George Washington's Mount Vernon brings together--for the first time--the details of Washington's 45-year endeavor to build and perfect Mount Vernon. In doing so it introduces us to a Washington few of his contemporaries knew, and one little noticed by historians since. Here we meet the planter/patriot who also genuinely loved building, a man passionately human in his desire to impress on his physical surroundings the stamp of his character and personal beliefs. As chief ...
George Washington's Mount Vernon brings together--for the first time--the details of Washington's 45-year endeavor to build and perfect Mount Vernon. In doing so it introduces us to a Washington few of his contemporaries knew, and one little noticed by historians since.
Here we meet the planter/patriot who also genuinely loved building, a man passionately human in his desire to impress on his physical surroundings the stamp of his character and personal beliefs. As chief architect and planner of the countless changes made at Mount Vernon over the years, 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--hope that embraced in full measure the promise of the revolution in which he had led his fellow citizens.
George Washington's Mount Vernon thus compellingly combines the two sides of Washington's life--the public and the private--and uses the combination to enrich our understanding of both. Gracefully written, with more than 80 photographs, maps, and engravings, the book tells a fascinating story with memorable insight.
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.)
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
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)
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 at the Williams College Library.