16 Details About What Life Was Like for a Slave on Mount Vernon

16 Details About What Life Was Like for a Slave on Mount Vernon

By Trista
16 Details About What Life Was Like for a Slave on Mount Vernon

George Washington wanted his slaves to know a trade and dress a certain way. His house slaves, because visitors saw them, received better treatment than field slaves. When his slaves ran away but returned, he sold them. As a prim and proper elite gentleman of the 18th century, he couldn’t have the embarrassment of runaway slaves. However, when it came to the end of his life, he felt the institution of slavery was a mistake. However, he also thought it was easier to give his wife the slaves than set them free.


“The Old Plantation” watercolor by John Rose. Colonial Williamsburg Foundation / Wikimedia Commons.

16. Field Slaves Wore the Same Outfit Every Day While House Slaves Received More

The type of clothing slaves at Mount Vernon received depended on the kind of work they did around the plantation. Field hands only received one outfit a year, usually made out of wool or linen, and they often wore the same clothing every day. However, during the summer and winter months, they would receive one or two individual pieces of clothing. Slaves in the fields received one pair of shoes a year, which they often didn’t wear during the summer months.

George Washington, a very prim and proper gentry man, knew the house slaves were in view of his guests. This concept meant that he wanted them to receive better clothing options than the field slaves. For example, the housemaids wore a simpler version of the gowns that Martha Washington had. These garments came from much cheaper fabric and were never silk. They may have also worn corsets under their clothing. Washington’s cook, Christopher Sheels, wore black leather shoes with a buckle, stockings, and a three-piece suit.