In Intertwined Stories, we’re taking a deeper dive into the history behind the podcast Intertwined: The Enslaved Community at George Washington’s Mount Vernon by bringing you extended versions of some of the interviews with the series' contributors.
As a child, Ann Chinn didn’t understand her family’s connection to Mount Vernon, the Washingtons, or the Custis Family. But later in life, she came to learn that she was a descendent of Sall Twine. Twine was a woman assigned to work as a field laborer on Dogue Run Farm. She was owned by the estate of Martha Washington’s first husband. Twine’s husband was named George. He was owned by Mary Ball Washington, George Washington’s mother. Together, the couple had seven children. And after the Washingtons died, Twine was inherited by one of Martha’s grandchildren.
We spent a delightful afternoon talking to Chinn about her family’s history and her journey to find out more about her family’s relationship to Mount Vernon. You’ll first hear a little bit about Chinn herself, before we travel back to the 18th century to learn about her ancestor, Sall Twine, and her life as a woman enslaved in Virginia.
Intertwined is narrated by Brenda Parker and is a production of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association and CD Squared. Full transcripts, show notes, and bibliographies for Intertwined are available at www.georgewashingtonpodcast.com.
Episode Published April 11, 2022
Co-written by Jeanette Patrick and Jim Ambuske
BRENDA PARKER: This podcast is supported by anonymous friends of George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
JEANETTE PATRICK: Hello, and welcome to Intertwined Stories. I’m your host, Jeanette Patrick
In this mini-series, we’re taking a deeper dive into the history behind the podcast Intertwined: The Enslaved Community at George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
To create that show, we interviewed over twenty scholars, some of whom are descendants of Mount Vernon’s enslaved community, for over an hour each. We couldn’t fit everything into the main series, so we’re happy to bring you extended versions of some of those conversations now.
As a child, Ann Chinn didn’t understand her family’s connection to Mount Vernon, the Washingtons, or the Custis Family.
But later in life, she came to learn that she was a descendent of Sall Twine.
Twine was a woman assigned to work as a field laborer on Dogue Run Farm. She was owned by the estate of Martha Washington’s first husband.
Twine’s husband was named George. He was owned by Mary Ball Washington, George Washington’s mother. Together, the couple had seven children.
And after the Washingtons died, Twine was inherited by one of Martha’s grandchildren.
We spent a delightful afternoon talking to Chinn about her family’s history and her journey to find out more about her family’s relationship to Mount Vernon.
You’ll first hear a little bit about Chinn herself, before we travel back to the 18th century to learn about her ancestor, Sall Twine, and her life as a woman enslaved in Virginia.
PATRICK: Could you just introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about you?
ANN L. CHINN: Sure, I'm Ann Chin. I was born in Washington, DC. I now live in Jacksonville, Florida. I guess I can say that for probably a good portion of my life, history has been a real interest, and the more I've learned about my family... I've become more and more focused on that. I spent a good portion of my life in Government Service and focused again on Family and Child Services, and would do anything not to end up in a classroom, which my father and my mother both said there are alternative groups. But it's strange that I would say that in the last five years, I have found myself doing more education than anything else in terms of what takes up my time. I have three children, five grandchildren, they're all over the country. I miss watching Washington DC terribly. But this Covid has at least encouraged the Zoom calls, the visits, which are probably more frequent than actual the physical ones. So, I'm not, I’m not complaining. I'm married to Charlie Cobb, who is an author, a journalist. He was active in Civil Rights Movement of the 60's, and then was a journalist in Foreign Affairs worked for National Geographic, so that I've had the ability or the privilege to travel a lot in this world because of geographic policy or trying to keep marriages together, at least for us, they were successful.
I don't know much what else I can say about myself. I now and working with Middle Passage Ceremonies and Port Markers Project, which has identified 55 arrival locations in the Continental U.S. 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. There is, I think for many families, a lack of information or even the ability to ferret out the information that does exist. There also is a need to expand this narrative as I think this interview is doing, to include African-Americans and what are parts of American history that have excluded them for the most part over centuries.
I'm descended from the Twine family, and I basically would say that-- that family, according to documents, was enslaved for 193 years. The first member being emancipated in 1850. And there are connections to that person to Mount Vernon.
PATRICK: Yeah, so if we could just go maybe a little deeper, if you could tell us about your connection to Mount Vernon and the Twine family.
CHINN: I've tried to conform to the Mount Vernon documents because that was the first, first place that I learned about Sall... I did not know anything about her for I would say for the first almost half of my life. I knew something was going on between my family and Mount Vernon, but what it was was a total mystery. As a child, we did at least two trips a year from Washington DC to Mount Vernon, the adults in the front seat, the kids in the back. We had no idea why we were going out to this place and were frequently, if not continuously thrown out of any of the in-house tours, so we had no sense of a connection. We just thought maybe my mother, my aunt and my grandfather, just wanted to see the place so that we romped on the grass while the adults took the tour. We also did the same at Arlington House again, without any context, until we were old enough to choose not to go any longer. But the only highlight for us as children was the cherry vanilla ice cream. That was pretty much all that attracted us for years, and I remember that when people would come to Washington DC to visit my father, and this is after my mother had died, would say, Oh, Ann, take them to Mount Vernon.
I was like, Why? But, you know, being a dutiful daughter, I would do that and people would walk through the house, but again, I had no sense of connection. I can't exactly remember when, but I think it was probably in relation to Tudor Place that I learned of our connection, our family's connection to Mount Vernon. And I called Mary Thompson and found out that she was the historian who pretty much centered the history of the African descendants at Mount Vernon, so I asked her, I could not say... and I've said this repeatedly, I could not describe my family as slaves when I talked to Mary Thomson, in fact, I broke down and started crying. I did not want to use that word. And finally she said, “Well, if it's Tudor Place, you're talking about Sall Twine and her children.” And I said, “Yes, and I said, I'm descended from Barbary, according to the Tudor Place people.” And she said, “Oh, that's Sall Twine.” And she made the connection graciously for me, and I think understanding my discomfort, and she said, we have a lot of information on Sall and I will be more than willing to share, and that began a relationship that actually continues to this day.
I found out then that Sall was Custis property. Which is why she ended up at Tudor Place, or Barbary ends up at Tudor Place. Sal and her children, I think, were assigned probably to Oakland Farm or in Seneca, Maryland at one of the Peter properties. That's the best that I can tell. Only because of the records. I don't know where they are in terms of the farm. But I also then learned that Sall's husband George, was assigned to the Mansion Farm, and that he in fact was originally the property of Mary Ball Washington, and so that he was a "Washington property" and that initially George Washington leased him from his mother when he inherited Mount Vernon from his brother. And so, George came to Mount Vernon and during the course of a lifetime, he becomes a gardener, and is assigned there. According to the information that Mary Thompson gave me, Sall was at Dogue Run, which is where the mill and the distillery were. But in a later conversation with Mary, she said that the family also was at Muddy Hole, that would have actually put Sall and the kids closer to George at the Mansion Farm, but most of the records reflect that she is at Dogue Run.
On one of my visits with the family, I did go out to Dogue Run, and of course, the only thing there is the structure, the mill, and I guess maybe it was also a distillery. And I walked around as much of the property as I could imagining what life would have been. The notes of this Polish visitor to Mount Vernon when he describes it, and I couldn't imagine where their cabins were, but again, thinking about winter, thinking about summer, it looked desolate to me. And when I learned that the prototype that actually Mount Vernon has used for the cabin of the enslaved came off of Dogue Run when I went to see that, and I know that there were some resistance even initially to installing that structure and including that on the formal Mansion Plantation property. And I looked at it, and, you know, I understand that it's a new structure that it was built using the outline of what they had found, but I think it's so much better than what the reality was, especially based on the description of someone who had actually been there. So, I would hope at some point that what this Polish visitor wrote would be included so that people are not looking at a two-story building as opposed to a cabin of enslaved people who were basically maintained almost at a minimum, you know, whatever they could supplement their lives with.
Then realizing that George is at the Mansion Farm, the family is at another location, they were only allowed weekend visits or holiday visits, you know, you begin to have a sense of what that life really was.
I work with teaching for change, and I always want to hear the reaction of students who visit Mount Vernon and that cabin for the enslaved that's next to the property to the Mansion of the Big House. I have heard kids say, "Oh, it looks like a camping bunker", someplace where you'd go for summer camp. So once again, if you put this up, if you save it as a place of history, I think that you need to be more accurate in describing the real living conditions that people experienced and not this sort of almost pristine presentation. I think the integration of the reality, of the first-hand descriptions would be important.
I am also frustrated 'cause I don't know where Sall was before she came to Mount Vernon. I would love to know at which property of the Custis's where she came from, and there's some sense that she may have had children before she came to Mount Vernon or with George, I don't know, I mean things are sketchy, and I understand there wasn't a commitment to satisfy my needs for information. But I've also been contacted by people at Williamsburg who are tracing the Twines, and I do find it interesting that-- that family has carried a last name through at least the mid-17th century, actually from 1712 with the parceling of property between Berge and John Custis The Fourth, and that's how, and I say we, my family, Twine family, ended up as Custis property. What makes them unique in that sense that they... They always have this last name through the records. I mean 'cause most of the enslaved people only have a first name. I don't know when Sall came to Mount Vernon. I just don't know, and I would love to find out, and I don't know whether there are records that reflect that.
PATRICK: It would be really helpful if someone would do a deep dive into the Custis estate and to really understand who is not just part of the group of people Martha controlled during her lifetime, but what the entire estate actually looks like because we just... we don't know. And we know that sometimes people come up from different Custis lands to Mount Vernon and sometimes we have names, but other times we don't, and that's an area that really needs a lot of study done 'cause there are so many people who... Since they're not physically here, we've not done a good job of studying.
CHINN: If you go back in those records, the Custis records, there are Twine people. There are the Twines that eventually get transferred when Martha Peter marries Thomas Peter. There's that family of Twines that gets transferred immediately at the marriage and then sold by Thomas Peter. It's a huge family. And Tudor Place makes reference to some Twines that are over in Arlington, you know, in terms of Tudor Place, you know, Sall and the three children basically disappear, but George, her son is still there. And I'm trying to even find out after George the gardener, the names are so confusing 'cause my family is so unimaginative in terms of naming people. George, Sall's husband, when he is free, I still don't know where he goes, whether he ends up in Gum Springs or whether he knows where his family is in Frederick Maryland. If you just give me a last name, I could start going through census records, 'cause now he's a free man, and if you're not gonna stay at Gum Springs, to me, the most practical thing would be to move to Maryland where there's at least a significant group of free African descended people.
So, you might be safer there and then you can sneak off or connect with your wife and your children, I mean... It is...I think that when people look at this history, they seldom look at it as if they're dealing with human beings. You know, I mean, “What would you do?” is a good question.
PATRICK: Intertwined Stories is a production of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association and CD Squared.
I’m Jeanette Patrick, your host for this episode, which was produced by Jim Ambuske.
Jim Ambuske and I co-created and co-wrote the main series, Intertwined: The Enslaved Community at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Brenda Parker brought it to life as our wonderful narrator. Curt Dahl of CD Squared was our lead producer and audio engineer.
Thank you to the anonymous friends of George Washington’s Mount Vernon whose generous financial support made this show possible.
Please rate and review Intertwined on your favorite podcast app. We’d love to hear what you think, and it will help more people find the series.
And remember to check out our website for full transcripts, teacher resources, and suggested readings. You’ll find us at www.georgewashingtonpodcast.com
Thanks for listening.
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