The story of Sally Hemings—the enslaved woman who bore six of Thomas Jefferson’s children—is told from the basement of Jefferson’s mansion at his Monticello plantation in Charlottesville, Virginia. The third American president’s legacy barely touches the brick floors and plastered walls of Hemings’s windowless room, their two lives more unconnected at Monticello today than they were in 1791.
At George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate, slavery is similarly separated from the nation’s founding father. A temporary exhibition, “Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon,” explores the lives of 19 men, women, and children owned by Washington. It is the site’s attempt to tell the stories of the enslaved at the Virginia plantation—yet Washington’s legacy sits a safe distance away from this narrative, as the framework for his slaveholding is only to provide “insight into George Washington’s evolving opposition to slavery.”