The students on Hamilton’s D.C. Program, along with their program advisor Professor of Government Steve Orvis, kicked off their D.C. adventure with a boat tour along the Potomac River and a tour of Mount Vernon, George Washington’s famous home. It was an early start but well worth it, as the boat tour provided stunning views and some local history as well. As the boat made its way toward Mt. Vernon, passengers learned about various features of the Potomac waterfront.
Arriving by boat also provided students the ability to see the whole estate in its bucolic majesty, with its bright red rooftops nestled atop a green hill. Upon docking, the students walked up a path to the main estate, stopping along the way at the tomb of George and Martha Washington. A guided tour of the house showed that the interior of the Mount Vernon estate is a well-preserved glimpse back in time. But, given the notorious summer heat of the D.C. area, the estate now includes the modern luxury of air conditioning.
It is impossible to visit Mount Vernon, however, without having to reckon with America’s shameful history of slavery. Mount Vernon was, after all, a plantation and George Washington, our nation’s first president, was a slave owner. The museum stand as an excellent example of how to handle this past with the necessary severity and respect for humanity. An exhibit titled “Lives Bound Together” provided the history of slavery and enslaved people. It provides names and details of the lives of the enslaved people living at Mount Vernon, to bring forgotten stories into the light. And it emphasized the great debt we owe to these enslaved peoples, and shows that our history belongs to them just as much as it belongs to other historical figures of the time.
“Mount Vernon’s exhibits about the lives of slaves provide an important view into an often overlooked part of history,” said Claire Gordy ’20. “In D.C. especially it’s important to remember the lives of everyone who made this country possible.”
Overall, the trip proved an excellent start for the program, combining sightseeing with an important history lesson.