Interpreting Slavery at Historic Sites Workshop on May 25

George Mason's Gunston Hall, Virginia.

George Mason’s Gunston Hall, Virginia.

George Mason’s Gunston Hall in Virginia will become a hands-on laboratory to explore how to create a comprehensive and conscientious interpretation of slavery at an historic site at a one-day workshop on Wednesday, May 25, 2016 from 9:30 am to 6:30 pm (right before the AAM annual meeting).  You’ll learn how to better connect and extend your site’s interpretation of its history of slavery and help staff and volunteers achieve a greater understanding of difficult knowledge and complicated emotions.  Registration is $90 and includes morning refreshments, lunch, and a post-workshop reception.  For more details and to register, visit

The workshop will be led by Kristin Gallas, co-editor of Interpreting Slavery at Museums and Historic Sites and includes presentations by Scott Stroh, executive director of Gunston Hall, and Rebecca Martin, director of education and guest experiences at Gunston Hall.  Plenty of free parking is available on site and transportation from the Franconia/Springfield Metro Station (Blue Line) is available.

Gunston Hall (1755-1759) is the architectural gem built for George Mason IV by William Buckland and William Bernard Sears and is owned by the Commonwealth of Virginia and administered by The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America.  Its mission is to stimulate continuing public exploration of democratic ideals as first presented by George Mason in the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights.  George Mason’s political perspectives also influenced the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights.

Mason’s pursuit of basic rights and liberties and the 240th anniversary of the Virginia Declaration of Rights (“All men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights”) makes his home at Gunston Hall an appropriate setting to discuss the rights of African Americans during the colonial period as well as today’s dramatic struggles for human rights throughout the world. In the 1780s, nearly 100 enslaved men, women, and children lived and worked on the four nearby farms (or quarters as they were called) and the mansion house that comprised George Mason’s holdings. Many were sons, daughters, grandsons, or granddaughters of about 32 slaves that Mason inherited in 1735. Other slaves came into Mason’s possession as wedding gifts (or dowry) when he married Ann Eilbeck in 1750 or as later gifts and bequests from her parents. George Mason possibly purchased some slaves. In 1753, eight children were “adjudged” for their ages — an indication that they were new arrivals into the colony. But the majority of the Gunston Hall slaves were born into slavery.  Under colonial Virginia’s carefully constructed legal code one law stated that a child born to a slave woman was a slave for life while another forbade masters from freeing their slaves, thus perpetuating slavery in Virginia by “natural increase” for more than a century.