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.
The Quander Family can trace its roots in Virginia and Maryland back to the early seventeenth century. This family became part of the Mount Vernon story in the early nineteenth century when a free Black man named Charles Quander married Nancy Carter, a woman formerly enslaved by George Washington.
But the connection didn’t end there. In more recent times, family members have played key roles in interpreting the history of slavery at Mount Vernon, and reconstructing the long history of the Quander family in America. In one of our final interviews for Intertwined, we talked to Judge Rohulamin Quander about his family’s history, his efforts to preserve it, and the work that remains to be done.
This is our final episode of Intertwined Stories and the last of the entire Intertwined series. On behalf of our entire team, we want to thank you very much for joining us on this journey. But as Judge Quander reminds us in this episode, there is so much more to the story, and there is more work to be done.
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.
"What We Leave Behind"
Episode Published April 26, 2022
Co-written by Jeanette Patrick and Jim Ambuske
BRENDA PARKER: This podcast is supported by anonymous friends of George Washington’s Mount Vernon.
JIM AMBUSKE: Hello, and welcome to Intertwined Stories. I’m Jim Ambuske
JEANETTE PATRICK: And I’m 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.
AMBUSKE: 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.
PATRICK: The Quander Family can trace its roots in Virginia and Maryland back to the early seventeenth century. This family became part of the Mount Vernon story in the early nineteenth century when a free Black man named Charles Quander married Nancy Carter, a woman formerly enslaved by George Washington.
AMBUSKE: But the connection didn’t end there. In more recent times, family members have played key roles in interpreting the history of slavery at Mount Vernon, and reconstructing the long history of the Quander family in America.
PATRICK: In one of our final interviews for Intertwined, we talked to Judge Rohulamin Quander about his family’s history, his efforts to preserve it, and the work that remains to be done.
AMBUSKE: This is our final episode of Intertwined Stories and the last of the entire Intertwined series. On behalf of our entire team, Jeanette and I want to thank you very much for joining us on this journey.
PATRICK: But as Judge Quander reminds us in this episode, there is so much more to the story, and there is more work to be done.
PATRICK: Yeah, so could you just begin by introducing yourself?
ROHULAMIN QUANDER: My name is Rohulamin Quander and I am the President and Founder of the Quander Historical and Educational Society. This organization was founded in 1985. A lot of people don't realize it was that far back, but it was to, document, preserve, educate, and share the information that we had gathered together about the Quander Family History and to try to put it in a reasonably decent order and in one or two particular places. So that a lot of this and a lot of that... What this person knew, that person knew. Let's pull this together and see if we can make something out of it. And it grew out of the fact that the family had been celebrating reunions, organized structured reunions on the Virginia side since 1926. And as went on and developed a little more, we found out that the Maryland side of the Quander's were not having so-called structured reunions, but they had been having a number of the events that actually went back into the late 19th century. So, it was important to put some structure on to what was going on, and it was not designed to promote ourselves or be better than anybody else, but we needed to recognize ourselves as ourselves, and to the extent we wanted to share, preserve African-American history.
This was coming out in the era or not too far after Roots. So many people said, "Oh, that's already been done." Well, no... There are many different stories, and our story was to tell American History, not necessarily African American or Black History, American History from African American perspective.
PATRICK: So if I've remembered your family tree correctly, you are related to Gladys Quander?
QUANDER: I am related to Gladys Quander Tancil through the Quander line, but it's a distant relationship.
PATRICK: Could you tell us who she was, and the important role she played in Mount Vernon as the first African American interpreter?
QUANDER: Yes, Gladys Quander Tancil, was born on the 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 or whatever number times a year they would come to have the meetings. And her mother, was a domestic working at Mount Vernon as a cleaning lady. So when they would have the Mount Vernon Ladies, Gladys would take off a couple of days from her federal job, she was a great cook. She'd be down there four or five days, and she'd be preparing breakfast or lunch or dinner, whatever it was, and helping out with whatever needed to be. And she did that for off and on for a few years as she retired, and then after she'd been doing that for a while, she was called in by one of the site people and would she be interested in training to become a Certified Interpreter? And she said,"Yes."
So when she retired, and I think it was 2001, when she retired, she had 35 years at Mount Vernon, 25 of which were devoted to being an Interpreter Guide and she died in November 2001.
She did the very first tours of the African American tours, and she was a sounding board... There'd been articles in the paper that highlighted her, etc. The ladies were very, very afraid to talk about the issue of slavery and push back and the concept, 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.
AMBUSKE: I'm wondering how your legal training and your experience in the law that has shaped your research process, has shaped how you've worked to build relationships with the MVLA and other organizations to make appropriate changes and needed changes and to bring these kind of new stories to light?
QUANDER: Well, I guess the answer is blood, sweat and tears. When I started this, I was still in law school, I graduated in '69, and I start this interest before that. And of course, there was no internet. There were no cell phones. So, you had to go to the original source, andI went down to the Maryland Hall of Records on a regular basis, and I went to the Fairfax County Archives, which is in the courthouse within the archive section regularly. My cousin, Loretta Carter Hanes, but she and I compared and contrasted notes supporting each other a lot. So, there was a lot of blood, sweat and tears looking and looking at looking. Now, the big advantage we had is the name Quander, is not like the name Smith or another more common name. So one thing I did in my research, some of it, I work backwards. If I found the name Quander isolated somewhere, I would research and see how I could connect that name backward to somebody else named Quander, so you might have the tail wagging the dog so there was the name sitting out there somewhere, you didn't know where it fit, but you made a note of where it was, and over the years, accumulated many, many pieces of information and also visibility. And when we burst, I call it burst on the seam in 1984 with our Tri-Centennial, there were so many people in town that knew somebody named Quander but had no idea about our history because it had never been showcased before. Even a lot of the members of the family were not particularly talking about it, and a lot of them didn't even know because when we got right out of research and Loretta Carter Hanes and other people, we found things that had not been passed down... had been forgotten. But the tie is the name Henry, we had more than 20 people with the first name of Henry between Maryland, Virginia and through the years, including the name Henrietta. So, it's not only the name Quander, it's the name Henry, Henry Quander and Charles Henry Quander, and John Henry Quander. So, all of this was subject to tying it together over time, and when I wrote the book, I had a copy editor working with me and she said, "You know there's so much you can't possibly put all of it in there." And I said, "You're absolutely right." But what I did, my drafts are quite large, and some of it is stored and some will be stored at the Howard University Moorland-Spingarn Research Center.
So, when somebody wants to know, well is there more to the story? Are there more details? The answer is "Yes."
PATRICK: So now that you have literally written the book about your family, are you still researching Quander family history?
QUANDER: Well, yes, the answer is, and some things have shown up that were not in the book, that were discovered after the book came out. Some of the Ancestry.com things have come up, we've had a lady, Sarah Quander, who is she? Where did she come from? And how does she fit in here? It turns out she was Charles Quander's mother. And Charles Quander, he was the one who married Nancy Carter. She listed that she lived in Washington DC. So, we found out where she was and found out approximately when Charles died. This came out as a result of this book. When people turn up with other pieces of information, we've also discovered a number of relatives that didn't know anything about us, but they knew they were descended from Mount Vernon and they've formed an Association, "The League of Mount Vernon Descendants", and we are working... it's a new organization, but we wanna make that a meaningful entity because it's important for those of us, and we are not all literal descendants, but our families are...
We wanna make it clear, not in an adversarial way, but make it clear to the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, and I don't want them to forget that this community is an integral part of Mount Vernon. It was our home just the same as it was George Washington's home.
PATRICK: Do you have any personal hopes or ideas that you would like to see this new group form or, you know, that you would like Mount Vernon to think about doing?
QUANDER: What I would like them to, and they're doing it, is to make sure that it is understood that the integral operation of not only Mount Vernon but Montpelier and Monticello, and all these other great places were done with the labor, the free labor, if you will, on the backs of men and women who've got no compensation. So I think that message is coming through, it needs to be perhaps reinforced. It's a balance because as a tour guide and a licensed tour guide at that, I take groups and some are delighted to hear, and others are hostile. 'cause they don't wanna know about. I had a lady tell me, "I'm not interested in any of that Black stuff." I said, "That's interesting." I said, "I'm not talking about Black history young lady, I'm talking about American history." "This building", United States Capital building didn't just show up one day."
There were over 400 enslaved Africans and others too, who built that building between 1790's and 1860's. So, you just cannot say that it's not part of American history.
The awareness that has been raised and created needs to be maintained and taken to other places. We need to get our younger people involved and realizing that our nation is changing in many different ways. And we see the responsible, credible people of color emerging all over the place in al l of the professions. And the message is that the people who ran those places, whether in the enslaved capacity, they were always there building day-to-day and writing in the book, you see how we turn from laborers in the field to cooks and porters, and then driving hacks, which are haxes, we call those taxes, and next thing you know, somebody had gone to school, they didn't get a college degree, but they got a teaching certificate. And they built upon that and now we have in the Quander family, we have four Generals, four, and no African-American family has four Generals, three of them are retired.
We have two Tuskegee Airman. We have so many teachers. The first National President of the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, if you've heard of it, it was Natalie Quander. And she is a direct descendant of West Ford. And she was with the group of people who worked to help Carter G. Woodson establish Negro History Week is now Black History Month. She was a leading suffragette. In the New York Times is a big article that featured eight suffragettes, seven women and one man, Frederick Douglas. And when they featured the seven women, Natalie Quander was one of them, and of course, she's dead, so they came to me and I was one of the featured people in that article, I'm not bragging or anything, but I serve as a knowledge base and a consultant, and I'm not gonna be here forever, God spares life. I'm pushing 78, not there yet, but I'm getting there.
And I realize that we have a mission. Because young people are not interested in it. It takes a while for them to get there. And some of these people will be 50 years old and say, you remember that... Oh, what's his name... It had a real funny first name... Yeah, he knew all that stuff, I sure wish I'd sat down and talked to him to get some of that... That's why I do as much as I can and put it in writing and store it. And time being what it is, I know nothing will last forever, including me, so I'm trying to get this done. So, I’m just so pleased to have this opportunity. Hope I didn’t wear you all out.
PATRICK: Intertwined Stories is a production of the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association and CD Squared. I’m Jeanette Patrick
AMBUSKE: And I’m Jim Ambuske. We’re your hosts and producers for this episode.
PATRICK: We 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.
AMBUSKE: 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
PATRICK: Thank you for listening.
AMBUSKE: Thank you for listening.
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.