Out of Mount Vernon's Shadow: Black Landowners in George Washington's Neighborhood, 1870–1930

Scott E. Casper

in Beyond Forty Acres and a Mule

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print June 2012 | ISBN: 9780813039862
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780813043777 | DOI:
Out of Mount Vernon's Shadow: Black Landowners in George Washington's Neighborhood, 1870–1930

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Scott E. Casper uses court records and kinship networks to trace the process by which African Americans, both enslaved and free during the antebellum era, acquired farmland and other real property between 1870 and 1930. He concentrates on an extended community of landowners in Mount Vernon's shadow between Mount Vernon and Alexandria, Virginia. This case study of people who self-identified as farmers indicates the variety of meanings that rural and urban blacks associated with the term “farming.” Some owned acreage adequate to dedicate their lives to production agriculture, but most worked in a variety of agricultural occupations including market gardening. Landowning families, regardless of the amount of acreage owned, depended on connections (familial and others) to help protect their investments. Yet, tension within the communal networks that the families created, as well as external pressures, made it difficult for the poor and undercapitalized black families to retain their possessions. Personal conflicts undermined African American solidarity. Class identities, personal animosity, and labor relations exacerbated difference and created distance between farm owners, operators, and agricultural laborers.

Keywords: Virginia; Mount Vernon; familial connections; free blacks; market gardening; acreage; farmer; farming; communal

Chapter.  9770 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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