Silla, Slammin Joe and their six children must have been cramped in the 16-by-14-foot cabin that was home during their lives as slaves at the Mount Vernon plantation.
A replica of their slave cabin was unveiled on Wednesday, Sept. 19. It is representative of the cabins at George Washingtons four outlying farms and gives visitors a glimpse of how slaves lived on his plantations.
The cabin had one room, with a fireplace and a spot for the parents to sleep on the ground level, and a loft up above for everyone else. It was modeled after a 1908 grainy photo of a slave cabin on the plantation. It is estimated that about 235 slaves lived in cabins like that on the farms.
Rohulamin Quander, a D.C. resident and descendant of slaves who lived on Washingtons Hayfield Plantation, was on hand for the unveiling, which included members of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association and Black Women United for Action.
It gives us a sense that these people were human, Quander said. Quander can trace his family back to 1684. Quander Road, a main thoroughfare through the Mt. Vernon community, is named for a distant cousin, Charles Henry Quander, who owned an 88-acre dairy farm in that area at one time.
Another descendant of slaves, ZSun-nee Matema, was at the unveiling because I represent the voices of those that were cast over, she said. Matemas ancestor, Caroline Brannum, was a slave in the main house and was housed in the slave quarters, a dormitory-style brick building. A replica of those quarters opened in 1962 and is a big part of the plantation tour. Matema called herself the voice of her family history.
Sheila Coates, president of the Black Women United for Action, addressed the crowd, wearing a traditional African headdress and outfit. She recalled walking the grounds one evening when the cabin was in its early stages, and I could only think about the youth, the young children playing in the field, not thinking of slavery, she said. Let us remember the spirit of those that went before us here, she said.
Other speakers included the Rev. Darrell K. White of the Bethlehem Baptist Church in Alexandria; Dennis Pogue, associate director for preservation at Mt. Vernon; Thomas Battle, director at Howard University; Argentine Deigh, who sung for the group; and poet CeLilliane Green.
Gay Hart Gaines, regent at the Mount Vernon Ladies Association, tried to distance Washington from the horrors of slavery.
Slavery was not compatible with the unalienable right to liberty, she said.
Washington died in 1799 and his remaining 123 slaves were freed in 1801, but some continued to live at Mt. Vernon as pensioners until the 1830s.