifer at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, where he educates guests about George Washington, his family, and the Slave Community, like brothers Frank and William Lee and many others. He teaches the importance of music in the American Revolution, from critical communication to enjoyable entertainment. He also performs at schools, various local venues, assisted living & nursing homes.
As a Deacon, he actively serves and ministers in music at his home church, International Calvary Church in Springfield, VA. He is a volunteer at The National Museum of the United States Army and a Son of the American Revolution by way of his Great Grandfather (5x) Jean Pierre Normand. Don has been married for over 30 years to Grace Kang Francisco of Seoul, South Korea. They have two adult sons, Samuel & Jonathan. He welcomes you to contact him at flute4JESUS@gmail.com
Steve is a seventh-generation member of the Syphax family of Washington, DC: a line that moved by force to New Orleans and then by choice to Denver. He has participated in a variety of National Park Service programs at the Arlington House – the Robert E. Lee Memorial to highlight the lives of his Syphax ancestors and other enslaved Americans on the estate. He has spoken at the African American Civil War Museum and the historic Decatur House on Lafayette Square both in Washington, DC and has contributed to exhibits at George Washington’s Mount Vernon and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. He has been interviewed by numerous organizations including NPR, C-Span, Civil War Times and most recently was featured in a story on CBS this Morning that talked about the reopening of the Arlington House after a 3-year closure for restoration. His goals are to educate and inspire others to research and document their own family history.
Other genealogy interests revolve around research on the movement of enslaved ancestors to New Orleans, LA where his ancestry covers both enslaved and free people between 1769 to 1900. A primary focus is on the period leading up to and including the Civil War and the Reconstruction era.
Steve is a charter member of the Sons and Daughters of the United States Middle Passage, the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War and a member of the Louisiana Historical Society and Friends of the Thomas Balch Library (Loudoun Co. VA) Black History Committee. Steve is a member of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society and serves as the treasurer for the James Dent Walker chapter in the District of Columbia. He also currently serves as a Trustee for the Arlington House Foundation.