Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 4.0 License.

Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Department of History


Gabrielle M. Lanier

David Dillard

Margaret M. Mulrooney

Dennis Blanton


Historical homes and plantation sites focus interpretation on the life and legacy of the white owners of the property and the architectural and decorative elements of the home. In order to tell the whole-truth history of these sites, there must be an active discussion regarding the lives of the enslaved population, especially since the enslaved individuals were the reason the white owner was able to be successful. While very little written historical records exist for enslaved communities in comparison to those that survive for the white plantation owner, the surviving documentation, when coupled with archaeological evidence and especially the oral history of modern-day descendants, assists in telling the story of enslaved populations. Mount Vernon, Monticello, and Montpelier, all located in Virginia, had various amounts of enslaved individuals and currently have differing means and areas of emphasis when discussing slavery in the context of their site, involving their descendant community in different ways.

This thesis uses primary sources, secondary sources, and observations by the author to discuss how public historians at these three sites present the subject of slavery and its legacies in exhibitions, tours, and programming. It also uses confidential interviews with past and present staff members at these institutions and anonymous survey data collection from descendent communities to examine the collaboration between the descendants and staff at each institution. Chapters one, two, and three each cover an institution: the history of the site; the property’s transition from private home to public historical site; the history of the descendant community; and of the collaborative effort with descendants to create exhibitions and tours. Chapter four discusses the past, present, and future of collaborative effort concerning the archaeological excavations of the slave cemeteries at each site. The conclusion acts as a culmination of this data to present how other institutions might begin working with descendants should they not yet do so.



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