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70. 18th Century Fiber Production at George Washington's Mount Vernon with Sara Marie Massee
Episode 703rd December 2021 • The Good Dirt: Sustainable Living Explained • Lady Farmer
00:00:00 01:01:12

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Today's guest is Sara Marie Massee, a lead interpreter at George Washington's Mount Vernon. She works with the historic trades department, teaching and actually doing many of the skills and trades that were being practiced around Washington's estate during his lifetime there.  She oversees Mount Vernon's cooking, baking, and textile living history demonstrations to illuminate daily life in the 18th century. 

Sara Marie has been in the field of living history for 16 years, 14 of them at George Washington's Mount Vernon. She spends her days talking to visitors about Washington's sustainable, innovative farming practices and demonstrating various trades that enslaved people and white, indentured workers would have done on the estate. Her favorite demonstrations are cooking and textile work (spinning, weaving, natural dyeing, and preparing wool, linen, and hemp fibers to be spun).

In today’s episode, Dr. Massee shares anecdotes and stories that give us a glimpse of the the textiles industry in the 18th century and the role it played in the economy of George Washington's estate. Tune in to learn more!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Podchaser, Simplecast, Podtail, or on your favorite podcast platform.

Topics Covered:

  • The history of textile production at Mount Vernon. 
  • 18th-century clothing and linen
  • Working in the field of living history

Resources Mentioned:

Guest Info

Connect with Dr. Massee on Mount Vernon’s website

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Transcripts

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[00:00:31] Emma Kingsley: You're listening to the good dirt podcast. This is a place where we dig into the nitty gritty of sustainable living through food, fashion, and lifestyle.

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[00:00:53] Emma Kingsley: We started this podcast as a means to share the wealth of information and quality conversations that we're having in our world as we dream up and deliver ways for each of us to live into the new paradigm. One that is regenerative, balanced, and whole.

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[00:01:17] Emma Kingsley: So come cultivate a better world with us. We're so glad you're here. Now let's dig in.

Hello, Good Dirt listeners. Welcome to The Good Dirt. It's Friday if you're listening to this on the day that it comes out, it is the day of our slow living retreat, our virtual slow living retreat. We are so excited. And for all who are coming, we can't wait to see you tonight at the welcome gathering. We have some fun things in store.

And then of course, tomorrow at all of our workshops and our coffee chat, and I'm so looking forward to our happy hour gathering after all of our workshops, and we'll hear from Miss Eliza Blue, who's also been on the podcast. She's going to do some music and storytelling for us. So we are just so excited to see you guys.

And for anyone listening who'd like to hop in, you know what, it's actually not too late to join. And if you aren't able to join us live though we would love to see you live, the ticket includes access to the recordings so you can catch up on it on your own time. But we've spent so much time and love and thought in putting this weekend together. And we're just really excited for it. It's kind of why we do what we do. Together with everyone.

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[00:02:45] Emma Kingsley: Oh my gosh. That's exciting. Cause they've been pretty good.

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[00:03:10] Emma Kingsley: Yeah, the slow living retreat has always been for me, at least personally, a reminder of, you know, my mom and I are the driving force behind it. And we put all of the kind of pieces together, but it reminds me about how lady farmer and what we're doing is so much bigger than us. It's not just about, you know, you and I just putting on a show, it's like, it becomes so much bigger and a time to invite in the community and realize like what we're doing this all for.

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[00:04:00] Emma Kingsley: Mm, well, I'm going to go ahead and ask you about a little sneak peek into what we are talking about tonight. Some of you guys may have seen on our Instagram this past week, we shared about the Cailleach. She is the winter goddess. Is that who she is?

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And if you think about the ancient people, they were living immersed in nature, dependent on nature, not separated from it as we are in our post-industrial civilization. They looked out upon it and tried to glean understanding for things they were experiencing. So you can imagine how, you know, it was cold and it was dark and they looked around them. And what did they see?

They saw bare trees. They saw tangled vines. They saw exposed earth, they experienced these images and this energy of an old woman, not only with some fear, because there's certainly a lot to be feared in the winter, a lot of threats, but also with great reverence because she was regarded as holding the wisdom of the life beneath the soil that is waiting to reemerge in the spring.

And, you know, we've talked about Brighid on here before. She's often seen as a counterpart of Brighid, who is a harbinger of spring. So in many of the legends and stories, the Cailleach comes out at Samhain, and she lives until February 2nd when she goes and drinks from a well, and she transforms in to the youthful Brighid, the symbol of spring.

So it occurs to me how, if the Cailleach appears at Samhain as the winter hag, then we certainly can see where our idea of the Halloween witch came from.

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But also we have this dichotomy of the it's scary an old woman, witch scary.

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[00:06:45] Emma Kingsley: Maybe it's the amount of power that's scary or the amount of wisdom. That's, it's just, it's crazy how those two things exist side by side.

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I mean, what culture do we not have the image of an old ragged worn person, also holding wisdom for the generations to come? I think it's probably pretty much a universal concept.

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[00:07:55] Mary Kingsley: And so this is a little bit about what we're going to be talking about this weekend and integrating that into our experience of the season.

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[00:08:07] Mary Kingsley: So that's what's coming up to night. So what about today, Emma? What about today's episode?

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Sara's been in the field of living history for 16 years, 14 of them at Mount Vernon. And she spends her days talking to visitors about Washington's sustainable, innovative farming practices and demonstrating various trades that enslaved people and indentured workers would have done on the estate. Her favorite demonstrations are cooking and textile work like spinning, weaving, natural dying, and preparing wool, linen, and hemp fibers to be spun. And she has a PhD in cultural studies.

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[00:09:32] Emma Kingsley: We originally found Sara, we are so excited about the work that they're doing there with hemp and hemp textiles, because there was so much being done here at Mount Vernon that we have to learn from, especially now that they're, you know, learning more and the more they work through their, his papers.

And you hear Sara talking about a lot of that. So I think you and I are super excited about what we can be learning from the past here. Yeah. And it's just so crazy we have no idea, you know, besides looking at the documents and the relics that we have leftover. It's just so interesting to imagine what it would have been like different worlds.

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[00:10:24] Emma Kingsley: So we hope that you enjoyed this episode with Sara Marie, and we will see those of you who are joining us tonight at the slow living virtual retreat. We're so excited.

So Sarah we'll have you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about your background personally, and how you got to what you're doing and what you're doing.

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And so everything from a blacksmith shop to a miniature farm, we do textile work. We do cooking demonstrations. We just got a new clay oven. And so I do a mixture of the hands-on work as well as talking to the public. And I also do a lot of the behind the scenes work. I research and develop new programs and update the scholarship and information that we have so that our information is accurate.

And I pulled together all the equipment that's needed for each demonstration, so that when people are out on site talking to the public, they're successful and it's easy for them to do what they need to do.

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[00:12:08] Sara Marie Massee: I do.

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[00:12:09] Sara Marie Massee: Cultural Studies.

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[00:12:12] Sara Marie Massee: Yeah. I'm happy to tell you about how I got here personally, but our field is very open, especially for people who just want to talk to the public. We have people from all walks of life and really all ages as well. But specifically I am an academic who was waylaid by museum work. I started working in living history right after undergrad, and I took a year off.

It ended up being two, but I worked at a very small living history museum in central Virginia called the frontier culture museum. And it was supposed to be just a fun way to kind of pass the time until I was ready to go back to school. And then when I went back to school, I decided it would be good to have a part-time job. So again, it was supposed to be just kind of something like a filler, and then along the way, I did a lot of academic teaching. And I realized I actually preferred the museum setting.

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[00:13:14] Sara Marie Massee: Cooler, perhaps not in a literal sense.

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[00:13:18] Sara Marie Massee: Well, linen is quite cool, but the number of layers can be intense in mid August humidity.

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[00:13:27] Emma Kingsley: We'd love to hear about the specific textiles and textile production at Mount Vernon, both at the time of when it was when Washington lived there. And then also anything that's currently happening.

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[00:14:25] Mary Kingsley: Imagine that.

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[00:15:10] Emma Kingsley: A couple of things. Linen just for anyone listening that comes from the flax plant, correct?

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[00:15:17] Emma Kingsley: And they were growing, they were growing the flax there at Mount Vernon?

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[00:15:35] Emma Kingsley: Okay. And you also said warp and weft. And for anyone listening, who might not know what that is. Can you explain what that is?

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And so Lindsey Woolsey combines those properties and you use the linen for the warp because the warp is under a huge amount of physical tension. You're pulling it really tight on the loom.

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[00:16:38] Sara Marie Massee: Well, but even when you're making it, uh, on the loom itself, you have to stretch it very physically tight for the machine to work properly. And so it's better to have your stronger thread be the warp.

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[00:17:08] Mary Kingsley: It's more of a functional thing rather than a fashion.

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[00:17:25] Emma Kingsley: Those transition times.

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[00:17:29] Emma Kingsley: So now in modern times, we're just so separated from all of those things and w we, as consumers are so separated from those different stages of production. So it's really amazing to imagine it all happening there.

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[00:18:02] Emma Kingsley: Wow.

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[00:18:08] Emma Kingsley: And these finished garments that they were making specifically at Mount Vernon, were those for the people working there or, I mean, was this a market?

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[00:18:40] Mary Kingsley: That is so interesting.

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[00:18:42] Mary Kingsley: Yeah.

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[00:19:00] Emma Kingsley: Yeah.

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[00:19:07] Sara Marie Massee: More.

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[00:19:09] Sara Marie Massee: Yes. So there are some scholars who did a study of the first 20 years of Washington's life and they didn't study all of his expenses. They only studied his purchases from England, and of course he also made local purchases, but in that first 20 years of his life, 46% of the money that he spent in England was on cloth. And I think it was 36% of the line items were textiles.

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[00:19:39] Mary Kingsley: Over food, housing, transportation, all those things.

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[00:19:43] Mary Kingsley: Wow.

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[00:19:45] Emma Kingsley: This is horrible. But even like people enslaved people?

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[00:19:49] Mary Kingsley: Gosh. You know, that's kind of like we so cheapen cloth now. I mean the average person throws away 82 pounds of textiles per person on average in the United States. And so that's really very interesting.

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[00:20:25] Emma Kingsley: Okay.

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They were dropped on an island off the coast of Virginia in the 1600s and left there pretty much unchanged. And they're very similar to the sheep that Washington had. He didn't have a nameable breed for the most part. So they're as close as we can get to what he had. And we do process that wool. We sheer it every year, and our department gets a certain number of fleeces and we're washing it. We're carting it. We're spinning, weaving in certain cases, we're dying different colors using plant and animal dyes that were available in the 18th century. And at the moment, our weaving program is primarily focused on producing items for display and producing items for auctions or donor gifts, or, you know, ways of contributing to Mount Vernon.

But we have produced some items that are used in exhibitions. You know, you that are displayed as part of the museum itself. And we are hoping at some point to develop a commercial endeavor as well. We were still trying to figure out exactly how that would look and what types of products we would offer. But that is something that we would like to do.

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[00:22:27] Sara Marie Massee: So today, I think there are probably eight or nine people who are part of our textile team. And that grows and shrinks depending on our staffing, because you have to really have a love for textiles to do it. You know, if you're not interested, we're certainly not going to force anybody. In Washington's time, it was a much larger crew. So the records from the spinning house show that depending on the year and even depending on the week, there were typically between five and nine enslaved women who were spinning full time and there were also seamstresses.

Very few of the seamstresses here at Mount Vernon were full-time. They worked as chambermaids. They worked as dairy maids. They did jobs like that. And so they were sewing either on off days or, you know, in moments when they weren't needed to haul water or serve the table or, you know, those kinds of things.

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[00:23:29] Sara Marie Massee: Correct. Or, you know, I'm working as a seamstress this week, but we have five guests that just arrived. So the next week I'm going to be working in the house.

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[00:23:39] Sara Marie Massee: Both of those situations happened.

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[00:23:50] Sara Marie Massee: No, no, no. That is definitely not something... I'm sure everybody knew how to. So to a certain extent, because you know, the enslaved people, they, they had to mend their own clothing. You have to sew on buttons, you know, just day-to-day life would require that, that everybody pretty much could. So everybody below a certain class, but the spinning in particular was a designated skill.

And during the revolutionary war, there are several kinds of funny notes that Washington leaves in his letters with overseers about how there are these young enslaved women who are learning how to spin, and it's going kind of slowly, cause they don't really know what they're doing yet. Yeah. So in terms of speed, Washington expected his spinners to spin a pound of wool a day. Or three quarters of a pound of flax and getting a sense of how much that turned into can be a little difficult because the technology that you're using for spinning significantly changes how quickly you're working.

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[00:24:54] Sara Marie Massee: But most likely that pound of wool became two and a half to three miles of thread.

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[00:25:00] Emma Kingsley: Whoa.

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The different things happened over the years, but primarily it was hired white workers doing that job and weaving at a professional level in the 18th century was mostly done by men, which is kind of counter-intuitive today. We think of weaving as domestic work. Of course that's something women did, but that was not the case either in Europe or here, but especially in the colonies because the colonies, there were very few urban centers. And so weavers and other craftsmen in order to get enough work to fill the entire year, they had to travel.

And so they were itinerant workers and they would go from plantation to plan patient and they'd set up and they'd stay a month or two, and then they'd move on to the next place. And it wasn't really safe for women to travel at that time by themselves because taverns, if you could even find one, you did not get a room of your own. You typically did not even get a bed of your own. You would often be sharing a bed with multiple strangers.

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[00:26:46] Mary Kingsley: Yeah, I've heard that. So yeah, it wasn't proper for a woman to be traveling all over and going to taverns and yeah I can see how that wouldn't work.

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So we were talking about the time and labor it takes to do what was being done at Mount Vernon in Washington's time versus now. And now it's much more, it sounds like there's a lot fewer people working on it, but it's also much smaller scale of production. So, I guess my next question, I'm interested in what are some of the major learnings and obstacles. I'm interested in is there anything that's like, well, we really can't replicate this from that time, or maybe you can or...

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[00:28:05] Emma Kingsley: Yeah. And what are some of the obstacles as well?

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[00:28:58] Mary Kingsley: Yeah.

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[00:29:00] Mary Kingsley: You know, we teach and demonstrate these things that happened at Mount Vernon and in the 18th century America. And what can we take from that today? And, you know, what does that mean for us to understand these things today? And how can it help us just kind of behave better when it comes to our own consumption?

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[00:30:11] Mary Kingsley: Yes.

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[00:30:46] Emma Kingsley: Yeah.

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[00:30:48] Mary Kingsley: Yeah, no that's really good. Just looking to the past, just give us a better view of what's going on now. So valuable. Can you talk about hemp a little more?

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[00:31:23] Emma Kingsley: Was it introduced by anyone, like was it ...

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[00:31:26] Emma Kingsley: Okay. So someone brought it over and said we should plant this here.

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[00:31:31] Emma Kingsley: Okay.

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England had been involved in the French and Indian war, and there's kind of this hemp boom, because suddenly they need hemp to produce rope and sailcloth to fuel their Navy and their shipping industry. And so not only do they make it legal to export hemp from the colonies, several states and localities started paying bounties to any planter who was growing hemp.

And so Washington kind of jumps on that bandwagon. And this was also at a time when tobacco, which had been the primary cash crop of Virginia was becoming less and less economically viable because so many other colonies had started growing it. That there was a blot on the market and prices were going down. And tobacco is even worse for the soil than cotton or other fiber crops. And so, you know, the longer you grow it, the worst your return . You know, the worse your crops are and the less you can produce and British regulation tobacco was considered to be a luxury good. And so it was handled differently than other types of commodities that you could grow and sell.

And basically colonists were only allowed to sell tobacco to British merchants. Which meant that the merchants were able to control the price. And they set it below market value, which was already dropping. Oftentimes planters were selling directly to England or in England, I should say. And when they did that, they did not get cash for their crop. They got credit in British stores and the price of the goods were set really high and the price of the tobacco was set really low. And so for Washington, his, his goods were returning to Mount Vernon with a bill attached. And this happens year after year and suddenly it's like having a credit card that you can never pay off.

It's compounding. So, like I said, tobacco was looking less favorable and hemp was becoming more viable. And so Washington investigates it as a potential alternative to tobacco as a cash crop. He experiments with it for a number of years. And eventually what he decides is that the soil at Mount Vernon will grow hemp, but it's not going to be the highest quality and he really can't produce it on an industrial scale. And so Washington's very practical about this. He does this with a number of industries. He says, all right, I'm not going to make money with this, but I can save money with this. And so he reduces the amount of hemp that they're growing, but continues to grow it throughout his life as a way of meeting internal needs.

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[00:35:14] Sara Marie Massee: Hemp can be used to make linen fabric just like flax. And you can really only tell the difference often if you look with a microscope, but the longer fibers of hemp can be stronger. And so they were typically prized for twine. Washington had a huge fishing industry. So fishnet and fishnet repair is something that he would have needed for that.

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[00:35:41] Sara Marie Massee: Well, he wouldn't have been making sails, but yeah, sail cloth is definitely something that hemp was used to create in England. And then shoelace trine. We have specific records at the spinning house of them spinning shoe twine from hemp.

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[00:36:10] Sara Marie Massee: That is not my experience. Because with most fiber crops hemp and flax both the fiber extends into the root. And so you, when you harvest, you do actually pull it up by the root and the root is not very long. It's probably three inches, maybe four, sometimes shorter. But hemp does require very well tilled soil. And so oftentimes you would be plowing multiple times prior to planting, which does bring up additional nutrients. And plowing like that, doing extensive plowing was one of the ideas that Washington latched onto from this movement called new husbandry that he subscribed to. And it's basically the first time that scientific practice as applied to farming.

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[00:37:01] Mary Kingsley: So did that suggest more tilling?

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[00:37:06] Mary Kingsley: Oh.

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[00:37:29] Emma Kingsley: Right.

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[00:37:55] Emma Kingsley: But in Washington's day, the experimenting didn't go quite long enough for them to figure that out. They were in this...

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[00:38:06] Sara Marie Massee: Yeah. It was a whole movement that started in England and Washington was reading everything he could get ahold of from those scientists and corresponding with them. And they would send him ideas and he would try them out and then send back a letter that said, this is what worked, and this is what didn't.

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[00:38:23] Mary Kingsley: Do you think that held on and told the no till advice of the most recent decades?

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[00:38:30] Emma Kingsley: Wow.

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[00:38:42] Mary Kingsley: Oh I was going to ask about crop rotation. Yeah, I, that been something that just had gone by the wayside?

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[00:39:12] Emma Kingsley: It was disposable.

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So that does help, but this new husbandry movement supported the idea of taking those resting fields and finding some use that will actively put nutrients in. So for example, in the crop rotation that Washington develops, but he dedicates two fields at each farm to pasture grass for sheep, and those are resting fields, but the idea is that the sheep will graze. The will leave manure and that will fertilize. He used other livestock as well, but he preferred sheep because in 1760, he did this experiment. This is one of my favorite experiments that he ever did. He built 10 boxes. He took soil from a part of his estate and filled half of each box with that soil. And then he put a different fertilizer in each box.

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[00:40:44] Sara Marie Massee: So horse manure, cow manure, sheep manure, sand from the bottom of the Potomac, mud from one of the local streams, Lyme. He tried a number of different things. And then he planted three rows of crops in each box. I think rye, oats, and barley. And he waited to see which one did the best. Now he never recorded the results of that experiment, but shortly thereafter, that's when he starts focusing on grazing sheep.

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[00:41:15] Sara Marie Massee: Yes.

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[00:41:39] Sara Marie Massee: So crop rotation was developed in the early middle ages in Europe.

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[00:41:44] Sara Marie Massee: That three year rotation developed in medieval Europe. And it's not that nobody in the colonies rotated their crops. A few people did, but it wasn't standard practice. And the rotations that they did did not include fertilizers. So, in addition to using animal manures, another thing that this new husbandry movement discovered was the use of nitrogen fixing crops. And nitrogen is a chemical that is most plants need to grow. And so they deplete it from the soil as they grow, but there are certain types of plants that will put it back in, and it has to do with the way that their root systems are built.

So Washington and his contemporaries did not know that nitrogen is what those plants were providing, but they knew that they worked to put nutrients in. And so they called these plants green manure crops because they're acting like manure.

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[00:42:40] Mary Kingsley: And that would be the peas and the beans and things, right?

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[00:42:56] Mary Kingsley: Wow. You are an agricultural historian as well as a textile historian.

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[00:43:02] Sara Marie Massee: Well, we do run a farm. We have to be.

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[00:43:16] Sara Marie Massee: Yes. So actually the farm came first in the 1990s, Mount Vernon decided to build an exhibit that talked a little bit about that aspect of Washington's life, because he was innovative as a farmer and he had this incredible legacy bringing all these new ideas to the new world. And he had a very civic mindset when it came to these innovations. He was not just doing it for himself. He really felt that land was one of our biggest assets in the new world. You know, we didn't have infrastructure like Europe did. We didn't have skilled labor like they did, but we had land. And he wanted to develop what he described as a well-worn path for other farmers to follow, because the average farmer could not afford to do the kinds of experiments that he was doing.

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[00:44:03] Sara Marie Massee: You know, if they tried an experiment and it failed, they might not be able to feed their families. And so he's trying to kind of take the burden of that risk on himself so that he can figure out a system that other people can follow.

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[00:44:42] Mary Kingsley: And was there much interaction with the natives at all?

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[00:44:46] Sara Marie Massee: Washington did have a fair amount of interaction with indigenous people, but not really at Mount Vernon, because by the time that he inherited Mount Vernon, you know, it had been settled for three generations.

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[00:45:00] Sara Marie Massee: So the indigenous people had already moved west.

But he did encounter them as a young man when he took on work as a surveyor and he encountered them during the French and Indian war, you know, so as a soldier. And then of course, during the revolutionary war, he was negotiating with them to try to fight, yes, on his side. And of course, as president, he also negotiated some of the earliest treaties with indigenous tribes. In terms of agricultural knowledge, this is true, both for Washington. And I think more generally as well, Europeans had very little interest in harvesting or using native knowledge and taking advantage of native knowledge.

However, There was a fair amount of exchange of that knowledge in the early years of colonization, often by necessity. You know, for example, corn did not grow in Europe, and so, you know, Europeans had to learn how to grow it. It was one of the primary staples of pretty much every colony at the time.

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[00:46:13] Sara Marie Massee: And so there's this unacknowledged knowledge that they

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[00:46:18] Sara Marie Massee: Had from native peoples and specifically here at Mount Vernon, how that plays out, you know, for example, using dead fish. They are an incredibly good fertilizer. And actually, if you go to a garden store today, you can buy fishmeal.

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[00:46:35] Sara Marie Massee: And that is a practice that native people used. They would bury a dead fish at the foot of an ear of corn. And Washington isn't necessarily doing that, but what he is doing is he had a fishing industry that was typically in April and May. And all of the inedible parts, the heads, the tails, and the insides of the fish would be plowed into the fields as fertilizer. So did he think of this as, as indigenous knowledge? No, but it was, and he was using it.

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[00:47:20] Mary Kingsley: I grew up, like, it was almost proverbial or mythological idea that, you know, Squanto showed the pilgrims how to grow corn by using the fish. In fact, I can see in my mind the illustration in my little third grade history book of Squanto putting a dead fish in the corn thing. But to your point, if they did learn stuff, it was not a kind of scenario where they would be giving them a lot of credit for it.

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[00:48:34] Emma Kingsley: Interesting.

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[00:48:58] Sara Marie Massee: Every tribe is different so I hesitate to make generalizations, but probably in a broad sense, yes.

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[00:49:15] Sara Marie Massee: I do have some fun stories or interesting stories I should say. They're not always fun. Okay. So one of my favorite, well, again, most of the people doing textile work at Mount Vernon were enslaved. Not all of them, but many of them. And one of my favorite stories of passive resistance. And passive resistance is where you're not necessarily revolting against your enslaver, but you're finding little ways of making like more livable. Okay.

So one of my favorite stories of passive resistance is this enslaved man named Peter. And he had some kind of infirmity. Washington, well, this was common for slave owners to have kind of derogatory nicknames. So in the records here at Mount Vernon, he's listed as lame Peter. And oftentimes what Washington had those kinds of people do if you couldn't work full-time in the fields, he would have them do textile work. And Peter was actually the fastest knitter here at Mount Vernon. So he was making stockings for the enslaved people that would have been distributed as part of their clothing rations. And he could knit two and a half pair of stockings a week, which is like a lot.

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[00:50:27] Sara Marie Massee: Cause the stockings are long. They went up above the knee. But there's this one time when he was told that the amount he was making was not enough and they upped his quota. And so in resistance he made the stockings the number they want. He just made them itty bitty too small to fit anybody.

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[00:50:49] Sara Marie Massee: I just think it has so shows so much character and yes, you know, they didn't tell him what size to make. They just told him how many.

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[00:51:04] Sara Marie Massee: Yes. Yeah. That's how we get all of these stories. And sadly, you know, we have very few stories that were written well, none of them were written by the enslaved people here at Mount Vernon. We do have a few interviews in white newspapers that were interviews with former Mount Vernon slaves. But most of these stories we're getting from visitors to Mount Vernon when they write letters about their experience or diaries. Or we're getting information from farm reports or we're getting information in letters between Washington and his overseers.

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[00:51:40] Sara Marie Massee: Most likely yes, and I do not remember what happened. I need to go back to the primary source and look that up.

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[00:51:50] Sara Marie Massee: Yeah, I do. This one is not quite as happy. But this is a story that I often tell when people ask me, you know, what kind of slave owner Washington was. And so this is an incident that happened in the 1790s and Washington was actually serving as president at the time. So he was not living here at Mount Vernon and there was an enslaved woman named Charlotte. And you know how I mentioned earlier. So she was a seamstress, uh, but she also worked as a chambermaid.

And so she's one of those people who did both jobs. Charlotte had quite the personality, but in this particular instance, um, she got into a disagreement with her overseer, Andrew Whiting. And at the end of the argument, he beat her with a riding crop. Now the next day was her day off. The day after that he sent her sewing to do, and she sent the materials back with the work undone.

And so when he went to investigate, she gave him an ear full. She told him you beat my finger and it's swollen. And I can't work. And I have worked 14 years here at Mount Vernon as a slave, and I have never been beaten. And she told him that she planned to tattletale to the Washingtons when they returned to Mount Vernon.

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[00:53:06] Sara Marie Massee: Which is really interesting because that suggests to me that she thought they would take her side.

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[00:53:18] Sara Marie Massee: However, like I said, you know, we get this story in letters between Washington and, and his overseer, Andrew Whiting. And after describing this incident, Whiting tells Washington that of Charlotte continues to refuse to work, he plans to break her spirit or skin her back.

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[00:53:34] Sara Marie Massee: That is a direct quote.

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[00:53:36] Sara Marie Massee: Right. And Washington's response is your treatment of Charlotte is very proper.

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[00:53:43] Emma Kingsley: Yeah.

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[00:53:54] Sara Marie Massee: Sure. Well, literally I see it as well tended in terms of maintaining the nutrients and the microbiome, you know, good dirt is good for growing crops. Metaphorically, I'm going to put a, kind of a historical spin on this cause I am a historian. So, you know, if you think about the dirt, that's the gossip. Give me the dirt.

Right. And that's really what makes me passionate about history is the dirt, you know. History at its best is good stories. It's being able to make connections and see the people in the past as real people who are not so different from us. And who made interesting decisions, not always good, but interesting decisions given their circumstances. Who came up with good solutions to the problems that they faced.

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[00:54:44] Mary Kingsley: Yeah. I think to your point, I love this analogy. The dirt is what brings history to life for us.

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[00:54:52] Mary Kingsley: The details.

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[00:54:54] Mary Kingsley: The dates and you know, the wars and the elections and stuff. That's just such a small part of it. It's the dirt. Yeah. Stories of the humans and the people.

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[00:55:10] Sara Marie Massee: Which are often messy. Yeah. You know, the details, but the deeper you dig in the messier history becomes.

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Well, Sara, is there anything else that you want that our listening audience to understand about the work that you do here at Mount Vernon or that you do with textiles and history and any last words of wisdom or anything?

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[00:55:46] Emma Kingsley: Yeah. I'm interested in what excites you most about working at Mount Vernon?

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In the years that I've worked here in particular, Mount Vernon's interpretation of racial justice and slavery as a whole has changed significantly. And that's been really exciting and it's moved in much more positive directions. And then, you know, on a day-to-day level, every person in my field lives for the physical impact that we have on visitors on patrons.

And we do. I mean there, sometimes you see it there's like that light bulb moment. You see the aha going off in people's mind. Sometimes it you don't know that you've made that kind of impact until the person walks away and you hear them talking to somebody else in their group. And you realize that they're thinking about what you said or what you said is making them rethink something that they thought before. But that's what I live for.

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[00:57:07] Mary Kingsley: Yeah. I love that so much. And I feel that every time I visit a place like Mount Vernon or, you know, some sort of place where history has kind of recreated before your eyes and you learn all this good dirt and you get below the surface. And it's just really rich and wonderful. And thanks to people like you, they're going to bring it to life for us and give us some context and framing for the way we're living now and ways in which we can rethink our behaviors and our consumption and the future of our lives and the planet.

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[00:57:44] Mary Kingsley: It's all very rich. So thank you so much.

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[00:57:53] Mary Kingsley: Yes. Thank you. I'm yeah. I'm like Emma. Let's go. Yeah. Are you all fully opened?

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[00:58:02] Mary Kingsley: That's exciting.

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[00:58:03] Mary Kingsley: Okay. Well, thanks again and

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[00:58:06] Mary Kingsley: You might see us showing up there someday soon.

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[00:58:10] Mary Kingsley: Okay. Thank you, Sara. Bye-bye

Thank you, Sara Marie, for talking with us today and thanks to all of you for being here and listening and supporting us on the Good Dirt.

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And as always, you can also join us in the Almanac. Actually, if you're an Almanac member, then you get a great discount on the retreat ticket. So that's a fun thing to do too if you think you want to come you could join the Almanac and then get a discount. But yes, we're so grateful for this community, and we just love coming here every Friday and presenting these amazing people.

Thank you guys for digging the good dirt. We'll see you next week.

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