Living History at George Washington’s Mount Vernon

By Peter D’Arpa ’14

At the time of writing this piece I have just completed my third week interning at George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Up until my first day of work I had no idea how amazing this internship would truly be. I assumed that it would be very similar to my internship from last summer with the Richmond National Battlefield Park Service. My assumption has been proven very wrong.
First off I am one of six interns as previously mentioned. Age does not divide us much because we are, at most, two years apart. This is wonderful because I have other students to live with and work with. It has been relatively easy to coalesce into a team with my fellow interns due, in part, to the hard work put in by Mount Vernon’s staff workers; we also all happen to be equally huge history nerds! We are dispersed amongst the two sites, the Pioneer Farm with four interns, and the Distillery and Gristmill with two interns. I work at the Pioneer Farm an am absolutely in love with the site.
4 Farm Interns
The Pioneer Farm has three locations where I practice the art of interpretation. We rotate during the day between the Pole Shelter, the 16-Sided Treading Barn, and the Slave Cabin. The three sites allow us three unique experiences. At the Pole Shelter we welcome visitors to the site and are in charge of pacing the visitation flow for the other two stations. The Treading Barn offers many opportunities to delve deep into a discussion of farming. The Slave Cabin allows us the ability to cover a controversial issue and, if you say the right things, you can provoke great conversation with the visitors. While the interpretation is a great and wonderful part of the experience, I live for the moments when a staff member asks me to, “Go work in the fields.”
Slave Cabin
I am not a farmer, but I suppose after this summer I will have a greater understanding of farming. In three weeks I have already become acquainted with 18th century farming methods. My third day on site saw myself and the other interns using 18th century scythes, sickles, and pitchforks to clear a field of oats and a third of a field of hay. The work was tiring, but the experience was awesome. Since then I have participated in weeding a corn and potato field, I have used an 18th century yoke to gather water for our cooperage (buckets and barrels), I have gotten to use 18th century sickles to harvest wheat, and last but not least I have gotten to clean tobacco plants by hand. Cleaning the tobacco plants has been most impactful simply because I am getting hands-on experience in what slaves would have been doing in the 18th century. When the cotton is planted I will also get to work with it furthering my experience. I treasure this time because I know it will allow me a deeper understanding of the issue of slavery through discussion and through field work.

Well that is all for now. The other interns and I are preparing to collapse after a long day of gathering wheat. Until next time!

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