I had one of the most exciting experiences in my writing career last month when I joined a team from National Geographic at Mount Vernon--our first president's Virginia estate--for an after-hours photo shoot for my new book, Master George's People: George Washington, His Slaves, and His Revolutionary Transformation. It's coming out in January 2013.
|Photo of Mount Vernon by Lori Epstein|
I kept going back to Mount Vernon (I can bike there from my house) and visiting the reconstructed slave cabin as well as the greenhouse slave quarters, where the enslaved house servants and artisans lived. I learned the names of individual slaves and some of their stories. I toured the mansion again and again and thought of the servants who cleaned and cooked and waited on the Washington family, of Caroline and Lucy and Frank Lee and Christopher Sheels. I explored the outbuildings along the lanes, and I walked through the gardens and orchards and imagined the children who once played there. I spoke with costumed interpreters--trained role players who portray Washington's family, friends, and slaves--and was blown away by the complexity of their character portrayal, by their creativity and breadth of knowledge. I kept thinking of a remark Dennis Pogue made in an interview. He's Associate Director for Preservation at Mount Vernon. He said that slavery wasn't "the brightest spot in Washington's record. But it's part of his story and America's story and one that needs to be told."
|Photographer Lori Epstein, art director Jim Hiscott, and a historic interpreter portraying a slave named Christopher Sheels|
I'm so excited about this book and the story it tells, which includes how George Washington's attitude toward slavery changed over time. I'll be blogging about it again this fall, after INK's summer vacation. But for now I have just a few more picture captions to write and a deadline to meet.
|Lori photographs young interpreters playing with clay marbles in front of the reconstructed slave cabin, while I look on.|