What’s Blooming in the Garden this Week?
George Washington: general, president…farmer? The Pioneer Farm and Slave Cabin gardens remind us that Washington was not only a great American leader but also a great American farmer who invited all members of his plantation to cultivate their agricultural talent.
One of the most recognizable staples on any plantation in the eighteenth century, besides tobacco, was corn. The variety grown in the Pioneer Farm field is broom corn whose tough, fibrous hair was used to make broom heads. Also in the sundries field are several butternut squash plants, beets, pole beans, and Jerusalem artichokes or sunchokes.
In addition to caring for his own gardens, Washington allowed Mount Vernon slaves to grow their own sundry crops for consumption and sale. Washington even purchased various goods, from eggs and chickens, to melons and cucumber from the slaves. The corn growing at the Slave Cabin garden, unlike the corn at the Pioneer Farm was used for food as well as for animal feed. Also growing in the Slave Cabin garden are peanuts, okra, rosemary, beets, more pole beans and watermelon. As adult slaves were expected to work from sun-up to sun-down, children under the age of 11 or 12 and elderly slaves were largely tending to gardens like the one seen in our slideshow. Slaves from Mount Vernon were also given the opportunity to sell their goods at the Sunday market in Alexandria to other slaves until 9am in the morning.
Although Mount Vernon, at 500 acres today, is a small fraction of the 8,000 acres it was at George Washington’s death, the estate still showcases the concern for agriculture displayed by the entire plantation. Next time you visit make sure to travel down to the Pioneer Farm and Slave Cabin to find out what’s growing!
By Abby Cliff
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