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Chapter Five. Entrepreneur

Dennis J. Pogue


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When George Washington returned from Philadelphia to Mount Vernon in 1797 after the conclusion of his second term as president, his plantation was at its zenith. Almost 8,000 acres in extent, and with more than 300 enslaved Africans working and living there, Mount Vernon ranked as one of the largest estates in Virginia ( Twohig (2001) 477–527; Kamoie 2007 ). But the level of ambition of Washington's operation can be measured in more ways than by size alone. He was a committed entrepreneur who took considerable risks in exploring new markets and who invested in cutting edge methods and implements, and he was intimately involved in managing all of his related business ventures. Not only did Washington's slaves grow thousands of bushels of wheat, corn, and rye each year, but they also ground the grain in his own mill; starting in 1797 a portion of the grain was converted into whiskey at Washington's new distillery. Both the flour and the spirits were stored in barrels made by Washington's coopers, and were sold to merchants in Alexandria, eight miles upriver. Washington marketed the very best of his flour much farther afield, sometimes in his own vessels, reaching such distant destinations as the West Indies, England, and Portugal. In this way, Washington exercised more control over all of the steps by which his products were converted into revenue ( Fusonie & Fusonie (1998) ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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