MOUNT VERNON, Va. — The costumed characters at George Washington’s gracious estate here are used to handling all manner of awkward queries, whether about 18th-century privies or the first president’s teeth. So when a visitor recently asked an African-American re-enactor in a full skirt and head scarf if she knew Ona Judge, the woman didn’t miss a beat.
Judge’s escape from the presidential residence in Philadelphia in 1796 had been “a great embarrassment to General and Lady Washington,” the woman said, before offering her own view of the matter.
“Ona was born free, like everybody,” she said. “It was this world that made her a slave.”
Mount Vernon was the plantation house of George Washington, first President of the United States and his wife, Martha Dandridge Custis Washington. The estate is situated on the banks of the Potomac River in Fairfax County, Virginia, near Alexandria, across from Prince George’s County, Maryland. The Washington family had owned land in the area since the time of Washington’s great-grandfather in 1674. In 1739 they embarked on an expansion of the estate that continued under George Washington, who came into possession of the estate in 1754, but did not become its sole owner until 1761.
The mansion is built of wood in a loose Palladian style, and was constructed by George Washington in stages between 1758 and 1778. It occupies the site of an earlier, smaller house built by George Washington’s father Augustine, some time between 1726 and 1735. It remained Washington’s country home for the rest of his life. Following his death in 1799, under the ownership of several successive generations of the family, the estate progressively declined as revenues were insufficient to maintain it adequately. In 1858, the house’s historical importance was recognized and it was saved from ruin by The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association; this philanthropic organization acquired it together with part of the Washington property estate. Escaping the damage suffered by many plantation houses during the American Civil War, Mount Vernon was restored. (Wikipedia)