: Sarah johnson's mount vernon: the forgotten history of an american shrine (9780809084159) : Scott E. Casper : Books
  Login | Register En  |  Fr
Antoine Online

Sarah Johnson's Mount Vernon: The Forgotten History Of An American Shrine

by Scott E. Casper
Our price: LBP 33,600Unavailable
*Contact us to request a special order. Price may vary.
I Add to my wishlist

Product Details

  • Publisher: Hill and Wang
  • Publishing date: 08/01/2008
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9780809084159
  • ISBN: 0809084155


Sarah Johnson’s Mount Vernon brilliantly restores the lives and contributions of African Americans to the legacy of Mount Vernon. Digging beneath the well-known stories of George Washington and the era of America’s birth, Scott E. Casper recovers the remarkable history of Sarah Johnson, who spent more than fifty years at Mount Vernon, in slavery and after emancipation. Through her life and those of her family and friends, Casper provides not only an intimate picture of Mount Vernon during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries?years that are rarely part of its public story?but also a window into a community of people who played an essential part in creating and maintaining this American landmark.
Scott E. Casper is a professor of history at the University of Nevada, Reno. He is the author of Constructing American Lives, which won the 1999 Book History Prize from the Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing.
The home of the first president of the United States has come to symbolize the ideals of our nation: freedom, national solidarity, and universal democracy. At Mount Vernon, the memories of George Washington and the era of America’s formation are carefully preserved and re-created for the nearly one million tourists who visit it every year. Behind the familiar stories is a history that visitors never hear. Sarah Johnson’s Mount Vernon recounts the experience of the hundreds of African Americans who are forgotten in Mount Vernon’s narrative.

Historian and archivist scholar Scott E. Casper recovers the remarkable history of former slave Sarah Johnson, who spent more than fifty years at Mount Vernon, before and after emancipation. Through her life and the lives of her family and friends, Casper provides an intimate picture of Mount Vernon’s operation during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, years that are rarely part of its story. Working for the Washington heirs and then the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association, these African Americans played an essential part in creating the legacy of Mount Vernon as an American shrine. Their lives and contributions have long been lost to history and erased from memory. Casper restores them both, and in so doing adds a new layer of significance to America’s most popular historical estate.
?Mount Vernon boasts stories that number in the hundreds, but one of its most dramatic tales has been left untold until now.  In Scott Casper’s compelling narrative we see sectional crisis, Civil War, emancipation, and Reconstruction through the eyes of Sarah Johnson and the hundreds of other African Americans who lived and labored at the fabled shrine.  The Mount Vernon that belonged to them as much as to Washington and his heirs now testifies to the signal importance of our nation’s African American past.”?Mary Kelley, Ruth Bordin Collegiate Professor of History, University of Michigan, and author of Learning to Stand and Speak
"Before elaborate monuments and lavishly funded libraries preserved the memories of our presidents, there was Mount Vernon. After George Washington's death in 1799, his home and tomb in Virginia became the first temple to a U.S. president, an 'American Westminster Abbey,' in the words of University of Nevada history professor Scott E. Casper. Yet, for many years the history of slavery at Mount Vernon remained hidden in plain sight behind its graceful, carefully maintained facade. Now, at last, Casper tells the story of the invisible men and women who worked the 8,000-acre riverfront estate for generations. While innumerable books have been written in recent years about the Founding Fathers, it's refreshing to read one in which slaves play a central part. Washington may have helped create our republic, but slaves built and upheld its economic infrastructure. In Sarah Johnson's Mount Vernon, Casper reminds us that they were founders, too . . . Casper builds his narrative largely around Sarah Johnson, who was born a slave at Mount Vernon in 1844 to a teenage mother and was trained as a domestic servant. After emancipation, she was employed by the Ladies Association as a cook and maid, keeping the estate ready for its daily visitors. She ?drew upon lessons from slavery days,' Casper writes, and ?played a featured role in the Mount Vernon that visitors saw, as she courteously sold them milk for five cents a glass.' On Sarah Johnson's death in 1920, the flags at Mount Vernon flew at half mast. The superintendent who ordered this gesture 'meant no statement about racial equality,’ Casper notes. 'In his words, the flag commemorated a "faithful ex-servant of M.V.," a woman who had earned respect by knowing her place.' But during her lifetime, she went from slave to landowner and even took on some managerial duties at Mount Vernon. Like most former slaves, Johnson was illiterate, which presents a challenge in telling her story; she did not leave behind any letters or diaries. The details of her life are drawn from the papers of people who owned her and those who eventually employed her, as well as documents and agreements that may have been read to her but that she could sign only with an 'X.' For a historian, it's difficult to capture a subject's voice without her own words. But Casper deftly uses the limited sources available to depict Johnson's life with an authenticity that is moving. At the same time, he intertwines her story with accounts of other black men and women who tended Mount Vernon over the years, many of them her relatives. And he shows how the lives of African Americans at Mount Vernon mirrored the changes taking place beyond the presidential shrine. By the time Johnson and her relatives left Mount Vernon, visitors were no longer arriving by integrated steamboats but by segregated street cars, a sign of the rise of Jim Crow. There is no marker at Mount Vernon commemorating Sarah Johnson's contribution to its preservation. Fortunately, Scott Casper has given her a written memorial, and it is altogether fitting and proper."?W. Ralph Eubanks, The Washington Post Book World

"[A] well-researched and welcome attempt to flesh out yet another national moment that fails to include the participation of African Americans?here, the efforts to preserve and protect the estate of George Washington. The choice of Mount Vernon as backdrop for an all-too-common story of black marginalization has more ironies than usual; the home of America’s first president and formative leader, Mount Vernon is a shrine that has functioned as a kind of stem cell for America itself?the source of its beginning and all its noble possibilities. But it is also the source of some of America’s foibles, starting with slavery. It is the space between the two that Casper explores, through the prism of black life at Mount Vernon. It’s a tough assignment. Casper must piece the prism together from many sources: newspapers, ledgers, court records, correspondence among the members of Mount Vernon’s governing body. But the efforts pay off. His account is evenhanded and scrupulously detailed, yet always emotionally connected to the life of housekeeper Sarah Johnson (1844-1920) and dozens of other blacks, slave and free, who lived and worked at Mount Vernon for generations in virtual anonymity. Casper is not as overtly indignant as, say, David Blight in his seminal book Race and Reunion, which recounts how the cause of black freedom and a black narrative were buried after the Civil War. Yet Casper argues for that narrative on every page, revealing small but significant facts?who moved in or moved on, who accepted what duties, who bought what land, who might be feeling hopeful or discouraged?that have cumulative power. Mount Vernon was a far more complicated place for black residents than for whites, because it represented three fundamentals that blacks were constantly trying to establish: work, home and a sense of national pride . . . Casper likens Mount Vernon to a theme park more than once. The danger of such a sacred place being turned into a 'catchpenny' circus was a concern voiced frequently by the MVLA as it struggled to stay above the forces of politics, economic reality and technological advances that eventually brought crowds to Mount Vernon on streetcars instead of Potomac River steamboats. Blacks admired for their old-time gentility and authenticity were also accused of running hustles, such as selling canes purportedly made from Mount Vernon’s trees. (Casper notes that visitors routinely cut their own canes and pilfered other souvenirs from Mount Vernon without being similarly condemned.) Blacks constantly strove to balance such burdens of representation with personal ambitions they realized whenever and however they could. But Casper admits that they were undermined both by Mount Vernon’s history and a larger national destiny of racial inequality. As Jim Crow became the law of the land, Sarah Johnson and other black employees were largely replaced by whites. The streetcars that appeared around the turn of the 20th century featured separate-but-equal seating. At Sarah’s death, the flag at Mount Vernon flew at half-mast?but she was buried in a black cemetery, several miles away. Today, Casper writes on the last page with a mixture of mettle and regret, 'Sarah Johnson’s name appears nowhere on George Washington’s hallowed grounds. But it will always be her Mount Vernon too.'"?Erin Aubry Kaplan, Los Angeles Times

"In Sarah Johnson's Mount Vernon, historian Scott E. Casper lays bear the unique narrative of America's first sacred shrine, capturing the dizzying complexity of an early American community largely unrecognized and misunderstood. After all, Mount Vernon, writes Casper, is 'a story not just of Washington but also of bla...

In just a few easy steps below, you can become an online reviewer.
You'll be able to make changes before you submit your review.

  • behind the scenes at a shrine
    From Amazon

    As other reviewers have noted the basic story here, I will note that Casper has found out a lot of information about African Americans who lived and worked on the grounds of Mount Vernon through the 1800s. He is not interested in trashing George Washington, but in getting at the lives of "unsung" people and then using their lives to discuss larger themes in American life. It's a nice blend of local and national history, with the emphasis on the local. Two small points, one good, one less good. On the bright side there is humor here--especially the pilfering tourists who want to take just a little piece of the place home with them. My only complaint was that somehow I missed the point that the chapters were chronological in order, not by theme or person, and I was baffled for the first few dozen pages until I figured that out. Maybe my bad, maybe it could be clearer.

  • Sarah Johnson's Mount Vernon: Forgotten History of an American Shrine
    From Amazon

    We found this book to very interesting and very detailed. Scott Casper's research was superb!

  • It wasn't until I finished this book that I realized how good it was
    From Amazon

    This is a history of Mount Vernon following the death of George Washington. Because it is a story of the everyday life on and operation of the estate, it is a story of 200 years of African American history. There is a parallel history here too, about the pioneer days of the historic preservation movement. Early vistors to Mount Vernon believed what they wanted to believe. Knowing Washington's will had freed his slaves (upon the death of Martha, who released them early) one could ignore reality and presume that those who labored in the field and encountered visitors were free. For 60 years it bubbles into public consciousness only every now and then that they are not. In the first part of the book, Sarah is in the background as we learn about Washington's heirs, Martha's dower slaves, crops, the buying, selling and renting of people, and the precursors of the tourist trade yet to come. Sarah becomes the central vehicle for the story in the later half of the book. Sarah is a perfect vehicle for this history because her life illustrates her times. Augustine Washington assumed control of this estate at age 21. From his mother, he received Sarah's mother Hannah, and noted her additions to his assets when she bore children. In 1844 he hired Hannah out to a cousin for $24 for the year. She returned from this forced labor pregnant and delivered a mulatto child naming her Sarah with her grandfather's last name, Parker. Later, when Mount Vernon was sold to a preservation society, which in part preserved it from the raveges of the Civil War, Sarah was also sold. In freedom she returned to her home, Mount Vernon, and became an employee of the new society. The saga of Sarah's family, a metaphor for the contemporaneous sagas of thousands of African Americans, is told against the growth of Mount Vernon as a national shrine and tourist destination. While Mount Vernon is buffered, it cannot help but be effected by the successionist fervor, the civil war, the war's unsettling aftermath, Jim Crow, and World Wars I and II. Scott Casper takes the reader through all this, up to the present nascent awareness of the role of African Americans in history. On p. 219 there is a eloquent piece on Sarah who we know she was and who she may have been. This is a short book, but its ideas will stay with you a long time.

  • Sarah Johnson's Mount Vernon
    From Amazon

    This book is hard to get into. There's a little too much background. Getting right into Sarah Johnson's story would have been much more interesting.

  • Sarah Johnson Mount Vernon Review
    From Amazon

    Its a very interesting book-we had no problems in receiving the book and it arrived in great condition.

Working on your request