Blog Post

OMEKA Part 5: Housing the Enslaved

George Mason’s Gunston hall was divided into 4 tracts of land with approximately 400 to 500 acres of land. It is reasonable to hypothesize that slaves lived on the tracts of land where they worked. According to Mason’s son John Mason, there were two areas where slaves lived near the mansion. One was referred to as the servants’ houses and the other was a tiny village named Log-Town. Log-Town was on the west side of the lawn by the woods and just far enough to be out of sight of the mansion. This is where families of the slaves working at the mansion lived, for example, George Mason’s body-servant James, some enslaved carpenters, skilled workers, and a ‘mulatto man’ and his family.1

George Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation was broken up into 5 separate farms. The enslaved community each lived on the respective farms where they worked and rarely went to any other farms on the plantation on workdays because it took too long to walk between them. Most slaves lived and worked on the outlying farms. They were fieldhands that were supervised by overseers.2 Those who worked in the mansion as house servants lived on Mansion House Farm in addition to skilled workers and artisans. These slaves were more closely watched by George Washington and overseers compared to those who lived elsewhere on the plantation. In turn for this extra supervision, they often received better rations, more privileges, and more comfortable housing.

Many types of slave housing exist other than the typically thought of slave cabins. Large plantations often used a variety of options to house their slaves including communal living and cabins. The log quarters and cabins that housed fieldhands on outlying farms at Mount Vernon were used throughout Virginia. These were somewhat poorly constructed and only had the basic essentials. Lund Washington mentions that some of them needed repairs while a Polish traveler describes them as more miserable than the cottages of Polish peasants. In addition to cabins on outlying farms, Mount Vernon also used communal living on Mansion House Farm. The type of housing used shows a hierarchy on the plantation and differed to achieve specific goals.

Housing at the outlying farms only included log buildings, cabins, and some larger buildings called “quarters”. A large brick building or brick quarter housed slaves at Mansion House and held about 60 people who performed all the housework and craftspeople who worked throughout the plantation. However, at the time of George Washington’s death, 99 slaves out of 316 lived at Mansion House Farm.

For the slaves who resided at Mansion Hall Farm a large frame building named the House for Families appears to have been used as the main slave quarter until 1793. It was demolished in the fall or winter of 1792 or 1793 after a new quarter adjoining the Greenhouse was completed. Not all slaves lived in this new quarter. Several outbuildings also served as houses and cabins supplemented the brick quarter in order to house all of the slaves.3


1 Kate Rowland Mason, The Life of George Mason, (G.P. Putman’s Sons 1892), 100.

2 Robert F. Dalzell, and Lee Baldwin Dalzell, “Slaves and Overseers” in George Washington’s Mount Vernon: At Home in Revolutionary America (Oxford University Press USA-OSO 2000), 145- 146.

3 Dennis J. Pogue, “The Domestic Architecture of Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon” Winterthur Portfolio 37, no. 1 (2002): 3-22.

Previous Post in Series:

Next Post in Series: