Slaves, including children aged 12 and over, planted, tended, weeded and harvested from sunrise to sunset, working 14 hours a day in the summer. Because tobacco was unprofitable and labor intensive, Washington switched to corn, wheat, carrots, and cabbage, all grown by slaves.
Some of the reconstructed slave huts resembled barracks, with berths for 12 people and a gaping hearth at one end. Other slaves lived in tiny shacks.
They are slaves who work in the gardens, the stables and the smoking room. They did the laundry, first drawing water from a distant spring and heating it over the fire. They ironed this laundry too.
The slaves did all the cooking, preserving food, spinning, scrubbing floors, painting and repairing the roof. Some kitchen slaves worked from 4.30 a.m. until nightfall. Each spring, when the fish began to run on the Potomac, the slaves embarked on a frantic six-week sprint of fishing, cleaning, salting and packing. The fish supported the plantation for almost half of the year.
Other slaves – butlers and cooks – fed guests, set tables, and made tea and coffee. The slave laborers carried heavy armfuls of wood and buckets of water up the grand staircase leading to the six guest rooms. They brought clean sheets upstairs and made the bed for the guests. In the morning, the workers emptied the chamber pots.
Near the graves of George and Martha Washington, students from Howard University discovered a slave cemetery with anonymous graves. They didn’t just build a memorial for them; in 2014 they started the archaeological excavations. So far 87 graves have been discovered. A wreath is laid daily at this memorial.