Image of the George Washington mansion
Image of who is believed to be West Ford
This white-haired man seated on the piazza is believed to be West Ford.
Zoomed in image of mansion
Under close examination, a woman or child’s figure becomes visible in the window.

Discovery in the Details

Taken in 1858, this image of the Mansion on a glass plate negative is impressively detailed and full of surprises. The view is from the southeast lawn and depicts the Mansion in a state of disrepair; note the ship masts propping up the sagging piazza. Several individuals can be seen in the photograph. Barely visible is a faint figure of a woman or child looking out from the window of the room nearest the piazza (see inset). While all of the subjects are currently unidentified, there is a strong possibility that the elderly gentleman seated on the piazza is West Ford, previously owned by George Washington’s brother (John Augustine Washington) and his wife (Hannah Bushrod Washington). Ford was an important man in the local area. When Bushrod Washington died in 1829, he left West Ford over 100 acres of land in Fairfax County, Virginia. Ford later sold that plot to buy a larger property nearby, which became the nucleus for a free black community called Gum Springs. He died in 1863 and is believed to be buried in the slave burial ground at Mount Vernon.

To learn more about West Ford and his life, visit mountvernon.org/WestFord.

Mount Vernon has reviewed its web content and ensured that certainty of naming West Ford as the subject of an image happens only when there is corresponding documentary evidence that the person in the image is West Ford. When the image is hypothesized to be West Ford (as in the photograph of the Mansion) Mount Vernon will use language that is not definitive.