The Commonwealth of Virginia calls itself “the birthplace of Presidents” because so many of those leaders called Virginia home. You don’t have to wait until Presidents’ Day in February to pay a visit to Virginia’s many U.S. Presidential landmarks around the state. Accessing these historical properties is only a drive from Richmond. With preserved buildings, docent tours and plenty of open space at almost all of these landmarks, visitors can absorb the stories and lives of the famous residents. The reality is many of these leaders were also slave owner, so their lofty ideas of equality, leadership and rights for all are questionable when we learn about the forced labor and harsh lives lived by those who were under their bondage.
Presidents Day also falls during Black History Month, so when you visit these estates, take time to learn about the lives of the enslaved African Americans who also lived in these properties. To their credit, curators at these historical sites are taking a tough look at the lives and experiences of the enslaved workers. That means visitors can learn those often heart wrenching details – their names, forced family separations, and harsh lives – sometimes told in their own or their descendants’ words.
Check websites and/or call to verify information is correct.
- Mount Vernon (3200 Mount Vernon Hwy, Mt Vernon, VA 22121) is the historic home of George Washington the first president of the United States, and his wife Martha, located 13 miles south of Washington, D.C. The exhibition Lives Bound Together: Slavery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon explores the personal stories of the people enslaved at Mount Vernon while providing insight into George Washington’s evolving opposition to slavery. On the 60-minute tour tour: The Enslaved People of Mount Vernon, visitors can listen to the stories of the enslaved people who built and operated Mount Vernon, and learn about their daily lives on the estate.Daily in February at 11 am.
- ⭐️On Tues., Feb. 22 join George Washington’s Mount Vernon to celebrate George Washington’s 290th birthday with a virtual birthday party. This online program features:
– historians such as Joseph J. Ellis and Nathaniel Philbrick discussing why Washington matters today
– an exclusive preview of Mount Vernon’s newest exhibition
– a classical music concert on the piazza
– a fireworks show over the Potomac River
– a birthday toast delivered to General WashingtonDonate $5 or more to attend.
- Monticello (931 Thomas Jefferson Pkwy, Charlottesville, VA 22902) was the primary plantation of Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States. Thomas Jefferson enslaved over 600 people throughout his life. Four hundred men, women and children lived in bondage at Monticello including Sally Hemmings and her family. Live Slavery at Monticello Virtual Tour
- You can join a Monticello guide for a tour of the Monticello quarters, and along Mulberry Row, the industrial hub of the Monticello plantation. Guides will share stories and answer questions about the enslaved African Americans who lived and labored on this plantation, confront Jefferson’s conflicting ideas on freedom and race, and discuss legacies of American slavery. Offered at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. on Saturdays. See the listing of Black History Month events including a Hemings family tour.
- Poplar Forest (1542 Bateman Bridge Road, Forest, VA 24551) was Thomas Jefferson’s country retreat. The Enslaved Community Tour gives visitors a change to discover the men, women and children who lived and toiled on the property. Guides tell the authentic stories of resistance, despair and perseverance. From April through October.
- Madison’s Montpelier (11350 Constitution Highway, Montpelier Station, VA22957) Was the home of President James Madison, the Father of the Constitution and architect of the Bill of Rights and Dolley Madison, his wife. The estate features the historic home, gardens, exhibits, tours and miles of walking tours. The mere distinction of Color is described as a “groundbreaking exhibition uses slavery to connect the past to the present through the lens of the Constitution, and honestly examines the paradox that is America’s founding era.” Visitors can also take a tour of Montpelier’s Enslaved Community.
Montpelier’s gardens, grounds, and trails are open for the public to enjoy, Saturdays and Sundays and holiday Mondays, 9 AM to 3:30 PM. This includes the historical core, Annie duPont Formal Garden, Madison family and Enslaved Community cemeteries, and walking trails, on 2,700 acres.
- Tuckahoe Plantation, the boyhood home of Thomas Jefferson (12601 River Rd, Richmond, VA 23238) The site’s website states: “An effort is underway at Tuckahoe today to deal more candidly with the brutal institution of slavery that the Founding Fathers relied upon to build their homes and their wealth.” Visitors can see still standing cabins of the enslaved workers. Read more about the people enslaved there.
- Highland, The Home of James Monroe, fifth president of the United tates (2050 James Monroe Parkway, Charlottesville, VA 22902) Monroe enslaved as many as 250 people in his lifetime. Visitors can participate in the drop-in program Slavery at Highland focuses on the historic slavery in the United States with special focus on the men, women, and children enslaved at Highland. Visitors can browse images and historic documents while discussing slavery and its legacies with a specially trained museum interpreter. Online you can also read the stories of the people enslaved at Monroe’s Highland.
- Berkeley Plantation – (12 William Henry Harrison – 9th president and ancestral home of his grandson, Benjamin Harrison, the twenty-third president. Closed through the end of March. (602 Harrison Landing, Charles Cty, VA 23030)
- Sherwood Forest – Home of John Tyler 10th president (14501 John Tyler Memorial Hwy, Charles City, VA 23030 You can learn more about slavery at the property in its newish website dedicated to the people enslaved by John Tyler over his lifetime, from 1790 to 1862. The Tyler Family enslaved dozens of people at Sherwood Forest, and this searchable site collects the facts of their lives in one place. Ongoing research into the lives of the men, women, and children whom John Tyler enslaved provides a more complex understanding of this leader of a “free” nation who kept dozens in bondage. Read about the Black, Hall, and Short Families as well as dozens of individuals enslaved by the Tylers at www.presidentjohntylersenslavedhouseholds.com.
- The cabins of the President Herbert and Lou Henry Hoover Rapidan Camp retreat are open for National Park Service ranger tours to explain the Depression-era usage by Hoover, the 31st president of the United States. Rapidan Camp is located within the central district of Shenandoah National Park. 3655 U.S. Highway 211 East, Luray, VA
- The Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum, Explore the life of our 28th president, Staunton, VA Wilson & Slavery Tour is a special guided tour that focuses on the experiences of the enslaved people who lived and labored in the Presbyterian Manse where Woodrow Wilson was born. During his presidency he allowed discriminatory Jim Crow laws to be put into place in Washington D.C., and allowed the secretary of the treasury and the postmaster general to segregate their departments.
Here in Richmond we are lucky to access these sites and that historians and archeologists are making these histories public for our education and to honor those who lived through those times.
Related post: Richmond Institutions Celebrate Black History Month
More things to do in and around Richmond:
- Richmond’s Museums Highlight History, Art, Science and More
- The Ultimate List of RVA Parks and Playgrounds
- RVA Dog-Friendly Parks
- 12+ Free Things to do in Colonial Williamsburg
- RVA Historic Sites
- Free Art Galleries in RVA
- RVA’s Nearby Ski Resorts
- 50+ Things to Do in Richmond
- Things to Do: RVA
- 50+ Events & Festivals
- Military Discounts
- FREE for Kids (or really cheap)
- Metro Richmond Zoo
- Fairs in RVA and Virginia
- Richmond Museums: Some Admission Free
- Discount Tickets: D.C. & NoVA Shows & Events