George Washington's Mount Vernon: At Home in Revolutionary America / Edition 1

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George Washington's Mount Vernon brings together - for the first time - the details of Washington's 45-year-long campaign to build and perfect Mount Vernon. In doing so it introduces us to a Washington few of his contemporaries knew, and one little noted by historians since. As chief architect and planner of the work done at Mount Vernon, Washington began by imitating accepted models of fashionable taste, but as time passed he increasingly followed his own ideas. Hence, architecturally, as the authors show, Mount Vernon blends the orthodox and the innovative in surprising ways, just as the new American nation would. Equally interesting is the light the book sheds on the process of building at Mount Vernon, and on the people - slave and free - who did the work. Washington was a demanding master, and in their determination to preserve their own independence his workers often clashed with him. Yet, as the Dalzells argue, that experience played a vital role in shaping his hopes for the future of American society - hopes that embraced in full measure the promise of the revolution in which he had led his fellow citizens.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Inheriting Mount Vernon in 1754 at the age of 22, George Washington called it home for the remaining 45 years of his life. Even amid the turmoil of the Revolution, he spent most of this time busily expanding and remodeling the house on the Potomac a few miles south of what became the District of Columbia. Here he was neither general nor statesman, but paterfamilias and gentleman planter. Washington left no formal memoir of either his public or private life, but Robert Dalzell and his wife Lee (respectively, a professor of history and a reference librarian at Williams College) find Washington's personal history writ large in the home he loved so much. Rich in detail mined from Washington's personal papers, this beautifully illustrated volume chronicles not only the architectural facts of Mount Vernon (a house that "mixes its classicism with some decidedly nontraditional elements"), but also the human ones, most especially Washington's complicated relationships with his slaves, all of whom he instructed to be freed in his last will and testament, thereby breaking (if posthumously) with "the system that had so long held his own independence hostage to the denial of liberty to other human beings." The Dalzells fail in their attempt to force an unlikely analogy between Washington's evolution as a political thinker and the concurrent architectural evolution of his mansion, but they nevertheless provide a superb history--including ample notes and an appendix on 18th-century house-building techniques--of Mount Vernon as a place and Washington as proprietor. Photos, illustrations and blueprints. (Sept.)
Library Journal
Americans seem to view historical sites either as patriotic shrines or mere vacation locales. Seldom have places such as George Washington's home at Mount Vernon been analyzed for a deeper understanding of the past. The authors use Mount Vernon to present readers with a course in Colonial and early national history. Robert F. Dalzell Jr. (history, Williams Coll.) and Lee Baldwin Dalzell (head reference librarian, Williams Coll.) accomplish a fine balancing act, integrating the story of George Washington's home with the public and private life of its longtime occupant. Mount Vernon became significant as the residence of the famed planter, general, and president--albeit with long periods of absence--but also due to his taking personal responsibility for altering and expanding the mansion. Without being overly mechanistic, the Dalzells portray Mount Vernon as a sort of metaphor for the changes in Washington's own life and career. This approach necessitates considerable attention to the social, political, and architectural context of Washington's time and provides significant insight. For larger public and academic libraries.--Charles K. Piehl, Mankato State Univ., MN
Kirkus Reviews
Washington as seen from the vantage point of his beloved creation, Mount Vernon. The Dalzells, Robert (American History/Williams Coll.; Daniel Webster and the Trial of American Nationalism, 1973) and Lee (head of the reference department at the Williams College Library) combine meticulous research and clear writing to help define the so-called "marble man" in a more human light as a friendly neighbor, an avowedly earnest perfectionist, and a demanding yet kind slave owner and employer among the land-seekers of colonial Virginia. Washington, according to the authors, directed managers, artisans, and other skilled workers even through his long periods away during the Revolutionary War and his presidency. We learn directly from his letters and diaries that although he meant to appear firm, calm, and aloof, he was also a creature of intense emotions, especially concerning Mount Vernon, his home for more than 40 years. There he served enthusiastically as planner, architect, and constant renovator at a time when mansions were considered and used as both private and public placesþhavens where business and other meetings could be conducted and where casual travelers and relatives were also entertained (a sort of colonial bed-and-breakfast). The authors note Washingtonþs gradual evolution as a man born into a master-slave society who believed in a republic administered by a virtuous elite, yet who became an ardent advocate of a democratic society (and who himself paradoxically despised slavery). To him slavery ultimately seemed the least efficient form of labor: hope and aspiration were obviously missing from it, and Washington reasoned that only a free people in a free societycould better themselves and their country. In his will, as is well known, he emancipated his slaves and promised lifetime care for those too elderly to work. This is the definitive study of Mount Vernon, long overdue for the place thatþs been a seeding ground for ideals of American independence. (86 b&w photos and illustrations, not seen)
From the Publisher

"Washington was both the most indispensable and the most inaccessible of all the founders. In most histories he floats above the revolutionary era like a platitude. Here we finally get him grounded, palpable and human, off guard, at home."--Josepth J. Ellis, author of American Sphinx: The Character of Thomas Jefferson

"This thoughtful, well-written study casts important light on the evolution of Mount Vernon and the relationship of Washington and his home to the American Revolution. Part of really getting to know Washington will now be to read the Dalzells' book."--Don Higginbotham, Dowd Professor, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

"George Washington's Mount Vernon interweaves architectural history, social history, and biography into a complex and entrancing story of a man and his house. That George Washington kept improving Mount Vernon to the end of his life, while laboring to bring the nation into existence, is evidence of architecture's power of the gentry imagination in the eighteenth century. In this illuminating book, we learn about Washington's spats with his workers, how he used the house socially, the problems of directing construction from a distance, and what the house may have meant culturally in the new American nation."--Richard Lyman Bushman, Gouveneur Morris Professor of History, Columbia University

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195136289
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 2/28/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 320
  • Product dimensions: 6.80 (w) x 9.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Robert F. Dalzell, Jr. is Ephraim Williams Professor of American History at Williams College and the author of Enterprising Elite: The Boston Associates and the World They Made and Daniel Webster and the Trial of American Nationalism, 1843-1852. Lee Baldwin Dalzell is the Head of The Reference Department of the Williams College Library.

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