Washington as seen from the vantage point of his beloved creation, Mount Vernon. The Dalzells, Robert (American...


GEORGE WASHINGTON'S MOUNT VERNON: At Home in Revolutionary America

Washington as seen from the vantage point of his beloved creation, Mount Vernon. The Dalzells, Robert (American History/Williams Coll.; Daniel Webster and the Trial of American Nationalism, 1973) and Lee (head of the reference department at the Williams College Library) combine meticulous research and clear writing to help define the so-called ""marble man"" in a more human light as a friendly neighbor, an avowedly earnest perfectionist, and a demanding yet kind slave owner and employer among the land-seekers of colonial Virginia. Washington, according to the authors, directed managers, artisans, and other skilled workers even through his long periods away during the Revolutionary War and his presidency. We learn directly from his letters and diaries that although he meant to appear firm, calm, and aloof, he was also a creature of intense emotions, especially concerning Mount Vernon, his home for more than 40 years. There he served enthusiastically as planner, architect, and constant renovator at a time when mansions were considered and used as both private and public places--havens where business and other meetings could be conducted and where casual travelers and relatives were also entertained (a sort of colonial bed-and-breakfast). The authors note Washington's gradual evolution as a man born into a master-slave society who believed in a republic administered by a virtuous elite, yet who became an ardent advocate of a democratic society (and who himself paradoxically despised slavery). To him slavery ultimately seemed the least efficient form of labor: hope and aspiration were obviously missing from it, and Washington reasoned that only a free people in a free society could better themselves and their country. In his will, as is well known, he emancipated his slaves and promised lifetime care for those too elderly to work. This is the definitive study of Mount Vernon, long overdue for the place that's been a seeding ground for ideals of American independence.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998


Page Count: 312

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1998