This weekend, families will get to step through time to experience life in the 18th century at George Washington’s Mount Vernon with demonstrations that reveal the skill and effort that was involved in meeting the necessities of daily life. Visitors will also have an opportunity to chat with the men and women who accomplished those tasks, as well as with the first president himself.
Visitors are invited to tour the Pioneer Farm, where they can view the Ossabaw Island Hogs, Hog Island Sheep, chickens and horses that may be plowing a field or oxen that may be hauling a load.
“At our Harvest Festival, guests will not only be introduced to the site’s features as a working farm, but will also have an opportunity to meet the tradesmen who served on the estate. They may see a blacksmith honing objects with iron or someone working with a lathe,” said spokesperson Matt Briney.
The day will include cooking demonstrations in the kitchen, and visitors may even get to sample the bread baked in the domed oven. Demonstrations ranging from sheep sheering and carding to spinning wool, weaving, dyeing and creating textiles that will be sewn into garments—the complete process of creating clothes.
“It’s a fun and memorable way to show how people made objects with their hands during that era. All the things we take for granted—such as just buying a piece of clothing off the shelf—were not possible in that era,” said Briney. “Everything came originally from the earth, and it’s a fascinating way for kids to learn how you can ‘grow your clothes.’”
Demonstrations will also include a cooper, who creates barrels from wood slats, and salting fish to preserve it to sell or provide meals for those who lived on the estate. Though Washington’s fisheries may not be widely known, they may have drawn a million fish from the waters of the Potomac during his lifetime. Fishing at Mount Vernon did not involve a pole, but huge nets that would be cast in a semicircle from a boat for enormous catches that would be hauled in by laborers on the shore.
Guests will also have an opportunity to visit Washington’s famed 16-sided threshing barn and learn about the innovation he designed to separate wheat from the chaff. The floor was created in two tiers, with the planks of the top floor separated to allow the grain that was threshed by horses hoofs to fall to the bottom layer.
“Visitors will have a chance to meet and chat with George Washington who will be dressed, not in his military uniform or formal attire, but in clothes representing the days when he was a private citizen, and he will be talking about farming and the things he is pursuing at Mount Vernon,” said Briney.
As guests stroll the grounds, they will also have an opportunity to meet costumed interpreters representing the enslaved men and women of the plantation and to learn about their lives and their roles on the farm.
Guests will also have an opportunity to visit the first floor of the mansion, including its impressive classical portico overlooking the Potomac River. The tour will underscore the role of a domicile as diary indicating the ways in which the various rooms were used in Washington’s time. His pride and joy was the New Room, a reception area for guests that was designed to both welcome and impress. This is where Washington displayed objects that represented the elements that he considered to be vital for the young nation, such as the importance of rivers and agriculture to commerce and the economy, as well as artwork that portrayed the Revolutionary War. In addition, the room features a replica of the harpsichord once played for dances and recitals by Martha Washington’s granddaughter, Nellie Custis.
Guests are also welcome to explore Mount Vernon’s “Discover the Real George Washington” exhibit in the Education Center and the museum’s “Lives Bound Together” exhibit, featuring objects and the stories of 19 of the plantation’s enslaved laborers, including both their struggles and triumphs.
“Our Fall Harvest Festival is a wonderful opportunity for families to get outdoors and to see what life was like in George Washington’s time and to see the craftsmanship that was invested in creating things that we take for granted today,” said Briney.